Pianist / composer Matthew Bourne has been working in the area of improvised jazz for a number of years, but on acquiring an original Lintronics Advanced Memory Moog he became enamoured with the possibilities offered by this vintage analogue synthesiser.
After having the device painstakingly restored, Bourne used the Memory Moog in performance and later recorded pieces for the album Moogmemory, released in March 2016.
That’s the intro; restrained and to-the-point, I’m sure you’ll agree. But I cannot maintain that cool detachment any longer because Moogmemory is one of the most deft and creative electronic albums I’ve heard in years. Full of invention that explores the possibilities of the synthesiser, the pieces nevertheless display cohesiveness and thoughtful construction that tells you this is not some synth-by-numbers space doodle but a significant contribution to the catalogue of electronic music.
The album opens tentatively with the spacious echoing pulses of ‘Somewhere I Have Never Travelled (For Coral Evans)’. It is deceptively simple, naive almost. Yet across its seven minutes, a mysterious melodic thread develops like a pixilated romantic theme you heard eons ago and had forgotten you knew.
Next up on the LP (but not the CD – it’s a bit confusing as the CD has an extra piece and a different running order) is ‘Nils’, a piece evoking Cluster in its delicate music-box tones and sustained, low bassline. But the way the piece builds to a climax in the final section is dramatic and arresting, both retro and futuristic. New Age is it definitely not.
A track-by-track commentary would be superfluous and would spoil the fun. Suffice to say, from the geometric wasteland of ‘On Rivock Edge’ to the twitchy paranoia of ‘Sam’, Moogmemory has variety and personality in abundance. It is that rare thing: an album driven by exploratory and aesthetic considerations that works at a variety of levels. Under headphones, a complex electronic tapestry of meticulous construction; turned down low, an evening eco-system of crystal night-noises; cranked up an engaging and entertaining wander through the analogue gallery of Matthew Bourne’s imagination. I enjoyed the contradictory list of adjectives the Allmusic Guide included in its Album Moods for Moogmemory:
In summary, a brilliant synthesis of vintage technology with a contemporary musical vision.
Vinyl Connection contacted Matthew Bourne to find out more about the artist and the album.
Vinyl Connection: A big part of your musical journey has been piano based. What led to the foray into electronics?
Matthew Bourne: I’ve been interested in synthesisers ever since (Dr) Graham Hearn introduced a class of us – those enrolled in Electro-acoustic music at Leeds College of Music – to the EMS SYNTHI A, which we explored in conjunction with Revox tape machines, recording found sounds, cutting, splicing and making tape loops. I loved it. Basic (and, in my case, intuitive) synthesis was just another way to make sound. So, in this respect, it has been sound that has always interested me, regardless of the means of production. That said, I did develop a weakness for vintage keyboard synthesisers. This malady has now been replaced by a different disease altogether: motorcycles and motorcycling. The number of motorcycles I have now exceeds the number of synthesisers. They also make wonderful music, of a different kind…
VC: A feature of Moogmemory is the variety of sounds and textures. There may be only one instrument, but many moods are evoked. Was there a process of experimenting, then selecting from a larger pool of pieces?
MB: I would start by manipulating one of the preset patches on the Lintronics Advanced Memory Moog (LAMM), until it morphed into something I thought was interesting. Then, just as I thought I might be on to something, I’d hit record and hope for the best. Some of the tracks were then enhanced by multi tracking additional parts, although these would always stem from the same base patch. So once these had been recorded there was no easy way to go back the next day, or whenever, and do a better take. Repetition and contrivance don’t sit very well with me at all, so, I have to get things done in one hit, or in one concentrated period of time where the window of possibility in becoming too conscious of ‘design’ becomes harder to see through.
VC: That certainly explains the sense of cohesion within the pieces.
The human story of your Lintronics Advanced Memorymoog (LAMM) is a fascinating reminder of the centrality of the relationship between musician and instrument—no matter what the instrument is. What do you notice when you power her up? How is it different from, say, a standard piano?
MB: Well, every piano is different. Some are very different. For example, a piano might be in such a bad state of repair that it becomes a unique instrument in its own right, possessing qualities a more maintained and cared-for instrument does not possess. The LAMM is very similar and I approach it in the same way – I have to let it speak and tell me things, rather than imposing too much onto the instrument. The LAMM does this very well, as it generates so much sound and power – it’s infectious and enveloping. I spent many hours becoming lost in its sonic universe!
VC: Looking at the LP/CD and indeed, your website, I’m struck by a powerful visual component. Is the music-vision nexus one you enjoy exploring?
MB: Sure… all of these things grew out of working with working with Michael England on the LP sleeve. Michael is an extraordinary polymath when it comes to creative direction – his interests embrace film, photography, graphic design, and more besides. I feel very lucky to have been able to work with him and have learned a lot in the process. An incredible artist.
VC: Michael’s design for the Moogmemory LP is superb, evoking Bandstand by Family (1972) which featured an old-fashioned valve radio (front and back) and of course Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity and its Geiger counter. I particularly enjoyed the cover of the CD which was included with the record, an ink schematic of the LP artwork. Just delightful. (Despite there not being space for the track titles!)
You have done further work with Michael England, have you not?
MB: I was first introduced to Michael many years ago by mutual friend and vocalist/composer Seaming To, for whom Michael has produced a stunning album sleeve and other visual work over the years. This was the first time we have worked together: on the LP, photographs, and then on the live Moogmemory show. I hope there will be future opportunities to work together on other projects. The inspiration for this cover actually came from some of Michael’s work for another album design. I’d been drawn to an ‘impossible’ keyboard on the packaging for Graham Massey’s Sisters of Transistors At The Ferranti Institute LP and asked if he would be up for doing something similar. The sleeve design and other elements that make up the package are staggeringly good.
So we commissioned a fully-functioning, sixteen-and-a-half-key instrument, especially made for the purposes of the album sleeve. It’s one of the most incredible synthesisers I have ever heard. It’s kept in a humidity-controlled flightcase hidden behind a particular stone set within the drystone walls that surround my home in Airedale.
By the way, no-one has yet commented on the three Scott Walker references found on the LP cover…
VC: An album cover challenge. Fantastic! [Ed: VC could only find two]
VC: Any plans for further electronic music? A re-imagining of Louis and Bebe Barron’s soundtrack for Forbidden Planet, for instance? Perhaps an album humanising the Yamaha DX-7?
MB: Haha! Well, I’d be happy to consider either, if commissioned to do so…
VC: Off to a crowdfunding site forthwith! Thanks very much for your time, Matthew.
MB: No problem!
Matthew Bourne’s website has lots of interesting stuff.
If you are feeling up for a challenge, watch the Spatchcock piano demolition video (Suggestion: read the intro first and try to make it right to the end. Warning to pianists: A pianoforte was harmed in the making of this video).