Before disco, and before the transcendent echoes, Arthur Russell wanted to be a composer. His journey began in 1972, leaving home in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Heading west to Northern California, Russell studied Indian classical composition at the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music followed by western orchestral music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, before ending two years later in New York at the Manhattan School of Music.
Traversing the popular and the serious, Russell composed Instrumentals in 1974, inspired by the photography of his Buddhist teacher, Yuko Nonomura, as he described, "I was awakened, or re-awakened to the bright-sound and magical qualities of the bubblegum and easy-listening currents in American popular music." Initially intended to be performed in one 48 hour cycle, Instrumentals was in fact only performed in excerpts a handful of times as a work in progress. The legendary performances captured live in New York at The Kitchen (1975 and 1978) and Franklin St. Arts Center (1977) feature the cream of that eras downtown new music scene including Ernie Brooks, Rhys Chatham, Julius Eastman, Jon Gibson, Peter Gordon, Garrett List, Andy Paley, Bill Ruyle, Dave Van Tieghem, and Peter Zummo.
Pitchfork lauded "Instrumentals Vol. 1" as a masterpiece and one of Arthur's "greatest achievements." Americana touching on Copeland, Ives, and maybe even Brian Wilson. "Instrumentals Vol. 2" is a moving, deeply pastoral work performed by the CETA Orchestra and conducted by Julius Eastman. Also included are two of Arthur's most elusive compositions, "Reach One," and "Sketch For Face Of Helen." Recorded live in 1975 at Phill Niblock's Experimental Intermedia Foundation, "Reach One" is a minimal, hypnotic ambient soundscape written and performed for two Fender Rhodes pianos. "Sketch For Face Of Helen" was inspired by Arthur's work with friend and composer Arnold Dreyblatt, recorded with an electronic tone generator, keyboard and ambient recordings of a rumbling tugboat from the Hudson River.
For this remastered vinyl edition, a key part of Arthur Russell's musical life has been restored. The sparkling, multidimensional results take the listener closer to Arthur's coast-to-coast journey: his iconoclastic determination to combine pop and art music; and his desire to make music that would resonate in the present and, ultimately, across time.