EDGAR FROESE - "Aqua"
Joined: April 30 2004
Location: United Kingdom
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Topic: EDGAR FROESE - "Aqua"
Posted: June 08 2005 at 19:51
As EDGAR FROESE is not yet in the Archives as a solo artist, here's my review of his first solo album "Aqua" in case anyone is interested in the electronic genre and has not yet heard it.
Until seeing the cover art on the Internet last year I had completely forgotten that I had the LP in the 1970s. I finally tracked down the CD after weeks of trying unsuccessfully to find out on which album TANGERINE DREAM used the binaural recording technique, only to rediscover that it was in fact this 1975 (I think it was early 1975, not 1974) solo release from EDGAR FROESE (his first) and not something TANGERINE DREAM released. I think curiosity about the use of the binaural recording technique was the reason I bought the LP in the first place (that, and the Modular Moog); it was also the reason I sought out the CD years later.
The binaural technique – developed at the Technical University, Berlin – consists of placing a microphone in each ear of a dummy head, the idea being that the recording should sound very realistic when played back via headphones. Somewhat disappointingly, EDGAR FROESE only used the technique to record the sound of a jet airliner and road traffic for the track ‘ngc 891’. Apparently the dummy head was hung from the window of his Berlin apartment. It was avant-garde for the time, but then FROESE was a pioneer (very early in the group’s existence, TANGERINE DREAM even played several times at Dalí’s villa in Spain).
If you are familiar with the electronic ‘space music’ of TANGERINE DREAM and/or KLAUS SCHULZE (the drummer on the first TANGERINE DREAM album) then you’ll have a very good idea what this album sounds like. Synthesizers, sequencers and other electronic keyboards are used to produce varying tones, pulsing, bubbling, whirring, droning, chirping and other electronic noises, often hypnotic and apparently ideal for getting stoned or for just chilling out. Much of it is very relaxing, that’s for sure. The tracks are more varied, i.e. less consistently like the trance music of KLAUS SCHULZE, and more like the output of TANGERINE DREAM.
Well, after having completely forgotten what the album sounded like, was I impressed when I spun the CD? Not really. On the plus side the tracks are varied: organic, trance, mellow, ambient… but the album is not as good as the hit album “Phaedra” from TANGERINE DREAM released in 1974, not long before the release of “Aqua” in early 1975 (I think). “Aqua” sounds ‘raw’ in comparison to “Phaedra”; others have said it sounds as if it predates “Phaedra”, and I had the same feeling.
The 17-minute title track starts and ends with the sound of babbling water (recorded in FROESE’s Berlin apartment), mixed with the sounds from the electronic instruments. The sound of running water occasionally reappears in the track. It’s a reasonable track – very spaced-out and relaxing, with the odd flash of brilliance – but I don’t think it’s the sublime piece claimed by some.
Although simpler, I enjoy more the track ‘panorphelia’ with its Mellotron over pulsing sequencer, more reminiscent of the trance style of KLAUS SCHULZE or TANGERINE DREAM on some of their pieces. I especially like the pulsing on ‘panorphelia’, which sounds like it should be coming from a buzzing high voltage transformer in Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory.
The track ‘ngc 891’ is named after a nebula, but it is this track that includes the overdubbed sound of a jet aircraft and city traffic, recorded from the window of FROESE’s Berlin apartment. Hardly cosmic! The jet aircraft recording sounds crackly and is not impressive: I can’t detect anything special from the binaural recording. The piece itself feels to me like a comment on a drab, lonely city existence rather than a visit to a far-flung nebula. Guest artist Chris Franke used the Modular Moog on this track, and I must say it does sound very good once things get going.
The last, and shortest, track ‘upland’ is not particularly interesting to me. The organ sounds a bit too ecclesiastical for my liking (I enjoy ecclesiastical sounding organ, but to me it doesn’t fit that well here, just wandering around aimlessly.)
The original LP was released by Virgin, and so was the CD I bought (CDV 2016, released 1987). The sound quality of the CD is not very good. Also, the laser head in my CD player can be heard thrashing around at times, presumably a sign that a lot of re-reading is going on. The CD is in mint condition and there are no visible blemishes, so I think it’s just a cheaply manufactured, low quality Virgin CD. The cover has the same cheap feel to it: you can see where the text on the LP cover has been covered by cut-and-paste patches from other parts of the cover and re-photographed. The photograph is also less distinct than the original LP cover, which is a pity, as the blue-tinted ice crystals are quite striking. If you really want to hear “Aqua”, in my opinion you’d be better off either waiting for Virgin to issue a digital re-master or buying the recently released 2005 re-recording from the EDGAR FROESE Web site shop (N.B. <I>re-recording</I>, not re-mastering), although I have not yet heard the latter. It’s a pity the cover art is completely different on the 2005 release, though.
In conclusion, if you like this kind of electronic ‘space music’ you can do better than this in my opinion: check out the TANGERINE DREAM and KLAUS SCHULZE albums contemporary to “Aqua”, or the second solo album “Epsilon In Malaysian Pale”, which is regarded by many to be better than the first. I would have liked more experimentation with the binaural recording technique: a whole album with the dummy head in the middle of a large studio with all sorts of electronic instruments spread around it. However I do feel a bit mean criticising the album on the basis of the binaural recording, as even the limited use on “Aqua” was very innovatory. But I just expected more from it.
Overall, then, the album is historically interesting and parts are pleasing although I don't find it outstanding. My initial inclination was to give it a 2.5-star rating (if that were possible, that is) but I’ll go with 3 stars (Good, but not essential) as it does get better on repeated listening or if you are sufficiently mellow.
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