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Full of unsentimental tenderness, as offbeat as it is beautiful first heard the music of Tim Story while travelling in the back of a beaten-up Mercedes through the wintry streets of Berlin in 1982. The glove compartment was full of tapes which had been sent to Klaus Schulze, the German electronic composer. We zapped through a few - dull, doodly, self-indulgent stuff mostly - before being struck by the welcome sound of restraint. Poignancy. Composition even. The name was Tim Story and he came from Ohio. Before long we'd arrived at our destination, hit the eject button and my back seat companion, Wolfgang Fenchel, pocketed the cassette.
A couple of months later, when visiting the French record label Atem, I came across the name again. A small pile of test pressings, stamped Tim Story Threads, stood forlornly in a corner gathering dust. Atem was about to fold...but more of Threads later. Enter a third country. My friend Wolfgang had sent the cassette to Uniton Records in Norway and a year later the appropriately titled In Another Country was released.
Germany, France, Norway... How on earth did the music of one Tim Story end up being courted and modestly feted in such un-rock'n'roll countries? One reason, of course, is that Tim's music is as far removed from rock as you could imagine; its delicate, deeply-felt character having more in common with turn-of-the-century Euro-classicists Debussy or Satie. Another reason might be that Tim's contemporary heroes were mainly European: Czukay, Roedelius, Wyatt, Eno...But perhaps the most practical explanation was that Europe, unlike America, had quite an extensive network of independent record labels which, although small, catered for a myriad of musical tastes.
In Another Country was a blueprint for everything that was to follow: short, compact vignettes of piano, subtle synthesizer and glissando guitar, with each simple yet painstakingly structured composition suggesting a different kind of tension. "On the Green Cays," its piano and synthesizer countering one another, suggests (climatic?) foreboding, while "Careen" with its ethereal, chiming guitars is the calm after the storm. Maximal minimalism?
The summer of 1984 saw the release of the more piano-dominated (though dominated is hardly the word) Untitled. Tracks like "In This Small Spot" and "A Promise and a Plea" indicated something more personal, private. "The Seventh Chance," with its tender melody, avoids sentimentality by countering the piano with a string-like accompaniment pitched at just the right tension. Instead of mere nostalgia, it looks forward. Instead of a yearning, there is a sense of emotional attainment.
Three Feet from the Moon (Tim has always had a knack for delightfully expressive and idiosyncratic titles) appeared a year later. While its palette of color and texture was broader (note the title track), there was no great change in direction, orchestras creeping in, or middle-eights in 9/16. Simply another exquisite collection of perfectly formed musical miniatures. At a time when electronic music often tended towards rambling, side-long epics, Tim's fondness for distillation and compactness was becoming, by contrast, all the more apparent.
The last album for Uniton was the warm, rounded Wheat and Rust (1986). Its congenial Howard Hodgkin sleeve almost gives us a sense of place, but not quite - typical of Tim's music. There's something quietly majestic about "The Secret Rhythm," for example, conjuring up images of prairies or fantastic waterfalls...that is until the sound of something like a shakuhachi flute transports us to the privacy of a Japanese ornamental garden. Yet it is less a sense of place and more a sense of feeling which characterizes Tim's music, no more so than on "Chanarambie," included here.
Mention must now be made of Threads, the not-to-be debut album. Originally scheduled for 1981, it seemed destined never to be until the Eurock label stepped in and, together with some extra tracks, released it properly in 1992. These early recordings are certainly more electronic in nature than what was to follow, and to an extent more rhythmic than melodic. "A Thousand Whispers," though, is different again, having virtually no rhythm or melody. "The Moors," meanwhile, is pure soundscape, all delayed drip-drop of rain and ominous sustained guitar.
The tension or 'edge' in Tim's music has distinguished him from a great number of his contemporaries. Things are rarely as they seem; an innocent melody is countered with a more knowing refrain, a jaunty veneer belies an attendant uneasiness. You get the feeling that, despite the beautiful melodies, there's often some nagging doubt.
Abridged, then, is a catalog of emotions all perfectly parcelled up in miniature. The pieces are modest in scale, private in nature, but live with them and they will reveal more of their character with each listen. Tim, of course, has since developed his style with subsequent releases, including the recent Beguiled and The Perfect Flaw, on Hearts of Space. But Abridged is a timely and welcome reminder of - or indeed introduction to - Tim's early music. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.