Ned Lagin - Seastones
Dotted across the history of 20th Century music, there are a small handful of artifacts that are at once visionary - so singular and unique that they defy most understandings of what occurred - while joining the dots between a diverse number of seemingly disassociated creative fields. One such case is Ned Lagin's Seastones, originally released by the Grateful Dead's Round Records in 1975. A pioneering work of electronic music, interweaving metaphors from nature, science, and art, it stands as one of the great, unheralded bridges between the experimental avant-garde, psychedelia, and the American counter-culture of the 1960s and '70s. Now, just over 45 years after this remarkable work first bent minds, the venerable Important Records brings us a thrilling new instalment with Lagin's Seastones: Set 4 and Set 5. Beautiful and striking from start to finish, not only does this LP cast crucial light on a neglected American composer - bringing his efforts to a new generation of fans - but it delivers him to our ears with the context and sense of nuanced understanding that he’s always deserved.
Like a number of the most fascinating and singular artists of '60s and '70s - Tony Conrad and Henry Flynt being particularly noteworthy examples - Ned Lagin is a brilliant polymath, allowing his compositions to be fed by diverse ideas and his work across numerous fields. In addition to studying music at Berklee School of Music and Brandeis University, he did his undergraduate work in molecular biology and humanities at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where, among many others, he studied with Noam Chomsky and Jerry Lettvin. It was Chomsky’s generative grammar concepts that inspired Lagin's thinking about creating generative music forms, while Lettvin introduced him to cybernetics, laying the groundwork for Lagin’s fascinating and idiosyncratic career in electronic music.
While initially a jazz musician, Ned Lagin's first entered the public consciousness across the first half of the 1970s, when, at the invitation of Jerry Garcia, he began playing and recording with the Grateful Dead, subsequently forming a close friendship with many of its members. During the band’s 1974 tour he was invited to perform a middle set of electronic music, including parts of his composition Seastones, on computer-controlled analog synthesizers with Phil Lesh on electronically processed bass, occasionally taking on an expanded form with Jerry Garcia playing guitar filtered through effects processors and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. It was these highly experimental excursions that laid the groundwork for Seastones, released the following year, which enlisted some of the most noteworthy artists of the psychedelic era, Lagin on processed piano, clavichord, organ, prepared piano, electric piano, and synthesizers; Jerry Garcia on processed electric guitar, pedal steel guitar, and voice); Phil Lesh playing processed electric bass; David Crosby on processed electric guitar and vocals), Grace Slick and David Freiberg producing processed vocals); and Mickey Hart and Spencer Dryden playing percussion.
Over the years, Lagin began returning to the tapes of the original Seastones sessions, which sprawled across far more material allowed by the original release, resequencing them for different listening experiences, while regarding each as a "moment form”, and thus self-contained, like a sea stone on the beach. Important Records’ release of Seastones: Set 4 and Set 5 represents the latest instalment of the process in the work’s life. Radically experimental in its sound, the album draws from the original session with Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, David Crosby, Grace Slick and David Freiberg, during which in addition to his own musicianship, Lagin ran his fellow artists’ contributions through a minicomputer and an E-mu modular analog synthesizer - processing and controlling their sounds - to produce a truly singular form of generative music that weaves multiple musical identities within an interconnected group. In Lagin’s words, this “ensemble interaction and improvisation through instrument and compositional interconnection."
Emerging in the hands of Important, Seastones: Set 4 and Set 5 illuminates Ned Lagin as one of the most fascinating and important American artists working in electronic music during the 1970s, while doubling as a crucial historical bridge that unveils largely unexplored links between the experimental avant-garde, psychedelia, and the American counter-culture of 1960s and '70s. Over 40 years after these sounds were first laid to tape, presented in a brand new, free standing instalment, they sound as radical and forward thinking as they were then. More historically significant work from Important records that can’t be missed. Released in a special limited audiophile vinyl edition. Grab it while you can. This one blows minds!