Pamela Z: Echolocation
Since their launch in 2017, Freedom to Spend - the RVNG offshoot run by Pete Swanson and Jed Bindeman - has emerged as one of the most ambitious and strikingly singular imprints in the contemporary landscape of sound. Relying on an incredible knowledge of underground and obscure music, they’ve continuously delved into the shadows of history - looking beyond conventions and expectation for visionary, free-standing creative gestures - and come up with gold, issuing stunning artefacts by Michele Mercure, Marc Barreca, Pep Llopis, Richard Horowitz, Rimarimba, Tiziano Popoli, Ernest Hood, and numerous others. Their latest, Echolocation - a long overdue reissue of the stunning 1988 debut album by pioneering Bay Area intermedia composer and performance artist, Pamela Z - is easily among their most exciting to date. A radically experimental excursion that traces the borders of pop, poetry, and avant-gardism, it captures Z’s earliest experiments with live voice and delay. Unlike almost anything else before it or since, it’s an absolute revolution that’s bound to blow minds.
Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, while studying music at the University of Colorado during the late 1970s, Pamela Z discovered a vast world of avant-garde music in the library of KGNU, the community radio station where she hosted a show. These encounters inspired her to abandon her previous experiences with music, embracing the underground and taking on more radical approaches to sound, a happening which crucially dovetailed with concurrent innovations within the musical landscape, notably the development of accessible and affordable instruments, as well as home recording technology.
Following her move to San Francisco in 1984, Z continued to push her developing practice of vocal processing in live environments, often working within the Bay Area’s interdisciplinary performance art scene, while curating Z Programs, her own concert and event series, where she laid the groundwork for Echolocation, processing her own voice with an Ibanez DM1000, a digital delay unit with looping capabilities that would help define her practice during the early years of her career.
Recorded at her home on a 4-track cassette recorder and originally released by Z’s own imprint, Z Music, on cassette in 1988, the eight tracks encountered across the two sides of Echolocation unfurl as a diverse series of hybrids, blending sonic texture and meaning through the vehicle of melody, each harnessing the raw materiality of Z’s voice, electronics, and rhythmic elements, while collectively sculpting an entirely unique position of lyrical abstraction. Across its length, the album covers a startling range of creative territory within its relative constraint, ranging from the driving pop sensibilities of songs like Two Black Rubber Raincoats and I Know, the explicitly experimental accomplishments of Badagada and Scaff Scivi Gno - both rethinking the cycling, hypnotic rhythms and tones of 1970s musical minimalism on stunningly beautiful terms for the human voice - to the spoken poetics of Pop Titles 'You’ and In the Other World, emerging, more than 30 years on, as an artefact that remains as striking, fresh, and relevant as the day it was made.
Reflecting on the roots of her practice and these sounds, Z states, “I have always had a fascination with language and speech, and use the sound of the human voice as both an inspiration and a primary source for the actual generation of the music”, something - as encountered via Echolocation - that few have achieved with the artistry that she has. Absolutely incredible and visionary - not to mention an engrossing, challenging, and thrilling listen - Freedom to Spend’s first-time reissue of Pamela Z’s incredible debut stands high among the most important reissues of the year, allowing us to witness where it all began for a hugely important artist’s lifelong commitment to an exploration of sound.
Available in two special editions of 300 copies, one on black vinyl and the other on natural vinyl, both including four 8.5x11" Riso prints of Pamela Z posters from the 1980s / 1990s, contained within a stamped envelope, hand-assembled in Brooklyn. Just about as essential as any record could be. By far one the best things we’ve encountered all year.