Space, Energy and Light-Experimental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes 1961-88.

Label: Soul Jazz Records

In 2017, Soul Jazz Records released Space, Energy and Light-Experimental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes 1961-88 to widespread critical acclaim. The album quickly sold out and has been out-of-print. Now five years later a new edition of this compilation has just been released. It features fourteen soundscapes that were created by musical pioneers. 

The story starts in the early sixties, when a new breed of musicians started creating some of the earliest electronic music. During this period, synths were being used to create music for the first time. These synths were very different to those used today, and were complex and unwieldly machines that often, were extremely difficult to use. However, in the right hands,  synths were a game-changer that could create incredible, and groundbreaking music. This became evident as the sixties gave way to the seventies.

Electronic music seemed to come of age in the seventies, while synths became much more affordable. Suddenly, synths were within the budget of musicians in America, Britain and Europe, who started to investigate what they were capable of.  Proof of this came in 1973, when Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company became the first synth ensemble, when it was created in collaboration with Robert Moog. What had once seemed the stuff of science fiction was now reality. and musicians started to think differently.

Musicians realised that with a selection if synths, sequencers, keyboards, drum machines and a four-track recorder they could record an album. Many musician did just that, including many in Germany who became part of the Berlin and Düsseldorf Schools of Electronic music. Elsewhere, many different types of music were recorded with the new electronic instruments.

During the early seventies, some of the earliest New Age albums were being released. This was nothing new, as Tony Scott had released Music For Zen Meditation in 1961. Mostly, it was popular in California, but as the years passed by, and fashion changed, Music For Zen Meditation found an audience further afield. By then, German musician Deuter had become one of the first artists to incorporate acoustic and electronic sounds on his albums. This included his 1971 debut album D, and the followup album Aum in 1972. Nowadays, both albums are regarded as Krautrock classics and among the earliest New Age albums.  

Later, in the seventies, more artists started to create proto New Age music. Among them, were Steven Halpern and Iaxos. Their music was  meant to be meditative and have healing properties. As a result, their albums weren’t sold in record shops. Instead, they were found instead in holistic medical centres and health food shops. Already, New Age was starting to find an audience. 

By the eighties, the New Age movement was in full flight, and labels like Windham Hill Records were hugely profitable enterprises. It had come a long way since it was founded with $300 seed capital. Many of the New Age artists were using synths and other electronic instruments to create the music that was proving hugely popular. So was a very different type of music.

As the eighties dawned, a new type of artist had emerged. They were also electronic artists but didn’t have their albums pressed on vinyl or CD. Instead, their releases were much more basic, and were a throwback to the age of punk. This new breed of electronic artists   D-I-Y approach saw them release their albums on cassette. Despite the basic nature of these releases, the music that Germany’s Stratis and Britain’s Carl Matthews were producing was far from basic. Instead, these artists embraced the latest advancements in music technology, as they created new, ambitious and exciting music. However, this wasn’t new.

Instead, the willingness to embrace the latest advancements in music technology is a thread that runs through Space, Energy and Light-Experimental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes 1961-88. Each of the artists on the compilation pioneered and were early adopters of  new equipment and technology. They were determined not to be left behind in this brave new musical world. 

With this new equipment and technology, artists were able to explore space and look at what the future held. Some took the opportunity to look deep within themselves and at their very soul. They went on to create music that was in harmony with the natural world. It was an exciting time, and for those involved it was a brave new world, where anything was possible. 

A reminder of this are the fourteen tracks on Space, Energy and Light-Experimental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes 1961-88. It includes a mixture of new names and familiar faces, ranging from J.B. Banfi, Michael Garrison, Iasos, Carl Matthews and Tim Blake to Laurie Spiegel, Michael Stearns, Richard Pinhas, Kevin Braheny and Steven Halpern. They’re just some of the artists that feature on Space, Energy and Light-Experimental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes 1961-88.

Opening Space, Energy and Light-Experimental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes is J.B. Banfi’s Gang (For the Rock Industry). This is a track from his 1978 debut album Galaxy My Dear, which was released on the Red Record label. For J.B. Banfi this was a new chapter in his career. He had been the keyboardist and synth player with the Italian progressive rock band Biglietto Per L’Inferno until 1975. After that, he embarked upon a solo career, and three years later, released  Galaxy My Dear in 1978. It was a fusion of elements of ambient, the Berlin School and experimental music. The highlight of the album was Gang (For the Rock Industry), which is a futuristic and cinematic musical journey.

To The Other Side Of The Sky is the track that opens Michael Garrison’s 1979 debut album, In The Regions Of Sunreturn. It was released on Michael Garrison’s own label, Windspell Records. This was the label that he released all of his albums. They showcase a musical pioneer, who sadly, is still one of electronic music’s best kept secrets. That was despite create thought-provoking and cinematic soundscapes like To The Other Side Of The Sky, which are guaranteed to set the listener’s imagination racing.

When Iasos released Inter-Dimensional Music on Unity Records, in 1975, it marked the debut album of one of the pioneers of New Age music. Inter-Dimensional Music features Lueena Coast a beautiful and blissful ambient soundscape that not only soothes and calms, but has a meditative effect.

Carl Matthews’ As Above, So Below made its debut on the Flowmotion compilation in 1982. It was originally released as a cassette of ambient, minimalist and industrial music by Flowmotion in 1982. Later that year, the Flowmotion compilation was released on vinyl by ICR.  The closing track was Carl Matthews’ As Above, So Below, which featured a broody, dramatic sound that meanders along ominously showcasing an otherworldly sound.

Tim Blake started off as a sound engineer with Hawkwind, before joining Gong. However, by 1977 Tim Blake had embarked upon a solo career, and released his debut album Crystal Machine on the Egg label. Opening Crystal Machine was the multilayered soundscape Midnight. The deepest layers have an ambient sound, while atop the soundscape, it sounds as if intergalactic warfare is taking place. As a result, Midnight sounds like part of the soundtrack to a sci-fi movie.

In 1984, Stratis was one of the new breed of artists who were releasing albums on cassette. While this was a cheap way for artists to release their music, the sound quality and reliability of tapes left a lot to be desired. As a result, very few copies of Stratis’ 1984 album Film Musik are still available. It was released on the Creative Tapes label, and is now something of a rarity that changes hands for up to £80.  By Water which is a fusion of ambient, Berlin School and even a hint of synth pop, is a reminder of this long-lost album, and one of a new breed of artists who came to the fore during the eighties…Stratis.

Chicago-born Laurie Spiegel grew-up, playing guitar, banjo, and mandolin, and on leaving high school, studied social science. After graduating, Laurie Spiegel headed to London and studied classic guitar and composition with John W. Duarte, and then baroque and renaissance lute at Julliard. This made Laurie Spiegel an unlikely convert to making music with synths. However, she had worked with synths since 1969, and released the captivating and otherworldly Improvisation On a ‘Concerto Generator was released in 1977. It’s a truly timeless soundscape that later, featured on the 2001 album Obsolete Systems which is a mixture of abstract, ambient and avant-garde music.

Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company was a synth ensemble formed in 1968 by David Borden, Steve Drews and Linda Fisher in Ithaca, New York, with the help of Robert Moog. Five years later, in 1973, they released their eponymous debut album on their own label, Earthquack Recordings. It featured Ceres Motion a seven minute minimalist soundscape that ebbs and flows, and meanders along as it constantly captivates.

Nowadays, Michael Sterns is regarded as one of the pioneers of Space Music, which was a sub-genre of New Age music. His debut was Ancient Leaves, which was released in 1977. Four years later, in 1981, and Michael Stern released his fourth album Planetary Unfolding on the Continuum Montage label. It opens with In the Beginning an eight minute ambient epic that showcases a true musical pioneer.

Philly born Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s sophomore album Keyboard Fantasies was released on the GRT label in 1986, sixteen years after she released her eponymous debut album in 1970. Keyboard Fantasies is a little-known album, but one that is something of a hidden gem. It opens with the minimalist sound of Ever New where Beverly Glenn-Copeland a talented multi-instrumentalist plays all the instruments and adds the vocal. The result is a quite beautiful track that is very different to most of the track on the compilation.

French guitarist and synth player Richard Pinhas founded the progressive rock band Heldon in 1974, and by 1979, they had released nine albums. Still, Richard Pinhas found time to work as a solo artist, and by 1978, he had just released his sophomore album Chronolyse on the Cobra label. Chronolyse featured Variations VII: Sur Le Thème Des Bene Gesserit, a mesmeric sounding track which incorporated elements of ambient, Berlin School, electronica and Krautrock. This track is the perfect introduction to Richard Pinhas, who is a prolific and pioneering musician.

Tod Dockstader was twenty-nine when he self-released his debut album Eight Electronic Pieces in 1961. It was a groundbreaking and experimental album of Musique concrète. So much so, that Folkways Records reissued the album later in 1961. Fifty-six years later, and Eight Electronic Pieces is still a hugely important and innovative album, that was way ahead of its time. Proof of that, if any is needed, is the album opener, Piece #1.

In 1988, Kevin Braheny released Galaxies (Original Soundtrack Music) on the Hearts Of Space label. It featured Ancient Stars, a beautiful,  ethereal, ambient soundscape that is one of the highlights of the compilation.

Picking up where the previous track left off is Steven Halpern’s  Starborn Suite (Part 1). This was the opening track to the 1978 album Starborn Suite, which was released as a cassette on the Spectrum Research Institute label. Later in 1978, Starborn Suite was reissued on Steven Halpern’s Halpern Sounds’ label. Starborn Suite (Part 1) is another beautiful, dreamy and ethereal soundscape, and it seems like the compilers have kept one of the best until last on Space, Energy and Light-Experimental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes 1961-88.

For anyone yet to discover type of music on Soul Jazz Records’ new compilation Space, Energy and Light-Experimental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes 1961-88, then is the start of a musical voyage of discovery. The compilation is the perfect introduction to fourteen musical pioneers, who each played their part in rewriting musical history. 

Having heard a tantalising taste of J.B. Banfi, Michael Garrison, Iasos, Carl Matthews, Laurie Spiegel, Michael Stearns, Richard Pinhas, Kevin Braheny and Steven Halpern’s music, the next step is to look back at the music they released during their careers. Some of their albums have been released on CD, and are quite easy to find. Others are more difficult to discover, especially if they were released on cassette. However, some of the albums that were only released on vinyl are relatively easy to find. This includes original copies of albums which can be found in excellent condition for modest sums of money. This can be the start of a long and enjoyable musical journey. 

Having discovered one artist, soon, record buyers will be looking for artists who released similar types of music. Some may even work backwards to Tony Scott and his 1961 album Music For Zen Meditation, which is regarded as the first ever New Age album. They’ll investigate similar albums released during the sixties that slipped under the radar. 

Other record buys will take as a starting point for this adventure Deuter’s 1971 debut albums D, and the followup Aum. Both are both important New Age albums and Krautrock classics. There’s also many other Krautrock albums which have the same qualities as Dueter’s music, including some by Tangerine Dream, Cluster, Harmonia and Popol Vuh. 

There’s also whole labels that specialised in New Age music to investigate. This included Windham Hill, whose releases are easy to find and modestly priced. The same cane be said of all the album Michael Garrison released on his label Windspell Records. This however, is just the tip of what is a huge musical iceberg.

Quite simply, there are countless artists who made music like the fourteen tracks on Space, Energy and Light-Experimental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes 1961-88 during the sixties, seventies and eighties. Many of these albums feature groundbreaking music that was way ahead of its time. Sadly, some of that music was too far ahead of its time, and a record buying public weaned pop music failed to grasp its importance. It’s only much later that this music is being discovered, and is starting to find the audience it deserves. Especially when record companies like Soul Jazz Records released compilations like Space, Energy and Light-Experimental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes 1961-88 that showcase a tantalising taste of this groundbreaking music from true musical pioneers.

Space, Energy and Light-Experimental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes 1961-88.

1 Comment

  1. There’s a whole world out there to be discovered! There’s very little of that I understand however I did have the album The Happy Moog when I was 10 or eleven years old.

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