by Troy Southgate, Synthesis
THIS beautiful recording is almost like some kind of Light Ambient synthesis between The Phantom of the Opera and BBC testcard musak. Apparations - the brainchild of Brian McWilliams and John Phipps - is a great title, too, because if this CD was judged purely on appearences it would win the affections of most punters hands down. Its outer covering is a unique opaline design which slightly obscures the spectral centrepiece of the cover itself. Ghostly images, in fact, are utilised as the very theme of this initiative and the sleeve notes allude to man's scientific quest to open up and explore the gateways between our own domain and the hidden dimensions of the spirit world. Characters like Ted Serios, who is said to have transferred his thought-patterns into tangible images on videotape; Ingo Swann, who could alter the temperature of distant objects; and an obsession with diodes, circuits, aerials, microphone recordings, sound frequencies and a whole range of psychical monitoring devices. But what of the duo's own sound techniques?
The title track opens with a drone-infested discourse on electromagnetic energy and the visual representation of the soul after death, using as its serenic centrepiece the appearence of a ghostly figure upon a stately Victorian staircase.
The rat-a-tat of snares which follows underscores a mellow-cello interlude known as The Lack of Permanence, which has a crisp waltz-like serenity all of its own.
Now I Can Feel is a slightly faster piano piece, with a sustained electronic chorus emanating from the keyboards until its echoed climax.
Next up comes 1st Wave which, apart from the slow saxophone, has a distant but slightly frenetic drumbeat which reminds me somewhat of the excellent film soundtrack to The Mission.
In a torrent of rain and thunder comes Be Careful What You Wish For, a plodding melody in which the dreamy piano creates a feel of true peace and contentment. The references to a silent airwave frequency around which, presumably, a group of psychical investigators are gathered in anticipation of contact with the Occult plane, bears a quiet confidence which somehow heightens the feeling of tranquility.
Violence In Chinatown is slightly more upbeat, although not quite in the way that its fierce title appears to suggest. REMANENCE have used a very deep tenor sax on this one, interspersed with what sounds like an irate chef from your local Chinese Takeaway before concluding with the marching footsteps of an army on the move. The Red Army, perhaps?
Brutality is another vehement title but, once again, lacks the musical connotations which are implied. In fact the only violence on this track appears to be taking place on the dolphinesque whistles and shrieks of a short wave radio. But another great track, nevertheless, and followed by an even better one.
Where the Shadows Lie could match ENDURA or PUISSANCE at their very best, conjuring up a cross-section of military snares with an ear-splitting kettle drum pounding away in the background. In an electronic sense it is very reminiscent of DEPECHE MODE. Play this one at full volume.
The Hurt Heals Slow begins with an unusual linguistic recitation which, given my own ignorance of foreign languages could be the angelic or Enochian utterances of John Dee for all I know.
A mere 49 seconds in length, Ominous Sky contains the hollow, tinkering of hammers upon a wooden xylophone.
This is followed by 3rd Wave, similar to the percussion-laden 1st Wave but with the addition of an acoustic guitar, rumbling backdrop and barely distinquishable speech.
Letters From Home employs the crackling effects of needle upon vinyl to announce its dramatically uplifting surge of keyboards. The alluring nature of this track proves that electromagnetism amounts to far more than a scientific term.
Finally, Watched Over By Angels is a combination of light Noise and rhythmic Ambient, the former drawn from yet more soul-searching on short wave radio. Great ending, too: 'What's going to happen? Something wonderful.'
Rather like this CD which, overall, may be described as VANGELIS meets KRAFTWERK with a couple of BRIAN ENO cocktails thrown in for good measure.