London and Brighton duo Black Channels release their former Track Of Day single Oracles, as special edition 10-inch EP on Friday (17 July). To fill us in a bit, the baroque electronicists Simon James and Becky Randall have opened their "musical catacombs" to show us, along with a fine collection of vintage synths, a selection of music on a similarly dark wavelength.
Tristram Cary – It’s Time For Tristram Cary Simon James: "Radiophonics and experimental tape music of the late 50s and into the 60s have been a huge inspiration for Black Channels. The sense of sonic adventure, new worlds of sound explored and discovered by means of tape manipulation and the harnessing of raw electronics and oscillations permeate every thing we create. The majority of radiophonic material was created to enhance stories, first in radio and later for television, with drama producers and directors keen to harness the latest sounds being created by pioneers such as Daphne Oram and Desmond Briscoe. Conjuring up strange modulations and sonic textures from modified discarded equipment placed the avant garde in the living room for a short while and exposed unsuspecting ears to alien music. It’s very hard to choose just one composer from this fertile period, but Tristram Cary, owner of the first electronic music studio in the U.K, stands out. Not withstanding his role with legendary British synthesiser company E.M.S (who made synths for Pink Floyd, The Who and Brian Eno amongst many others), his compositions are often stark and always uncompromising, bringing to mind Brutalist structures on distant alien planets."
Paul Giovanni – Willow’s Song Becky Randall: I was in my early teens when I first watched The Wicker Man and the strange Summerisle and it’s naked pagan beastial ways entered my life and opened my eyes. The soundtrack by Paul Giovanni is just spectacular, with song after song of peculiar folk that dances you dizzy round a maypole and pops a frog in your mouth. Willow’s Song is an erotic folky mating call, so sweet and pretty but essentially a dark ritualistic song designed to seduce and corrupt, which is a dualism I always enjoy. The itching violins and the beating drums beckon this rousing carnal incantation as the pub landlord’s daughter, Willow – Britt Ekland – pounds the walls of her bedroom writhing naked and pulling the chaste policeman Howie from his prayers and further towards the burning wicker man. I can only hope to write lyrics as brilliantly loaded as Fair maid, white and red, comb you smooth and stroke your head. How a maid can milk a bull. And every stroke a bucketful. I wonder if the crops prospered after all?
Fifty Foot Hose – Cauldron SJ: "In the latter part of the ‘60s avant garde and electronic elements were shaking off their 'serious' academic lab coats and started to creep in to rock and even some mainstream releases with bands such as The Monkees, Simon and Garfunkel and The Doors utilising Moog synthesisers. But it’s this one album wonder outfit from San Francisco that really stirs things up with some truly mind bending adventures in inner space freakiness (alongside of course The United States of America). From the two minute growling, rumbling, abstract intro onwards, electronic squeaks echo and oscillators drift, sweep and swirl around the distorted fuzz guitar, drums (sometimes played in reverse) and heavily treated vocals of Nancy Blossom and Larry Evans. Acid rock, space jazz, psychedelic rock…. This is music from outer space for deep inner space exploration."
My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallow BR: "I have one of my first boyfriends to thank for an introduction to the bountiful seas of shoegaze. A few years older and wiser than me, he already had a Ride t-shirt faded through wear and wash, and a beloved copy of Loveless. We got stoned and listened LOUD, and what rose from that deafening loudness was a deep appreciation of supposed ‘noise’ and a love of the nuances and textures within. Loveless gave distortion and feedback a new name, a new identity. The way in which Shields took such a distinct methodology to playing and production was like a man possessed… strumming with a tremolo bar, the pitch bending, layering up take after take of vocals to get that really unique obscurity, colour and depth. It’s that obscurity I love, that you don’t need to hear the words clearly to feel that it’s articulating something for you that you haven’t yet learnt how to. The guitars glide around the dreamy sensual vocals purposefully low in the mix, and from those opening four beats on the snare, Only Shallow manages to wake you up to calm you down. It’s actually a pretty simply structured track where everything is given room to breath and emerge, and I love that. Even the iconic bright pink out-of-focus cover art perfectly echoes the sound within."
Jon Brooks – Walberswick SJ: "Also operating out of San Francisco in the ‘60s was synthesiser pioneer Don Buchla. As if building the sound system for Ken Kesey’s ‘Further’ bus, working for NASA and providing the pioneering San Francisco Tape Music Center with its first synthesiser wasn’t enough, Don offered the ‘trippy’ west coast alternative to the Moog synthesiser, ignoring the traditional keyboard and any desire for ‘synthesising’ already existing sounds. With his modular synthesiser, Buchla’s aim was (and still is) to explore new sounds and new ways of performing music. There are many amazing recordings featuring the Buchla (see Morton Subotnick, Charles Cohen, Suzanne Ciani, Allesandro Cortini), but a recent favourite is Jon Brooks’ (aka The Advisory Circle on Ghost Box Records) recently released LP ‘Walberswick’ which was recorded using the Buchla 200e Electric Music Box. Glistening arpeggios strobe in maze like patterns beckoning you to enter, whilst the spacious, stretched out nature of the recordings soothe an aching brain."
Joe Meek – I Hear A New World BR: "I Hear A New World is as Meek put it, “an outer space music fantasy”, that travels the galaxy to find the blue-faced Globbots and the sad Sarooes. The album, which is one of the first concept albums was in response to the new space program going on at the time, and Meek’s belief that there were other life forms in our solar system. I remember so distinctly hearing this song for the first time, I was mesmerised as I just hadn’t heard anything of it’s kind before. It’s transportative (is that even a word?) powers to catapult you out of your bedroom and into space was just magical. The trippy opiate call and response chorus of high frequency vocals (kind of like the chipmunks but space chipmunks I guess) is just pure brilliant fantasy born from Meek’s fascinating imagination of sounds (he recorded blowing bubbles and draining water out of a sink to get that full orchestra of atmospherics), and so before it’s time. He somehow manages to mix late 50s guitar pop and mid-60s tripping out with really cutting edge production and the height of sonic innovation. Literally out of this world music."
Emerald Web – Flight of the Raven SJ: "Speaking of glistening arpeggios…. This truly magical song from New Age synth explorers Emerald Web is full of childlike wonder, fantasy and adventure. It has the power to transport you inside the covers of all those ‘70s children’s fantasy books, the ones that have a map inside so you can follow the adventure through foreboding woods and across obsidian crystalline mountain passes. I wish I’d had this music when I was a teenager playing Dungeons and Dragons! It would have provided the perfect soundtrack. This is also one of many gems discovered via the kaleidoscopic web of Broadcast.
Broadcast – Haha Sound SJ: "This album seemed to find me at just the right time. I was being followed around by my own ominous cloud, and Trish Keenan’s haunting voice was like an old folk-medicine remedy. For me music has always been about escape or ‘going elsewhere’, and Broadcast have created the most dreamlike wonderful places to escape to. Haha Sound is one of mine and Becky’s favourite albums because it delivers on every level. As a producer and lover of strange sounds I’m blown away and intimidated every time I listen to it."
Cocteau Twins – Lorelei- BR: "It is almost impossible for me to pick a favourite Cocteau Twins song. I have ridden sidesaddle on each one, and every album perches on zones and meadows of my life almost like a reference library. Liz Fraser is one of my favourite vocalists of all time. I think she actually affects my molecules and my cells start a mass Mexican wave of pure joy and ecstasy. There is such an inherent female strength in her voice and the vocal. What really pulls me in like iron fillings is the indecipherable language she uses, embracing a glossolalia of sounds and textures to verbalise emotions instead. There is no falsity there. It’s very true that words can hold you back sometimes. It’s that feeling you get after crying that you released more with tears than you could have trying to talk things through within the periphery of words. When writing for Black Channels I often first find the melody with noises and nonsense, and there is a freedom that affords you. It sometimes stays like that and then there are other times when you pain over the words and you need to get a story out. This track is just pure magic, such majesty in it’s sails and soprano soar. Their ability to create this atmosphere so detailed and expansive you can smell it is pretty unique. To me, they are like Heaven’s house band.
John Carpenter – Escape From New York SJ: "I must have seen this film on night time TV in my late teens and remembered enough about it to pick up the soundtrack LP when I saw it for 50p in a dusty second hand record shop in Brighton. I was just starting out in music at the time, making very primitive angry techno with an Atari ST and Akai sampler, and even though EFNY seemed a bit too ambient to my ears at this time, I could sense there was something special about the darker tracks. I was definitely intrigued about how the electronic sounds were being made and tried to recreate some of them on my Yamaha DX100 synthesizer that I’d bought from my old school’s music teacher. The soundtrack is pretty primitive but it’s the sparseness that makes it work. The wavering analogue synths, repetitive arpeggios and white noise percussion patterns create the perfect backdrop to the dystopian fantasy on screen."
For more head to Blackchannels.co.uk.