19 June 2010

Primal Image - Alan Lamb

Imagine the Australian desert; vast tracts of dry, windswept land, occasionally delineated by stretches of telegraph wire. Imagine spending the years between 1981 and 1988 connecting piezo-electric contact mikes to these cables, recording the result to analogue tape and, back at base, equalising the whole thing. This is what Australian biological scientist Alan Lamb did, focusing in particular on a half-mile section of abandoned telegraph wires in Australia's Western Outback.

Often referred to as wire music and reminiscent in many ways of the early works of Philip Glass or Steve Reich, from just this source (and with no other processing) Alan Lamb produces dark and brooding music, possessed of a strange and indescribable beauty. The sound is certainly surprising, ranging from sharp, shooting pulses not unlike the traditional sound of sci-fi B movie lasers to low, cyclic throbbing vibration. There are periods of near-silence where the listener drifts in space before being thrust into the centre of a grinding, sawtoothed storm. Space-Centre-medical-unit hums are overlaid by the crashing exhalations of... something... somewhere...

The idea of it seems almost absurd; just another mad musical stunt from those crazy minimalist composers - no more sane than music for blocks of wood or Einstein On The Beach's five hour length. And yet the recording is entrancing and constantly changing; it's almost organic, evoking images of abandoned cables singing beneath the wind's ministrations. It is certainly never boring or repetitive.

Released by Australian Dorobo records, Lamb's CD Primal Image, eventually released in 1997, contains two tracks: Primal Image, lasting almost half an hour, and Beauty, clocking in at just under seventeen minutes.

It was later followed by, of all things, a remix version - Night Passage Demixed, featuring four dark ambient remixes of the original recordings produced by Ryoji Ikeda, Thomas Koner, Lustmord and Bernhard Gunter. The last track carried a warning that the extremely low frequency vibrations contained on the track were liable to damage hi-fi equipment used to play it.

Alan Lamb's compositions are also available in an edited form on the compilation album A Storm Of Drones, which, as the title suggests, features other work in a similar genre. It's a nice compilation, mainly edits, but rather hard to find, in my experience.

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