Philip Krumm / “Blue” Gene Tyranny: Formations


“There’s nothing diagrammatic in Tyranny’s performance, in which a muted microwave roar and fractious metallic tones cascade and collide with densely packed and uneasy meshes of clatter and sibilance…Tyranny’s work with his own legacy in sound has a dimension and potency that shouldn’t be overlooked.” — Julian Cowley, The Wire.



As a document of late 20th century avant-garde activities, this release really couldn’t have a better pedigree.  Here we have a 20-minute piece by composer Philip Krumm—one-time associate of the legendary ONCE festivals of experimental music organised by Robert Ashley—realised here by his childhood friend, the maverick composer and pianist “Blue” Gene Tyranny using tapes of a January 1968 performance at the Everybody Wins festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan and a studio version from the same month, with both these recordings providing source material for a new computer rendition. As if these credentials weren’t enough, the piece was inspired by a visit Krumm made to the home of John Cage and, most specifically, Cage’s use of star maps as a compositional tool in his piece Atlas Eclipticalis. Here, too, Krumm’s score uses superimposed star maps, with nearness and distance indicating loudness and softness, and notes connected into dense, complicated clusters and constellations.

The music is performed by Tyranny predominately on piano, with some organ, but with both run through a primitive ring modulator. The effect is like Cage’s idea of the ‘prepared piano’ taken to a devilish extreme: the piano is rendered almost unrecognisable as such and takes on disorientating, alien tones. To further increase the otherworldliness, this central performance is overlaid with magnetic tape recordings of universal microwave background noise from the South Galactic Pole—essentially the sound of the universe sighing to itself when it thought no one was listening.

-Daniel Spicer


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