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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Eric Salzman, The Nude Paper Sermon; Wiretap

When avant garde classical was at a peak in exposure and was crossing-over somewhat to the rock crowd, budget classical labels, the Nonesuch series being a prime example, were devoting some effort to release representative avant and electronic works at a price everyone could afford. $1.99 was the going rate at New York area chains for an LP of this type, and I and others found it a good way to get exposed to new music.

One of the albums to come out in the Nonesuch series around 1970 was Eric Salzman's The Nude Paper Sermon and it was one of the more unusual of the works to get mass release on vinyl. I found my way to a copy at the time and spend many hours puzzling over its contents.

Now it and its follow up Wiretap are once again available as a two CD reissue on a Labor set (7092).

The Nude Paper Sermon, as I listen again after so long, strikes me as belonging wholly to its period. A narrator, in a lengthy and sometimes rapid-fire monologue, personifies a sort of voice of the media, pontificating in a disjointed and sometimes surreal manner on anything and everything while an acoustic-electric collage of Babel crowd voices, a Renaissance style vocal group, noise, Boschian effects from a modern hell, all combine to make a soundscape that is both funny, mind expanding and, especially at the time, terrifying. It is one of the better multi-stranded collage pieces of the era, at the same time leaves you with an acute and aesthetically satisfying portrayal of a contemporary world so overloaded with messages and input that meaning is in short supply.

Wiretap has a smaller-scale character, with a series of shorter works: voice pieces, an interesting duet between Elise Rose on vocals and Stanley Silverman on acoustic guitar, and a collaged electro-acoustic work of found sounds. Not all of it is at the level of the first album but like the first it captures the experimental excitement of the era, some of the excesses of expression the era produced, and the urgent impetus to create relevant works that somehow commented on the vitality and critical impact of the passing scene.

I am not sure how the post-'60s ears of most listeners would hear this music-collage style. Anyone who lived through the era will probably find it interesting; those tracing the lineage of text-sound works and acoustic-electric collage will find this volume of importance. Anyone who had these records back then, well you know what's on them! Salzman was an important voice of the era. You may find yourself exasperated with the contents at times, I imagine, but a sympathetic listen will give you something of what it was like to experience the era--exhilaration, disgust, euphoria, experimental wonder, zen madness....

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