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- Ruth White (RIP 2013) -- synthesizers, electronics
- Ruth White, David White and Terry Gris
Rating: *** 3 stars
Title: Flowers of Evil
Country/State: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Catalog ID: 31225
The web has a host of sites dedicated to the late Ruth White. The best can be found at: https://cottoncandycastles.wordpress.com/
Rather than needlessly replicate all of the previous work, here's an executive summary of White's career.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, she went to college at the Carnegie Institute of Technology getting a Masters In Fine Arts degree in piano and music composition. By the mid-50s she was working for UCLA, where she continued her musical studies while teaching and writing and recording music for the Los Angeles County public school system education programs - as an example, several albums worth of folk dance music for school physical education programs.
By the mid-'60s White had become interested in electronic music. She built a home studio, complete with then cutting-edge tape recorders, Moog synthesizer (which she purchased directly from Robert Moog), various keyboards, and other pieces of recording equipment and began releasing albums featuring her own electronic compositions.
Released in 1969, the self-produced "Flowers of Evil" was White second release for ABC's Command subsidiary. If you idea of stretching your musical horizons is along the lines of checking out Carly Rae Jepsen's new one, then I'm going to suggest the late Ruth White might be a bridge too far ... Similarly if thunderstorms and black cats make you uncomfortable ... You might not want to spend much time with the album. The collection was inspired by French writer Charles Baudelaire's 1857 volume of poetry "Le Fleurs du Mal". With its themes covering decadence, eroticism, evil and other uplifting aspects of 18th century French life, the book's publication got the author and his publisher prosecuted and ultimately fined by the French government. An expanded second edition of the book saw the French government step in again and ban six of the poems. The ban stayed in place until 1949.
Providing a little background and context for the album, here White's liner notes:
"To me, Baudelaire’s poems are of such unique power that they always seem to rise above the level of the personal and sometimes existential nature of their content. In this composition, I have attempted to parallel the transcendental qualities of the poetry through electronic means.
For the words, I used my own voice as the generator of the original sound to be altered or “dehumanized.” this seemed practical since my experiments with the medium were too time consuming to have been easily accomplished with a collaborator.
To modulate my voice, I used a variety of techniques. changes of timbre were achieved with filters. Tape speed changes were used to control pitch. Into the shape of some words, I injected sound waves and white noise, thus changing the quality of their sound but not the flow of their delivery. By adding reverberation, I varied atmospheres and decreased or increased space illusions. To accent special words or phrases, i used controlled tape delays. Choruses were created by combining slight delays with multiple track recordings.
The musical settings around the voice were made with music concrète materials, a moog synthesizer, other electronic generators and conventional instruments, which were usually altered electronically.
In the translations, there was no attempt to rhyme the verse as in the original French poems. I tried only to keep the language as direct and simple as possible, for I always found that the dominating power of Baudelaire’s ideas ‘were in themselves of electrifying force.”
Your reaction to the album is likely to fall into one of four categories (perhaps heavily influenced by how stones you are).
1.) A lot of folks will find White's mixture of electronic sound effects, echo drenched spoken word vocals and English translation of Baudelaire's over-the-top lyrics as being straight out irritating.
2.) Another group is going to simply laugh at these nine tracks, characterizing them as nothing more than bad Halloween music.
3.) The third group is going to find White's work simply frightening.
4.) The last group will find it fascinating and inspiring. Today it all sounds clunky and almost amateurish, but her work with Moog synthesizers, oscillators, modulators and tape effects was truly ground-breaking.
I've listened to this album dozens of times over the years and frankly, my take on the album has flip flopped across three of the four categories (without the use of any illegal substances). Today I lean to the fourth category. It's one of those album's that is technically stunning. Hearing it on a good pair of speakers, or a good pair of headphones is the way to go. It's also a flawed work. Many of the effects sound dated, as do White's electronically treated vocals and the source material isn't exactly a barrel of monkeys. At the same time, when you recognize this album is now almost 50 years old and White was self-taught, making much of the technology as she went, it holds up surprisingly well. I won't try to convince anyone that this is a pleasant listening experience. It's not. It your looking for conventional melodies, or rhythms, there aren't any. White's heavily treated vocals had all the warmth of a deep freezer. Looking for some uplifting, life inspiring lyrics? Yeah. Not here. But it is different !!!
fo Evil" track listing:
1.) The Clock (L'horloge) (Ruth White - Charles Baudelaire) - 3:00 rating: *** stars
Admittedly the bleak lyrics are a downer and the sound effects are disconcerting in a Halloween party kind of way, but then you never intended to play this collection at a dance party ... 'The Clock's a pretty fair representation of what's to come. Lots of synthesizer washes, electronic effects and White's ghostly spoken word vocals.
2.) Evening Harmony (Hamonie du soir) (Ruth White - Charles Baudelaire) - 4:02 rating: *** stars
After the opener, 'Evening Harmony' came off as surprisingly light and tuneful. Featuring Moog and what sounded like electronic harpsichord, the song initially had a waltz-like melody. But then like all things in life, around a minute and a half in, the darkness returns - industrial throbbing and some more of those good time lyrics: "Now is the time when, throbbing on its stem, each flower sheds its perfume like incense. Sounds and scents spiral in the evening air in a melancholy waltz, a slow sensual turning."
3.) Lovers' Wine (Le vin des amants) (Ruth White - Charles Baudelaire) - 2:57 rating: *** stars
Um, the discordant 'Lover's Wine' sounded like an early Atari game short circuiting because you'd accidently dumped Kool Aid on the set. The vocals remind me of the sound quality of system announcements you hear riding the Washington DC metro. Oh, it sounds like White's recording studio caught fire while she was recording this one ...
4.) Owls (Les hibboux) (Ruth White - Charles Baudelaire) - 2:45 rating: *** stars
There's only one way to describe 'Owls' - creepy. This one has virtually no melody, just stabbing keyboards and White's distant, ghost-like voice. Need to clear out a party? Need to irritate the spouse? Need to interrogate a terrorism suspect? Here's your soundtrack.
5.) Mists and Rains (Brumes et pluies) (Ruth White - Charles Baudelaire) - 3:06 rating: *** stars
Ah, the sounds of rain, water, and wind ... this one should be soul soothing, right? Hell no. Sounds like a killer Nor'easter getting ready to tear the roof off your home. At least White seemingly misplaced her echo effect.
1.) The Irremedial (:'irremediable) (Ruth White - Charles Baudelaire) - 4:55 rating: *** stars
Damn, she found the echo machine. Welcome to the underworld.
2.) The Cat (Le chat) (Ruth White - Charles Baudelaire) - 3:27 rating: *** stars
Geez, I may never look at our two pet cats the same way. Always wondered how she got the cat sound effects out of her catalog. Ever wondered what a witch teaching literature would sound like?
3.) Spleen (Ruth White - Charles Baudelaire) - 2:50 rating: *** stars
'Spleen' is probably the best know of White's work, due in large part to the fact the role playing video game "Space Funeral" was included in the accompanying music track. Adding backward tapes and other effects makes this one of the album's creepiest performances.
4.) The Litanies of Satan (Les litanies de Satan) (Ruth White - Charles Baudelaire) - 6:50 rating: *** stars
Well, the song title made it abundantly clear this wasn't going to be a dance number. Apparently interested in recreating a truly demonic sound, White brought out her full arsenal of studio tricks on this one making for something that you'll find fascinating (especially the Atari-on-the-fritz effects), or irritating the same way chalk-on-a-blackboard, or the sound of a dental drill is.
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