Today, quite possibly at the very moment you’re reading this sentence, someone has just opened a box they found in their garage or attic. It’s full of forgotten objects. At some point in the past, they weren’t being used anymore, but they weren’t trash either. They entered into a non-specific purgatory known as “storage”. Maybe these objects have just been reborn.
What’s interesting for music that somehow gets birthed into the present day via a “rediscover box” is that it re-jigs your understanding of the past. When was the music made, and how did it fit in with the time it was made? It becomes clear why it wasn’t better known, or it’s somehow sad the music wasn’t better known at the time.
Of course, the story of The Nightcrawlers’ Biophonic Boombox Recordings isn’t quite the romantic newly discovered box-in-the-garage story. But the music restored and recalibrated by the wonderful Anthology Recordings originally existed as a series of self-made cassettes, in fairly limited numbers, released between 1980 and 1991 and for sale at their live gigs and via mail order.
No doubt logistics and the band’s lives outside the group all had an impact. Peter Gulch was a chemist, his brother Tom was a mailman, and Dave Lunt a graphic designer. The Nightcrawlers was a project they clearly loved as much as they were driven by, bouncing between live gigs and jams in the garage.
I’m guessing many of the people already familiar with the trio’s output are concentrated in the Philadelphia area, the place the band called home. So this collection creates a far bigger global platform for those interested around the world to dip ears and brains into The Nightcrawlers’ world. And with the collection cherry-picking from 13 albums spanning 1980–91, and stretching to over two hours, it seems like a discovery to get excited about.
For the gearheads, the band rocked up to gigs in the mid-’80s with three Jupiter 6s, a Korg PolySix, a Korg Poly 61, a Crumar DS-2, a Korg Poly-800, a Korg EX-800, a Korg MP-4, a Roland MSQ-100, a Roland TR-808, SH-1, SH-101, MC-202, TB-303, a few effects pedals, and an Electro-Harmonix Super Space Drum. This list only continued to grow…
For electronic music created in this time, much was rapidly pointing towards dance music. But fortunately, The Nightcrawlers drew from and continued to develop a strain of spacey mood-music and kosmische signposted by many German electronic pioneers from the 1970s.
Phase 1 Discovery and Approach opens the album as a perfect scene-setter. A Morse-like code transmitted, but unanswered, pings into the chasm of space. The subtle jumble of layered noise echoes Vladimir Ussachevsky’s Wireless Fantasy. So the bouncing ball rhythm of Beckoning Beacon feels like the more sensual message sent into the unknown. Like early Kluster/Cluster, the rhythmic element seems to define an area more like spatial markers than beats. A trail of breadcrumbs in zero gravity slowly mapping out what would be 11 minutes back on Earth.
Crystal Loop III has a distant desert planet vibe, like a shifting soundtrack over vast sand dunes. The sound grows and multiplies like sunbeams, and starts to expand over the surface, waking life… the chirping alien birds near the end of the track voice their approval.
The weird loop at the start of Geistesblitz [Brainstorm] could almost have grown out of the opening twinkling of King Crimson’s Cirkus. The loop never disappears, but its slowly saturated with wave after wave of electronic elements until it’s an enormous heaving swirling gaseous mass.
Somehow, the overall illusion is broken on Transsonic and Barriers—the sonic clarity and bright sound makes the music feel distinctive and earthbound. But overall, there is a wonderful grimy feel to much of the music presented here. The majority of the pieces establish themselves and become focused on subtle changes to the vast interlocking patterns they become. This seems to emphasize the dark atmosphere inherent in the sound.
However, it seems the underlining vibe is one of precision. The music maps what could be describing space or mathematic relationships, but without any whiff of the academic — it’s just thoughtful and engaging. The overall arc is too beat-driven to be considered ambient, but the music builds beautiful refractions and connects shards of light into the void… lots of flying and collisions of Coma Sola and other places. The rewards are clear for the unhurried listener.
Thinking back to a big chunk of the music The Nightcrawlers drew from — Tangerine Dream, Harmonia, Conrad Schnitzler, and Klaus Schultze — there was always a dynamic of pointing toward a shiny new future. That much of that music illustrated an expanded mental and physical space was clearly viewed as progress. I, for one, respect that these guys clung onto that dream way longer than most. And that it’s out and floating once more into our collective 2018 is even better.
Awakening is a curious piano piece that brings the whole album to a close. The piece ends with voice of a child (assume it’s a grandchild of one of the group) innocently asking which button is the STOP RECORDING button? “It just says S-T-O-P?” and then silence. A reminder that for listeners that our vantage point here is in tape that’s not rolled for a while, not the reality.
I’m delighted we are out the box once more and the PLAY button has been pressed again…
Biophonic Boombox Recordings available is from Mexican Summer and Bandcamp.
Review orginally appeared in Brown Noise Unit February 2018