TBR: 21st February
National treasure Steve Thompson makes waves with his latest music project. Or is that particles? It depends how you look at it, with digital, CD, and vinyl releases on the way. Not only did Steve Thompson play the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics, he's also played alongside music giants such as Robert Smith of The Cure and Kylie Minogue. Following from his residency at the world-famous Globe Theatre, Thompson has formed a jazz influenced electronica collective that explores quantum physics. Named after an alarm call from the Apollo 11 computer, life and death situations show us the fragility of existence as it phases in and out of possibility. It's taken three years of hard work to finalise this spacious album, finding a way to express their ideas through sound has involved contributions from Jim Al Khalili, Helen Czerski; Libby Jackson; Aleks Krotoski and Marcus du Sautoy. Utilising a Tesla coil, laser harp, theramin, and a Tenori-On, the sounds of 1201_Alarm definitely bring something new to the table.
The music starts with a prologue. Saxophone and trombone swish through an atmosphere thick with calm. Trumpets add a melody that compliments the brass-wind ensemble. The composition builds, jazz and blues spills over the sides as rhythmic flurries of progressive melody grow and overflow. Then, we listen to computer data, like the dial-up modem sounds, the high-pitched buzzing takes us to a world of computers and technology. A synthesiser buzzes through which provides a platform to hold more brass. Drum patterns smash rock beats as a warmly crackled instrument sloshes chords. The title-track, Hello_World, takes soulful and evocative solos on the sax while bashing a rhythmic progression across a spectrum of influences. Digital effects sneak through the organic instruments to elevate the mix with fluffy and angular sonic emphasis.
Next, is Flim Flam. Birdsong instils an air of relaxation. Wavery synthesiser peels open with jangly bells which strike in a smooth tempo. Seductive, laid-back beats ride out with a warmly glowing static. Melody on the synthesiser tinkles and radiates with strings and interesting unknown sounds. Strange sampled voices speak yet with so much warp and degradation that we can't hear them. Dreamy passages of flowing music shine as piano joins the dance. The harmonies and breathy passages of rhythmic melody repeat in kinetic progressions while odd spongy sounds adjust sensations.
Then, a pulsing melody with a repeating phrase issues a simple scale. This becomes bedrock for drums and synth to knit avenues of layered sound. Brass is added again, the lead instruments summon emotional flags with passing notes and emblems. Bubbles carries a buoyant climate of effervescent and tuneful passages in musical exploration. The underlying dynamic of loose and space-age synthesiser allows for the brass to climb the track like a boulder, taking well grooved paths as well as unlikely angles. The juxtaposition between classical jazz and electronic modernity provides a meaningful milieu.
Surely You_re Joking begins with a viscous jazzy beat. A spiral of synthesised sound descends from the top corners before the brass section begins with more warm and expressive sonic story-telling. A sleekness washes over, heavily influenced by jazz, as the drifting synths break from the coalescence an extra layer of dimensional relevance is formulated. A drum-break ensues, is that Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman on bongos? I believe it is. A synth volley continues with melodic cartography as the track pinnacles in laughter.
Then, a much more electronic edge is unleashed. A repeating sample of odd squelchy sounds repeats alongside a bass that fizzes and rumbles under its own distorting power. Areas of space open through windows of alienish operations where unfamiliar sonics drift through a focal point of tempo. This builds to a point where a heavy string synth takes over. With powerful drums that carry steady snare, kick, and bass, the synth volley projects laminae of multicoloured potential through a sphere of harmonising elevation. Qbit refers to the data storage in quantum computing and has a dualistic feel as the last half is nothing like the first.
Unbound and loose sounds open the seventh number. The synths build like waves as they wash against the blanket of quiet. Drums, chords, and brass then crash through the window as heavy-duty rhythms crunch the music together. Industrial and thrashy rhythms made of mechanical sounds and fast-flowing melody bash a line through the field of spinning synthesisers. StuxNet journeys through various adventure rides of energetic electronic expression.
Pripyat begins with something more down to Earth. Reverb rich tones from an obscure ethnic instrument flow together with temperate synths. Brass continues to provide its soul as a wistful melody on the saxophone briskly dances through the sombre streets of slow rhythms and thoughtful sonics. Drums match chanting arpeggios on starlight like notes in the background while cinematic bars of composed imploration build a continually shifting house of feelings.
Next, a rhythm is built from the sounds of a touch-dial telephone. The familiar tones loop in a harmonising rhythm which gives sustenance to more dreamy and tentative brass-wind. Digital tones and crystalline synthesiser join in holding up the tuneful humanity as stravaig themes combine their stories. ToastWife sounds great, and its title makes me want one. We now get to a track called Skylife. It's another jazzy schmooze through posturing townsfolk while achieving items on our imaginary inventory. Keyboards, brass-wind instruments, and talkative drums offer a boundless acrobatic through a laid-back saturnalia. Living the high-life never sounded as good as this, did it?
Flow begins with a vocal sample. The voice explains how to be effective while airy synthesisers begin to cast a spell of alluring clarity. Drums begin, their simple beat structure gives rise to more directions of melody on synthesiser and distant brass-wind. Bass squashes a tune with a distinctive tone as notes and rhythm take a hand-in-hand wandering over dreamy mountains. The horizon changes with each footstep, as a dynamic perspective shifts the lines and shadows that surround us. A daydream of digital and human sounds gels in a stateless body of presence in sound.
The final track begins with a saxophone riff that repeats and progresses in neat, short bars. Drums add a bed to bounce on and another mindful synth pad begins to draw abstract orbs in the sonic space. A solo on the trumpet then unfolds, the pull-out pages opening one by one to reveal a length of soul that adds yet more layers of quality to an already worthy production. Motions of sound repeat and change as the progression follows lesser-known paths to the rhythm of the jazztronic backing. We drop a lot of the technology for this last offering, called Cycles, to once more demonstrate the capacity of the brass to shine.
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Rowan Blair Colver for The Electro Review.