The world of avant-garde and experimental music is filled with paradox. It’s many practices are drawn toward the image of truth and democracy through sound - to open access to its marvellous realms. It is a people’s music, which far too few have accessed, understood, harnessed, or heard, lingering in the shadows of the unknown. Within this sprawling context, its ambassadors are often humble voices - quite investigators, issuing their sounds from the shadows and cracks. Singular creative minds, offering their power to, and drawing from, the collective whole. The life and work of the American composer Mary Jane Leach, are a near perfect image of this phenomena. Often sinfully over looked, the Milan based imprint Blume’s latest releases, following the heals of their brilliant reissues of Bruce Nauman’s Soundtrack From First Violin Film and Jocy de Oliveira’s Estórias Para Voz, Instrumentos Acústicos e Eletrônicos, is an effort to highlight Leach’s stunning output, offering it much needed attention via two incredible archival works from the 1980’s, never before released.
Mary Jane Leach is a definitive model of the American avant-garde and experimental composer - creatively brilliant, tragically underrecognized, yet always there, rigorously plumbing the depths, issuing challenges, venturing toward the unknown. Having moved to New York during the middle 1970’s, she entered fray during a crucial period in the city’s creative and cultural life, joining a community of remarkably talented and ambitious Downtown composers, which, among others, included Julius Eastman, Arthur Russell, Arnold Dreyblatt, Ellen Fullman, Philip Corner, Daniel Goode, and Peter Zummo. In addition to her own work, with William Hellermann, Goode, and Zummo, she has been an active member go on found the legendary Downtown Ensemble since 1983, and in the case of Eastman, following his untimely death, become the great champion and protector of the composer’s legacy. Her tireless efforts are the wellspring for the surging contemporary interest in his work. She is artist for whom community is the bubbling source of singularity and truth.
Leach’s creative practice began at the cross-roads of the Modern and Post-Modern - with the death the American dream, its hegemonic point of view, and with the unreconcilable reductive legacies of their predecessors, the Minimalists, who heralded the end of the 20th century’s dominant arc of creative and intellectual thought. To its young minds, mid to late 70’s presented the particularly daunting challenge of where to go from there, birthing a new breed of composer - one standing outside of the concise movements, linear progressions, and responses known to Modernism, wading toward discrete words of internal investigation. Some reduced further, grasping untapped territories of instrumentation, resonance or tone. Others introduced complex structures and relationships. Some drew on a diverse range of histories and cultural traditions, establishing hybrid forms, while others channelled the fledgling movements of Disco and Punk. Leach took another path, pursued the physicality of sound and acoustic phenomena - investigating their properties, and interactions with space.
Despite being incredibly active, the 1970’s and 80’s failed offer Leach a single commercial release. These circumstances pushed her to adapt and respond, instigating a singular body of work which is conceptually centred around live acoustic phenomena and performance. In effect, there are two dynamic components of her work - the notes, structures, and relationships which make up a composition, and a secondary series of difference, combination, and interference tones, generated by a work’s relationship to the space in which it is conceived and performed.
The release in our hands represents a turning of the tide - a means through which to offer the composer the attention she has always righty deserved, with the fortifications of context and historical proximity. Comprised of two incredible works - 4BC and Pipe Dreams, this LP is a brilliant entry point into Mary Jane Leach’s sprawling body of composition and investigatory work. Like all of her efforts, they are temporal snapshots, incapable of being fully reproduced. They are singular and unique. 4BC is a work for four bass clarinets, recorded during 1984. It is part of Leach’s large body of compositions which employs long tones (drone) within a constrained tonal pa Pipe Dreams, written for, and recorded on, the organ in St. Peter’s in Köln, Germany, during 1989, was realised by, and as a direct response to, the unique environment for which it was made. St. Peter’s organ has two sets of pipes at opposite ends of the church, each having separate sounds and stops that can generate microtonal intervals. The work is a structured improvisation, exploring antiphony and the specific sounds of that organ, extra-musical as well as musical. Wrapped in a thick blanket of resonance and ambience, it presents itself as one of the great lost Post-Minimal works, a shifting and simmering body of tone and tension, doubling as meditative sonic immersion, an other-worldly sound environment, etched in wax.
Long overdue, these works are an open door - an entry into a body of thought and sound which has lingered just out view, issuing its quiet influence over the past four decades. They are the light shone on the shadows of neglect, illuminating Leach as one of the most important and underrecognized voices in her generation - those New York composers who followed the Minimalist, shouldering an unfathomable challenge, while constructing new a meaning and pathways for the avant-garde. This is not a mere album, this is history reborn and living in the present day.