An open mind and a touch of patience are good tools to have on hand when going into Stephen Christopher Stamper’s debut, Begin Anywhere. Like many of the experimental releases on the Runningonair label, this disc steps off from a pretty heady theoretical perch, involving “natural VLF radio phenomena…algorithmic composition… prolonged experimentation with the Debian GNU/Linux operating system, Miller Puckette’s Pure Data visual programming language…” and more. This initially manifests itself in aggressive, static-laden, generative-sounding tangles that border on being unapproachable. A piece like “Crackle On and On (Version 1),” the longest track on the disc at 12 minutes plus, stands a very good chance of putting off less adventurous/tolerant listeners. A random-feeling, constantly changing backdrop of sounds rebound their way through a minefield of (appropriately so) electronic crackles. There’s intent and movement in the piece, but after a while the interference overpowers the mix and can be a bit exhausting. A saving point in Begin Anywhere is that as Stamper proceeds, he shows that he can use his array of sounds in a way that’s less threatening, with fewer barbs and prongs. Deeper emotional threads emerge as he exhibits an ability to coax a response out of the listener rather than chasing it out. The calm-but-textured roll of “Growth” comes after a series of Stamper’s more out-there tracks, and the switch in sound and approach comes with a degree of relief. “Fata Morgana” and “Cantus in Memoriam” both carry a hint of sacred music; the former in its church-organ-like tones and latter in a certain meditative, hymnal quality. Begin Anywhere is not an easy listen, but there are spots where the effort pays off substantially. Stamper’s fearless compositional stance promises interesting things going forward.
Available from Runningonair.