The Long Overdue Reissue of Laurie Spiegel's 'Expanding Universe'

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Composer Laurie Spiegel had something like a career year in 2012, at least so far as attention goes – with extensive write-ups appearing in the niche music publication The Wire as well as in Conde Nast’s decidedly more glossy Wired. Her pioneering work in computer music — specifically, her long out of print 1980 classic "The Expanding Universe" — was also awarded of a coveted “Best New Reissue” status over at Pitchfork.

This press scrum was hardly the product of design. For years, at the invitation of the Unseen Worlds label, Spiegel had been tending to archival tapes from her time at a Bell Labs computer music studio, dating from the 1970s. She was taking her time with the remastering of "The Expanding Universe," while keeping busy with other projects, because, well, it wasn’t as though there was any key news cycle to hit, when talking about re-releasing a 30-year-old record. Right?

Wrong. Turns out there was a prime moment for a Spiegel reissue to hit, and it just so happened that her timing worked out perfectly. Mere months before the album's reissue, some of Spiegel’s other past music was put to use in the film adaptation of "The Hunger Games." The reaction to this pop-culture-relevant moment merely proved that journalists had been simply waiting at the ready for an opportunity to talk about this artist.

In its expanded, 2-CD edition, even Spiegel’s biggest fans found a few new surprises. The microtonality of “Wandering In Our Times” is as different in texture from the Bach-inspired counterpoint in the two brief-but-potent “Dirge” entries. There is even a “train song” tradition represented by “The Orient Express” (in which acceleration is suggested through a manipulation of amplitude). And then there is "The Expanding Universe" proper, moving from Renaissance-inspired motifs to pieces crafted for dance performances.

Though her status in New York’s minimalist-influenced 1970s “downtown” scene was already known to anyone familiar with the era’s reporting — Spiegel performed at the Kitchen’s opening weekend, for example — what we couldn’t understand until now was how far-ranging Spiegel’s quest for new approaches had been. Better late than never. The good news is that this covers just one era of her career. Here’s hoping Spiegel sees a few more years of publicity — and reissues — that can rival this one.


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