BODY SPIRIT SYNTH MAGICK

Is that a trickling water feature or a leaky lavatory cistern?

If you were at The Festival of Mind Body and Spirit at the London Olympia between the 21st and 29th of April 1979, the question would probably not have bothered you. Blissed out on asparagus acid and tripping on tofu, a sample bag of flower remedies and multi-hued candles (nine lumens of enlightenment guaranteed), you may have wandered into the Rainbow Dome looking for the conveniences but the beguiling sounds cast a siren spell so subtle and irresistible you stayed, oblivious to any earthly discomfort.

For the music created by Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy for this consciousness raising event is so quietly uplifting, so magically mesmerising, it could turn a spitting mohawk’d punk into a cooing angel child in just over forty-three minutes.

From the rivulet of water that opens side one of Rainbow Dome Musick* emerges a series of single synthesiser notes, languidly spaced, whose glass-like tones range from elven chime to distant horn. The electric piano cascades that follow almost seem to personify the spirit of the water; life-giving, refreshing, utterly simple and entirely central to life.

After almost six minutes, the tone changes. Some Gong-like space whispers arc across the height of the dome, or where the dome once was. Because the water has gone, a fluttering star-wash pierced by cascades of electronic comets has taken you from earth to space. Surely this is the musick of heaven. Cool, detached, yet singing an eternal song of wonder. The occasional low note helps ground what otherwise might seem to airy even for a fairy, yet the absence of percussion or beat is not missed; here it would be an intrusion. This is music to wander about in, to get lost in. So when a keening guitar note gently slices through the mist, it is very much like spotting a rainbow lorikeet on the wing.

This mid-section of “Garden of Paradise” is so under-stated, so beautifully balanced, it does in fact become weightless. Composer Miquette Giraudy has a light touch.

If you are thinking ‘New Age’, think again. Or rather, listen again. This is no mere formless tinkling, no vacuous earwash, but a carefully constructed journey. The guitar solo around the sixteen minute mark is a paragon of restraint, yet tune in and you’ll be dazzled by Hillage’s playing. The keyboard arpeggios dance with the guitar runs, while that vibrating pulse, like the background microwaves of the big bang, keeps us both held and adrift. And as the long coda glides through the closing minutes, the fluid sounds fade away until that background pulse is all that remains; quivering, enigmatic.

Listen to the solo albums of Steve Hillage and you’ll not be surprised to hear that he is drawn to the spiritual (note lower-case) nor that he leapt at the chance to compose for the Mind Body & Spirit festival. In an article for Sounds International (May 1979), he spoke of listening to radio programs (the 70s equivalent of podcasts, I believe) on topics such as “Out of body experiences”, “Astrology” and “The New Age”.

The dome itself was created to be a place of contemplation. Sounds very New Age-y indeed, yet what continues to delight me after countless spins of Rainbow Dome Musick is its capacity to occupy the foreground of the listening experience as comfortably as it soundtracks music for dreaming. Even in those turbulent end-of-decade times, RDM worked its magick on otherwise hard-bitten music press hacks. In the NME, scarcely know for its love of progressive music, reviewer Rick Joseph found himself endorsing the old hippies, almost against his will:

Altogether, “RDM” is a disgustingly and unfashionably wonderful exercise in meditative atmospherics, and is as addictive as a class A drug. It reaches hitherto untrod regions of dimensionless-ness.” [May 5, 1979]

 

 

Side two (composed by Hillage) is entitled “Four Ever Rainbow”. Opening with the crystalline chime of a Tibetan bell, some low synth notes and wavelets of trademark Hillage guitar, there is the suggestion of a smidgen more animus in this half. Maybe. The first section has the openness of a daydream and the gentle tension of an unanswered question. Like staring up at a blue blue sky then suddenly noticing without any surprise at all you can see just over 1.23 billion stars.

The next movement has pitch drifts and note slurs curling around your ears like tendrils of enchanted mist. There is a faintly ominous feel, with creeping lower register synth notes and a compressed version of that quivering pulse. Then, at twelve minutes, the pulse is taken over by sequencer, casting clusters of analogue wine-grapes. Surely we aren’t about to rock into some alternative Bacchanalia? But no, it is more like a cosmic quadrille than a Martian mosh pit, When I listen to RDM in the foreground, this is the only point I experience a little stab of frustration. It would be so good if Steve cut through the celestial noodling with an ecstatic glissando guitar solo. That would be out of character with the album, however, and as the slowly undulating flow of the synthesised currents drifts towards the endless sea, we sigh out the last knots of tension and clamber to our feet, casting one last glance at the mist-shimmer rainbows as we exit Hillage and Giraudy’s magick dome.

Now, where were those toilets?

 

* As adding a ‘k’ to the end of certain words adds bushels of Druidic authenticity, bonus k-s will be dispensed liberally through this piece.

◊ If you cannot find a copy of Rainbow Dome Musick on vinyl, the remastered Virgin CD (2007) sounds superb.

◊ For those who would like to know more about Steve Hillage, there is another Vinyl Connection piece here.

◊ This article was catalysed by a 1537 post on the Steve Hillage album Green, which immediately precedes RDM. Green is a fabulous album and is highly recommended, as is Joe’s piece.

 

32 comments

  1. I spy with my little eye a CD!

    I’ve been hearing alot about this Hillage fellow on these here blogs. I love stuff like this. I don’t know how often I would listen to it, being the rocker I am.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When they want to chill-ax, I imagine old rockers flipping the cap off a beer and lounging in an old armchair as Mk II Purple blasts out.

      BUT…

      If you are ever in a situation where you are forced to have a quiet glass of an expensive French Chardonnay, then, my friend, this is the soundtrack you need.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I confess to not being a big fan of electronica, and Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy are both new names for me. (Miquette Giraudy: sounds like a dancer at the Moulin Rouge!) I need to track this album down–hope it’s on YouTube!–so I can listen with your descriptions at hand to ease me through.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And I’m afraid to ask…..asparagus acid?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Um. It was late. Blame the Australian Chardonnay.

        Like

  3. I had this album and I’m 99% certain it was on clear vinyl. Loaned it to a guy in the early 80’s and never got it back (grrr).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You loaned a record? Just the once, I presume.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Thank you for this post, Bruce. I have listened to older Hillage and Gong and Daevid Allen for years, but dropped off after Motivation Radio (in ’77). After reading your words, I listened to Radio Dome Music tonight and its serenity is the soundtrack I needed in my life — and I want to have it with me more often. I will echo Mike’s earlier sentiment and purchase this. Thanks again for the awareness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s fantastic! Really chuffed it hit the spot. As you may have picked up from the tone of the review, RDM is a long-term favourite, so I’m delighted it is still capable of making new friends!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Tres trippy.
    1979 eh? The period when my hair more than rivalled that of an unshorn Polwarth sheep. Did I miss this at the time? (FIIK). A justifiable interruption to 3MBS’ The World of Baroque. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trippy is the word, man. As was hair in ’79. Even your correspondent had some.

      Like

  6. Sorry to say, you made me laugh.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Fabulous post. Loved the vision of a “spitting mohawk’d punk [turning] into a cooing angel child”. I shall command the mighty Spotify to play this through the hi-fi while I take a wholly undeserved morning break.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Perfect soundtrack for a morning / afternoon / evening break.
      Breaks are always worthwhile and always deserved. Tell ’em I said so.

      Like

  8. As per usual, I learn a new word (this time a verb, to catalyse) in a Vinyl Connection post – I find that happens so frequently, when a fellow blogger’s post becomes the catalyst to review an album!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes I get catatonic due to choice overload, so to lyse is to counteract the tonic. 😆

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Whoaaaaahhh. Far out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. Over the rainbow in fact.

      Like

  10. See, I told you you had done an excellent post of RDM. Wonderful Bruce, wonderful! It does sound a bit like a horse having a p*ss at the beginning of the album though! We used to have a fountain in our garden which had exactly the same effect.

    As soon as pay day ticks around this is getting bought.

    Listening to this now, this hasn’t dated at all for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is the really quite amazing thing about RDM – its failure to become dated and predictable. Happy hunting!

      Like

  11. Thanks,Bruce for the refresher course on a great album. Was blessed to grow up within the airwaves of a radio station that would play stuff like this nightly from 11pm-6am. A sizeable chunk of my collection is progressive music like this,because of that radio show.

    And this year marks the 25th anniversary of another great Giraudy/Hillage collaboration.with The Orb-Blue Room.

    Have a splendid autumnal season…ted

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Ted. That overnight radio show sound just the ticket! It is a kind of musick that works well at in the dark.
      Will check out The Orb stuff too. Thanks.

      Like

  12. Enjoyed this one, Bruce. I’m not familiar with this Hillage chap or his proggy weirdness musick at all. Intrigued by both this and that 1537 guy’s posts, though.

    As for the asparagus acid and tripping on tofu and suchlike, I’m fairly certain that’s something a load of folks are right into these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers J. Most relieved to hear that organic otherness still flourishes.

      Like

  13. Just caught up with this post. Always good to see Hillage getting some attention. Last years box set of 22 CD’s was a thing of wonder. It’s one of the best box sets I have and includes a remarkably detailed 180 page hardback book which chronicles Hillage’s career.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do remember this massive release, Barrie. Presumably there was some tasty live material previously unavailable?

      Like

      1. Yes there were 4 discs of demo/studio material from Steve’s archives plus a few live discs exclusive to the box, all excellent quality. Snapper did a wonderful job in putting this box together. Now, if only they would do a similar box for Gong!

        Liked by 1 person

  14. […] oddly, my favourite oasis albums (one of which was recently revisited here) did not quite do the job. Certainly the percussionless drift of much electronic music was […]

    Like

  15. You have me revisiting all this music. I just listened to Hillage’s ‘L’. The surprise that popped up was Don Cherry playing on the album. Going back to these albums is like discovering them all over again. Keep them coming.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Will do my best, CB. But you’ve pretty much caught up now, so I better get cracking!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just keep doing what you do. It’s working.

        Liked by 1 person

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