Ankle On: Electronic and Orchestral Works


Martin Bartlett was an inspiring and original thinker, composer, writer, performer, and organizer. His preoccupation with building aleatoric elements into electronic music distinguishes his work. He devised elegant and open interactions for instrumental performers and computer-controlled synthesizers which included building his own electronic devices and extensive work on the Buchla 400. He worked with or studied under Pauline Oliveros, John Cage, and David Tudor, and collaborated extensively with Don Buchla, and some of their live performances are included on the LP Anecdotal Electronics (ALE 009LP). He also studied Carnatic vocal music with V. Lakshminarayana Iyer in Madras, South Asian music with Pandit Pran Nath, and gamelan with K.R.T. Wasitidipuro. He founded the Vancouver Community Gamelan in 1986. His performances were often collaborative -- for the Western Front's second anniversary in 1975, he devised the four-channel piece "One Piece for Everyone", where he prepared and cooked a cauliflower curry on a table connected to a self-built synthesizer, while reading from texts on food. When the curry was cooked, the piece ended, and everyone was fed. Bartlett was a prolific writer, and he expresses himself in fresh, lucid, and wonderfully descriptive prose, offering clear thinking on social aspects of electronic music performance; on the barriers between the performer and the "black box" and on possibilities for organic systems in electronic music. He also wrote the incandescent manifesto-like piece "Electronic Recalcitrant" (which forms the cover artwork for Anecdotal Electronics), in which he hoped that electronic music would be imbued with "organic codes of growth and metamorphosis" so that he could "pluck elegant and fleshy electronic sound fish from the frothy algorithmic sea of possibilities". It is unclear why Bartlett's work remains unknown. Perhaps it is because it remained largely inside the academy. Perhaps his commitment to live performance and community activity means it was more transient than the work of others. Perhaps his openness about his sexuality played a part in his music not receiving much recognition -- one can only speculate. But correspondence in his archive shows that rejection from labels was a source of great personal discontent, leading to Bartlett working with the Western Front to release his final opus "Pythagoras' Ghost" shortly before his death. Bartlett died young, of AIDS-related causes, in 1993, but his music is characterized by an irresistible and unselfconscious charm that renders his sound unique.

Arc Light Editions releases an LP "sketchbook" of live recordings, experiments, and spoken word titled Anecdotal Electronics (ALE 009LP), and a CD of Bartlett's longer electroacoustic and orchestral works, titled Ankle On. Compiled and edited by Luke Fowler with Jennifer Lucy Allan. Mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi.