Since it was established in 1914 the Phillips Research laboratories (NatLab) in Holland has given us the very first artificial reverb, tape recording, stereo, the cassette tape, cd, DVD, blue ray, and Songs of the Second Moon (Omni). You see due to the cold war, the arms race and the frequent threat of annihilation via an atom bomb, technology had developed something of an image problem. Consequently Phillips brought in some composers, in the hope that their technological music could put a human face on the new toys. The result was Songs of the Second Moon – the first piece of electronic pop music, recorded in about 1957. It was produced over a couple of days by Dick Raaijmakers (aka Kid Baltan), pressed as a single and given away to visitors to the lab. Despite the tune’s lofty status in the pantheon of electronic music, Raaijmakers was inexplicably demoted to assistant to fellow composer Tom Dissevelt. However the duo proceeded to record twenty or so tracks over the next three years in what was a quite laborious process.
The music is this jaunty space age swirl, with synthetic oscillations and bubbling textures, creating what is one moment playful, the next menacing, as the duo struggle reign in the beast that would become electronic music. You can hear everything from bachelor pad exotica to avant-garde electronics, and even a primitive precursor to acid house. It’s all here. As a side note it’s music that could’ve been the soundtrack to 2001 A Space Odyssey, as Stanley Kubrick requested the music for a new space project he was working on. The duo had never heard of him so they ignored the letter which is reprinted on this Omni reissue of the duos complete output during the period. Check Youtube for videos of them smoking cigarettes and explaining tape machines in their lab. It’s in Dutch but the vibe is tremendous.
Austrian born now Brisbane based sound artist Heinz Riegler was snowed in for 80 days in a cabin in the Austrian Alps last year. At first everything felt muted, two tone colours and near silence. But then something strange happened. His ears began to attune to the minute, the trickle of a faraway brook, the texture and ferocity of the wind and “snowflakes falling and hitting the ground…. well, maybe not so much hitting the ground, more like fusing with it,” he write in his notes. He also composed an album of surprising stillness and beauty, both powerful and subtle and clearly the product of his self imposed exile. Survey #2 A Thousand Dreams I Never Had is a limited edition of 100 handmade cassettes (+download link) released on Lawrence English’s new A Guide To Saints cassette imprint, and it’s truly an amazing work of electro acoustic beauty. He’s also recently contributed a free mixtape that includes a short excerpt of this work alongside pieces from Chris Watson, Broadcast, our own Lost Animal and an unreleased track from Melbourne’s Jason Heller on http://www.internationaltapes.com.
The environment is also an integral component in the work of Melbourne cellist Anthea Caddy and sound artist Thembi Soddell. Host (Room40) is their second album and it sees the duo who improvise regularly together, attempting to mine the relationship between the spatial environment and the way it can create altered characteristics or distortions to sound. They do this by recording in the Applied Acoustics Group reverberation chamber at RMIT, and other non-defined acoustic spaces, which I believe includes as dam wall in the Victorian high country. They’ve used this relationship as a metaphor for the distortions in perception or psyche and how this relates to an understanding of the physical world. The gist seems to be that perception equals reality, but if the perception is skewed or impaired, as much of ours is, then our understanding of reality may be dramatically different. Musically this is expressed by a dark slightly agitated world of abrupt cuts, in building noise contrasted violently by silence and near silence. Caddy, uses a variety of haunting almost violent non musical techniques that scrape, tear and tension her cello within an inch of its life, providing a highly textural foil to Soddell’s electrics and field recordings. It’s a dark, unsettling but always compelling.