Trance Atlantic Air Waves – The Energy of Sound

Fifteen years ago this week saw the release of the first real Enigma side project in a long time. Made up of Enigma‘s Michael Cretu and his long-time production collaborator Jens Gad, it is ostensibly a cover version album. However, unlike normal albums of this kind, it’s actually pretty good.

The first track is Lucifer, originally performed by The Alan Parsons Project in 1979. The portamento and guitar leads swell over what is, really, what sounds like a fairly typical Enigma backing track of the period. In a good way.

Second is a cover of Harold Faltermeyer‘s Axel F (1984), now with added samples of someone saying “Give me a big beat,” and another one which you’ll have heard before in The Happy Mondays‘s Hallelujah. Famously, Michael Cretu claims that he doesn’t actually listen to much contemporary music, and that does show sometimes, but this is still a pretty banging track.

Exactly what events led to this collaboration is difficult to fathom. The Enigma project was between albums, with the last album of the original trilogy Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi! having come out a couple of years earlier and the follow-up The Screen Behind the Mirror not due until two years later. Cretu’s wife Sandra wasn’t recording at this time either, so perhaps this was just a stopgap, or maybe it was just a bit of fun. The first single Magic Fly had come out the previous year, and was followed by Chase and Crockett’s Theme over the following months.

The great version of Crockett’s Theme is the next track in fact, originally performed by Jan Hammer in 1986. The vast majority of tracks are excellent – they’re all old synth instrumentals, which are rightly regarded as classics by the world at large. This one is particularly good, with bouncy drum lines and a massive synth lead.

Next up is Dance with the Devil, an odd choice given that the original, a 1973 hit for Cozy Powell is largely a drum solo. It works pretty well, but it’s probably the weakest track on what is actually a very strong album. Then the fifth track is the softer and more Enigma sounding Addiction Day, led by a brilliant morphing portamento sound. It’s also one of a couple of exceptions on this album, being a new track written by Jens Gad rather than a cover.

A long take on Ecama‘s 1978 hit Magic Fly follows, now with added samples saying, “I said shut up,” which isn’t too charming. It does sound a little dated now, fifteen years on (remember, in the case of this track, it was only twenty years old when the album was released) but it’s good nonetheless. This is the Wonderland Mix, and without having heard the “original” it’s difficult to know how they actually compare, but it’s a strong lead single.

Chase, also originally performed in 1978 by Hansjörg (better known as Giorgio) Moroder, is up next. It’s a much more atmospheric track than the original, although again it isn’t exactly contemporary, even for the late 1990s – the remixes done a couple of years later for Giorgio’s remix project are much more lively. It is good though – the atmosphere suits it, and it’s another great track.

There are then two more Gad/Cretu originals: Twelve After Midnight and L-42. Although obviously otherwise unknown, both fit in perfectly alongside their more esteemed neighbours, driven again by strong synth leads and sampled spoken vocals. L-42 could even have easily squeezed onto the previous Enigma album and fitted perfectly.

The final track covers Evangelos “Vangelis” Papathanassiou’s 1976 hit Pulstar. More of an extrapolation than a direct cover, it follows a similar pattern to the other pieces – the original melody is accompanied by spoken samples and lots of big synth backing. That description may not do it justice, and just so we’re clear, it is, of course, excellent.

Looking from the distance, both of fifteen years, and from not really knowing its history, Trance Atlantic Air Waves is an odd side-project, but although dated now it’s a good album, and a worthwhile look back at a handful of instrumental synth masterpieces from the preceding thirty years.

To my surprise, you can actually find this album on iTunes, here.

Bizarre search engine terms

I’ve been writing this blog for a while now, and I’ve been enjoying watching the statistics for you lot, the people who visit. Your numbers are good, on the whole, and a lot of you stay to read stuff, which is encouraging too.

But I think what I enjoy the most is the search engine terms by which you end up on the page. Here are ten of my favourites, with the answers so you don’t need to search so hard in future:

devo newport stowaway club

Your best place to look for information about concerts past, present, and future tends to be Songkick.

vangelis -dimitri -moras -ebay -download

Erm. No idea what you were searching for here.

history of modern music

The Guardian did a nice article about this a couple of years ago. See here.

queen wings and band aid 2 million

I suspect the question here is “which sold more?” Wings managed 2 million on the dot with Mull of KintyreQueen managed 2.36 million with Bohemian RhapsodyBand Aid sold 3.69 million copies of Do They Know it’s Christmas?; and meanwhile Elton John surpassed all records in 1997 with 4.9 million sales of Candle in the Wind.

actor inside mr blobby

Barry Killerby, apparently, for the bulk of his career anyway.

how many brit awards did girls aloud have

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, just the one – they won Best British Single in 2009 with The Promise. They were also nominated for Best British Group in 2008 and 2009, Best Pop Act in 2008, and BRITs Hits 30 for The Promise in 2010.

lady gaga attitude towards kylie minogue

Apparently Kylie Minogue thinks there’s an element of her in Lady Gaga, according to a slightly pointless article in the New York Daily News, here. But what does Gaga think of Kylie? Keep searching…

did robsin green sing in band aid

No. There’s a table on the Wikipedia page for Band Aid 20.

are atomic kitten write a new albums

Technically they weren’t write the previous ones. But yes, sadly they is, thanks to the ITV series The Big Reunion. Read more about it on their Wikipedia page.

the,dark side,of,cliff richard

I think this may be my favourite. It would be tempting to suggest he lives a vampire lifestyle by night, or maybe turns into a werewolf and howls in the moonlight.

But I don’t think so…

Introducing Kyma

Our guest unsigned act this week is Colchester-based solo “hobby musician” Neil Alderson, better known as Kyma. He describes his music as intelligent, mellow electronica, blended with real and organic instruments.

Having started with childhood piano and guitar lessons, Neil started writing songs in an alternative rock band in the late 1990s. His solo work started under the name Karma Police, taking inspiration from the Radiohead song, and kicking off with the album Swept Away (2003). Finding that too many people assumed he was going to be a Radiohead tribute act, he randomly came across the word Kyma (the Greek word for ‘wave’) from a Google search.

The first track we’ll be listening to today is Lost Sands:

It is a great instrumental with a wonderfully chilled out feeling, with gentle pads and strings backed up with soft oriental sounds, and steadily builds to a point half way through where everything breaks down and you realise you’ve just lost a huge throbbing bass as well. Things build again throughout the second half, hitting a point which I can only describe as trippy oriental dub. Fantastic.

Next up is Crystallized:

This one has a bit of an X Files feel for me, with its rippling piano part and a bass line fresh out of the 1990s (that’s a good thing). After Lost Sands this is a great contrast, and proves that Kyma can handle a good range of styles.

Third and last for this set is Angels Breathe, from 2004:

Opening with a distinctly wobbly vinyl effect, this piano-driven track is the only one in this set to include vocals, from a somewhat ethereal sounding lady. I can’t help but feel she’s a little clouded by the effects, but you can hear echoes of Delerium (that’s a very good thing).

Here are some highlights from Kyma‘s answers to my largely daft and unprofessional questions. He was particularly notable, in that his answers were among the best that I received from any of my guests…

What’s your favourite synth, and why?

Well it’s not really an easy thing to pick out an absolute favourite because I am always changing which synths I use and quite often each project will have a completely different rack of synths in the sequencer depending on what sound or theme I’m trying to develop. A number of tracks are born out of me literally randomly picking a synth or trying out something I’ve downloaded and randomly picking another one until I get a layer of sound that I like. I guess I have a few “fallback” synths, namely, FM7, Alchemy, Chimera, Microtonic, If you had asked me 10 years ago I probably would have included Greenoaks Crystal on that list too, not used it much in recent years though. I’m an advocate of freeware synths and I like finding a good freeware synth before resorting to paid for. (That could also be because I’m a cheapskate more than anything though!)

Rearrange the following into the correct order: The Beatles, Justin Bieber, Mozart, Kraftwerk.

Mozart, The Beatles, Kraftwerk.

Mozart has to be top really, a pioneer of his time and technically superior to the rest. The Beatles second, no one can deny the impact The Beatles had on music and they’re just so damn catchy! You probably would have thought being an electronic artist I would pick Kraftwerk as top but in my opinion the other two really made a bigger impact in general, as much as I respect what Kraftwerk did for electronica specifically.

And as for the other one, I’m not even going to sully my keyboard by typing out his name let alone let him onto my list!

Which (existing) movie would have benefitted your music on the soundtrack?

An interesting question… I have no idea! Well I’ve always been inspired by the Blade Runner soundtrack but I think it is already perfect so I would never think I could replace it, not in a million years! But maybe you could slip one or two of my tracks in there to sit alongside Vangelis‘ amazing work? But even then, the quality difference would show (obviously I mean just how bad the quality of Vangelis‘ work is compared to mine… obviously)

Thanks very much to Kyma for agreeing to appear here and for providing such great answers to my daft questions! If you want to hear more, head to his Soundcloud page.

John Peel’s Record Collection

Browsing through someone else’s record collection is always very rewarding. You learn so much about the owner!

Although I’m sure none of us really needed to learn much about John Peel‘s beautifully eclectic tastes. If there’s anyone who didn’t worship him as a living God when he was around, then I’d be fascinated to know why. And if there’s a music fan out there who doesn’t know where they were then they found out he’d sadly died, then I’d be very surprised.

If you are the one person on the planet who wasn’t aware, then he was probably the finest DJ in British radio history. After some time in the world of piracy in the mid 1960s, he joined fledgeling BBC pop station Radio 1 when it started in 1967 and stayed there right up until his death in 2004. He was responsible for starting the careers of so many big name bands that it’s not even worth considering listing them, and his Peel Sessions remain a household name worldwide.

And this year, 45 years after he joined Radio 1, his estate have been working on a wonderful project to digitise his record collection, and they finally reach the end of the alphabet this week. Starting initially with the first hundred records from each letter, the archive of a few thousand records is quite compelling. Check it out here.

I’m sure I’ve missed plenty, but here are a few of the things which have caught my eye in his collection on my quick browse. Obviously I’m a lot less open minded than he is, but then neither was I going to list all 2,600 entries here! I’ve copied their links where appropriate, but I’d strongly recommend that you go and browse them for yourself!

In particular, the brilliantly bizarre industrial Slovenes Laibach get a full interview in the L is for Laibach feature here, which is well worth watching.

Free mp3 of the week – Asana

Whole bundles of Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis-inspired electronic soundscapes from the mid-1990s are up for grabs this week. Asana is a guy called Dave Barker, who released a couple of very good albums back in the olden days. After a long break, he’s now back on the internet, and he’s giving away a whole load of his less-well known material here, both from his solo projects and his later collaboration Cerulean.

If you’re not sure where to start, I’d particularly recommend his 1998 single Enshrined (here) and his 1997 Jodrell Bank live performance (here).