The Music Centre

This week I heard the new album by Pye Corner Audio.

Like all Ghostbox releases it follows a standard format of sleeve design, with specific fonts and arrangement of text on the front and back in the same position and alignment for all releases. This is a harking back to the formalised layout of old Penguin publications, which has now been revived by Penguin themselves and is also alluded to by other new publishers, for example Dostoevsky Wannabe:

As the listing says, the new album is part of a “loose trilogy”. I can’t detect much in the way of a progression in the sound between the 3 releases. In all of them, the compositions are driven by electronic effects and percussion similar to themes or incidental music from 80s films and TV thrillers. There are faster-tempo works that might soundtrack a chase sequence; slower, brooding moments for the interludes between actions; long and cloudier sequences when the central characters are walking in a literal or mental wilderness and trying to reconnect some dangling threads.

Any thematic differences are indicated in the choice of titles, since this is an entirely instrumental sound world.

The inner sleeve of Stasis (2016) is unusual in that we get 2 scifi quotations. The first is from Arthur C.Clarke’s novel of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and is the description of the EEG scans of the 3 astronauts in suspended animation awaiting the arrival of the Discovery at Jupiter/Saturn (the book goes one planet further than the film). “…the electronic signatures of three personalities that had once existed and would one day exist again” – but they do not exist again, at least not in Clarke’s story, as the rogue computer HAL9000 switches off their life support and their dead bodies have to be dropped in to the outer void.

The second quotation is from The Lathe Of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin, wondering about the privacy of sleepers. So it is not hard to see that sleep, and experiments on the submerged consciousness of sleepers, is the theme of tracks such as “Sleep Chamber” and “Verberation Lab”, with “Ganzfeld Effect” and “Transformative State” marking milestones along an odyssey of a mind undergoing a sleep study experiment.

Hollow Earth (2019) is another odyssey, an interior journey in to subterranean, possibly subconscious danger zones (“Prismatic Gateway”, “Imprisoned Splendour”, “Mindshaft”). “Quad Tape Substrate” has some tape hiss and reverberations, suggesting found sounds or perhaps a lost recording rediscovered by later explorers. Perhaps this is another dream journey through the night. The jingle of the opening title track is like the commencement of a children’s magic story but the closing “Surfacing” has a murky funk beat as if heading back home in the early hours with the sound of the nightclub still running.

The new one is said to be “play[ing] with the idea of mycorrhizal networks and human attempts to listen in and communicate.” Now mycorrhizal networks are the very latest Magic Science Thing that are an absolute gift to any semi-serious creative person these days, plugging in a needed element of tame quasi-mystery for any Serious Novelist or Film Director. But they can’t help that they’ve replaced quantum physics and chaos theory in that respect; they just grew into a dependent relationship with modern British commercial art forms, now including dance music. In this instalment there is once again a sense of journey through a submerged state, which may be below both a physical and psychical boundary and in to another zone where imagination is unconstrained. The finale is a return to the origin but with the gathering of enlightenment in the networks below. We start with “New Roots” and “Synaptic” and end with “Buried Network” and “Symbiosis”.

The picture in the banner is of a Pye music centre available in the late 70s. A copy of the advert is for sale, because there is a market for people who like the graphic design and product stylings of the 60s and 70s.

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