Tuesday, 11 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: Bound by blue ethereality

White Noise were formed in 1968 by American David Vorhaus, a classical bass player who was fascinated by electronics and the science of sound. In a brilliant move that reminds me of when Bobby Robson signed Arnold Muhren and Franz Thijssen to Ipswich Town in the seventies, transforming the team, his first recruits to the band were Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson, Radiophonic Workshop stalwarts fresh from the sadly abortive Unit Delta Plus project.

Initially intending to record a single, Island Records boss Chris Blackwell was so impressed with the two tracks produced that he asked them to make an album, perhaps unaware of just how difficult and time-consuming an undertaking that was in the days of having to invent instruments and editing tape with a white pencil and a razor blade.

A year later, they had put together an additional four tracks and Island’s patience was beginning to run out. In desperation, they went against the grain and recorded the seventh and last album track live in the studio. The result of that session, ‘Black Mass’, is absolutely terrifying and was used variously by Arthur Lee of Love as an LSD trip enhancer (which is a bit like using Burzum to cure a headache) and as the basis for the occult ritual music in ‘Dracula: AD 1972’. I’m not linking to a clip here as it scares me and I don’t want to be dealing with any civil suits because it’s scared you and you can’t sleep anymore.

Instead, here is 'Love Without Sound', one of the poppier tracks from the album (this was intended to be the A side of the single). A brilliant collage of tapes, proto-synths and real instrumentation and voices, all sped up and slowed down and messed about with to create a really complex but actually fairly commercial space age pop tune.

'The Visitations', on the other hand, is a near twelve minute track that, in best Shangri-La’s / Twinkle fashion, tells the story of love destroyed by a fatal motorcycle crash. Where the song differs from the earlier death discs, however, is that here the dead have a say, trying desperately to communicate from beyond the grave…an amazing electronic tour de force that took three months to record, this is probably the best track on the LP and should to be listened to on headphones for the full, creepy effect.

Derbyshire and Hodgson didn’t stay with the group after the album was released (it only sold 200 copies initially), but Vorhaus persevered and White Noise are still in existence today. Vorhaus has never quite emulated the genius of the incredible debut ‘dream team’ album, but he thoroughly deserves his place in electronic music history for his long career and the inestimable influence his brainchild has had on several generations of musicians over the last forty years.

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