Matthew Bourne was already talking about Moogmemory—both the album and the touring collaboration with visual artist Michael England—back in 2012, when he signed to Leaf and made his label debut with Montauk Variations, an album of mostly lyrical pieces for solo piano or cello. Now it’s finally dropped, the two albums are surprisingly complimentary. If you know Bourne primarily from his mercurial improvised music (cf. Bourne/Davis/Kane) or his puckish and eclectic ventures in the avant-garde (improv/electronica mashups with Franck Vigroux, etc.), then the poise and equilibrium of this set might take you by surprise.
The whole album was recorded on a Memorymoog – an early 80s polyphonic synthesizer. As Graham Massey of 808 State says in press notes, the instrument is: “slightly untamable, with (its) 18 oscillators, modulation possibilities, and the gorgeous ‘Mooginess’ that lives within its filter circuits, (and it is) prone to pit stops and custom updates.” Bourne’s model was initially “uncooperative”, so he shelled out for a Lintronics Advanced Memorymoog (LAMM) conversion (Massey: “the Memorymoog equivalent of open heart surgery, which replaces 1,300 components over eight weeks of bench time, costing as much as a new machine”), with a full MIDI interface.
With so much money and ambition invested, Bourne’s Moogmemory brings years of forethought and practical refinement into focus. It’s the first album to be recorded using only the LAMM – no computers or sequencers, just the Moog’s voltage-controlled circuitry. In so far as it’s possible, Bourne wanted to let the instrument “speak for itself”, but of course the album is a product of his own personal touch, and the results are frequently gorgeous.
With sounds coaxed or caressed from the electrical hum and pulse of the synth’s oscillators, Moogmemory is much warmer than last year’s Kraftwerk-inspired Radioland: Radio-Activity Revisited (another long-term project finally realised).
Bourne has cited Annette Peacock and Paul Bley’s late 60s Synthesizer Show as a primary influence, and that makes sense given his work as a whole, but here he sounds more thoughtful or simply more in command of the instrument, his aims more focused. There are no jazz referents. The opening piece, “Somewhere I Have Never Travelled”, could be a softer, Elysian take on Martin Rev’s hypnotic Suicide pulse. It’s just as lean and minimal, but seductive rather than confrontational.
“Alex” is synthier, with probing fronds of luminous audio and hazily dappled key sounds over a shimmery, warming soundbed, while the glitchy “Nils” begins with music box melodicism before turning much darker.
Track sequencing and selection vary across formats. The two longest pieces on the CD aren’t on the vinyl edition, and two more tracks are download only.
Of the longer numbers, “On Rivock Edge” (10:00) is a drone piece, all darkly buzz-shimmering viscidity and unsettling high-pitch murmuration; and “I Loved Her, Madly” – the only piece recorded live, at the 2013 Marseden Jazz Festival, only its title a possible hat-tip to Miles Davis – is chordal, a steady-stepping series of church organ-deep and richly harmonic piping. “Andrew”, available on all formats, plays with a similar combination of high-register piping sounds, music box glister and expansively thrumming drone, but to more intricate, striking and queasy effect.
The outright schizophrenic “Horn and Vellum” begins with drones then morphs abruptly, more than once, alluding to Kosmiche, rave and bleep techno, or perhaps none of the above, in short order. The flickbook rapid “Sam” is a lighter, flick book-rapid parsing of percussive EDM into analogue synthesis. But the most accessible piece, and the one that best draws everything together, is the skittering, percussively whorling “Daniziel”.
So it’s not all poise and equilibrium. Maybe that’s clearer on the vinyl edition, which drops the ballast of the two most gravid pieces and necessitates fragmented playback, but with the CD played straight through the timbral richness of the Memorymoog suffuses everything, even Bourne’s most capricious pieces.
Matthew Bourne: Lintronics Advanced Memorymoog (LAMM).
Matthew Bourne and Franck Vigroux – Radioland: Radio-Activity Revisited.
Paul Dunmall, Matthew Bourne, Steve Davis, Dave Kane – Mandalas in the Sky.
Matthew Bourne + Icarus at Cafe Oto, 15 Feb 2012.
But Moogmemory direct from The Leaf Label.