Best known as a founding member of THROBBING GRISTLE, electronic pioneer Chris Carter releases his first solo album in 17 years.
Together with Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter Christopherson and Genesis P-Orridge, THROBBING GRISTLE enthralled and irritated audiences with their confrontational performance art. Their tracks such as ‘Hot On Heels Of Love’ were played by Rusty Egan at The Blitz Club, while ‘Discipline’ was later reinterpreted by Marc Almond and an important inspiration for PROPAGANDA.
Despite the quartet’s no compromise experimentation, Carter occasionally unleashed a more accessible side, as the obviously influenced ‘AB/7A’ from ‘DOA: The Third & Final Report of…’ from 1978 proved.
So when he and Cosey Fanni Tutti broke away from THROBBING GRISTLE, in 1983 they released ‘October (Love Song)’, a playful synthpop ditty which was subsequently covered in Greek by MARSHEAUX.
Over a generous helping of 25 tracks, ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ captures Carter’s enthusiasm for the limitless possibilities of science, with more than a nod towards the work of THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP. But this is also an accessible record with perhaps the unexpected influence of English folk music. As Carter put it himself: “some of tracks on the album hark back to an almost ingrained DNA we have for those kinds of melodies. They’re not dissimilar to nursery rhymes in some ways.”
It all begins with the glorious statement of ‘Blissters’, a potential theme tune with hypnotic sequences and sweeping synths, wonderful offset by some detuned counterpoints and haunting skewed vocals chopped up in Carter’s sonic laboratory.
‘Tangerines’ continues proceedings but in an almost disco euphoria fashion although it ends far too soon, while ‘Nineteen 7’ plays with pentatonic melodies over a sharp electro beat. ‘Cernubicua’ plays with the skew vocals again before on ‘Pillars of Wah’, the beautiful chorals are accompanied by dub rhythms and a wah-wahed sub-bass. The pulsating tension of ‘Modularity’ is self-explanatory while the short uptempo blend of deep squelch and modular bleep of ‘Durlin’ is cut from a similar cloth.
But it’s the beautiful spacey ambience of the suitably titled ‘Moon Two’ that provides yet another accessible asset to ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’, an approach that is reprised on the equally beautiful if darker ‘Tones Map’ and the rich interlude of ‘Dust & Spiders’
For those who might find some of the more accessible material in the album’s first half a bit too nice, the second half is undoubtedly darker with the unsettling dissonance of ‘Shidreke’ and the galloping rumble of ‘Uysring’ more than suitable for soundtracking moods of anxiety and discomfort; meanwhile ‘Lab Test’, ‘Noise Floor’ and ‘Post Industrial’ do what they say on the tin.
But ‘Rehndim’ springs a blissful surprise with a manipulated female voice that wouldn’t have been out of place on a single by THE BELOVED while things head back into the shade with the sci-fi gloom of ‘Roane’.
‘Time Curious Glows’ recalls early Virgin-era TANGERINE DREAM with a spy drama twist, while the more motorik ‘Ars Vetus’ will please those who enjoy the darker side of ORBITAL. A diverse and intriguing collection of electronic soundscapes, this record is definitely worth investigating even if Chris Carter’s previous work has never been your thing; there really is something for synth enthusiasts of all persuasions and for that reason alone, ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ is for The Electricity Club, the surprise album of 2018 so far.
Founded in 1958 by Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram, THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP at the BBC was set up to provide “special sound” for radio and TV programmes.
So to celebrate 60 years of THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP in Autumn 2017, members of the pioneering collective held a panel discussion at The British Library prior to an impressive concert at the venue.
As well as using audio stems of the component parts to discuss how Delia Derbyshire constructed the original ‘Dr Who Theme’, Peter Howell (who was at the BBC between 1974–1997) mentioned how ‘The Music Arcade’, an old schools programme which he had made demonstrating the Fairlight CMI to children, had been re-edited by a prankster into a YouTube video entitled ‘How Drum ‘N’ Bass Is Made’.
With the combination of Howell’s well-spoken manner, the varied facial expressions of the children and ‘Lose Control’ by REDPILL painstakingly dropped in, the results are hilarious!
Peter Howell said at The British Library that “equipment can either be our servant or our partner”; he is best known for his 1980 reworking of the ‘Dr Who Theme’ using a Yamaha CS80, ARP Odyssey and vocoder, while he still uses a Yamaha DX7 as his master keyboard during THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP’s various concerts around the world.
The world found itself in a rather antagonistic and divisive state this year, as if none of the lessons from the 20th Century’s noted conflicts and stand-offs had been learnt.
Subtle political messages came with several releases; honorary Berliner MARK REEDER used the former divided city as symbolism to warn of the dangers of isolationism on his collaborative album ‘Mauerstadt’. Meanwhile noted Francophile Chris Payne issued the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS EP ‘Direct Lines’ with its poignant warning of nuclear apocalypse in its title song. The message was to unite and through music as one of the best platforms.
After a slow start to 2017, there was a bumper crop of new music from a number of established artists. NINE INCH NAILS and GARY NUMAN refound their mojo with their respective ‘Add Violence’ and ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ releases, with the latter recording his best body of work since his imperial heyday.
But the first quarter of the year was hamstrung by the anticipation for the 14th DEPECHE MODE long player ‘Spirit’, with other labels and artists aware that much of their potential audience’s hard earned disposable income was being directed towards the Basildon combo’s impending album and world tour.
Yet again, reaction levels seemed strangely muted as ‘Spirit’ was another creative disappointment, despite its angry politicised demeanour.
Rumours abounded that the band cut the album’s scheduled recording sessions by 4 weeks. This inherent “that’ll do” attitude continued on the ‘Global Spirit’ jaunt when the band insulted their loyal audience by doing nothing more than plonking an arena show into a stadium for the summer outdoor leg.
Despite protestations from some Devotees of their dissatisfaction with this open-air presentation, they were content to be short-changed again as they excitedly flocked to the second set of European arena dates with the generally expressed excuse that “it will be so much better indoors”.
By this Autumn sojourn, only three songs from ‘Spirit’ were left in the set, thus indicating that the dire record had no longevity and was something of a lemon.
Suspicions were finally confirmed at the ‘Mute: A Visual Document’ Q&A featuring Daniel Miller and Anton Corbijn, when the esteemed photographer and visual director confessed he did not like the album which he did the artwork for… see, it’s not just The Electricity Club 😉
Devotees are quick to say all criticism of DEPECHE MODE is unfair, but the band can’t help but make themselves easy targets time and time again. But why should the band care? The cash is coming, the cash is coming…
The Wirral lads demonstrated what the word spirit actually meant on their opus ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’, while the former class mate of Messrs Gore and Fletcher demonstrated what a soulful, blues-influenced electronic record should sound like with ‘Other’.
As Tony Hadley departed SPANDAU BALLET and Midge Ure got all ‘Orchestrated’ in the wake of ULTRAVOX’s demise, the ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ album directed by Rusty Egan, to which they contributed, became a physical reality in 2017.
Now if DM plonked an arena show into the world’s stadiums, KRAFTWERK put a huge show into a theatre. The publicity stunt of 2012, when Tate Modern’s online ticket system broke down due to demand for their eight album live residency, did its job when the Kling Klang Quartett sold out an extensive UK tour for their 3D concert spectacular.
No less impressive, SOULWAX wowed audiences with their spectacular percussion heavy ‘From Deewee’ show and gave a big lesson to DEPECHE MODE as to how to actually use live drums correctly within an electronic context.
Mute Artists were busy with releases from ERASURE, LAIBACH and ADULT. but it was GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Silver Eye’ that stole the show from that stable. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM returned after seven years with their ‘American Dream’ and it was worth the wait, with the most consistent and electronic record that James Murphy’s ensemble has delivered in their career.
2017 was a year that saw acts who were part of the sine wave of Synth Britannia but unable to sustain or attain mainstream success like BLUE ZOO, B-MOVIE, FIAT LUX and WHITE DOOR welcomed back as heroes, with their talent belatedly recognised.
Across the Baltic Sea, Finnish producer JORI HULKKONEN released his 20th album ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ while nearby in Russia, a duo named VEiiLA showcased an unusual hybrid of techno, opera and synthpop and ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY offered a ‘❤’.
One of the year’s discussion points was whether Synthwave was just synthpop dressed with sunglasses and neon signs but whatever, Stateside based Scots but MICHAEL OAKLEY and FM-84 made a good impression with their retro-flavoured electronic tunes.
Female solo artists had strong presence in 2017 as FEVER RAY made an unexpected return, ZOLA JESUS produced her best work to date in ‘Okovi’ and HANNAH PEEL embarked on an ambitious synth / brass ‘Journey to Cassiopeia’. Meanwhile, SARAH P. asked ‘Who Am I’ and MARNIE found ‘Strange Words & Weird Wars’ as ANI GLASS and NINA both continued on their promising developmental path.
Respectively, Ireland and Scotland did their bit, with TINY MAGNETIC PETS and their aural mix of SAINT ETIENNE and KRAFTWERK successfully touring with OMD in support of their excellent second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’, while formed out of the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL, RAINLAND wowed audiences opening for ASSEMBLAGE 23.
Despite getting a positive response, both iEUROPEAN and SOL FLARE parted ways while on the opposite side of the coin, Belgian passengers METROLAND celebrated five years in the business with the lavish ‘12×12’ boxed set
Overall in 2017, it was artists of a more mature disposition who held their heads high and delivered, as some newer acts went out of their way to test the patience of audiences by drowning them in sleep while coming over like TRAVIS on VSTs.
With dominance of media by the three major labels, recognition was tricky with new quality traditional synthpop not generally be championed by the mainstream press. With Spotify now 20% owned by those three majors, casual listeners to the Swedish streaming platform were literally told what to like, as with commercial radio playlists.
It is without doubt that streaming and downloading has created a far less knowledgeable music audience than in previous eras, so Rusty Egan’s recent online petition to request platforms to display songwriting and production credits was timely; credit where credit is due as they say…
While The Electricity Club does not dismiss Spotify totally and sees it as another tool, it should not be considered the be all and end all, in the same way vinyl is not the saviour of the music industry and in physics terms, cannot handle the same dynamic range as CD.
Music is not as emotionally valued as it was before… that’s not being old and nostalgic, that is reality. It can still be enjoyed with or without a physical purchase, but for artists to be motivated to produce work that can connect and be treasured, that is another matter entirely.
However, many acts proved that with Bandcamp, the record company middle man can be eliminated. It is therefore up to the listener to be more astute, to make more effort and to make informed choices. And maybe that listener has to seek out reliable independent media for guidance.
However, as with the shake-up within the music industry over the last ten years, that can only be a good thing for the true synthpop enthusiast. And as it comes close to completing its 8th year on the web, The Electricity Club maintains its position of not actually promoting new acts or supporting any scene, but merely to write about the music it likes and occasionally stuff it doesn’t… people can make their own mind up about whether to invest money or time in albums or gigs.
Yes, things ARE harder for the listener and the musician, but the effort is worthwhile 😉
To celebrate 60 years of THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP, the pioneering collective held a pair of events within the plush confines of The British Library.
The first comprised of a panel discussion chaired by Louise Gray of The Wire, while the second was a surround sound concert with striking visuals directed by Obsrvtry, a collaboration between THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP, Michael Faulkner and Ben Sheppee.
Gathered for the panel discussion were Paddy Kingsland, Roger Limb, Peter Howell and archivist Mark Ayers with special guest Martyn Ware who performed on their new album ‘Burials In Several Earths’; original member Dr Dick Mills joined the chat later on after being held up in London’s Friday rush hour.
Founded in 1958 by Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram, THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP at the BBC was set up to provide “special sound” for radio and TV programmes, inspired by studios set up by Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne for pure electronic sound exploration and Pierre Henry in Paris which had a more of a musique concrète remit.
So if a programme required a door opening or a car crash, a sound effects library could be used, but as Mark Ayres put it: “if you wanted a sound effect for a nervous breakdown, where would you go for that?”. Considered to be distinct from the corporation’s musicians and initially working with virtually zero budget, THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP tended to rescue obsolete equipment that had been dumped by other departments.
Using and abusing technology to create new sounds, its members like the late Delia Derbyshire would be tasked with two hour programmes each week and had to work to deadlines, something which she often had trouble with and referred to as her “variable reluctance”.
Of course, working with early electronics was not straightforward. The tape machines of the day were very unreliable and Roger Limb talked of when THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP started performing as a live act and using digital equipment, discovering “how surprisingly varied the tape machine output was”. He concluded that “what we like about analogue things is to do with the variance, stuff that you don’t immediately hear but is adding to the interest”.
Paddy Kingsland described how Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson (who created the sound of the TARDIS by running a key along a bass string of a gutted piano before electronically treating it) were “into their happy accidents”. It was something that Roger Limb summarised as “something that’s actually wrong that suddenly becomes right”, like the BBC fire extinguisher that was found to be approximately in D# when struck!
The panel discussion also included a fascinating demonstration by Mark Ayres of Delia Derbyshire’s component parts for the theme of ‘Dr Who’. While the music was written by Ron Grainer, it was Derbyshire who orchestrated the arrangement, painstakingly recording short bursts of manually manipulated oscillator onto tape, cutting them up and splicing them together to form longer and more recognisably musical sections.
The bass was actually a plucked string, recorded and copied via tape loops onto another machine until a series of different pitches were made, with Ayres explained that “every one of those notes was a piece of tape cut together with a razor”. Roger Limb pointed out that the bassline which Derbyshire had constructed was even cleverer because “the attack only happens on the front of the phrase”.
The music had a profound impact when it was first aired in 1963 with Dr Dick Mills remembering people were intrigued and asking “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?” because they couldn’t work out the instrumentation or how it was realised. As Martyn Ware put it, “it promised you were going to be visiting worlds that you couldn’t possibly comprehend” while Peter Howell added “You were genuinely hearing things you had never heard before”.
Adventurous manipulators of sound who came up with instruments like the Wobbulator, Peter Howell had the view that “the equipment can either be our servant or our partner”.
While discussing these two approaches, he casually mentioned how an old BBC schools film he had made demonstrating the Fairlight CMI to children had been re-edited into a hilarious spoof YouTube video entitled ‘How Drum ‘N’ Bass Is Made’.
With the panel discussion over, THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP moved over to the Entrance Hall for their two-part live performance.
With hardware such as an Arturia Matrixbrute, Korg MS20, Roland JX3P and Yamaha DX7 clearly in view, along with various laptops and controllers, the first section comprised of more progressive and lengthy ambient experimental pieces.
The impressionistic colours of ‘Picasso’ began the evening before the band settled into performing selections from ‘Burial In Several Earths’. Inspired by Sir Francis Bacon’s incomplete novel ‘New Atlantis’, Daphne Oram used a section of it as an electronic avant-garde manifesto for the workshop.
Her spirit could be heard within these watery overtures recalling Virgin era TANGERINE DREAM while in between these lengthy improvised soundscapes, Martyn Ware joined the band on a Roland Jupiter 8 for a rendition of the comparitively bite size interlude ‘Not Come To Light’. During the interval, DJ Tom Middleton treated attendees to the spacey sounds of JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, TOMITA and VANGELIS.
So it was fitting that when THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP returned to the stage, it was with ‘The Astronauts’, a pacey tune reminiscent of Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou. ‘Ziwzih Ziwzih 00-00-00’ from ‘Out of the Unknown’ was the first of the more Sci-Fi related compositions, a theme which continued with some music from ‘Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’.
Meanwhile ‘Magenta Court’ from ‘Through A Glass Darkly’ explored more proggy territory. The multi-instrumental capabilities of the ensemble were astounding with the main players moving between synths, guitars, wind controllers and taking turns to address the audience.
One thing that has been lost since the advent of 24 hour television in the UK since 1997 is Test Card F. So when the iconic image of Carole Hersee playing noughts and crosses with Bubbles the Clown was projected, it saw the band to wig out in a Floydian style with a sample of its accompanying music.
A rendition of ‘Vespucci’ from ‘Fourth Dimension’ also ventured into cosmic territory while ‘Vortex’ kept the Sci-Fi fans happy,
But it was the brilliant new composition ‘eShock’ that was the revelation of the evening. With Roger Limb taking to the microphone to warn the audience that they were in a “high risk area” and vulnerable to electronic shock, what proceeded was a vibrant electronic piece aided by a live rhythmic backbone from Kieron Pepper. With a cacophony of blips and beats that would make ORBITAL proud, an intense frenzy of psychedelic guitar and Theremin from Paddy Kingland was the icing on the cake.
Dr Dick Mills joined his colleagues on stage to announce the final number which was naturally ‘Doctor Who’; he even took time to joke and thank the crew for not only helping with the equipment, but also several of the band up The British Library’s many stairs.
Beginning with the familiar Delia Derbyshire take, there was a building improv before a Schaffel flavoured rock out with Kieron Pepper respectfully adding percussive power without swamping his colleagues.
Pepper has also played for THE PRODIGY and he is an example to stickmen like Christian Eigner as to how to properly mix live drums into electronic music.
Despite THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP members now pushing 70 years of age or more, they possessed more vigour than many acts half their age.
They didn’t start play live together in a concert setting until 2009 and having been cooped up in Room 13 all those years ago, they are now relishing playing to appreciative audiences.
Call it ‘Maida Vale Social Club’ or ‘Last of The Summer Synths’, this whole evening was a moment to savour with electronic music’s elder statesmen giving a lesson to youngsters with their laptops as to how it’s all done.
THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP was the legendary group of musicians / engineers that were set up in a BBC department ‘Room 13’ to provide music and sonic effects for the Corporation’s radio and television programmes.
Most famous for Delia Derbyshire’s iconic interpretation of Ron Grainer’s ‘Dr Who Theme’, the collective also scored the music for ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ and ‘The Living Planet’.
Due to financial constraints, the Workshop was wound down in 1998, but in 2009 several ex-members including Peter Howell, Roger Limb, Dr Dick Mills and Paddy Kingsland, along with “long-time associate composer” Mark Ayres reunited for some live shows including an appearance at the annual ‘Dr Who’ event at The Royal Albert Hall.
‘Burial In Several Earths’ sees the first official studio release since 1985 with the music being inspired by an unfinished poem by Sir Francis Bacon. The spirit of Workshop co-founder Daphne Oram lives on within the album as she once treated a section of the Bacon work as a manifesto for the operation and its commitment to producing innovative electronic avant-garde sound.
The reunited collective’s manifesto for ‘Burials In Several Earths’ was to “…see what happened if we allowed people to react together with their machines in a very unplanned and spontaneous way” with “the computers and sequencers switched off” leading to a “very human interaction between all of us”.
The album also features guest appearances from Martyn Ware and Grammy-award winning mixing engineer for THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS, UNKLE, and NEW ORDER, Steve ‘Dub’ Jones.
Ware discussed the making of the album with The Electricity Club recently and the very improvised nature of most of the compositions featured, saying “No words were spoken as to what we were going to do, it was completely spontaneous. At first, it felt incredibly awkward and childish in a strange sort of way, but as things loosened up a bit and we played off each other in a classic ‘jazz’ style, what emerged was spasmodically transcendental.”
With the opening eponymous track clocking in at close to nineteen minutes and a subsequent pair of twenty plus minute tracks, you know that this album isn’t going to be one that requires a cursory listening. The epic piece seamlessly moves through several sections from peaceful piano through to howling EMS synth freakouts.
Cyclical piano starts ‘Things Buried in Water’ with background siren-like synths, and an echoed guitar texture adding to the atmosphere. At this point, this appears to be the most melodic track so far until a huge blast of white noise materialises at around the four minute mark to disturb the peace. Halfway through, an octave / filtered arpeggiator riff comes in with an ever-increasing tempo, but drops out of the mix pretty much as quickly as it appears.
‘Some Hope of Land’ is another challenging piece, constantly evolving with a mix of JOHN CAGE inspired ambience and blippy sequencer parts. The ending of the track is almost an electro-blues section, with the kind of guitar riff that Martin Gore would be more than happy to rock out.
In comparison, the short four minute ‘Not Come To Light’ is more concise and is split between full-on analogue distortion, through to a beautifully pristine synthetic aesthetic.
‘The Stranger’s House’ starts with an echoed Virgin-era TANGERINE DREAM-style sequencer pattern; short fragments of electronic sound punctuate before a deep JOHN CARPENTER-esque bass joins the mix. Three minutes in and a thinly EQ’d guitar helps to give the track a Krautrock feel, whilst the bass reveals itself as a sequencer pattern itself when other notes are additionally triggered. The additional of more real piano really evokes the playing of Edgar Froese and the mixture of live instrumentation and synthetics works brilliantly here.
With acts like Tim Gane’s CAVERN OF ANTI-MATTER perpetuating the influence and sound of THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP in recent releases, it’s undeniably brilliant to still have several original members creating vibrant and challenging electronic work.
In places this is not an easy listen, but with repeated revisits ‘Burials In Several Earths’ is a rewarding album and one can imagine the makers of the album having a huge amount of fun making it.