Label: Rvng Intl
For the third installment in RVNG Intl.’s archival series, the tape is wound back to 1970s Seattle, home place of ambient music savant K. Leimer. A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975 – 1983) unearths unreleased portions of Leimer’s vast archives and highlights the work of a self-taught visionary whose use of generative compositions ferried his music to infinite resonance.
Kerry Leimer was born in Winnipeg, Canada. He was raised in Chicago before his family permanently settled in Seattle in 1967. Kerry’s teenage interests and artistic experiments blossomed from the seductively strange tendrils of Dadaism and Surrealism. In the early 70s, Leimer found musical parallels to these visual movements by studying backdated copies of NME and Melody Maker and inquiring with local record store clerks about the exotic descriptions he read of Can, Neu! and Faust – innovators who were bringing the wild dictates of 60s art-discourse into music.
The tape-manipulated serenity Leimer experienced with Cluster’s II was a key revelation. Leimer realized the potential to compose with minimal training and scoured pawnshops for cheap instruments and recording equipment to transpose his wayward musical instincts. Leimer’s sound palette and composition soon refined and heightened with the accessibility of dynamic equipment such as the Micromoog and TEAC multi-track tape machines.
Synchronously, the Terry Riley indebted loop-based compositions of Robert Fripp and Brian Eno’s No Pussyfooting inspired Leimer to form recursive musical passages of bare timbre and melody that would become hallmarks of his sound. “The loop provided an instant structure – a sort of fatalism,” recollects Leimer in A Period of Review’s liner notes. “The participation of the tape machine in shaping and extending the music was a key to setting self-deterministic systems in motion and held a clear relationship to my interests in fine art.”
The underground music scene of Seattle-Olympia in late 70s was small but seeded. The vestiges of prog rock pompously pummeled the few clubs and record shops before punk and New Wave became the rage. Leimer sought to support a growing community of experimental composers by launching the Palace of Lights record label in 1979 with his wife Dorothy Cross (this was years prior to the birth of regional titans K Records and Sub Pop).
Palace of Lights took philosophical and logistical cues from the flourishing DIY cassette culture, but demonstrated a different elegance in its music and design. A testament to his independent and uncompromising spirit, all of Leimer’s recorded work would be released in varying formats and editions on Palace of Lights from ‘79 to ‘83.
Leimer rarely performed live, averting the litmus of instant appreciation for his solitary studio pursuits. Tellingly, the “K.” that abbreviated Leimer’s first name was a nod to Kafka’s doomed pariah Josef K (from The Trial and The Castle). This gives a sense of the reclusive and literary realm Leimer was fond of working in. Despite his reticence, Leimer’s debut 1980 album Closed System Potentials would reach a receptive audience, and eventually sell more than 3,000 copies thanks in part to Cross’s persistent advocation to independent distributors and magazines.
A Period of Review focuses on unheard material outside of the work Leimer offered on Palace of Lights, though even that music could be considered relatively “unheard.” The thirty tracks of A Period of Review may have remained a mystery on moldy reels until now, but Leimer’s entire catalog of generative music remains pristine in its absolute power.
The pieces of A Period of Review draw on many influences of the time, articulating gestures that embrace coolly composed stoicism, saturated fields of percolating beats, stark razed spaces and grave and gently developed glimpses of beauty. Overall, a genuine diversity of expression underscoring just how much range Leimer had at his disposal.
A Period of Review is a rewarding step into the canopied, unheard world of K. Leimer and necessarily grand in scope. With its hypnotic, arcadian terraces and nearly narcotic glacial beauty, A Period of Review has a rightful place in the canon of pioneering ambient music.
K. Leimer’s A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975 – 1983) is available now as a double LP set, CD and digitally via RVNG Intl. Liner notes were crafted by Seattle writer David Segal. Top-tier mastering was done by Greg Davis, who produced the compilation with Palace of Lights artist Robert Carlberg, RVNG and Kerry Leimer himself, who continues making music to this day.