Music » Rhythm Section: by Alison Fensterstock

Carl Stone

Carl Stone is a pioneer in the fields of sampling and electronic music.

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8 p.m. Fri., March 20

CAC, 900 Camp St., 528-3800; www.cacno.org

Tickets $20 general admission, $18 students, $15 CAC members

The internationally renowned musician Carl Stone has been called the king of sampling, but he's not a hip-hop artist or club DJ. Rather, Stone is an artist in the tradition of experimentalists like John Cage and Philip Glass and has created a body of work that, in a way, breaks down sound to its essence. Rob Cambre, a local promoter of avant garde music, has described work in such a style as "difficult listening," which doesn't necessarily mean it sounds grating or unpleasant. In the same manner abstract visual art presents images in surprising ways, Stone's unusual soundscapes, which layer electronics and traditional instrumentation, shun traditional melody and structure in favor of a deconstructed palette of noises that demand the listener's full engagement.

  Stone has been working in the electro-acoustic experimental medium since 1972 and is the recipient of NEA and Rockefeller Foundation grants, as well as numerous commissions for dance and theater works. He has, oddly, paralleled the rise of commercially popular electronic music almost to the year.

  "I was completely unaware of what people were doing in hip-hop, but I was working in a similar area completely outside of the pop music realm," he says. "It was a few years later that people started saying, 'Hey, you should check out Grandmaster Flash.' But I was really just slugging away on my own."

  In the same way advances in personal-computing technology have revolutionized popular music since the '70s (and similar to the way electrification of traditional instruments did in the '50s), Stone's work in the art-music sphere has blossomed as the equipment caught up with his imagination. Unlike other '60s and '70s experimentalists like the Silver Apples and Suicide, who were well known for tinkering like musical mad scientists to build their instruments, Stone says he mostly worked with household objects.

  "I wasn't the kind of handy science-fair person who could build my own equipment, and that's why I kind of adapted tools from the world, like cassette tapes and turntables," he says. "The trend of technology becoming smaller, less expensive and more powerful — the big change was it made it possible for me to do a lot of things I had been doing in recording studios. I could now do them live onstage in real time. One thing the technology enabled for me was the spontaneity that I didn't have when I was doing studio music."

  Now armed with powerful laptops, samplers and digital recorders, Stone has been able to realize his desire to play improvisational music, creating vibrant, eloquent performances alongside traditional instruments by tapping a few keys and spinning a dial.

  "I like to play with people's expectations so that they might start out listening to something and say, 'Oh, OK, I know what's going on, I'm hip to this,' but then suddenly, or maybe gradually, the music starts to change and it's almost like a film with a surprise ending," he says. "Or where you think it's a comedy, but it actually turns out to be something serious. I like for people to keep an open mind and just close their eyes and let the images from the music sort of wash over them."

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