The frosty pads and hesitantly played synth notes of Pauline Anna Strom’s ‘Freedom at the 45th Floor‘ are at once claustrophobic and liberating. The track’s title points to life in a high rise, the music dwells on the comforting confinement of four walls and the escaped teased at by the view from a window. It marks the start of a record that revels in the beauty of contemplation; the joy of solitude found in the safety of a bedroom or study, as well as thoughts of the universe beyond these mundane things. A serene side to introversion that’s never covered in the Myers-Briggs test.
Trans-Millenia Music, released on double LP, CD and digital by RVNG Intl, compiles tracks recorded by Strom in her apartment using a 4-track Tascam recorder between 1982 and 1988. Blind for her whole life, Strom lived in San Francisco’s Bay Area at a time the ambient and New Age scenes were taking hold. The music she created however, across a range of long out of print LPs on small limited-run DIY labels, displays a sensitivity, depth and clarity which separates it from many of her yoga session soundtracking contemporaries.
New Age is a problematic term which keeps cropping up in discussions of Strom’s work. At its best, New Age conjures associations with the transcendent symphonies of Edgar Froese or Brian Eno, at its worst, pan pipe muzak soundtracks for a vain pursuit of enlightenment. Ultimately, the term is broad and poorly defined, encompassing spirituality, environmentalism, meditation and much more. What is consistent however, is that New Age music is typically viewed as accompaniment to some other activity.
"Trans-Millennia Music is a collision of the personal and the universal. A record made in an apartment that documents an artist constantly striving to reach beyond the boundaries of her reality."
The tracks on Trans-Millenia Music are far too richly arranged to serve as wallpaper. The ever -shifting dynamics and sonic palettes of ‘In Flight Suspension‘ and ‘Cruising Altitude 36,000 Feet‘ demand and deserve direct engagement. The aching, intertwined melodies of ‘Gossamer Silk‘, and the phasing percussion of ‘Bonsai Terrace‘ call for any stimuli outside Strom’s music to be shut out.
On the other hand, ideas of environment and universal connectivity, two central components of New Age thought, permeate Trans-Millenia Music. For all the intimacy in the recordings, reinforced by their relatively bare production, Strom pulls in influences, both temporally and geographically, from well beyond 1980s San Francisco. Echoes of Tangerine Dream’s kosmische synth explorations are present throughout the compilation, most vividly on ‘Virgin Ice‘, while ancient Zen melodies are produced from synthetic sound on ‘Warriors of the Sun‘. More than just an academic exercise in esotericism, Strom personalises these sounds, finding her own place among them and using them as frequencies to transmit her own vision into the world.
Pauline Anna Strom sits midway along the lineage of home-recording that starts with R. Stevie Moore, progresses through the DIY minimal wave of John Bender and arrives in the present with house tracks produced in bedrooms on cracked copies of Abelton. It’s a tradition defined by the clash between the isolation, domestication and introversion immanent to the music’s production, and an escapist desire to create a fantasy world beyond one’s own experience. Trans-Millennia Music is a collision of the personal and the universal. A record made in an apartment that documents an artist constantly striving to reach beyond the boundaries of her reality.
Trans-Millenia Music is out now. Order a vinyl, CD or digital copy from Bandcamp.
1. Freedom At the 45th Floor
2. Virgin Ice
3. In Flight Suspension
4. Bonsai Terrace
6. Mushroom Trip
7. Cruising Altitude 36,000 Feet
8. Spatial Spectre
9. Warriors of the Sun
10. Rain On Ancient Quays
11. Morning Splendor
12. The Unveiling
13. Gossamer Silk
14. Ancestral Shrines (Bonus Track)
15. Organized Confusion (Bonus Track)