David First / The World Casio Quartet – The Complete Gramavision Session (1989)


[Reviewed by Peter Marks]

It has an opening much like the first drops of rain presaging a storm, with each passing minute the intensity builds and an electrical undercurrent is generated by the changes in atmospheric pressure. This session is one which each time it is played becomes more and more bewildering, the individual notes overlap one another until drones becomes the dominant figure; these are not ordinary by any stretch of one’s imagination, you can feel them evolving thanks to the detailed implementation of the Quartet’s synchronized playing. There may have been just four of them participating in this and these recordings are over 25 years old but their potency remains intact; I liken it to discovering carbon copies in perfect condition and then transcribing them with keyboards instead of keystrokes.

I never heard about any of these experiments when they were taking place, you’d think the Casio corporation would have jumped at the chance to exploit what was going on here but I guess that they, too, were oblivious. My excuse would be age, theirs no doubt would be commerce. Talk about a missed opportunity on the part of the suits but realistically no amount of business acumen could have monetized this material. Thank god.

The CZ-1000 was designed to put technology in the hands of people outside professional recording studios, remember those? Many friends of mine then aspired to own one but as we were all teenagers and our parents kept hammering this concept called ‘college’ into our heads it was not to be. First and two of his cohorts by comparison got to play to their heart’s content with the timbrel possibilities this keyboard opened up. They did not waste the opportunity afforded them and should more of this outfit’s performances surface I’ll be listening closely; actually, two other long-form pieces are available on youtube, additional parts of David’s massive Data Dump series… maybe there’s a hint being dropped.

What is most intriguing about this session are the liner notes which come with them. First discusses the mathematical side of things with regard to their writing process and goes even further when talking about the performances: “I was always on the hunt for unique flaws in a room during sound check – a window, air duct or heating pipe that I could get to rattle sympathetically with a particular frequency.” The World Casio Quartet may have not been taken seriously by some due to their name but you can’t deny the focus involved with not only it’s execution but implementation; I’m of the mind they were re-writing the rules of acoustical space through the usage of near infinitesimal permutations teased out of their equipment. Oh, to have seen these four in action.

Even with the crystal clear format afforded by a compact disc, these pieces would have never sounded the same when performed. What we have is a single snapshot which finds them in lower Manhattan for one day at Gramavision studios. Tim Casey and Alex Noyes are the only other people on Earth besides David First, Esther Sandrof, Brian Charles and Kevin Sparke (on a CZ-101 to provide contrast I suspect) who actually heard this. For the rest of us there is this record and a brilliant one it is, allowing us to take part in a series of investigations which are only tied to humanity due to creative sparks flaring here and there triggered by improvisation. These pieces are intuitive to the point of prescience; their notations come alive with the players merely serving as conduits through which the language of audio signal flows.

David First / The World Casio Quartet – The Complete Gramavision Session (1989)
Pogus Productions, P21084-2
CD/Digital 2016

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