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18 Jan

Even as the polar caps melt, floodwaters encroach on Singapore, and the Danube runs red with industrial sludge, I find the metaphor of really deep water an exceptionally profound and beautiful thing. Utterly wordless, sooo freaking vast, and respectfully resistant to even the most basic of human habitation. But it also allows much to run wild: near-alien creatures, shadowy coral reefs, and enigmatic forces that don’t recognise our laws or even our sometimes hackneyed aesthetics. Really, deep water is just freaking NUTSO – with all the beauty, wonder, and cruelty that term implies.

Now I’ve talked a lot about surf soundtracks here, but I’ve long since cast a wider net around soundtracks that get wet and wild, whether the surf’s up or not. Don’t surface too quick or you’ll get the bends . . .

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKDiscoveries Underwater LP (BBC Records and Tapes, 1988) Never seen even a clip from this; someone please tell me this wasn’t just another pedantic BBC documentary? Regardless, it’s clear that Howard Davidson’s soundtrack was typical of BBC productions from the time: mostly electronic in execution, situated somewhere in that vast pool of post-ENO/Michael Oldfield output, what was once termed ambient space music. No, you wouldn’t be remiss if you were reminded of Steve Roach’s Structures From Silence, or perhaps a better Jan Michel Jarre piece from the time.

And yet, and yet . . . there is a seriousness, a gravity at work here that speaks of deeper artistic vision. Moods shift subtly but with clear intent. The composer is not shy of exploring darker, less reassuring terrain when called to. This is actually quite effective stuff: when I close my eyes, the music quietly evokes the sense of awe that I imagine comes from floating weightlessly above the gigantic hull of some 100 year old sunken black vessel, 30 m. beneath the ocean surface. How the title track manages to segue effortlessly from veiled mystery into angelic brightness (shades of Vangelis’ Blade Runner score!) is truly magical. Yes: if only in the most late 80’s way, this is indeed something very special to behold. Hear here.

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKInner Space CD (Festival Records, 1973; reissued by Votary Records, 2007) Flat-out AWESOME Australian jazz score by Sven Libaek to an undersea nature TV documentary series apparently featuring the hammy voiceover of ol’ William Shatner. That Wes Anderson pinched a couple of Sven’s tracks for use in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zizzou (is their a more embarrassing name for a film? Sheesh) only speaks to the astounding beauty of these recordings. The melodies are haunting, the tone subdued, and the prominent use of reverbed flute and vibes conjure up the contemplative wonder that comes from snorkelling through flowing kelp forests whilst watching schools of brightly-painted fish dart for cover just out of reach.

Sven’s a really important name in the evolution of Australian surf & soundtrack music – he was an A&R man at CBS in the early 60’s, producing early tracks by THE ATLANTICS (“Bombora”) and recording a sleekly mod jazz soundtrack to the surfing flick “To Ride a White Horse” in 1966 – but it’s on the basis of this record that Sven should be crowned Sea King of the Southern Hemisphere. There are few recordings by this man you don’t wanna hear, but this is one you absolutely NEED to bend an ear to. Sample here.

ERIC VANNWater World LP (Coloursound, 1982) Not a true soundtrack at all, rather a collection of library music inspired by aquatic imagery. Eric Vann aka J.V.D.B. aka Joël Vandroogenbroeck is best known as the guy behind hebephrenic kraut-rockers BRAINTICKET, but he also created some 20-odd LPs of this kind of electronic stuff for indeterminate production purposes in the late 70’s/80’s. Exactly how many of his aural squiggles ended up on TV, radio and film segments back then, I couldn’t tell you – your guess is as good as mine.

This rec is thematically focused around aquatic themes, and sonically perhaps similar to the Discoveries Underwater soundtrack discussed above. While I wouldn’t say it was better, Eric’s Moog flutters are more uncanny, the phased percussion more eerie, and the inspiration altogether stranger; this guy is diving a good 50-100 feet deeper than others are reasonably willing to go. Truly, smart money is on anything with Eric Vann’s initials on it, and more than anyone it’s this guy who’s got me curious about what kind of sunken treasure lays at the bottom of library sound LPs the world over. Clips here.


Now if any of you wish to explore further, I do suggest you spend some time floating around with Michel Redolfi in his sub-aquatic sound exhibition. It’ll help elucidate the relationship between water and sound better than I ever could


Utopic Sounds

1 Mar

ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKTo Ride a White Horse (Festival Records, 1966)

Sublimely stated, utterly gorgeous surf soundtrack by the uncrowned king of Australian jazz, Sven Libaek. Flute, vibes, and bossa nova rhythyms dominate in a way that sometimes gets me thinking a less-campy Nina Rota, but the whole shebang configures in a way few others – aside from fellow Aussie John Sangster, who, not coincidentally, plays on this here record – were able to make their own. Mod style is nicely enriched by jazz depth, and the subtle timelessness Sven brought to all his recordings is on display, ringing ancient and mysterious. And then, there is that waaaay cool, recurring theme: smooth, glassy, and clearly inspired by the hot instrumental surf music then on the wane Down Under. But this makes perfect sense, since Sven had been the A&R man who signed THE ATLANTICS to CBS in 1963, the group who went on to record the biggest Australian surf instro hit of them all, “Bombora”.

Never seen even a moment of this film, but this record gets me imagining all manner of longboard riders slowing turning across perfectly formed waves along the still-unspoilt Gold Coast of Australia, under the sweetest setting suns you could ever lay eyes on.

Thanks to Pecks Spet Rips for the cover pic