On her final album, composer Pauline Anna Strom cements her legacy in electronic music | Music Review | Chicago Reader

On her final album, composer Pauline Anna Strom cements her legacy in electronic music 

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click to enlarge Pauline Anna Strom

Pauline Anna Strom

Aubrey Trinnaman

Pauline Anna Strom’s new album, Angel Tears in Sunlight, features the first new work in 30 years from the legendary Bay Area electronic music composer. Strom made her album debut with 1982’s Trans-Millenia Consort, a limited-edition vinyl and cassette release she’d recorded in her San Francisco home. Despite its humble beginnings, the album has become highly sought-after by devotees of instrumental, synthesizer-driven space music and the tranquil ambient styles loosely grouped under the banner of “new age.” Strom didn’t care to have her music included in the latter category; in a 2017 interview with Red Bull Music Academy she said, “I think there’s a lot of phoniness in the new age movement.”

The word “phony” doesn’t belong in any description of Strom’s life or work. Born blind in Louisiana in 1946, she grew up in a Roman Catholic household in Kentucky, where she was exposed to church music and learned to play pieces by Chopin and Bach on her family’s living-room organ. She revisited that instrument after marrying and moving to California, where her husband was stationed in the military. She soon began creating her own sounds, playing early synthesizers and exploring tape-manipulation techniques, which became the touchstones for the music on Trans-Millenia Consort and the six further releases she put out over the next few years (she adopted “Trans-Millenia Consort” as her pseudonym starting with her second album, 1983’s Plot Zero). By the end of the 80s, Strom had largely stopped creating new music, and sold off her equipment to help pay for the rising cost of living in San Francisco; she studied the healing arts and eventually became a reiki master. Her albums remained relatively obscure until 2017, when RVNG released Trans-Millenia Music, a compilation featuring 80 minutes of Strom’s work culled from her 1980s discography. The subsequent attention motivated Strom to create new music, so she bought new synthesizers and worked alongside the people at RVNG to record and produce Angel Tears in Sunlight. Listening to the album is a bittersweet experience, because Strom passed away in December at age 74, two months before Angel Tears was released. The ambient compositions on Angel Tears are mesmerizing and light, full of the energy of a creator in top form who’s excitedly exploring her new instruments—it’s hard not to feel the loss of the music she would’ve made next. The album kicks off with the ebullient “Tropical Convergence,” based on a chorus of layered chimes and marimba-like tones, and the dramatic second track, “Marking Time,” completely shifts gears with its scattering of somber, genderless choral samples. Angel Tears in Sunlight is a marvel of a swan song for an artist who’s finally getting her due.   v

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