Sunday, July 12, 2020
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Artist: Philippe Petit
Title: Do Humans Dream Of Electronic Ships
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Opa Loka Records
Right from the title, Do Humans Dream Of Electronic Ships is 100% sci-fi. It’s a double album, only a little under two hours long, that seems to embody a 1970’s era of sci-fi soundtracking, where the raw experimental analogue and art electric sounds akin to the Radiophonic Workshop were just beginning to be complemented and supplemented by more recognisable keyboard-shaped synthesizers that would evolve in the direction of prog rock- several of which, Buchlas, Moogs and Arps, can be heard here in full effect.

It’s often more drama than it is music, as heard in the manic and chaotic opening of “Encounters of the 6th Kind” for example. So much so in fact that it’s hard to believe there is no underlying story that this drama is intended to accompany. Two minutes into “A Night With Three Moons” there’s a series of monkey-like noises that certainly ape (terrible pun intended) the early scenes of “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

But across its 110 minute expanse, there is also plenty of calm and melody. The sombre piano in the first half of “Return To Tomorrow” is a case in point, a more traditionally composed soundtrack-like work with plenty of emotion- though it has to be said that the pitch-shifting vocalisations that follow it do sound more like the Clangers. That piece also briefly includes a rare sighting of a regular rhythm that, fleetingly, hints at proto-techno- and a shockingly rough ‘record scratch’ ending that’s one of the boldest ways I’ve recently heard of admitting to not knowing how to finish a track.

The second disc is dominated by “Laika In Space”, which is a 52-minute live performance on a Buchla Easel. As such it’s sparser, and less layered, and coupled with its meandering variously towards the very high and low frequencies at times, it is naturally just a bit more of a difficult listen. There’s some strong expression in there, and some interesting ideas- as well as some bravely long silences- but fifty-two minutes really does seem a bit over-indulgent, and a good half hour would’ve covered it, especially with a harsh and scratchy “Why Do Birds” pushing the idea on for a further ten minutes afterwards.

Some of the titular references are arguably on the obvious side- Twilight Zone, Philip K. Dick etc.- but this is a deeper dive into experimental sci-fi, rather than sci-fi’s greatest hits. It’s one of the best soundtracks you’ve ever heard for an old sci-fi movie that was never made, and but for a generally very polished sound quality, it would be easy to believe that it has fallen through a wormhole from around fifty years in the past.


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