Electronic

Vangelis “Beaubourg” (RCA, 1978)

I’m generally a fan of LPs that feature two sidelong tracks—mainly for the sheer audacity and large-scale ambition it demonstrates. If you’re gonna take up a whole side of wax, you’d damn well better come with the fire, right? And that’s what Vangelis (born Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassio in Volos, Greece, 74 years ago) does on Beaubourg, a record that must’ve made the execs at RCA sweat bullets as they tried to figure out how to market this dark beast. Viewed from a certain angle, it could be the Greek composer’s Metal Machine Music (also an RCA release)—but without the hilariously snarky liner notes.

Beaubourg followed some of Vangelis’ most accessible and popular releases in his discography, including Heaven And Hell, Albedo 0.39, and Spiral. So when Beaubourg dropped in 1978, at a time when 69 percent of musicians in the industry were making their disco moves, it must’ve baffled fans. Reportedly inspired by Centre Georges Pompidou’s architecture in Paris, Beaubourg is more Xenakis than Moroder.

The nearly 18-minute “Part I” immediately thrusts you into a state of disorientation and panic, as Vangelis works his synthesizer sorcery toward its most chthonic ends. The opening stretches sounds like Morton Subotnick possessed by demonic forces, as warped, spasmodic bleeps streak across the stereo field like malevolent comets. It sounds as if Vangelis improvised this panoply of bizarre, chaotic, and sometimes eerily beautiful passages while in the throes of an epic DMT bender. As he had nobody in the studio but himself, Vangelis probably said, “Fuck it, I have Chariots Of Fire and Blade Runner soundtracks ahead of me, so I might as well bust out all of my weirdest moves before I rake in my millions.” Or maybe he just wanted to make RCA’s executives, marketing directors, and publicists sweat bullets. Whatever the case, this piece messes with your mind more effectively than even Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze’s mind-altering marathons.

The 21-minute “Part II” traverses some of the same territory as its predecessor, but in a more subdued manner, yet it’s still pretty unnerving in an Andromeda Strain soundtrack way. (Highest praise, by the way; respect to Gil Mellé.) Like Beaubourg‘s A-side, the B-side changes every 10 or 15 seconds, moving from fascinating episode to intriguing development with a rapidity that suggests a genius working at the zenith of his prodigious creative powers.

This may be a minority opinion, but I’ll take Beaubourg over Chariots Of Fire or Blade Runner any day. It’s a bonus that it likely made major-label bigwigs sweat bullets. -Buckley Mayfield

George Harrison “Electronic Sound” (Zapple, 1969)

Imagine the deafening sound of Beatles fans’ scratched heads and befuddled mutterings when they heard—IF they heard, rather—George Harrison’s second solo LP, Electronic Sound. Even in a post-“Revolution 9” world, Electronic Sound isn’t what Fab Four aficionados really expected or wanted from their idols. But multimillionaire musicians are gonna do what they please, aren’t they?

So, if the sitar-loving Beatle wants to put out two sidelong Moog synthesizer demos, he’s gonna damn well do it. One has to admire the bull-headedness and lack of concern for commercial prospects shown by a member of the world’s most popular rock band, with regard to Electronic Sound—even if the music therein lacks what many people seek in synthesizer records—coherence, thematic development, rhythm, melody. But if you enjoy zoning out to a panoply of strange sounds that can’t really be replicated on traditional instruments, you may find Electronic Sound to be your cup of LSD.

“No Time Or Space” is actually an edit of a synth demonstration given by American composer and Moog representative Bernie Krause (of the great Beaver & Krause; see the review of their awesome Ragnarök in our archives). He and Harrison convened in LA when the latter was producing an album for Apple Records artist Jackie Lomax. Krause didn’t know his noodlings would appear on Harrison’s album, and holy shit, was he angry about it, because the piece was destined for a forthcoming Beaver & Krause release. Rough cock-block, Sir George! Krause asked to have his name removed from Electronic Sound‘s credits, and one surmises that thereafter, Bernie would change the station whenever “Here Comes The Sun” came on.

Dramatic backstory aside, “No Time Or Space” can be a fun headphone listen if you’re properly dosed or drunk or just wandering around a desolate city after 2 am. Fans of Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, Morton Subotnick, Throbbing Gristle and, indeed, Beaver & Krause should find plenty of interesting episodes per minute occurring during the track’s nearly half-hour running time. It’s a series of unnerving, sometimes terminally dystopian emissions spraying out in many directions—the product of toxic circuitry. You can also hear echoes of this piece in the synth freakout of Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein.” Harrison… er, Krause really exploited the hell out of that Moog, unleashing dozens of extreme expressions from it, Jackson Pollocking all over the stereo field.

“Under The Mersey Wall,” by comparison, clocks in at a mere 18:41, and offers way fewer thrills per square inch than its counterpart. George still displays a fairly deft grasp of the Moog’s capabilities, and damn if a lot of “Mersey Wall” doesn’t foreshadow some of Gil Mellé’s queasy moves and diseased tonalities on The Andromeda Strain soundtrack.

An anomaly in Harrison’s catalog, Electronic Sound is a curio for the die-hard George/Beatles head who’s game for expanding said head.

[There is confusion about which track is which, due to errors in the original pressing, which were corrected in subsequent reissues. It’s possible I have reversed these pieces when describing them. Nevertheless, the analysis holds and, as Sonic Youth put it, confusion is sex.] -Buckley Mayfield

Sun Ra “Disco 3000” (El Saturn, 1978)

In the last half of the ’70s, music-biz law mandated that every artist had to cut a disco record. James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, the Meters, esteemed jazz veterans like Yusef Lateef and Miroslav Vitous—it didn’t matter how established and respected you were; the industry-wide disco diktat had to be obeyed.

In 1978 while in Italy, Sun Ra and his tight quartet, the Myth Science Arkestra, paid lip service to disco (see the LP title), but as you’d expect from Herman Sonny Blount, the results here don’t at all conform to the genre’s major traits; nor are they exactly music to snort coke to, nor do they serve as preludes to getting laid. Rather, Disco 3000 is yet another anomaly in Sun Ra’s vast, strange discography. And that’s quite enough for me—and for you, too, I would wager.

On the astonishing 26-minute title track, over a chintzy rhythm-machine’s quasi-cha-cha beat, saxophonist John Gilmore and trumpeter Michael Ray blow mad, exclamatory arabesques, while Mr. Ra busts out some of his most severely warped tones on multiple keyboards and Moog synthesizer, raising plumes of alien glitter gas. All pretenses of regular meter quickly fly out the window. Throughout, Ra engineers passages of brilliant chaos, letting his insane menagerie of feral fibrillations and disorienting drones lift the piece into freeform, uncharted territory. If this is disco (it isn’t, let’s be honest), it’s a particularly Saturnine interpretation of the genre. I don’t think even renowned Italo-disco DJ Daniele Baldelli could smoothly segue “Disco 3000” into a KC & The Sunshine Band or Tantra track.

On “Third Planet” and “Friendly Galaxy,” piano, sax, drums, trumpet, and drums (played by Luqman Ali) cohere into rather conventional, bustling bop compositions. They offer respite before Ra and company head outward-bound again on “Dance Of The Cosmo-Aliens,” whose splenetic, galloping rhythm-box beats get wreathed with the sort of eerie, fairground organ motifs that haunted the Eraserhead soundtrack. The piece throbs with a manic intensity not unlike that of Killing Joke’s “Change,” oddly enough. Again, this ain’t disco as your lewd uncle Tony knows it.

On Disco 3000 in Sun Ra’s eloquent hands, space continues to be the place. And that’s quite enough for me. (Art Yard beneficently reissued Disco 3000 on vinyl in 2009.) -Buckley Mayfield

Conrad Schnitzler “Rot” (self-released, 1973)

The late German synth master Conrad Schnitzler is one of kosmische electronic music’s most interesting secret weapons. He helped to lay the foundation for deep, spacey, and turbulent soundscapes while playing in the early incarnations of Cluster (then known as Kluster) and Tangerine Dream (Schnitzler only appeared on that popular group’s 1970 debut album, Electronic Meditation), as well as in Eruption. Yet he remained strictly a cult figure and often went ignored in documentaries and histories of German music.

Wriggling free of band settings in the early ’70s, Schnitzler set out on a madly productive solo career that spanned over four decades. You could pick any 30 or so releases by him and discover a panoply of infernal and transcendental sounds illuminating each one. Even near the end of his momentous life, Schnitzler was creating challenging music that put to shame the efforts of those a quarter of his age.

Rot (German for “Red”) is Schnitzler’s first true solo LP, and what a debut it is. Symmetrically divided into 20-minute sidelong jams, it announced the presence of a diabolically talented composer. “Meditation” begins with a keening drone—a demonic busy telephone signal, practically—that portends very bad and very interesting things. Gradually, Schnitzler inserts a menagerie of acutely contoured, haywire synth disruptions to increase the chaos factor and to keep you on the knife-edge of your sanity. The effect over “Meditation”’s duration is that of a civilization incrementally unravelling. The eventful turbulence—and that persistent, penetrating drone—occurring throughout this piece is anything but meditative. Rather, Schnitzler takes the molecular tonal catastrophes of Gil Mellé’s Andromeda Strain soundtrack and magnifies them to madness-inducing intensities.

“Krautrock” resembles some of American Buchla innovator Morton Subotnick’s discombobulating bleepathons, but Schnitzler, as is his wont, generates a more swarming and sinister aura than the creator of Silver Apples Of The Moon. (Trivia: Faust’s “Krautrock” came out in 1973, too.) This “Krautrock” sounds little like that of the genre’s best-known figures, but in its own peculiar, mad-scientist way, the track’s as psychedelic as the first Kraftwerk LP, Organisation’s Tone Float, and Seesselberg’s Synthetik 1. It’s a relentless cascade of metallic, insectoid timbres and nightmarish synth howls and wails. To its core, “Krautrock” is radio-unfriendly and an effective way to make a crowd of normcore folks scatter. But I love it to death.

The craziest thing about Rot is that Schnitzler had to release it himself. Apparently, no record company wanted to take a chance on such bizarre, uncompromising music. Thankfully, a few labels since have had the brains to re-release it and keep it relatively available. You should make it your life’ s mission to obtain this record. The excellent Bureau B imprint reissued Rot in 2012, so it shouldn’t be too hard to track down a vinyl copy. -Buckley Mayfield

Mnemonists “Horde” (Dys, 1981)

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I’ve heard a lot of mysterious, strange records in my life, but few can surpass Mnemonists’ Horde for sheer baffling otherness. Rarely has the term “nothing is as it seems” been more applicable to a piece of music. An obscure collective of musicians and visual artists in Colorado, Mnemonists—who later morphed into the slightly more comprehensible but still very challenging Biota—conjure a bizarre soundworld in which it’s nearly impossible to discern how the sounds are being generated and what instruments are being deployed. People who care about such things will feel extremely itchy while listening to Horde, but it’s best to just let the underworldly noises wash over you, like silty water from a cave on Mars. Let your subconscious have a terrifying joy ride for once, why don’t you?

Horde contains 10 tracks, but for all practical purposes it’s one monstrous (de)composition. Heard from a certain angle, the album sounds like a riot in an insane asylum or an avian slaughterhouse that somehow has a train running through it. You can understand why Nurse With Wound’s Steven Stapleton would love this album, as it captures the nightmare logic and unsettling surrealism that marked so many of his own releases.

Heard from another angle, Horde seems like the handiwork of a chamber orchestra who appear to be undergoing some sort of mental crisis. Thankfully, the players are all stalwart avant-gardists who know how to contour madness into scintillating torrents of aural legerdemain. (I’m not sure what that means, either, but if you immerse yourself in Horde long enough, that sentence may cohere into comprehensibility.)

The 1998 CD reissue of Horde that I own lists the instruments used. Contrasting with familiar ones like guitar, sax, clarinet, piano, cello, and double bass are shawm, crumhorn, “processing,” and “tape work.” It’s the latter two—guided mainly by Bill Sharp and Mark Derbyshire—that likely have most influenced the primordial soup of disorienting improv brewing on Horde.

This is experimental music at its most gnomic and subtly horrifying. Listening to Horde totally sober is an ordeal; experiencing it under the influence of a hallucinogen could lead to unparalleled revelations or, more likely, a descent into insanity. But what a way to go… -Buckley Mayfield

Tantra “The Double Album” (Importe/12, 1980)

R-52217-1173438602.jpeg Much Euro disco is simply progressive music given an abundance of party drugs and guided by stricter adherence to steady 4/4 kickdrums, the better to grease dancers’ libidinous movements. I mean, just look at the track lengths on Italian group Tantra’s most easily obtainable release, The Double Album, which compiles 1979’s Hills Of Katmandu and 1980’s Tantra. The record’s peaks, “Hills Of Katmandu” and “Wishbone,” clock in at 16:20 and 15:40, respectively. And contrary to the common perception that disco is soulless machine music, the eight tracks on The Double Album—composed and arranged by leader Celso Valli—abound with moving male and female vocals and the passionate instrumental virtuosity reminiscent of the most revered prog-rock groups.

Case in point is the epic opener, “Hills Of Katmandu.” It’s a speedy space-disco gallop, powered by swift congas and bongos, heroic guitar flourishes, diaphanous female vocals (uncredited, unfortunately), and a synthesizer dialed into an exotic Eastern timbre and formulating a sinuous melody that augments the lyrics’ persuasive escapist theme. This deceptively complex, multi-part piece was obviously geared to eradicate all of your cares while helping you to lose a few pounds on the dance floor. It may not be as famous as Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder’s “I Feel Love” or Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover,” but it deserves to be.

The six shorter cuts don’t come close to the greatness of the epic bookends here, but they mostly transcend boilerplate happy-happy disco shenanigans. “Top Shot” radiates suspenseful, cop-show rhythmic urgency and features an absurdly upful melody and vocal line that contrast with the lyrics, which deal with spiritually hollow excess: “I get my kicks daily/I’m friends with most of the big shots/I’m full of dope mainly/To cut out most of the stage flops/Don’t really know what to do/I think I’ll kill myself.” At one point there appears an intricately fiery guitar solo that would make Deep Purple or Van Halen fans snap their heads around and say, “DAMN.”

The supremely ebullient dance jam “Mother Africa” unsurprisingly bears a heavy African influence in the chanted vocals with Anthony Taylor’s soulful vocals and those beguiling women singers extolling Africa’s “Tempting and inviting/beautiful, exciting” enticements. LP finale “Wishbone” contains one of the most tensile and sinewy bass lines in disco history, but the plangent sitar flourishes elevate the track to a higher spiritual level, while brash brass charts thrust it into pulse-racing, action-film territory. This is how you end an album, y’all.

When an American electronic label called Italians Do It Better sprouted in 2006, the owners surely had artists like Tantra in mind. They’re not wrong. -Buckley Mayfield

Charanjit Singh “Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat” (His Master’s Voice, 1983)

R-2108668-1460535363-6734.jpeg There’s something to be said about self-explanatory titles. They help the critic and, more importantly, enable the listener to get a grip instantly on what’s happening within the record’s grooves.

That being said, what Indian Bollywood session musician Charanjit Singh achieves on Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat is extraordinary, in that nobody had ever attempted to merge those genres. What emerges on this 1983 LP is a primitive form of acid house, a few years before the Chicago pioneers of that club-music style had conceived the Roland TB-303 squelch and TB-808 beats that propelled it into a futuristic phenomenon in the mid ’80s among heads attuned to underground electronic music. Yeah, Mr. Singh beat the Windy City producers to the punch, but it’s only since about 2010—thanks to Bombay Connection’s reissue—that anyone outside a small circle of cognoscenti in his home country had an inkling what the hell was going on in this synth sorcerer’s lab.

All 10 ragas here pump and snake around the 4-on-the-floor 808 beats for about five minutes; they’re at once functional and sui generis, with the ancient melodies of classical Indian music getting synthesized into bizarre, ultra-vivid convolutions that sound so wrong they’re right. Purists will be outraged, but outraging purists is never a bad thing. “Raga Lalit,” for instance, is a gradually accelerating gyroscope of spangly, fibrillating, simulated santoor tones that causes a vertiginous rush. The rest of the album basically wrings subtle variations on this theme. If this is proto-acid house, it’s proto-acid house with a PhD in instrumental virtuosity. The mercurial motifs that swirl around the über-basic rhythms lift this project into utterly sublime, distinctive realms.

Even if you’ve never had the slightest desire to bust a move to acid house or haven’t the slightest clue about raga’s sonic intricacies, you have to respect the ingenuity Singh displays on Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat. It’s not every decade that you encounter such originality, you know. -Buckley Mayfield

HEAD “HEAD” (Buddah, 1970)

 

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Nik Raicevic (aka Nik Pascal, aka HEAD) is an enigmatic analog-synth maestro who recorded five albums for his own tiny Narco label in the early ’70s. In a very strange turn of events, he somehow found himself in 1973 playing percussion for the Rolling Stones on “Can You Hear The Music,” the most psychedelic song on Goats Head Soup. (I still want to know how the hell this happened.)

Anyway, Raicevic convinced Buddah—a subsidiary of MGM Records—to put out this blatantly pro-drug LP under the alias HEAD. Maybe he had sway because he used a Moog synthesizer, which equalled record-biz gold for a hot minute back in the day. (Nik had recorded this album in 1968 and self-released it under the title of Numbers, using the catchy moniker 107-34-8933.) The Buddah version came with an eight-page coloring book and these notes on the back: “The sound of numbers for soaking in soft dreams. Sweet moments and private notes making a rhyme into a habit. An album that creates the ultimate environment for the smoke generation. Taste it.” Dude…

The year 1970 was a halcyonic time when you could open your debut album on a major-label subsidiary’s dime with a 17-minute tracks called “Cannabis Sativa.” Drop the needle on it and instantly feel like you’re slowly spinning horizontally in the most fucked-up aviary ever conceived. Mechanical bird twitters and what sounds like a pitched-up wind chime flutter over a sonorous, oscillating “woooaaahh” motif. Hypnosis will be yours. “Cannabis Sativa” mixes well with Tonto’s Expanding Head Band’s “Riversong” and Conrad Schnitzler’s “Electric Garden.” Try it in your next DJ set.

The Doppler Effected whooshes and disconcerting bleeps on “Methedrine” make it feel as if you’ve been transported to a planetarium in which—despite the track’s title—it feels as if the air vents are pumping out DMT. This is severe, depopulated synth sorcery, geared to disorient and alienate. That Raicevic was doing this in 1968 testifies to his innovative vision. Musicians today are still trying to achieve this sort of interstellar desolation, but often with computers and software programs, and yet aren’t capturing that sense of chilling menace to the degree that Raicevic did. HEAD ends with “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide” (of course it does), which is simply “Cannabis Sativa” played twice as fast while sounding half as trippy. Sort of a bummer, but I can deal with it.

Here’s a pro tip: Buy any Nic Raicevic album you can find, no matter how pricey it is. They’re all dome-crackers. Despite reissues of obscure electronic opuses flooding bins with increasing frequency over the last decade, it appears with each passing year that such a campaign isn’t going to happen with our man Nik’s catalog. But, you know, if we can get a Bruce Ditmas archival release, perhaps anything is possible. -Buckley Mayfield

 

Tom Dissevelt & Kid Baltan “Song Of The Second Moon” (1968, Limelight)

 

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Imagine hearing this music when it was created, in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Imagine how far-fucking-out it must’ve sounded to people who hadn’t yet experienced the great psychedelic cultural upheaval of 1966, who probably had only the faintest idea of musique concrète and Bebe and Louis Barron’s 1956 soundtrack to Forbidden Planet. Dutch composers Tom Dissevelt and Kid Baltan (aka Dick Raaijmakers) cracked open a Pandora’s Box of bizarre and breath-taking electronic tones and textures that some of today’s producers are still trying to emulate almost six decades later. Song Of The Second Moon captures the duo at a creative peak, generating compositions that embrace menace and whimsy, as well as order and chaos, with a poise that elevates them to the level of other electronic innovators like the aforementioned Barrons and Raymond Scott.

Baltan’s “Song Of The Second Moon” is the kind of synthesizer opus full of off-kilter jauntiness and mercurial insectoid bleeps that made ’90s IDM stars like Mike “µ-Ziq” Paradinas extol it as a paragon of pioneering electronic music. The beautifully desolate atmospheres and shattered metallic timbres of Tom Dissevelt’s “Moon Maid” evoke a sense of awestruck wonder, of planets tilting off their axes. Baltan’s “The Ray Makers” foreshadows Tonto’s Expanding Head Band’s malfunctioning rocket noises on “Jetsex” [see my review of TEHB’s Zero Time from December 18, 2016] and Gil Mellé’s sinister, microbial ambience in The Andromeda Strain soundtrack. Dissevelt and Baltan were magicking science-fiction sonics that were way ahead of their time.

Song Of The Second Moon ends with a couple of deviations from the rest of the LP and reveal the duo’s facility for jazz maneuvers. On “Twilight Ozone,” Dissevelt offers a witty homage to Bernard Herrmann’s Twilight Zone theme, full of frightful horn fanfares and hurtling, white-knuckle rhythms. On “Pianoforte,” Baltan serves up nerve-jangling, disjunctive spy jazz that predates Ennio Morricone’s work in this vein by a half decade or so. Lordy, how did the squares of the early ’60s deal with this madness? Some heads still ain’t ready for this kind of structural and tonal discombobulation.

(Kudos to Fifth Dimension for reissuing this groundbreaking electronic LP. You should also pick up Sonitron’s archival releases of Dissevelt’s Fantasy In Orbit and Dissevelt and Baltan’s El Fascinante Mundo De La Musica Electronica.) -Buckley Mayfield

 

 

Tonto’s Expanding Head Band “Zero Time” (Embryo, 1971)

 

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This fucking album. You’ve probably seen it in a one of your finer music emporia sometime over the last decade, looking all intriguing and phantasmagorical, whether with its original cover art or the reissue with the man-frogs and tadpoles.

Herbie Mann’s excellent Embryo imprint released Zero Time in 1971, and somehow Stevie Wonder heard it and became enamored of the dazzling constellation of analog-synth sounds created by Tonto’s Expanding Head Band’s members Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff. Shortly thereafter, the duo got behind the console for the Motown legend’s strongest run of albums. In a brief period of time, TEHB went from obscure synth geeks to super-rich studio wizards. Boy, did they deserve it.

One listen to Cecil and Margouleff’s debut LP and you can understand why an innovative, intuitive musician like Steveland Hardaway Morris would want to siphon some of that aural magic. Created largely on a massive synth invented by Cecil called TONTO (The Original and New Timbral Orchestra), Zero Time purveys a genuinely futuristic soundworld, albeit one that still carries traces of symphonic richness and grandiose melodies.

Case in point is the opening song, “Cybernaut,” a gorgeously desolate brooder with a momentous bass line. There’s almost a Hollywood lavishness to this track, and it’s a mystery why it’s never appeared in a sci-fi film. Speaking of which, “Jetsex” always causes severe disorientation and creepiness with its metallic termite chittering, Doppler-effected whooshes, ominous bass growls, and proto-industrial-techno timbres. It’s an intensely visceral simulation of mechanical dysfunction and impending doom, and a perennial favorite for my weirder DJ sets. Play it at a party and watch everyone in the room grow extremely uneasy.

Things lighten up a bit with “Timewhys,” which is pretty much the polar opposite of its predecessor. It begins with a fade in of enigmatic whistling ululations before a spacey, awe-struck motif manifests out of the desolation, followed soon by a modified cha-cha beat and a libidinously thrusting bass line. Thence, it morphs into a bizarre species of dance music. This piece just sparkles and throbs with cosmic bonhomie. It’s no surprise why Future Sound Of London would sample it for their track “Her Tongue Is Like A Jellyfish.” Keeping things spacey, “Aurora” coaxes lunar wind storms into a forlorn and anguished symphony.

One of Zero Time‘s highlights, “Riversong” could be a forerunner of New Age—you know, the kind that sounds like it took a proper dosage of lysergic acid before assuming the lotus position. “Riversong” is a glistening wellspring of keening, clear-light tintinnabulation (the sound of angel orgasms?) beamed into your third ear, as a voice somewhere between robot and human eerily intones a poem written by Tama Starr “about the idea that we exist where heaven and earth meet, and that the stream of life flows on endlessly,” as Cecil explained in the liner notes to the CD reissue of Zero Time on Real Gone Music. Listen to “Riversong” next to David Byrne and Brian Eno’s “Mountain Of Needles” and try to tell me the former didn’t influence the latter. The album’s only real dud is closing cut “Tama,” which is both tonally slight and melodically schmaltzy, which puts it out of alignment with the rest of Zero Time.

Still, five out of six ain’t bad. On Zero Time, Tonto’s Expanding Head Band originated a vivid and variegated vocabulary of timbres and tones that have vastly influenced electronic music… and it still has the power to activate/enhance a drug trip, if you’re into that sort of thing. -Buckley Mayfield

 

Richard Pinhas “Chronolyse” (Cobra, 1978)

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Throughout the ’70s, the French group Heldon forged one of one of progressive music’s most fascinating discographies. Their seven albums never wavered from greatness. The first few largely featured somber takes on languid, Robert Fripp-ian guitar meditativeness and drone tapestries while the last four found the music morphing into a more percussive, infernally throbbing brand of electronic space-rock that sounds like the ultimate score for a harrowing acid trip. (Hear Interface‘s title track for the peak of the latter style.) Heldon were led by Richard Pinhas, a guitarist and synth player enamored of dystopian science fiction and French philosophers. These interests fed into compositions that radiate an intense existential dread, albeit sometimes tempered by passages of eerie serenity and even pastoral bliss.

In Pinhas’ solo career, he muted some of the more horrific elements of Heldon’s output, but in his first LP under his own name (recorded in 1976), Chronolyse, you can still hear the mad scientist in thrall to Frank Herbert’s Dune in its nine tracks, which were done in one take, with Pinhas using Moog 55 modular synth in addition to his trademark guitar and Mellotron. The first seven pieces are relatively short and bear the title “Variations I Sur Le Thème Des Bene Gesserit.” (Wikipedia informs me that Bene Gesserit are “an exclusive sisterhood [in Dune] whose members train their bodies and minds through years of phyiscal and mental conditioning to obtain superhuman powers and abilities that can seem magical to outsiders.”) They consist of insistent, repetitive pulsations that build a sense of great expectation. Think a more primitive and darker-hued version of Philip Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack for an idea of the mantric zones explored here.

The 98-second “III” is particularly manic, threatening to spiral out of control, but never doing so. The bedazzled “IV” is a mere 1:45 long, but its momentous, interstellar theme—which many ’90s techno producers replicated, consciously or not—makes you wish it were 10 times longer. “V” also sounds like an embryonic attempt at techno; if its tempo were increased by 30 bpm, it could’ve thrilled the masses at raves worldwide. “VII” would make an ideal score for a sci-fi thriller flick directed by a Stanley Kubrick disciple.

“Duncan Idaho” combines the compressed-air ominousness of “Interface” with the Autobahn-jaunty synths of Kraftwerk and Cluster ca. Sowiesoso—which makes it godly. Last but certainly not least, the 30-minute “Paul Atreïdes” begins with repeated modulated blurts of Moog that recall the pew pews of futuristic weapons in loads of sci-fi movies. These are overlaid with ominous drones that foreshadow some sort of incomprehensible catastrophe. About six minutes in, Pinhas finesses some King Crimson-oid guitar filigrees that arc and wail in great anguish. Then around the 15-minute mark, Heldon drummer François Auger’s odd, quasi-funk rhythm enters earshot, while Pinhas continues soloing on guitar with increasing fierceness and complexity. Toward the end, the piece cycles around to the opening theme, but now with a sense of resignation to accompany the dread.

Of the many records inspired by Dune (which I haven’t read nor have I seen David Lynch’s film, sorry to say), Chronolyse ranks way up there with Bernard Szajner’s Visions Of Dune (recorded under the name Zed). Such is its malevolent power, Chronolyse makes me want to investigate a genre I normally don’t enjoy. -Buckley Mayfield

M|A|R|R|S “Pump Up The Volume” (4AD/4th & B’way, 1987)

 

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Pump Up The Volume” stands as one of the strangest songs ever to chart in America (peaked at #13). The handiwork of British musicians Martyn and Steve Young of Colourbox and A.R. Kane [see our Sept. 5 review of their Up Home! EP], this seven-minute sampladelic collage both entranced and discombobulated dance floors in the late ’80s—as did its four-minute edit to radio listeners. M|A|R|R|S loaded the track with an absurd abundance of sonic information; it’s as overwhelming a listening experience as anything concocted by the Bomb Squad for Public Enemy or the what the Dust Brothers stitched together for the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. “Pump Up The Volume” is one of those surreal, action-packed jams that can jolt you out of your doldrums while shopping for cereal at QFC (true story).

The main rhythm of “Pump Up The Volume” is a rolling, punchy house-music amble, spookily accentuated with heavily FX’d vibraphone tintinnabulation (I think). The excitement level seriously spikes when they bring in the monstrously funky, Moog-/timbale-enhanced break from the Bar-Kays’ “Holy Ghost.” Other elements producer John Fryer zooms in and out of the mix include the oddly riveting chorus from George Kranz’s “Din Daa Daa,” Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav shouting “You’re gonna get yours!” Washington DC go-go group Trouble Funk chanting “pump pump pump me up!” rapper Rakim intoning “Pump up the volume” (of course), a Last Poets member’s rapid-fire rant from “Mean Machine” (“rhythmatic systematic remote control/magnetic genetic commands your soul”), drums and cowbell from Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Jazz,” and Dunya Yusin’s striking melisma from “Abu Zeluf.” Throw in some scratching by C.J. Mackintosh and you have a recipe for confusion, but the whole thing hangs together splendidly, returning to the original undulating rhythm just when you think it’s going to split at the seams. The US edition of the EP gives you two alternate mixes with slight variations, but both pale before the original epic.

The 12-inch’s other highlight is “Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance).” Written by A.R. Kane, “Anitina” is a corrosive slice of the group’s patented, solarized shoegaze, buttressed with a sexily strutting bass line and some pneumatic ’80s drum-machine beats. Rudy Tambala sings to his “little dollies,” “I’ll feed you sugarkane” and “touch me where it’s forbidden,” and the effect is charming rather than creepy due to his vulnerably soulful voice. While “Pump Up The Volume” hogged the lion’s share of the spotlight, “Anitina” is a stunning gem in its own right, one of the most compelling compositions A.R. Kane ever conceived.

Vinyl copies of Pump Up The Volume commonly appear in used sections for prices much lower than the quality of its contents would lead you to expect. It’s bargain-bin gold, and you should cop one the next time you see it. -Buckley Mayfield