Fragmented Frequencies 30th April 09

Peter Thomas

Was God an astronaut? Did she visit ancient tribes throughout history? And how did whoever built the pyramids get so damn good at maths? These are the tough questions posed by the cheesy 1971 pseudo scientific documentary Chariots of the Gods (Beyond Entertainment). And the answers are a hoot. It comes from the wildly popular books produced by Erich Von Dankien, a bunch of questionably researched highly entertaining conspiracy pulp novels, that pose as rigorous scientific investigations and come across like the Cellestine Prophecy meets Da Vinci Code in flares. An earnest voice taps into ancient tribalism and rituals, reads centuries old poems and uses very curious interpretations of the dead sea scrolls and the bible to draw weight to the argument that we’re descended from aliens. Visually it’s stunning, you see 60’s Bagdad, Istanbul, India, Africa, South America, Egypt, visit the pyramids, Easter Island, even Aboriginal cave paintings in Australia in a magical mystical tour of the world.

Yet the real treat is the soundtrack which has become a highly sought after cult item, because it’s just so damn wacky. It’s an inspired mix of avant acid exotica, bachelor pad free-jazz, earnest cheesy synth, and soulless white-boy funk with messed up experimental sound effects simultaneously undermining and overwhelming the film. Excess was what these guys put on their breakfast cereal in the morning. Whilst Fragmented Frequencies likes to believe that the soundtrack was descended from aliens, It’s actually the work of the Peter Thomas Orchestra, a man who’s previous TV soundtracks for German Sci Fi and Spy shows had him referred to as as a wilder more eclectic John Barry, thanks to his sensational use of go go music alongside the ubiquitous noiresque brooding horns. He’s also known as one of Germany’s electro lounge pioneers, but really he was jack of all trades, equally adept at moving between classical, pop, rock and easy listening. His various orchestras and recording ensembles  apparently also featured session musos Jan Hammer (Miami Vice theme), Silvester Levey (Silver Connection), even Donna Summer. There is a rumour that Giorgio Moroder was also in the mix somewhere as well but Fragmented Frequencies believes that would be too good to be true. Perhaps the best thing about this soundtrack is that a fair amount of people who owned it are now dead. So you can pick it up on vinyl pretty easily at your local op shop. Perhaps it’s even cursed.

ACMI’s Synaesthesia series continues with the Queensland based audio visual electro acoustic duo Abject Leader. Their expanded cinema is based on the handmade, on hand processed 16mm film, on feedback systems, music concrete and avant garde cinema. They’re playing at ACMI on Thursday night and it should be a unique and quite hallucinatory experience. Best of all it’s free. One half of the duo, Joel Stern’s recent solo album Objects, Masks, Props (Naturestrip) is one of the more interesting and accomplished works of sound art you will hear. Recorded between 2001 and 2008 with raw material gathered from Ethiopia to Toowoomba it features field recordings of everything from bees within a bee hive to angry sounding dogs and insistent rain, yet there are also these thin wisps of melody that peek through occasionally and are quite beguiling. Despite the length of time in the creation it doesn’t feel composed, the feverish layers of sound slowly twisting and contorting in and out of earshot evoking an exotic fourth world sonic experience. The depth of his layering is astounding, taking you right inside a world that has never existed, yet so too is his editing which in the main is invisible, like he is attempting to craft an experiential sonic world for the listener, his edits replicating the subtle movement of the head in order to change sonic perspective. It’s a unique experience and it will be curious to hear if he utilises any of these techniques tomorrow night.      

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