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Pauline Anna Strom
Trans-Millenia Music Eoin Murray , November 10th, 2017 17:23

RVNG Intl release an album from synth pioneer Pauline Anna Strom - a selection from her extraordinary records and cassettes from the 1980s.

Sometimes a record is like a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic friend who'll listen to your woes and offer words of reassurance amid the shit. Other times it fuels catharsis, helps galvanise the emotions half-formed inside you. Pauline Anna Strom never made such a record. Instead, through the years, this pioneer of synth music crafted sounds much more comparable to the friend you can be totally, contentedly silent around. Sometimes that simple presence can be the most important: someone who has never once pushed you to feel okay, someone who has never vaguely dismissively promised it will get better. Someone to be there when the only thing that truly matters is company.

Born in Louisiana to a strict Catholic family, Strom was a self-professed “loner and heretic” during her youth in Kentucky. Complications during a premature birth resulted in permanent blindness and led to an unconventional childhood defined by classical music and studies of ancient history. It was only in the late 60s, following a relocation to Tenderloin in San Francisco, inspired by the flower power movement, that Strom discovered the music that would change everything.

Roused by the sounds of new age, electronic and ambient spearheads of the 70s like Klaus Schulze, Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream, Strom became enamoured by synthesizers and before long had a Yamaha DX7, TX816 and CS-10 in her arsenal along with a Tascam 4-track recorder. From there, a self-taught compositional obsession grew and grew, culminating in a string of three self-released records and cassettes in the 80s - Trans-Millenia Consort, Plot Zero and Spectre.

Her otherworldly compositions faded mostly into obscurity over the years, with a few immensely dedicated fans paying tidy sums for hard copies. Recently, though, Strom has found the recognition she deserves. With pioneering and inimitable benchmarks of experimental music such as Laurie Spiegel, Pauline Oliveros, Suzanne Ciani and Delia Derbyshire only being fully recognised for their enduring influence in recent years, it feels only right that Strom be ranked among them. And so here we are. Thirty-five years after Trans-Millenia Consort, RVNG Intl have just released an album of selected works from Strom's catalogue under the title of Trans-Millenia Music.

Given the cosmic, futuristic leanings of the instrumentation, coupled with the classical, film-score motifs in tracks like 'Morning Splendor' and 'Gossamer Silk', it's understandable that many have pointed out the sense of timelessness to Strom's work. But the notion of time seems to stretch even beyond this collection's sonic parameters. Trans-Millenia Music feels like a body of work completely distant from a need to be placed in a contemporary context. It's not in the least bit dated, but neither does it feel under any pressure to pave a way for future trends. Each glimmering, ascending pattern instead seems to rise above its listener, beckoning you to just be present with it. In its remarkable, honest and human embrace of both the futuristic and the classical, Strom's music transcends and pervades the present. It takes you into a space where there is no nostalgia for the past, no anxiousness for the future, only the present company of sound and the lived experience of it.

‘Freedom at the 45th floor’, ‘In Flight Suspension’ and ‘Cruising Altitude 36,000 Feet’ are blissful, all cascading and beaming arpeggios moving with gyroscopic hypnotism. Elsewhere, ‘Warriors of the Sun’ and ‘Gossamer Silk’ feel like ancestral, spiritual calls repurposed for a plane of experience where there is only music and the majesty it holds.

‘Rain on Ancient Keys’ and ‘Spacial Spectre’ are haunting, moody ventures into something altogether more mysterious and unknowable, suggesting an understanding of the sonic plane that is perhaps enhanced for someone who is deprived of sight.

It doesn’t all necessarily work. ‘Mushroom Trip’, feels like a queasy experience of its namesake, floating somewhere in between playful and seasick. ‘Bonsai Tree’, while an interesting example of one of the collection’s few percussive moments, doesn’t slot into the flow of the album - it feels unwieldy, the wrong type of disorienting.

But Trans-Millenia Music is nonetheless a wonderful collection. As the yelped vocal and theremin-like melodies of ‘Virgin Ice’ and the balearic pace of ‘Energies’ course their way through your mind and body, it’s hard not to feel like she will soon claim a place as a true legend of experimental electronic music.

While this music cannot predict the future or return us to the past, it seems to understand them both. And in doing so, Trans-Millenia Music brings a sort of ease to the experience of right now. More than three decades on, it seems there’s still no time like the present.