Before I start writing this review I think that a little context is needs because, even by Electric Orange’s standards, these are unique performances as you can see from the following description put out by Adansonia Records:
This music was recorded 2002 at the Mankin-Records 10 year Anniversary Festival at the Toskana-Therme, a beautiful thermal bath in Bad Sulza/Germany. Electric Orange played 2 sets (each 2 hours) – one early in the morning and another one late evening. Contrary to any other Electric Orange albums, this was only a two member electronic performance using analogue synthesisers, organ, guitar, vocoder, sequencer, tapes and sampler (no computers). The relaxed and very warm atmosphere in the bath influenced the music of the band a lot. The result was a very floating, spacey performance of Electric Orange. People were drifting in the water, were lying around, all almost naked, listening to the music over- and underwater.
OK so now you get the picture let’s get down to it. These sets were originally released as a double Cdr back in 2002, and are being released separately during the autumn by Adansonia as vinyl double albums. What also strikes me about these sets is that they are quite different to most of Electric Orange’s subsequent output, although you can still hear some of the band’s signature sound here. Although arguably they are perhaps trending more towards Dirk Jan Müller’s Cosmic Ground project in terms of style. The other thing to say at this point is that I do not tend to review live albums as a rule, but these are something of an exception; firstly because even listening through a digital download tells me that these are going to be great sounding on vinyl as the recording and mastering seems to be spot on. Secondly, these are more than live performances of well known tunes rather, for the most part, they are long jams… the like of which are not repeated elsewhere in the bands oeuvre.
I wondered how I could best listen to this music. Should I get in the bath or the kids’ paddling pool in the garden to try to recreate the atmosphere of the occasion? In the end I decided that this was probably taking things a little too far, particularly because the music on these records, around two and a half of the four hours is captured here, is so evocative that such ‘method reviewing’ is not necessary.
I first listened to these albums in one session one Sunday evening. As usual I did the first listen without reading anything about the recordings. At that time I was struck by how different they were from my expectations, but also how deep they were. Maybe it was because of the title, but the one word that kept coming back to me was ‘fluidity’… that all the tracks just flowed so well. This, in itself, was an answer to my bathing conundrum… but also gave me a place to start with future listens.
The opening track on Volume 1, ‘ffurg’ is a haunting and minimalist affair which combines post-industrial beats with hectares of space between the instruments. From the outset you can really hear the softness of the analogue synthesisers which add warmth to the sound throughout these recordings. These also have the effect of taking the album out of time, and I keep forgetting that this was recorded sixteen years ago… in fact it could have been recorded yesterday or in the mid-1970s which for me is quite a feat. When listening to it I imagine that I am somehow floating in some clouds, upheld by the music and especially Dirk Bittner’s synthesised vocals which add a strange metallic grace to the proceedings. I’m not sure I’ve heard anything like this before.
Following that ‘transit ins jenseits’ seems even more ethereal with its fragile melodies set amidst a series of beats and clicks which add an air of experimentalism. Gradually, however, something more solid emerges out of the air as the duo look for a new level of intensity, still relatively low-key but building all the same. This continues at an almost glacial pace as a much more rounded sound begins to take hold, almost imperceptible from moment to moment, but quite distinct over time. I imagine thinking of those listening to it live and find myself getting rather envious about not being there.
As the beats of the previous track fall away we are again left with a much more veiled sound at the beginning of ‘sauerkirsch’, a much shorter track which really does sound like it could have been recorded underwater. Here Electric Orange have managed to replicate that unique echo-like tone that comes with being submerged. This has the effect of making the music sound much darker, and weirdly reflective… it’s as if everything is moving just that little bit more slowly and deliberately and, somewhere, there is something about that we definitely do not want to meet.
We are deep into the set now and ‘myd’ persists with what feels like dark and murky themes. There’s a feeling of being really deep under the ocean now, at the level where fish have evolved their own lighting systems. There is something even slower and more deliberate about this, a form of sonic tripping that really slows everything down until about five minutes in when as deep beat takes over and that track is somewhat transformed into something far more meditative. It’s almost as if the medication has worn off to be replaced by something more lucid… either way its a joy to just sit with and listen to. This is something that continues as more Middle Eastern melodies drift around giving the sound a different sort of etherial feel like a warm wind being blown on the face… just lovely.
As with all Electric Orange records I feel totally immersed in the whole experience to the extent that as ‘myd’ becomes ‘not of’ I hardly notice as I am taken away on another trip, a flight of fancy that will probably be different every time I listen to it. On this occasion I am again imagining that I am floating somewhere, the sonic swirls moving around me like some sort of 3D hologram. I feel so much part of the experience now that it feels all-encompassing, enhanced by a codic beat that is getting deep into my head… I feel so relaxed at this point listening to this music it hardly feels real… the atmospherics are wonderful. Then just when I thought it couldn’t get any better there is some guitar work at around the half way point that grabs me so intensely, albeit briefly, that I almost want to go back and hear it again. That, I fear, would break the spell that this music has over me… but I already look forward to listening to this the next time, fortunately it gets reprised later.
The last track of Volume 1 is ‘wet cake’ which evokes a similar atmosphere to ‘myd’ in the way that it has lots of echo, but where there was fluidity this at first feels more fragmented, almost like a form of sonic bends where we are coming up too early. There is a sense of lost control in the ‘vocal’ and there’s a feeling that nothing gets resolved…
For that you have to wait until Volume 2, the first track of which, ‘ortat’ segues from its predecessor on the digital version. I think it is safe to say that this set immediately takes off at a speed not seen at all in the first one. This feels much more like music to move to than to float to. There is much more of a sense of forward motion here, an immediacy that you did not get with the previous tracks… a fresh atmosphere that clears away the veiled nature of the previous music and brings us into the sunny uplands of the mind. I can imagine being exhausted after listening to this live, dancing the time away and forgetting everything that is going on around me…
After that ‘span’ keeps up the tempo with a sound that feels so sharp and fresh. I love this because it feels like all the thoughts, and perhaps even worries, that came up through listening to Volume 1 (and just to be clear that was something I really enjoyed) are being superseded by something that feels more positive and alive. In many ways this is a back to basic tracks with its minimalist feel and lots of space through which to reflect. It is also far more abstract than ‘ortat’, but as it builds towards the end you somehow wonder there the previous ten minutes went… such was the absorbing nature of the sound.
It may often be the case that once you get into the second hour of listening to anything there may well be a tendency to tune out, but as ‘hydrog’ segues in there seems to be no danger of that. This is not the longest Electric Orange set I have reviewed, that honour goes to the triple album ‘EOXXV‘, but this is quite long and while it certainly doesn’t feel like a sprint… it doesn’t;t feel like a marathon either. ‘hydrog’ is the sort of track the gradually coalesces over the first three minutes of electronic cogitation before taking you off into the stratosphere with an emerging and strengthening beat that could take over your body if you let it. Again I’m am rather envious of not being there because I am sure I would have been going for it heavily at this stage. Probably my favourite track of these sets.
After that behemoth ‘lake’ slows things down in a way that is both subtle and shadowy. Different again from its predecessor it adds a level of intrigue to the set which is not what I was expecting. The vocal here is also something of an initial surprise, and gives the track a much more melancholic feel. This is perhaps the track that most connects me to other parts of Electric Orange’s work and, strangely, seems to be the one that I am needing the most time to access…
This brings us to the final track, ‘mk’, which at first seems like something of a low key way to finish. While I am sure that this is improvised, perhaps by now the duo were so in the zone that they were putting out music that sounded like it was rehearsed. Anyway this is something an aside, as this track really grows on you as you listen to it. There is something quite persistent about the way that it is played that really draws you in, with the guitar really injecting the power into the track which gradually builds to a crescendo in a really rather exciting way before easing you out of the set gently and dropping you back again into everyday reality.
I have to admit that it took me some time to get myself into this really rather remarkable music. For the first few listens I was not really sure how to approach it. Gradually, though, the music worked its way through and I began to get what it could do for me. By the end of this listen through I can really feel the benefit that it has brought me, and had I been listening to both sets live I am sure I would have passed through all sorts of emotions from melancholy to elation… I would have laid down (or floated) and I would have got up and danced. I guess I should stop saying that I wish I had been there because finally having this music on vinyl goes some way to reconciling myself to that, and I know that if I ever do get to see Electric Orange live (something that is very much on my wish list) it will be nothing like this… actually I imagine it will always be different, and that is why I like them so much.
Volume 1 is currently up for sale here:
– 300 x blue/black marbled vinyl, 180g, hand-numbered – (only visible under bright light)
– 150 x blue splattered vinyl, hand-numbered
Mastering by Dirk Jan Müller. LP’s are coming in fully-laminated thick matt sleeves and black padded inner sleeves.
Any vinyl purchase includes a high-quality download.
Volume 2 will be up for pre-sale shortly.
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