Once again, time turns back on itself and yields an artifact of great cultural and artistic importance, and once again the agent of change is John Cale. The intrepid musician and explorer returns from the New York of the 1960s with a three-CD set that provides dazzling insight into what was really going on behind the facade of the Velvet Underground (read: "Lou Reed"). Audible in these long-lost experiments and tangents are the forces at work in the Velvets' first two albums, as well as the musical building blocks of countless other bands.
The unwieldy 27-minute excursion "At About This Time Mozart Was Dead and Joseph Conrad Was Sailing the Seven Seas Learning English" could be the codex for everything Cale and company attempted. Strings stretch taut until they scream, scrape across one another in howling figures, then snap and realign into alien, almost familiar wails and hums and growls. How is it that the ideas Cale and his friends played with 30-odd years ago are evident and even rampant in the work of so many people who never heard this music? The answer is just another fragment of the secret history of the 20th century, and its mystery only enhances Stainless Gamelan's otherworldly beauty.