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.

18 June 2010


"When the Freescape idea was conceived several programmers approached turned down the opportunity to be involved, saying it couldn't be done." - Ian Andrew, Incentive Software
In the time before dedicated 3D graphics cards, true 3D games were a rarity. The most common approach was to fake 3D: often isometric projection was used, usually by carefully layering pre-drawn graphics - see Head Over Heels, Rasputin or Knight Lore for examples. There were some genuine 3D games, of course: Elite, with its simplistic (yet astounding) vector graphics, and Sentinel, whose filled vector polygons were a step up on Elite, but came with the disadvantage that they took longer to draw. Even with these precedents, upon its release Driller was considered an astounding achievement.

But this was late 1987. Incentive had spent some time developing Freescape, their trademarked system for displaying games in three-dimensions. It was slow - each screen took a second or so to draw, and consequently smooth movement was out. The game advanced in a series of one-frame-per-second cut scenes, but you could understand why; these graphics were amazing! Perfectly shaded polygons (at 176 x 256 stippled monochrome on my Spectrum 128) with perspective - you wouldn't give it a second glance nowadays, but back then to see that kind of thing on your screen was a rare treat. The Freescape engine lasted for a couple more games, as well: Both Castle Master and Total Eclipse would take the gameplay to a higher, more polished level, and the 3D Construction Kit allowed you to inflict your own levels upon unsuspecting friends.

Which is not to say the gameplay of Driller was bad, but compared to later efforts there was definitely something lacking. The game itself took place on the fictitious mines of Mitral, a small moon. For the purposes of the game this moon turned out to be eighteen flat, square panels joined together at the edges, forming a polyhedral surface. The original game provided a cardboard model to fold up and make, at which point it quickly became apparent that there were gaps on the surface of the moon - basically it was a rhombicuboctahedron and the triangular faces didn't exist as far as the game was concerned. Walking blithely over the map quickly resulted in death - drop off the edge of the wrong platform and you were done for.

Careful (and slow: don't forget that drawing delay!) exploration of the surface, however, provided plenty to do. All manner of buildings and vehicles cover the surface of Mitral. Plenty of puzzles to solve, switches to toggle, crystals to find and, of course, gas to release. Ah, yes - the gas. That's why it's called Driller. Your job is to release a build-up of gas under the surface of Mitral by appropriately positioning drilling rigs and pressing the right key to relieve the pressure.

We're told that Driller took a year to create, and upon its release the widely held opinion was that it showed. Your Sinclair's Phil South gushed over the graphics, describing them as 'brilliantly rendered' and described the 'quality of workmanship' as superb. Driller was, in its time, a milestone.

I never finished it.

02 June 2010


Moonbootica is a band consisting of two DJs and music producers, koweSix and tobitob. They have produced remixes for Junkie XL, Tomcraft, Planet Funk, Tiga and Mando Diao, among others, and have worked directly alongside artists like IAMX and ascii disco to produce modern, electro dance music.

In 2001 they formed their own record label, Moonbootique, apparently because they felt their style of electronic dance music didn't fit nicely into any other label's output. Regardless, as Moonbootica, they have released a number of albums, including the self-titled Moonbootica and Moonlight Welfare, although their main output seems to be on 12".