Experimental Audio Research
'Worn to a Shadow' was the last album by Sonic Boom under his E.A.R. guise, from 2005. It was made available as both a limited edition picture disc LP and a non-limited digipak CD edition (both now sold out from us directly). Its artwork, using two op-art designs, is absolutely staggering. Play the vinyl version of the album whilst gazing at it and fall back in slow motion. Without doubt, this catches Experimental Audio Research's finest work to date. An absolutely exceptional release. It is hoped he will work with LTCo again for a follow-up album. Meanwhile, Sonic Boom has also been busy with his Spectrum group who, since 'Worn to a Shadow' was released, have released several records, including the 'War Sucks' CDEP/12" on USA's Mind Expansion imprint. He has also collaborated with 4AD's Magnetaphone and, additionally, can be found on two of the five tracks which make up the debut CD album, 'Songs for Nine Ladies' by Stuart Carter of Theme's solo outlet, The Fields Of Hay, which was released during the summer 2007 by LTCo's sister label, Fourth Dimension Records.
An Interview With Sonic Boom
'Worn to a Shadow' is the latest album by Sonic Boom, under his EAR guise. Released during July 2005, it is available as both a numbered, limited edition picture disc LP of 525 and non-limited digipak CD. Worth getting for the staggering artwork as much as the music, you should play the album whilst gazing at it and let yourself gently fall back in slow motion. Without doubt, this is E.A.R.'s finest work to date. No lie. Equally, copies are selling very well at the moment and it is anticipated that the first edition of the CDs alone will have all sold by September.
Here's a short interview we conducted with Sonic Boom on 21st July 2005:
LTCo: Could you clarify what the line up is for the EAR project? Is it just you plus whoever you chose to collaborate with at the time?
SB: Yes, exactly. Recently, it has been mostly solo in the studio. In actuality I'm concentrating on getting the new Spectrum LP out. EAR will take a backseat for a while after this WTAS LP and one to follow for Impossible Records in the States.
LTCo: It has been quite a while since you released anything as EAR, hasn't it? What else have you been doing in the interim?
SB: Sure, I've been doing remixes including a project with BRITTA PHILLIPS and DEAN WAREHAM - SONIC SOUVENIRS. It's one of my favourite things I've been involved with, though it's remixes of stuff already recorded - all bar the odd drone here and there.
LTCo: What is the intention of EAR and how does it differ from Spectrum and solo projects?
SB: It's not song based - as most of the solo/Spectrum stuff is. I like working in a rigid song format as well as more free-er methods and the synchrondipity of EAR. I'm quite happy to let happenchance play a part in my music as it obviously does in my/our lives. The real manifesto of EAR is fairly lengthy and is reproduced in print in several places. I think, really, the Cagean philosophy that 'any sound can be a musical sound' is a large part of it. It is really 'toying with' and 'exploring' sound to find that often very beautiful moods and textures can be gleaned this way. It's good to not be too set on your ideas. Often others will come along and provide far better ones. Not always though...........
LTCo: When the likes of Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram were working, they usually used what was then the most advanced equipment available.
SB: Not true, really. They had a very poor selection of old army test equipment. Delia said they could have anything they liked as long as it was from the Beeb's 'REDUNDANT STORES'. Daphne, of course, built her Oramics, but we have yet to hear much output from it. Although it is said to exist and be good - there is some doubt whether her machine ever was reaally finished.
LTCo: How then does the modern day use of analogue equipment allow for anything more than a rehash of what went before? What is it about analogue?
SB: Analogue in itself isn't necessarily better. There is an argument that nice appealing sounds are more easily pulled from equipment using valve and analogue circuitry, but really - it's a confusion. If we were to talk about analogue synths for example - if you have enough money, you can create fascinating, useful and unique sounds by the easy programing available and the infinite possible range of manipulations, modulations etc.; from quite simple stuff to highly complex interplays of sounds, treatments and their controls.
LTCo: Similarly, what is it about electricity over acoustic? I don't recall you ever working with acoustic instruments.
SB: Acoustic instruments are very familiar to us. We hear a harp and we picture a harp. We hear a drum, we see in our mind a drum. Electronic music enables you to create sounds with no real reference point for people: Is it an animal or a machine? Is it earthly or alien? Eddie prévost played acoustic drums with us on many occasions. AMM and their contempories showed that this sort of sound can be created beautifully on conventional instruments through novel and re-inventive playing techniques, but whilst watching them is very interesting and a chance to see real skill - it has the effect of grounding the sound. What sounded like a Leviathan is revealed to be an egg slicer on a cymbal. I exaggerate, but you get my meaning? I do use the human voice, which is acoustic, quite a lot, but usually manipulated. I think Concrète techniques , acoustic and electronic all have their places. I've used and will continue to use all of them.
LTCo: The long shimmering tracks that you're known for making have a very 'visual' feel to them. The light show artist Mark Boyle recently died. Have you ever considered working with someone similar? The DVD format appears ideal for a collaboration between you and a film maker.
SB: Yes, I'd like to do that, but thus far the opportunity hasn't presented itself.
LTCo: The new album 'Worn to a Shadow' draws on material made between 2001-2005. Were these conceived as a complete album or are they separate tracks that coincidentally fell together? The certainly sound like a cohesive whole.
SB: They cohesively fell together. It's that synchrondipity again............. No, probably because I'm working on a particular approach or mood at the time it just comes together like that. I'd say it's also a trick of the track ordering too. I think sequencing LPs really can make or break a record. There are some though that are hard to fuck up. In general, song sequencing is very important to me.
LTCo: EAR have not played for a long time. Anything planned?
SB: I just played in Paris and again near Bale in France in December. I'm taking shows that I get offered , but I really am trying to concentrate on Spectrum for a while. I have an LP half done and I'm keen to finish it. I am also mid-remix for MAGNETOPHONE, which'll hopefully appear soonish on 4AD.
Review by Jeff Penczak for Terrascope
These solo recordings from 2001-5 make up the initial release on the new Lumberton imprint, as well as the 8th full-length offering from the prolific Sonic (Pete Kember) Boom’s other alter ego (besides Spectrum) since the acrimonious demise of Spacemen 3 nearly 15 years ago.
Having previously “experimented” with circuit bending toys on 2000’s ‘Data Rape,’ Boom continues to live up to his stated modus operandi by experimenting with musical software, such as Bit>WAV converters and SMS Tools. The 24½-minute centrepiece/title track opens in familiar territory with the bubbling, trickling waterfall of electronic bleeps somewhat akin to those meditation tapes you encounter on the PA systems of New Age head shops the world over. Just keep repeating: “Ommmmm…” and let his cascading electronics wash over you as you feel the bad vibes, tensions, anguish, and other negative energies ooze out of every pore.
The second third of the piece begins with ominous, sci-fi fluttering, punctuated with Sonic’s wah-wahed synth blasts as the track morphs into a frolicking cross between Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’ and The Orb’s ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld.’ In fact, Alex Paterson and Jim Cauty fans may recognize many musical references to their work with The KLF (particularly their seminal ‘Chill Out’ release) as well as their many fine Orb releases. So while Spacemen 3-meets-The Orb may be the obvious, albeit lazy tagline, it’s also quite accurate. (For a more obtuse reference point, our more esoteric listeners may look to Conrad Schnitzler’s ‘Krautrock’ (from ‘Rot’) for inspiration.) Finally, a choir of fluttering doves ascends heavenward on Boom’s banks of bubbling synths in the closing third of this soothing, electronic bath and the listener can almost feel the mortal coil fading away, until all that remains is a shadow…a shell of our former being. Aaahhh!
But wait…there’s more! Boom was very close to former BBC Radiophonic Workshop wunderkind Delia Derbyshire – it could be argued without too much of a stretch that his whole EAR oeuvre , right down to his chosen moniker, is a loving tribute to Delia bordering on hero worship – so it was a particularly striking blow when Ms. Derbyshire passed away in 2001 and his ‘Delian Lament’ is a fitting musical eulogy to her work and influence. While familiarity with Derbyshire’s work will certainly benefit your experience of the nuances that Boom incorporates into the track, particularly her ephemeral, nebu-less-is-more compositional style, it’s not essential to appreciate its beauty. One can almost feel the pain of Boom’s mourning, wailing electronics, as if banks of keyboards present at Delia’s funeral service broke down in an emotional outpouring of love and remorse for their departed friend. Nevertheless, the piece does end on a high note (literally), perhaps emulating Delia’s spirit evaporating beyond the realm of human hearing into the eternal cosmos of sound.
‘Blue Loop’ eradicates the sombre mood with bursting bubbles of electronic sound, like a deep-sea diver’s carbon dioxide bubbles escaping to the surface. The title is also an onomatopoeic description of the piece, and if you keep repeating it quickly until it becomes a single mantra – ‘blue-oop, blue-oop, blue-oop,” you can almost feel yourself wallowing inside a sensory depravation tank filled with water.
The disorientation continues if, like me, you occasionally find yourself examining the printed track lengths on CD packages, as ‘Blue Loop’ continues well past its 7:12 timestamp. Listeners will easily recognize the transition, as the final three minutes closely approximate the ambient, pastoral guitarscapes of Terrascope favorites Windy and Carl, Stars of The Lid, and assorted practitioners of the fine art of “speaker hum.” But, not to worry… to paraphrase the anonymous voice on Tom Petty’s ‘Damn the Torpedoes’: “It’s just the normal noises in here.” The album concludes with ‘Off The Deep End,’ an aural Rorschach test of found sounds and more electronic humming, buzzing and beeping and musical searches for extraterrestrial intelligence. It’s ultimately anticlimactic and rather frustrating, as I found it difficult to wrap my head around Boom’s intentions here, but the previous 45 minutes more than compensates for this superfluous misstep and make for exciting, often reflective listening and a welcome addition to an impressive and voluminous discography.
P.S. Vinyl junkies will marvel at the limited edition picture disc, which Sonic describes thusly: “LP (picture disc): Both sides of this special picture disc feature artwork that in combination with your turntable will produce opti-kinetic visual illusions. Try the different speeds on your turntable to see different effects. Here are just some of the possible effects...
Side 1 - Whirling circles: This pattern will give many swirling and shimmering patterns. Varying the speed at which your turntable is played and changing your points of focus will make different circles appear to spin at different rates. You might also see pale red, yellow and green shades at different points...
Side 2 - Larchers op-art: This disc is based on an optical design by French artist Jean Larcher. Even when stationary it is possible to see squares, circles and spirals around the spikes of the design. Different speeds and points of focus will reveal fleeting patterns, illusions of depth, shimmering rays and a long-lasting rotary movement after effect when viewed for 60 secs or more at 33rpm.” Like, whoa, dude! (Jeff Penczak)
Review by Ken Hollings for The Wire November 2005 edition
Established in 1990, EAR has served as a side project for Sonic Boom to extend his ideas towards some kind of resolved conclusion, and as such serves as a useful darkroom within which to develop his more intriguing sonic snapshots. What was once only a flicker became a protracted change of light. The four pieces collected together on 'Worn to a Shadow' share a relaxed simplicity that is quite unsettling over prolonged periods of exposure, not the least because none of them displays any obvious traces of forced repetition, looping or sequencing. Instead, each comprises an overlapping sequence of leisurely cadences, often involving tones generated by such analogue standbys as the EMS synthi AKS and the VCS3. The title track is the longest, a slow evolving work of shifting textures and phased notes that works its rather languid magic over 24 minutes. 'Delian Lament', as the title suggests. comes across as a touching and respectful tribute to the late great Delia Derbyshire, one of the finest electronic music composers this country has produced. As well as referencing her 1968 composition, 'The Delian Mode', from the first BBC Radiophonic Music collection, it also contains discernible music echoes of Derbyshire's classic 'Blue Veils and Golden Sands', originally recorded for a television documentary on the nomadic tribes of the Sahara. Meanwhile, 'Blue Loop' and 'Off the Deep End' retain a similarly languorous feel, conveying the haunted impression that Sonic Boom is somehow reaching back to a sense of what electronic music should have sounded like.That may not seem very forward-looking, but it does act as an impressive reminder of where we've come from. It never hurts to adjust the rear view mirror now and again.