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PostPosted: Fri May 23, 2008 9:36 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jan 23, 2008 8:25 am
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Location: Finland
So, I finally bought and heard Phaedra. Rubycon was a bit disappointing to me and I didn't expect Phaedra to blow me away. I have to say Phaedra is even more "primitive" (but experimental) than Rubycon. It is clearly the first step of creating a new sound. To me Ricochet is the first really good TD album.


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PostPosted: Sat May 24, 2008 3:14 pm 
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Joined: Sun Dec 24, 2006 4:15 pm
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Location: Wellingborough, UK
Here's my review on 'Phaedra' which I wrote yonks ago.....

Phaedra

‘It looks like the inside of a woman’



One of 3 LPs bought from Virgin in Peterborough on the same day: ‘Phaedra’, ‘Aqua’ and ‘TimeWind’ by Klaus Schulze (another modular Moog masterpiece). All 3 cost less than a tenner - and it doesn’t get any better than that really. I couldn’t listen to them straight away, the parents were in the lounge (with the only LP player in the house) so I had to wait until they went out for the night. That, however, wasn’t a big problem, I had heard them all already from borrowed and taped copies from Jon. I can’t remember the first time I heard it, but it must have been around the time I purchased my first TD LPs, so there was no epiphany like I had with ‘Cyclone’; it entered into my life gradually. One of the most important pieces they created and I have no real recollection of the impact it made upon me, probably because that was done by other releases.

I have to say something I suppose, so I will put my thoughts down on it. So, being logical about it, let’s start from the outside cover and work in. The sleeve is magnificent, as are all of the Monique Froese creations (she did an absolute stoater for the cover of David Bedford’s ‘Stars End’) and presents you with a metallic, nebulous, lustrous design which, alas, is lost on the CDs. The 12 x 12 artwork would stand out a mile in the record shop racks being very different from a lot of others, doesn’t give too much away except for artist and title and says ‘I do not sound like the other garbage around me, particularly all that T-Rex stuff’. Opening the gatefold sleeve, a device that every electronic music LP should have, we now get something different. There is a montage of pictures; all of which look like microscopic views of human eggs, because they probably are. There is also, for the technophiles and gadget freaks amongst us, a list of equipment to read whilst listening to the noises they make.

Friend Jon took inspiration from this interior when he was ‘commissioned’ to paint a friend’s car. It was white originally, but got sprayed a multitude of colours with parts of the white paintwork masked off so that when the masking was removed, spermatozoa appeared migrating down the car to an ovum on the bonnet. The intention was for him to paint the ‘2 girl’ Virgin logo in the egg, but I cannot remember whether he did or not. One thing I do know was that the friend was over the moon about the car and drove it proudly until a couple of days later he was stopped by the police. I wonder why?

If I can tie in with what I said about ‘Atem’. We have moved from outer space to inner space, from macroscopic to microscopic. The music of the title piece ‘Phaedra’ is very claustrophobic sounding to me and intense, from the (accidentally) evolving sequencer line to the final dramatic washes of mellotron which provides some link to the established sound of TD live up to this period. ‘Omnibus’ (a BBC arts programme) in the mid 70s used this end part on a programme that featured Keith Michell, the same Keith Michell who was a massive TD fan and commissioned them to cobble together the soundtrack to his production of ‘Oedipus Tyrannus’.

It's difficult to imagine now but ‘Phaedra’ was new and exciting; there was nothing else around that sounded like it. True, there were a lot of albums that had synthesizers on them like ELP’s first album, or Carlos’ ‘Switched on Bach’ but nothing used them as the driving force behind the music. It took some courage on the part of Mr Branson to sign up TD. Now it’s true it wasn’t a completely reckless gamble, what with TD having some success with ‘Atem’ (John Peel’s import of 73 gave it some ‘legs’ sales-wise) but it seems to have paid off. I wonder how much Phaedra has contributed to late running trains and cheap flights. Seriously though, at that time, Oldfield, TD and Gong had no real massive selling potential but were signed up anyway. Thankyou Mr B.

The LP sounds good even today because it sounds so organic and although there are now hundreds of TD copyists out there, no-one gets it quite the same, even Mark Shreeve’s ‘Red Shift’ project. Although there are very few instruments playing at any point, there sum sounds greater than the individual bits together and this is what makes it hard to copy.

I feel I should explain that last sentence a bit more, I have tried to talk to other music – obsessed nuts about this but always end up getting in knots about it. Think of an album - ‘Sorcerer’ say. On a track like ‘Rain Forest’ which is as close to the 73/74 sound as it gets, you know the track consists of a piano, a couple of synths and not a lot else. I can mentally strip away the instrumentation and hear the blank canvas it’s working on. I can’t do that with ‘Phaedra’ or ‘Rubycon’. I strip away all the instruments there and there’s always something left, a mystery ingredient I suppose. It’s like when artists start painting, the canvas is often stained to take away the glare of a white canvas – ‘Phaedra’ has the sonic equivalent of this, a warm bed of sound to grow on. This ‘factor X’ is what makes the album so warm and organic and living. A far cry from (the equally exciting) ‘Timewind’ by Schulze, a similar record, which paints a colder mental picture when I listen to it (although it is no less an album, I must add).

And there ends side 1. Not quite. If you have an original (which I had a tape of) there is the sound of children in a swimming pool (now moved to that start of ‘Mysterious…’ on the ‘Definitive’ CD remaster). However, if like me you had an el cheapo ‘OVED’ copy or the original CD release, there was no sound at all. Why? Well at a guess I’d say that the later pressings were cut from a different cutting master (many are made from one set of master tapes) and was also the source for the first CD issue. That is why early Virgin CDs are not very good quality – they are made from master tapes eq’d for LP manufacture. Ugh. Thankfully, they were remastered and re-released later on.

Side 2. ‘Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares’. For a mellotron nut like me, nirvana and like ‘Fauni Gena’ another dry run for the grandeur of ‘Epsilon in Malaysian Pale’. I was somewhat surprised when I read in the ‘Tangents’ booklet that it was effectively an Edgar Froese solo track (with some input from Monique); given my statement in the last sentence, I don’t know why I’d assumed it was group effort. This was always a good track to play to the customers when I worked in a record shop (in the days when you could get stuff like thist from a high-street shop). Invariably you would get an enquiry about it and sometimes, you would get a sale and have resigned someone else into a life of spending money on TD releases. Heehee.

This then flows into ‘Movements of a Visionary’ and more vocal sound effects (not quite as wild as ‘Wahn’ and not until I heard the remaster did I realise it was treated voices mixed with synthetic white noise. When I did realise it was human voices, it made me jump (again) as I had assumed every noise to be courtesy of a box you could plug in. Another sequencer line starts which is gentler than that on the title track and ambles along until the end. Another segue and here comes ‘Sequent C’ which is probably one of the most exquisite pieces created by TD. A beautiful musical miniature made with overdubbed flutes that owes a bit to Terry Rileys 'Poppy Nogood' finishes a remarkable piece of work. I used to include this track on any chill-out tapes I made for people (along with Ashra’s ‘Ocean of Tenderness’, Tom Newman’s ‘The Woods Of…’ (another mellotron masterpiece) and RMO’s ‘Torso in Sommerwind’) and it seemed to curry favour with them.

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