Pauline Anna Strom: Trans-Millenia Music
RVNG Intl.

Of the many things that resonate upon listening to Trans-Millenia Music, the one that trumps all others is how current the material sounds; in fact, it's not inconceivable that a listener presented with the music sans background info would identify it as a production of recent vintage. One also imagines said listener would be more than a little stunned to learn that all eighty minutes of it appeared between 1982 and 1988 on seven albums. For this marvelous compilation, pieces were selected from three full-lengths originally issued on vinyl as well as four full-lengths self-released on cassette.

To call Pauline Anna Strom a visionary might seem hyperbolic, but this timely compilation suggests the label's warranted. The forward-thinking music produced by the Bay Area electronic composer is on par with the classic material produced by Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, and Klaus Schulze, each of who exerted a formative influence upon her. Every article about Strom understandably mentions her blindness (born premature, an excess of oxygen caused total, irreversible optic nerve damage), more for the reason that it proved to be no handicap at all on music production grounds.

Her interest in synthesizer music developed after her move to the Bay Area in the ‘70s, where she immersed herself in the sounds of San Francisco's New Age scene and the works of the aforementioned artists. Soon enough, a mini-arsenal of equipment formed, which included a Tascam four-track recorder and multiple synthesizers (a Yamaha DX7, TX816, and CS-10) and which enabled her to create the vibrant space music featured on her 1982 debut Trans-Millenia Consort. As each piece on Trans-Millenia Music plays, some animated by simple drum machine rhythms and others without, her gifts as a sound colourist and designer grow ever more clear. Each otherworldly setting conjures a distinct world so powerfully, one almost begins to feel as if visual details can be seen and aromas inhaled as the material plays.

Though Strom herself might seem somewhat enigmatic, the thirteen titles on the CD and double-LP versions (the digital includes two bonus tracks, “Ancestral Shrines” and “Organized Confusion”) provide highly suggestive interpretive and associative cues that effectively align to the sound design in question. “Bonsai Terrace,” for instance, is as placid and peaceful as a Japanese garden, and as radiant synth patterns and whooshes fill the air within “Freedom At the 45th Floor,” it's easy to visualize the panoramic view from on high and the sense of liberation one experiences when so positioned. The woozy reverie “Mushroom Trip” feels appropriately hallucinatory, its ties to the psychedelic era bolstered by its inclusion of organ within the otherwise synth-heavy landscape, the gentle lullaby “Morning Splendor” oozes serenity, and “Spatial Spectre,” with the lights turned off, would spook anyone. (In the booklet accompanying the release, Strom says of “Rain On Ancient Quays,” “I imagined the harbour at Alexandria, centuries and centuries ago, the way the water would lap against the shore.”)

Certain tracks seem to nod in a specific artist's direction, a case in point “Virgin Ice,” whose warbling synths and wailing accents would sound right at home on Eno's Music for Films. Something similar could be said about “In Flight Suspension” and “Cruising Altitude 36,000 Feet,” pulsating explorations that could pass for lost Phaedra tracks, and those electronic warblings coursing through “Energies” similarly suggest the material could appear on Radioactivity without anyone batting an eye. Though such connections can be made, Strom's music is hardly diminished as a result: taken as a whole, Trans-Millenia Music impresses as a collection of incredible range and diversity by an under-appreciated pioneer of the synthesizer music genre. All praise to RVNG Intl. for doing its part to change that.

November 2017