Somewhat nervously, I expect my entire life to be on YouTube any day now. Well, virtually everything else is available. For music lovers, this is problematic. We have limited time and money, yet press releases and reviews claim that artists, cults, gems, and legends of musical history are being unearthed at a rate roughly equivalent to the discovery of an enormous tomb of pristine terracotta warriors.
Yet the release of William Nowik’s Pan Symphony in E Major on CD is most welcome, not least as it lets us hear why the original vinyl was reportedly fetching $1000 at online auctions. Some of that price was because very few copies of original vinyl existed, but I have to say that Pan is a worthy bit of odd treasure. The music consists of a short opening segment which acts as a summons, and two pieces each long enough to fill a side of a vinyl LP. The “symphony” is actually divided into 14 titles with fairly obvious separations or changes, so if you think it important to deduce which piece is “Tales of Joujouka” or “Rolling to Venus Interlude”, then you can do so.
Nowik explores electric and acoustic contrast, rhythm and percussion, with a variety of guitars, bass, violins, flute, piano, organ, clocks, bells, thumb-piano, and drums. He used to play very long gigs and parties, and consequently gravitated toward longer songs considered unsuitable for radio airplay. Pan Symphony in E Minor is a mostly solo musical trip across assorted terrain. About five minutes in and the abrasive violin/guitar dynamic (from 1974, remember) will sound very familiar to fans of Dirty Three. Elsewhere, there are West Coast math-psych-blues-rock passages, brief but lovely guitar slashes reminiscent of Laurie Wisefield’s rare avant-garde moments, a smidgeon of Gregorian chant, cosmic shuffles, circular folk sections, fluid Canterbury style progressions, choppy Havens-meets-flamenco guitar, electric doubling, a crashing wave, rain, rumbles, chimes and a tinkling semi-crescendo.
In need of a nap, I listened to this remastered disc while lying on the floor and enjoyed every second. It shifts around but without sacrificing clarity to flow. Yet when played in my car, other passengers demanded it be stopped. Apparently, William Nowik continues to play, record, and sing, and may have more releases in the works. And when YouTube reveals my life and personal cultural map, it will connect Nowik’s Pan Symphony in E Minor to Algarnas Tradgard’s The Future Is a Hovering Ship, Anchored in the Past, The Faust Tapes, the forest gods in Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, Jakob Olausson’s brilliant psych-folk LP Moonlight Farm, the Cottingley fairies photographs, and magic mushrooms. Before you ignore this album, ask yourself, where else can you hear someone play a ceramic blowfish?