K. Leimer

A Period Of Review

A Period Of Review, a series of recordings from the archive of Canadian-born, Seattle-based ambient music savant Kerry Leimer, spans the period 1975 – 1983, a staggeringly fertile period in electronic music production and consumption. Leimer’s output during this era – one bookended by the twin totems of Eno’s Another Green World and ‘Blue Monday’ – travails the suns and fascination of a nascent, almost naïve, enchantment with the Futurist possibilities of sonic manipulations, tape loops and wilful experimentation brought about by Leimer scouring pawnshops for cheap instrumentation and poring over the accounts of Can, Neu! And Faust in imported copies of the NME and Melody Maker.

Some thirty years on, Leimer is far from a household name, yet his strikingly vivid glances – most of the material on the compilation is under the three minute mark – towards a somnolent electronic elegance places him alongside a nebulous calibration of industrialists, innovators and post-Eno dreamers who were firmly at the vanguard of electronic music’s drive towards the mainstream: remnants of Cluster, Terry Riley, Swell Maps, John Foxx, Wire (specifically producer Mike Thorne’s keyboard flourishes) and early Simple Minds are all present and correct as the prism through which Leimer refracted his strange attractions.

Leimer’s backstory is almost as fascinating as his music. His formative years focused upon an obsession with Dada and Surrealism which led him into the world of automatic painting and writing. However, he eschewed these art forms in favour of music making, as it was "more elusive, slippery stuff." Nevertheless, the influence of the avant-garde remained as Leimer increasingly utilised found objects, automatic solutions, Oblique Strategies and a healthy disdain for music as "product" in his studio perambulations. Furthermore, Leimer was operating from Seattle, a city now indelibly associated with the dubious legacy of grunge yet through Leimer, an entirely new vision of the city emerges, stripped of its plaid and guitars and smack associations, replaced by a Modernist sheen and sparkle.

To simply label A Period Of Review as ambient is to do both Leimer and the genre a disservice. The compilation certainly provides a series of signposts towards somnambulistic bliss yet Leimer is unusually grounded in his methodology, even his choice of nomenclature is often startlingly literal. The wonderfully titled ‘Eno’s Aviary’ sounds just as you would imagine; chirping curlicues flittering around a gentle synth wash. ‘Almost Chinese’ is an 8-bit fragment of eastern promise which teases and tantalises before vanishing. And Leimer’s Dada influence appears amid the hiccupping, slap bass and handclaps of ‘Entr’acte’, surely a nod to the French short film of the same title featuring Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and a soundtrack courtesy Erik Satie.

It’s important to note that these are merely unheard compositions from Leimer’s output. He formed his own label, Palace Of Lights, in 1979 to primarily release his own stuff but also that of Steve Fisk, Marc Barreca, Gregory Taylor among others, prefiguring the path to the passionate minimalism of Labradford and Stars Of The Lid. But, on its own merits, A Period Of Review glimmers and glistens as a spellbinding compendium of electronic music in isolation, one certainly influenced by developments in the UK and Germany but proffering a very rich, conceptual independence marooned off the radar in the Pacific Northwest.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today