Published Jan 21, 2019The story behind this big, beautiful album is as extraordinary as the music itself. A year before releasing her debut, The Expanding Universe, in 1980, Laurie Spiegel left her job writing compositional software at Bell Laboratories.
The move made sense for the talented, pioneering artist. But it meant she no longer had access to Bell Labs' GROOVE System, which she'd used to record her album. The suitably named Generated Realtime Operations On Voltage-Controlled Equipment System was an early piece of tech that allowed users to make music with keys, knobs and so forth.
The enterprising Spiegel had been working with analogue synthesizers since 1967. Unsatisfied with the state of things in the 1980s, she developed an algorithm-based computer program she dubbed the Music Mouse – An Intelligent Instrument, initially for the Macintosh 512K (so called because it came with a whopping 512 kB of RAM). It would earn a loyal following among musicians using Mac, Amiga and Atari PCs back in the day.
Meanwhile, it allowed Spiegel to produce a long-awaited followup to The Expanding Universe. In 1991, Unseen Worlds sounded exactly like its title. (It still does, 27 years on.)
The album's range is a big part of its allure. At times it is melodic and peaceful. Just as often it points to the endless potential of computer-generated noise employed by latter-day artists. At this point in her career, Spiegel was more than just a software writer. She was expanding the scope of electronic music, and it was 100 percent DIY.
It isn't just that Unseen Worlds still sounds fresh. It is still challenging, surprising and even discomfiting. The 73-year-old Spiegel wasn't just ahead of her time back in 1991, she was ahead of our time.
As is too often the case, Spiegel's work has been hard to find in recent years. The label behind Unseen Worlds folded soon after its release. A limited-run independent CD version followed. Thankfully, a New York label that has borrowed its name from her sophomore release is behind new vinyl printings of both of Spiegel's first two LPs. These are a must. (Unseen Worlds)