Starting with a somewhat Riley-esque scent, only to continue with a large variety of impulsive signals and unpredictable shapes, 1975’s “Pieces For Kohn” was Tom Hamilton’s successful attempt to accompany the visual art of St.Louis artist Bill Kohn, a painter using “daring and vibrant color combinations to fulfill 3-D geometric and architectural compositions”. To an untrained ear, most of this material might appear casual or even bizarre. But all it takes is a correct scrutinizing of the myriads of occurrences in the audio spectrum to realize that the many years of semi-reclusive experimentation combining the unpredictability of self-designed circuits with the more methodical approach of a “serious” composer have managed to shape a style that is hardly comparable, informed as it was by the cream of the historical sacred cows of the genre – Stockhausen, Babbitt, Henry, Luening – within a mixture of control and chance.
The second disc of this set includes “Formal & Informal Music” and the three-movement “Crimson Sterling”. Both merge Hamilton’s brilliant handling of electronics (including an ARP 2500 synthesizer) with the sensitive playing of reedist JD Parran and percussionist Rich O’Donnell. The genuine conviviality – a slightly ironic term for such a complicated, yet natural-sounding macrocosm – of the instrumental timbres facilitates the understanding of what happens in these lengthy pieces, described as quite difficult to perform in the live settings for which they were conceived given the unstable nature of the parallelism between complex tape juxtapositions and actual instruments. In these works, one distinguishes a tendency to carve meditative spaces out of ever-bubbling electroacoustic magmas, Parran and O’Donnell integrating their finely attuned injections of reactive humanity in equally animated kaleidoscopes. However, it’s the lively character of Tom Hamilton’s discoveries that shines throughout the 77 minutes of this edition, bringing back to light recordings that were otherwise destined to remain buried under the mantle of invisibility of the extremely limited editions on which they came out from 1973 to 1980. And it would have been a real shame, for this is stuff that predates – and defeats – a good chunk of today’s dabblers’ output.