sutro transmissions

thomas dimuzio

resipiscent records

2020 LP

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reviews

“...his expertise in concocting unorthodox landscapes and spontaneous articulations of otherwise inexpressible insights has been proven time and again.” — Touching Extremes

“Full of quizzical distortions and smoothing, layered synthy transgressions – you are surrounded by hypnotics from out of the gate.” — Toneshift

“As if experiencing those SF spaces on hallucinogens Sutro Transmissions captures the breathiness of the environments, the colour and character of objects and people, and the gorgeous electromagnetic fire between them.” — The Wire

“It all feels like it’s whirling around in the ether, but at the same time it’s all being deliberately stirred around by some invisible force.” — The Answer Is In The Beat

“Wherever those transmissions originate from, Dimuzio’s talent is in synthesising them into his strange and exciting soundscapes.” — A Closer Listen

“That this album was recorded live with no overdubbing (or any other players) is truly astonishing because there is just so much going on.” — Chain DLK

Touching Extremes

Thomas Dimuzio – justifiably called a “legend” by the label’s introductory summary – belongs nonetheless in the pool of names not immediately springing to mind when it comes to sonic innovation built upon the interpenetration of supposedly unconnected elements. However, his expertise in concocting unorthodox landscapes and spontaneous articulations of otherwise inexpressible insights has been proven time and again. Sutro Transmissions, a gorgeous example of analog synthesizer-based music, represents a quintessential reminder.

The apparatus through which Dimuzio emits transcendentally tangible matters is constituted by (drum roll, press release) “a Buchla 272e module [that] incorporates a polyphonic FM tuner introducing chance-factors snatched from live transmissions and steered via algorithmic mixing through oscillator arrays and envelope generators”. For the unacquainted, this might appear as alien language; as soon as they hear the results, all doubts are going to be extirpated.

Nothing is more beautiful than absorbing acoustic heterogeneity if the diversification is driven by the vision of an inherent logical structure. Dimuzio has produced two exceptional pieces in that sense. The conglomeration of extreme dynamics and timbral variegation systematically startles the attentive listener, even when the textural totality may suggest a “search for quietness” hypothesis. It is actually by this juxtaposition of contrasts that the necessary energies are released for the attainment of that state. Learning to distinguish and welcome diversity is never a wasted effort, especially when the forced acceptance of what’s unnatural and the effects of cyclical ordinariness become unbearable. By experiencing the depth of aural perspective provided by antithetical frequencies, irregular waves and inscrutable halos you’ll have a clear exemplification of what I’m trying to translate.

Replace the nauseating boredom generated by the self-appointed boffin of your choice with the polychromatic fibers of these sounds. Train your perception to rapidly individuate the correct direction rather than ruminating for days on something that will ultimately be revealed as entirely unfounded. Doctor Dimuzio can assist you. —Massimo Ricci

Toneshift

I’ve been listening to Thomas Dimuzio for over two decades, and he was already making sounds for eleven years at that point – so it’s great to catch-up with one of his ear-quenching works for early ’20 release! After some tabulation, I think Sutro Transmissions is his eighth full-length, however he’s produced countless collaborations (Dan Burke, Voice of Eye, David Lee Myers, etc) as well. The new work, an all Buchla-synthesizer album, consists of two lengthy pieces, one per side, starting with Lower Haight. Full of quizzical distortions and smoothing, layered synthy transgressions – you are surrounded by hypnotics from out of the gate.

Tweaked voices are shaken, not stirred, as if you are on radio dial hyperdrive. The ghost in the machine lurks and pivots from earshot, and once quieted fills the room with a foggy drone that elongates into sinewy shapes. This is nothing at all like his work from the mid 90’s, nor like anything previous really. Though it shows off his talent as a true sound sculptor, an artist whose modality is auditory ‘clay’ so to speak. This moves in and out of ambient and noise-driven passages with a knowing sense of grace, and a cheshire smile.

My ears detect the subtleties when he works in the more quiet areas, and offers unexpected left turns (about a dozen minutes in). This is where he really shines, like the master of one of those on-your-hind-legs horror soundtrack composers, ready to pounce at the trip of a switch. But this comes sans gore, and full of true wonderment. The entire second half are like a series of strange decoded messages floating in space.

Once we move to the b-side and Upper Haight the blurred reality of location, of grounding is even more disengaged, disrupted and otherwise a conundrum for the senses. The fluttering sounds like coagulation, as if its changing from liquid to solid state, and back again, a mid-metamorphic fluctuation. And while the piece is fully active, it stops short of being industrial or in any way derivative of something particularly machine-made. Instead, Sutro Transmissions falls in this between space that has a life of its own, with memory banks only gently hinting at buoyant humanity just outside a thin perimeter. I think I can overhear a voice saying “don’t worry”. It poses that we may just be located inside a capsule, a container of some kind. Though this doesn’t, either, come off as a trite sci-fi knock-off.

The results here are more like an old-fashioned radio play where the ear (and all senses) are fully engaged and piecing together the possibilities (up to interpretation, of course). Dimuzio has a special way of keeping the observer thinking (and listening), without tropes or overly obtuse references by way of effects-driven sound, instead he plays on nuances of the un/conscious. It’s a stunning effort that is worthy of further exploration, and deep contemplation. —TJ Norris

The Wire

... Compared to these thrilling horrors, the electronic abstractions of Kishino's contemporary Thomas Dimuzio offer a nerve-calming therapy. The San Francisco artist revels in inventive methods of creating, moulding and transforming sounds. On Sutro Transmissions we hear improvisations from two SF underground venues assisted by a Buchla modular synthesizer, various intricate algorithms and compositions which are equally organic and alien, like a lower orbit of Laurie Spiegel's cosmic expeditions. The first cut "Lower Haight" crackles into being while Dimuzio gently modulates noises, grows textures and absorbs extemporaneous radio transmissions. Stray voices are deconstructed, resequenced, and embraced by elongated rings. These yearn to become arpeggios, but bubble into lower registers instead. While the music is occasionally sharper – evoking an intense bleeping and blooping computer in distress on "Upper Haight" – Dimuzio prefers cosy, slightly eerie ambience. As if experiencing those SF spaces on hallucinogens Sutro Transmissions captures the breathiness of the environments, the colour and character of objects and people, and the gorgeous electromagnetic fire between them. —Antonio Poscic

The Answer Is In The Beat

Longtime experimental musician and mastering engineer Thomas Dimuzio has been working with Buchla modular synths for some time now, and this is his first LP created entirely using the setup, edited down from two live improvisations recorded on Haight Street in San Francisco, near where the synthesizer was invented. The first side (recorded in 2018) begins with a scrambled burst of FM radio transmissions and algorithmic processes, eventually all concentrated into a drone-ray. Right when it all seems tranquil, a cosmic bubble bursts and a loud electronic interruption occurs; it’s always startling every time I listen, even when I know it’s coming. The second side, recorded three years earlier, starts out with another soup of voices, shredded tones, and scrambled frequencies, seeming to rise up in tension without settling into a proper rhythm. Still, there’s some recurring voices and tones that emerge from the sonic gumbo, including a man saying “Don’t worry” and a particularly longing vocal manipulation. It all feels like it’s whirling around in the ether, but at the same time it’s all being deliberately stirred around by some invisible force. The audio particles hold together, but infrequent infusions of static still occur, with remnants of voices allowed final chances to be heard before completely disintegrating.

A Closer Listen

All the music on A Closer Listen wishes to communicate with listeners. Some of it also thinks about communication – the processes, technologies, difficulties, and contradictions that happen when information is transmitted. Last year, one album channelled the radio waves of an imaginary abandoned village. Another album paid homage to the shortwave number stations used to send encoded messages. Traditional radio programming plays a relatively small role in twenty-first century communication. But radio remains evocative to artists. Is it the tangibility of knobs and antennae? Or nostalgia for a technological era so recently left behind?

At the start of Thomas Dimuzio’s new album, it sounds as though multiple radio receivers are being retuned. Whining, fuzzy static competes with chopped fragments of speech. An other-worldly rumbling eventually grows in volume and pushes aside the other sounds. Just as this seems resolved, warbled echoes of popular song throb their mangled way into the mix. This pattern continues across the twenty-minute track. A clean signal prevails (sometimes a single tone), before new transmissions amass in bass-heavy ripples or chattering incoherence.

The two tracks of the album are named “Lower Haight” and “Upper Haight”, in reference to Dimuzio’s resident San Francisco. These two areas centre on the infamous Haight Street, a 1960s hotspot for drugs and underground culture. The album certainly captures some of psychedelia of this lineage. Meanwhile, the album title nods to Adolph Sutro, 1890s mayor of the city and namesake to its historical district and tower. But what is implied by the geographic specificity? Is Dimuzio tuning in and out of the multitudinous lives in his urban space? Or does he catch the right frequency for an aural archaeology?

The second track does less shuttling between the loud and the quiet. It builds steadily, spoken and sung fragments meeting textures of ponderous synth, waves of electrical interference, and the purposeful whirring of one machine calling out to another. This comes to a climax as one loud source of static noise reaches velocity, then zips out of perceivable space. A disbanding network of machines seems set adrift in final moments of the record.

Of course, the vehicle Dimuzio uses to navigate his city is not a regular transistor. It is a Buchla synthesizer – another native of San Francisco. Since the late 1980s, Dimuzio has experimented with an array of genres and approaches, as well as building a reputation as an accomplished sound engineer. This is his first album made entirely on a Buchla, where his techniques include “textural looping” and the use of an in-built FM tuner module. The two tracks on this release were recorded in live takes, with the tuners introducing unknown variables on the fly. Wherever those transmissions originate from, Dimuzio’s talent is in synthesising them into his strange and exciting soundscapes. —Samuel Rogers

Chain DLK

If you're into modern experimental electronic music, there is one name in the genre you can't help but be familiar with, and that's Thomas Dimuzio. This San Francisco based artist is one of those unsung artistic figures whose influence and abilities have substantially outstripped his visibility. Composer, collaborator, experimental electronic musician, multi-instrumentalist, improviser, sound designer and mastering engineer, not to mention a major influence on other experimental electronic musicians. As a collaborator, Dimuzio has worked with numerous artists and ensembles such as Dimmer (with Joseph Hammer), Chris Cutler, Fred Frith, Dan Burke/Illusion of Safety, Nick Didkovsky, ISIS, Negativland, David Lee Myers, Matmos, Wobbly, Poptastic, Due Process, 5uu's, Tom Cora, Mickey Hart, and Paul Haslinger. I have even mentioned Dimuzio in the past for mastering some artists’ projects I have reviewed here. All this is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Dimuzio's credits sand credentials, and this is the first Dimuzio release I've had the pleasure of reviewing.

"'Sutro Transmissions' is Dimuzio's first all Buchla-synthesizer album. Custom algorithmic crossfades of complex sound synthesis fuel this metabolism of mind and machine in real-time with no overdubs. His Buchla 272e module incorporates a polyphonic FM tuner introducing chance-factors snatched from live transmissions and steered via algorithmic mixing through oscillator arrays and envelope generators before spilling into the ears of blood-pumping audiences huddled in the slanting five thousand foot shadow of SF's iconic Sutro Tower. Each track is a site specific improvisation blooming in the dark of two underground venues on opposite ends of Haight Street just blocks from where Buchla invented the world's first synthesizer." {Label text, not mine.) The album is divided into two parts or sides - Lower Haight” and “Upper Haight”, in reference to Dimuzio’s resident San Francisco, and also the iconic stomping grounds of mid-late 1960s hippiedom. For those unfamiliar with the areas, Lower Haight has a more diverse population and a smaller number of retail businesses, which includes restaurants, small nightclubs, cafes, drinking establishments, galleries, and hair salons, but primarily, lots of residences. The more touristy Upper Haight (aka Haight-Ashbury) has been well-documented as the hippie haven of the past, and retains an ersatz commercial atmosphere from that era in its shops and houses.

That this album was recorded live with no overdubbing (or any other players) is truly astonishing because there is just so much going on. To describe what I'm hearing is extremely challenging because nothing really stays the same for very long. "Lower Haight" begins like some kind of extraterrestrial radio transmission, not only tuning in frequencies, but also some kind of arcane capture device that modulates the coded transmission into something only alien machinery can comprehend. Varying types of noise, jittery voice fragments and sampled sonic effluvia are combed over, swirled around and expelled with vigor from the darkness into the light. A drone tone sine wave (or is that feedback??) takes over for a spell, eventually joined and enriched with other tones simmering and morphing into something completely different when other sonic events come into play. There comes a point about nearly fourteen minutes into this twenty minute piece when a sort of shuffling-sluicing sound creeps in, then something vaguely tapping/dripping giving the impression of adding secret ingredients to the mix while the harmonic drone continues. More choppy transmissions occur, nearly threatening to manifest fully, but never do. Also, LFO oscillated tones emerge now and then. It is all resolved in the lower frequencies.

"Upper Haight" begins with what sounds like a sampled and sliced train whistle sent down the wireless in a not quite tuned in manner while a room full of clueless broadcast engineers try and figure out what's wrong with the signal. The knob fiddling only makes it worse and more cacophonic as channels begin to blend into each other. Dialogue (broadcast?) snippets appear and disappear frequently amidst the staticky noise. When things finally begin to calm down a bit you're left with cycling static noise that eventually dies down as other random thunks and thuds emerge like someone muddling through a room full of junk equipment, and maybe even instruments in the dark, while a hidden live mic records it all. That's not actually what's happening; these are just some of my imaginative impressions. This continues almost until the end.

Hard to say what the overall effect of these two pieces are; often jarring and inscrutable, sometimes minimal and isolationist, "Lower Haight" is a lot easier to digest than "Upper Haight," but the latter has much more going on in it. Perhaps that's a reflection of these two Frisco areas, or maybe it just ended up that way. After all, this album was improvised live, and who knows what thoughts went through the artist's mind as he was creating it. In any case, this is fascinating stuff for who like experimental electronic noise, and especially the Buchla synthesizer. The release on 160g vinyl (+ download) is limited to 300 copies, the first 30 of which include original letterpress prints created by Planetary Magnetics. I wouldn't be surprised if those were already sold out, so you might not want to delay and get the album before the other 270 are sold out as well. —Steve Mecca