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Thursday, December 7, 2023

the blind recluse and secret synth pioneer

Pauline Strom’s name holds little weight in the mainstream sphere, but within a specific electronic subculture, her identity and pioneering musical contributions are widely recognised. Blind from birth and naturally reclusive, Strom’s ethereal electronic compositions have been amassing a devoted following for years, yet her legacy is predominantly nestled in obscurity.

Born in 1946, Strom was known as a visionary electronic musician, composer, and pioneer in the ambient and electronic music genres. Having been born blind, she spent much of her life in relative seclusion, creating music that transported listeners into otherworldly sonic landscapes.

Her musical journey began in the late 1970s when she acquired a synthesiser, the gateway to her unique and mesmerising compositions. Strom’s music often evoked cosmic and ethereal atmospheres, drawing inspiration from her inner experiences and the vastness of the universe. She self-released several albums, including Trans-Millenia Consort, Aquatic Realms, and Plot Zero, among others.

Although Strom’s legacy remains shrouded in mystery, the times she sat down to reveal her secrets in interviews were captivating. For instance, she spoke to Huck in 2017, stating, “I’m pretty much a loner, and I pretty much operate alone. I just quietly do what I do.”

As a forgotten chapter of electronic music history, her records have slipped under the radar and into a more obscure realm of musical culture. Her 1982 composition ‘Morning Splendour’ was included in MGMT’s Late Night Tales compilation album in 2011, which many still believe is a piece of work solely credited to MGMT, despite Strom’s name being attributed.

Strom recalls falling in love with music when she got her first synthesiser. From then on, she felt that “electronics expanded the ability to create from your imagination.” Strom’s personal motivation to delve into her first synthesiser becomes particularly intriguing when you think about the prevailing attitudes toward women in electronic music. The field rarely sees women as sound engineers, and even when they participate, their efforts are often disregarded or patronised. Strom believed that altering this perception requires eradicating the fear of judgment within the industry.

“I have a unique way of living,” Strom explained in the same interview with Huck. “And a unique way of doing what I do. That may be a big part of it, of being an individual and not being part of the crowd. I really had very little to do with how my music was accepted.” She added: “I think the key is encouraging young women to be their own highest authority. You have to let go of what people think and know that you’re true to yourself.”

Strom’s music resurfaced and garnered renewed attention in the early 21st century as interest in ambient and experimental music grew. Her pioneering contributions to electronic music have since been celebrated, with a reissue of her albums introducing her visionary work to a broader audience, solidifying her place as a trailblazer in the realm of electronic music.

Unwaveringly self-reliant, Strom always embraced her unique individuality in her music and lifestyle. Single-handedly producing her albums, armed with a Tascam four-track recorder and an array of synths — a Yamaha DX7, TX816, CS-10 — she ventured into an expansive electronic realm. Her blindness and lack of formal composing experience allowed her to delve into a rich electronic soundscape, crafting records brimming with emotion and breathtaking beauty.

When asked if the industry has changed for women in electronic music, she hesitantly answered “yes” before explaining the complexity of such a judgement. Although there are many women who have pioneered the genre, many hurdles remain when it comes to real progression, according to Strom. “It’s improved in the sense of how there’s more freedom now, but there always should be more women. But in some ways, it’s the same. Technology evolves, but human nature doesn’t change.”

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