Ruth White’s Short Circuits

Hey do you like old synthesizers that look more like telephone switchboards than proper musical instruments? Then check out my other blog for a picture gallery/write-up on an amazing exhibition of vintage equipment (much of it used by YMO) that I got the pleasure of seeing last week.

And then listen to this Moog album after that.

Ruth White – Short Circuits

I’d never heard of Ruth White until I bought this album last year. A fact that is rather embarrassing as she is A: an early electronic pioneer whose work rivals Wendy Carlos and B: from Pittsburgh, a city I called home for a decade.

Her discography is rather impressive, predating electronic music with her earliest releases in the mid-50s, and continuing well into the 1980s with countless children’s releases. I wonder if I heard any of those albums when I was a kid. Sometimes I wish I could take a peek back at my elementary school teacher’s music collection. She played all kinds of oddball shit. I wish I remembered more of it.

Anyways, like I said, Ruth’s career started out well before electronic music. Her earliest releases were traditional recordings of lullabies and folk music. But in 1969 she took a hard turn into the avant-garde with  7 Trumps From the Tarot Card and Pinions, a highly experimental record that made great use of the Moog. She followed that up with Flowers Of Evil in the same year, an album that is so bizarre and utterly alien that it might give you nightmares.

Two years later she released the record I’m sharing tonight, Short Circuits. Unlike her previous albums, which featured some out-there and highly experimental original music, there’s no original music to be found here. Instead it’s all covers of classical compositions. I would suspect she released this as a response to Wendy Carlos’ runaway success with Switched-On Bach, which came out a few years prior.

It lacks the insanity of her early releases, but the album is still haunting in its own way. Her arrangements are often minimal, and even occasionally employ some atonal effects to give them a somewhat off-kilter vibe. Even when it’s cheerful and fun, the album is much less “mellow” than Carlos’ Switched-On album, and features a much more diverse selection of tracks from a wide variety of composers.

 

It’s a real shame that this album, and her other work for that matter, has never been released digitally. In doing some quick research for this post, I discovered that Flowers of Evil has been re-issued several times, once relatively recently, but always only on LP. The growing prevalence of vinyl-only re-issues (especially of exceedingly rare releases) is really starting to irk me. I get the appeal of owning a vintage release on a vintage format, but why not give a digital download or CD option as well? These kinds of records deserve to be heard by more people, and keeping them on what remains a niche format certainly isn’t going to help make that happen. Maybe I should add “start a boutique record label dedicated to early electronic music and other stupid shit no one really cares about” to my to-do list.

2 Responses to “Ruth White’s Short Circuits”

  1. art58koen says:

    Thanks for this post, very unusual indeed and worth listening.
    A quick search found her Flowers of Evil still available at http://imaginarylandscape.blogspot.com/2010/01/ruth-white-flowers-of-evil-1969.html, definitely mind-blowing!

  2. markfromreno says:

    Really loved this. Totally fun to listen to in one sitting and I agree that she’s close to equal of Wendy C.

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