Since launching six years ago, the ReRVNG series - a curatorial effort by the New York based imprint RVNG, has carved a singular place in the cultural landscape. Dedicated to highlighting remarkable, but overlooked gestures in sonic expression, its effect has been so wide sweeping that the names found within its catalog - Harald Grosskopf, Craig Leon, K. Leimer, Ariel Kalma, Anna Homler, etc, have emerged from the shadows, becoming familiar to most. After a year hiatus, much of which has been spent carefully assembling the release in our hands, the series returns with one of their most remarkable entries yet, an expansive survey of the work of Pauline Anna Strom.
Within the communities surrounding ambient, electronic, and synthesis based music, Pauline Anna Strom holds a legendary status, yet remains almost completely unknown within the broader field. A fascinating outlier of the electronic counterculture and New Age movement, her music transcends simple categorization. Strom lost her sight due to complications resulting from a premature birth, activating an acute sensitivity to sound. Following a move to San Francisco, and encounters with early gestures in ambient electronic music during the mid 1970’s, she began composing meticulously crafted works, recording at home on a Tascam 4-track recorder and a small array of synthesizer, culminating as seven privately produced releases, which emerged between 1982 and 1988.
Strom’s work draws on a unique form of sonic spirituality, envisioning herself as a musical consort to time and the living incarnation of an all-embracing entity of music - inviting the listener to travel into the profound realm of the psyche, where time dissolves and people of the past and future may be found. While connected to the broad concerns of the New Age movement, few artists have sprung from such a singular philosophical ambition (as Laurie Spiegel and Midori Takada to name a few). Even when addressed through their sounds alone, Strom’s efforts far exceed the expected bounds - threaded with tension, drama, and as much darkness as light. Across the four sides of Trans-Millenia Music, her inner world emerges as a mysterious, interlaced realm of synthesized tone. A rippling, shadowy landscape of organized sound, defined by stunning creative brilliance.
The first authorized overview of the enigmatic composer, Reiki master, spiritual counselor, and healer, Trans-Millenia Music draws its material from Strom’s seven impossibly rare private releases from the 80’s, bringing them the distinction and attention they deserve. This beautifully produced double LP set is the product of seven years of discussion, deliberation, and patience on the part of RVNG. A true labor of love. One of the most important archival releases of the year. This is ambient music and synthesis at unprecedented heights.
Recalling her youth, Strom says she was “a loner and heretic.” Seeking solace and solidarity, she moved to the mecca of California’s counter culture with her husband, a G.I., who was assigned duty in the Bay Area during the decline of the Vietnam War. Having dabbled with piano as a teen, Pauline’s passion for music reignited when synthesizers became central to the serene scene of San Fran FM radio in the mid-70s. Inspired by the electronic music of the instrument’s early ambassadors (Klaus Schulze, Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream), Strom purchased a Tascam 4-track recorder and a small array of synths (Yamaha DX7, TX816, CS-10) to navigate her own universe of space music.
As she gained confidence to share her creations beyond the walls of the apartment where she meticulously crafted under headphones day and night, Strom took on the artistic identity of the ‘consort,’ spiriting listeners through epochs described by her evocative musical passages. From this moment and represented within Trans-Millenia Music, Strom proves to be a delicate melodist and meticulous colorist, as well as a sound designer of great drama and inspired energy. The celestial sounds evoke the uncertainty of pre-physical and primordial elements, creating an impression of a world beyond access that Strom has always felt was hers. In the collection’s liner notes Strom recounts, “I have always been in touch with the past more than the present.”
Apart from its mysteries, Strom’s curiosity for the non-present was also suffused with a social bent. She believed that humanity was confined by its inability to access the people of the future, therefore suffering in a kind of group solipsism. Designing a world of music that rooted itself in all times but the present, Strom’s alter ego, the Trans-Millenia Consort, became a musical activist for triggering this state of heightened consciousness.
Exemplary passages highlighted in Trans-Millenia Music were selected from the three full-lengths originally issued on vinyl in addition to a group of four full-lengths self-released on cassette. This substantive body of work challenges the canonization of new age and ambient music as one-size-fits-all categories. Strom’s music induces a dynamic range of listening that captivates and intrigues, a cinematic experience rather than a meditation for passive listening.
An open invitation to earlier worlds and a trans-temporal philosophy for living, Pauline Anna Strom’s Trans-Millenia Music is available November 10, 2017 on double LP, CD, and digital formats. Vinyl and CD editions feature original artwork by visionary Karma Moffett, printed inner sleeves and booklet with extensive liner notes scribed by Britt Brown.