Electronic Sound Issue 50

The new issue of Electronic Sound is now available, and this one is rather special. Initially available as a bundle with an exclusive Karl Bartos 7-inch (now sold out), this month’s magazine marks Electronic Sound‘s 50th issue.

Pulling off a specialist print title at a time where most people seem to think the future is digital paper is no mean feat. Indeed, Electronic Sound started life as an iPad-only magazine before realising that there was a gap for a beautifully-executed, smartly designed item created by an editorial team with intense passion and specialist knowledge of the subject matter the magazine covers. If it seems vaguely oxymoronic that a magazine celebrating music made with technology should find its niche as a resolutely analogue offering is because it is, and it’s all the better for it.

I joined the writing team for Electronic Sound in 2014 with a review of Apt’s Energy, Light & Darkness, back when the magazine was still a digital title. That I wrote this review at all is entirely down to the magazine taking a chance on me when I approached them, and that chance arose simply because another writer had let them down that week; that left them with a gap that needed to be filled at short notice, and they trusted me with the job, for which I am unendingly grateful. I figured it was a one-off, but I have written for them ever since. It is both a pleasure and honour to do so every month, and to play a small part in this wonderful magazine’s success and it’s broad minded approach to electronic music and the many stories that deserve to be told.

For this month’s magazine, I wrote a feature on Mattel’s weird 1970s home keyboard, the fabled Optigan, an instrument using optical discs that was meant to usurp the humble organ but didn’t.

The impetus for this piece arose through my good friend Reed Hays, who used the Optigan’s cousin, the Orchestron, on last year’s Reed & Caroline album Hello Science. Reed introduced me to his friend Pea Hicks – the foremost expert on the strange birth, life, death and resurrection of the Optigan – and his band Optiganally Yours, whose amazing O.Y. In Hi-Fi I reviewed for Electronic Sound. My editor figured that this was another one of those stories that needed to be told, and I was deemed the writer for the task.

I can’t hope to tell the story as well as Pea can (and does), and I am forever indebted to him his help in putting the piece together. The piece involved contributions from original 1970s Optigan user Alan Steward, former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, Tom Waits producer Tchad Blake and Sparklehorse collaborator and Nadine Khouri producer Al Weatherhead, each of whom have been drawn to the instrument’s curious and unpredictable charms over the years.

Elsewhere, I reviewed the fifth volume of Front & Follow’s Blow series, with a remarkable piece of mechanical music by Dunning & Underwood and their Mammoth Beat Organ; the return of Bill Leeb’s Frontline Assembly with Wake Up The Coma; Simon James‘s Musicity 003 Shenzhen / Shanghai cassette of Buchla and field recordings; Blood Music‘s inventive and dextrous GPS Poetics.

I rounded out my contributions with a review of Fond Reflections, a long-overdue compilation of unheard material by Rema-Rema on the 4AD label. The label’s founder Ivo Watts-Russell has oft said that it was the solitary Rema-Rema release, 1980’s Wheel In The Roses EP, that set the benchmark for his label, despite the band already having split by the time the 12-inch was released. The album is released on 1 March and I will be hosting a special Q&A with members Gary Asquith, Michael Allen and Dorothy ‘Max’ Prior at Rough Trade West on the evening of its release.

Buy Electronic Sound 50 here.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

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Electronic Sound Issue 50

The new issue of Electronic Sound is now available, and this one is rather special. Initially available as a bundle with an exclusive Karl Bartos 7-inch (now sold out), this month’s magazine marks Electronic Sound‘s 50th issue.

Pulling off a specialist print title at a time where most people seem to think the future is digital paper is no mean feat. Indeed, Electronic Sound started life as an iPad-only magazine before realising that there was a gap for a beautifully-executed, smartly designed item created by an editorial team with intense passion and specialist knowledge of the subject matter the magazine covers. If it seems vaguely oxymoronic that a magazine celebrating music made with technology should find its niche as a resolutely analogue offering is because it is, and it’s all the better for it.

I joined the writing team for Electronic Sound in 2014 with a review of Apt’s Energy, Light & Darkness, back when the magazine was still a digital title. That I wrote this review at all is entirely down to the magazine taking a chance on me when I approached them, and that chance arose simply because another writer had let them down that week; that left them with a gap that needed to be filled at short notice, and they trusted me with the job, for which I am unendingly grateful. I figured it was a one-off, but I have written for them ever since. It is both a pleasure and honour to do so every month, and to play a small part in this wonderful magazine’s success and it’s broad minded approach to electronic music and the many stories that deserve to be told.

For this month’s magazine, I wrote a feature on Mattel’s weird 1970s home keyboard, the fabled Optigan, an instrument using optical discs that was meant to usurp the humble organ but didn’t.

The impetus for this piece arose through my good friend Reed Hays, who used the Optigan’s cousin, the Orchestron, on last year’s Reed & Caroline album Hello Science. Reed introduced me to his friend Pea Hicks – the foremost expert on the strange birth, life, death and resurrection of the Optigan – and his band Optiganally Yours, whose amazing O.Y. In Hi-Fi I reviewed for Electronic Sound. My editor figured that this was another one of those stories that needed to be told, and I was deemed the writer for the task.

I can’t hope to tell the story as well as Pea can (and does), and I am forever indebted to him his help in putting the piece together. The piece involved contributions from original 1970s Optigan user Alan Steward, former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, Tom Waits producer Tchad Blake and Sparklehorse collaborator and Nadine Khouri producer Al Weatherhead, each of whom have been drawn to the instrument’s curious and unpredictable charms over the years.

Elsewhere, I reviewed the fifth volume of Front & Follow’s Blow series, with a remarkable piece of mechanical music by Dunning & Underwood and their Mammoth Beat Organ; the return of Bill Leeb’s Frontline Assembly with Wake Up The Coma; Simon James‘s Musicity 003 Shenzhen / Shanghai cassette of Buchla and field recordings; Blood Music‘s inventive and dextrous GPS Poetics.

I rounded out my contributions with a review of Fond Reflections, a long-overdue compilation of unheard material by Rema-Rema on the 4AD label. The label’s founder Ivo Watts-Russell has oft said that it was the solitary Rema-Rema release, 1980’s Wheel In The Roses EP, that set the benchmark for his label, despite the band already having split by the time the 12-inch was released. The album is released on 1 March and I will be hosting a special Q&A with members Gary Asquith, Michael Allen and Dorothy ‘Max’ Prior at Rough Trade West on the evening of its release.

Buy Electronic Sound 50 here.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Electronic Sound Issue 49

es49

Issue 49 of the wonderful Electronic Sound is now available, with this issue focussing on how the Moog added its distinctive, malleable sound to the music of the 1970s.

For this issue I wrote a feature on Secession, another also-ran band from the early 1980s that should have been bigger than they were, and whose lead singer Peter Thomson’s potential was abruptly silenced when he took his own life in 2001. Secession were purportedly called “better than New Order” by the NME, and their early singles and solitary album are hidden gems in the post-punk / electronic music archives. Their album A Dark Enchantment will receive a timely reissue this year.

Elsewhere in this issue, I reviewed albums by techo-influenced saxophonist Bendik Giske, the Israeli electronic jazz collective Time Grove, a Buchla-led lost album by Ragnar Grippe, and a very clever sound work by Machinefabriek. I also reviewed a massive new boxset of American electronic music getting a lavish boxset treatment by Cherry Red (Third Noise Principle – Formative North American Electronica 1975 – 1984) and wrote a piece introducing the duo Sunda Arc, whose Warp-influenced electronica and jazz crossover album is probably going to be my album of year when its released by Gondwana in June.

The bundle edition of Electronic Sound, with an accompanying 7″ of Mike Vickers’s Moog experiments is now sold out. Head to electronicsound.co.uk for the non-bundle edition.

A short Spotify playlist to accompany my contributions to the latest issue can be found here.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Electronic Sound Issue 47

Electronic Sound issue 47 is now available, featuring a very special in-depth look at Wendy Carlos’s work for Stanley Kubrick’s still-disturbing film of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. This month’s musical accompaniment is a CD featuring exclusive ‘responses’ to Carlos’s soundtrack from a whole bunch of electronic music luminaries, including Chris Carter (who worked on the movie as sound assistant), Factory Floor‘s Gabe Gurnsey, Sink Ya Teeth and Jack Dangers. There’s also a nice chat with Barry Adamson, who Sink Ya Teeth recently supported for his October shows in Manchester and London.

This month I contributed an Introducing piece on violinist Jessica Moss, whose new electronically-augmented work Entanglement is both modishly minimalist and refreshingly maximalist. I also reviewed new albums by SAD MAN, whose ROM-COM is his eleventh release in the past year full of eclectic gestures; Demolition by Brooklynite Robert Toher under his Public Memory alias which has all the murkiness of classic Depeche Mode filtered through trip-hop nous; Defiance + Entropy by FORM, a collaboration between Rob Dust, Shelter‘s Mark Bebb and Depeche tribute act Speak & Spell‘s Keith Trigwell; and Where Moth And Rust Consume by Sone Institute on the consistently excellent Front & Follow.

My favourite album this month was the wonderful sax and synths of Frank Paul Schubert and Isambard Khroustaliov with their hypothetical muzak for “the restaurant at the end of the universe”, a hastily-recorded improvised record full of noise and compelling coarseness. Listen to the stellar ‘Maconte, The Cross-Eyed Agony Aunt’ from That Would Have Been Decent at Bandcamp below.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Electronic Sound Issue 45

The ‘bundle’ edition of Electronic Sound 45 has already sold out, which means that if you didn’t buy it already, you’ve missed out on the opportunity to hear the exclusive Vince Clarke remix of ‘Magic Fly’ by Space that formed the A-side of the accompanying 7″ single. And believe me, that’s a pity – it ranks among Mr Clarke’s finest remixes and you’ll now probably never get to hear it. The B-side was the wonderful and moving ‘Before’ by Vince’s VeryRecords signing Reed & Caroline, marking the duo’s first time on a vinyl record.

For this issue I interviewed Didier Marouani, the classically-schooled musician behind the mysterious space helmet-wearing Space, marking one of those privileged opportunities that this magazine often gives me to write a story that hasn’t really ever been told before. My mum was dead proud too, because she bought ‘Magic Fly’ when it first came out in 1977 (I was a mere year old), and I think she believes that this had a major influence on my later interest in electronic music – and she’s probably right.

Elsewhere, for this issue I wrote reviews of albums by Julia Kent & Jean DL, Ghostly signings Helios, the marvellous Dutch group Go March, and Welsh non-pop artists HMS Morris. I also got the chance to review two absolutely stonking records – a jazz opus by Bugge Wesseltoft & Prins Thomas, and O.Y. In Hi-Fi by Optiganally Yours, fast becoming the record I’ve played more than any this year. The record was constructed principally from the original master tapes of sounds that would be used in Mattel’s Optigan, meaning it was made with sounds from the Optigan but in a high resolution form that the Optigan itself could never deliver.

And linking that back around to the 7″ you sadly can’t listen to – Pea Hicks from Optiganally Yours is the custodian of the only equipment in existence to manufacture optical discs for the Vako Orchestron, the zany professional version of the Optigan which Reed Hays used on Reed & Caroline’s Hello Science, turning Caroline Schutz’s vocal into lo-fi textural loops.

The non-bundle version of issue 45 is available at www.electronicsound.co.uk

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Electronic Sound Issue 43

Issue 43 of Electronic Sound is now available, and this month’s magazine & 7″ bundle includes exclusive tracks from the Radiophonic Workshop, the beneficiaries of a major in-depth feature this month.

For this issue I wrote a short introduction to the music of Ratgrave, whose jazz / hip-hop / electro / funk debut I mentioned in The Electricity Club interview, and who I expect I’m going to be banging on about for several months to come. Their self-titled album is released at the end of this month and it is a wild, untameable beast of a fusion record. I also interviewed Norwich’s Let’s Eat Grandma for this issue about their second album, which sees childhood friends Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton taking their curiously idiosyncratic music in a squarely electronic pop direction, complete with analogue synths and production nous from Faris Badwan and SOPHIE. We also had a god natter about the merits of rich tea biscuits.

In the review section I covered Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase‘s mesmerising Drums & Drones collection, three discs of processed percussion inspired by time spent at La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s Dream House; a hard-hitting gem of an album by 1i2c which I described as ‘therapeutic music for anxious robots’; the new album from 4AD’s Gang Gang Dance; another brilliant collaboration tape on the Front & Follow label by Jodie Lowther and ARC Soundtracks; the brilliant second album by Geniuser, one half of which is Mick Allen from The Models, Rema-Rema, MASS and The Wolfgang Press.

Finally, I reviewed albums by two projects by current members of WireColin Newman and Malka Spigel‘s second Immersion album since they reactivated the band in the last couple of years, and the third album from Wire guitarist Matthew Simms as Slows. Simms is a highly inventive musical polymath, as comfortable with a guitar in his hand as he is using analogue synths, found sound or pretty much anything he can lay his hands on. A Great Big Smile From Venus consists of two long tracks covering an incredible breadth of ideas, continually moving out in directions that are both unexpected and yet entirely expected when you’re familiar with Simms’s vision.

The review section also features Ben Murphy’s fantastically detailed review of the new Reed & Caroline album, Hello Science, released earlier this month on Vince Clarke‘s VeryRecords.

The magazine and 7″ bundle is available exclusively from the Electronic Sound website here.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Electronic Sound 36

Electronic Sound issue 36 is available to buy / order now, and features a comprehensive overview of David Bowie’s 70s forays into electronic music.

This month I wrote a short feature on up-and-coming Bristol electronic musician Henry Green and major feature on James Holden, whose album The Animal Spirits was far and away my favourite record of 2017. The interview took place in Holden’s studio near Turnham Green and found us talking about maths, spiritual jazz, the complexities of trying to add electronics to the music of Ornette Coleman, how to shrink a modular synth down to the size of a cabin bag, and the complex algorithms that explain duo playing. The result was one of my favourite interviews and consequently one of my favourite features to have written.

On the reviews front, this month I covered a reissue of Coil‘s Time Machines, the beautiful guitar processing of Martin Heyne‘s Electric Intervals, explorations of the fading AM radio spectrum by Conflux Coldwell, a lovely pairing of pianist Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno on Finding Shore, a scarily good release by Espectrostatic on the fine Burning Witches imprint and Null + Void‘s Cryosleep featuring Depeche Mode‘s Dave Gahan among other guest vocalists.

Electronic Sound can be purchased here.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence