Electroscope - DiapauseI've been fortunate to be up to date with performances from Drew Mulholland formerly of analogue experimentalists Mount Vernon Arts Lab and currently Composer in Residence at Glasgow University's School of Astronomy. From the auspicious surroundings of Glasgow University's Memorial Chapel where the Edinburgh String Quartet performed some of Mullholland's new compositions including 'Stella Nova' to the Old Hairdressers where he collaborated with Strange Attractor's Mark Pilkington as part of a book launch for Phil Baker's Austin Osman Spare, an illuminating biography of London's Lost Artist. This time he was performing with Glasgow's Electroscope in a recital of The Singing Arc, an electro acoustic take on an unusual phenomenon discovered in the early years of radio transmission, as part of Glasgow's Sound Lab festival. Hooked around a bass played by Drew Mulholland, Electroscope added vintage electronics and haunting vocals. Augmented by a primitive psychedelic light show it was a truly wonderful audio visual treat. I already had some Electroscope tracks on split 7-inches and compilations but wanting to hear more I picked up some Electroscope releases at the end of the evening.
One of those releases was Diapause, a collection of singles and compilation tracks with some previously unreleased tracks too. It, like much of Electroscope's work is lovingly home spun, so what you get is a warts and all overview of their, uh, musical career. From their first forays into 4-track recording from 1996 which combine rickety guitar work with the cosmic sounds of a kids toy to the submarinal electronics of their last recording released on a split single shared with Windy and Carl in 2001. Diapause represents the first Electroscope release in over 12 years.
The title of that formative studio track, 'Welcome To Planet Barrett' is telling. John Cavanagh, the male-half of Electroscope, authored an appreciation of Pink Floyd's The Piper At The Gates of Dawn in the 33 1/3 series published by Continuum Books. Diapause continues that Pink Floyd connection, most notably, with a cover of Syd Barrett's 'Rats' played out surprisingly like primitive proto-electro punks Suicide. Its electronic Moog throbs coming at you like the southside of Glasgow's answer to Delia Derbyshire with added stylophone. Electroscope are well versed in the history of psychedelia and electronic music. And there's plenty of it here.
A couple of tracks such as 'The Prior of Eye' and 'Corryvreckan', with its combination of Farsifa piano organ and clarinet, play out like understated melancholic retro soundtracks, while 'Turbine' indulges in a spot of free-form improvisation where electronics throb and guitars twang.
What's most surprising about Electroscope is the way they incorporate folk music into their electronic compositions. 'If Your Ship' is built around acoustic strum and harmonium type sound; 'Citrus Heights' when sung by Gayle Brogan's in her rich melodic Glaswegian voice almost sounds traditional, while 'The Blue You Never Knew' (there's another nod to the Floyd) carries Brogan's mournful voice over organ. The result, here, as well as on 'Citrus Heights' is vaguely reminiscent of Rose McDowall's folk project Sorrow.
While some of the above tracks can be quite tentative everything comes together on 'Shifting Sands', an unreleased Electroscope take on the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band track. Here Brogan's airy voice weaves a sumptuous melody over looped chiming acoustic guitar and minimal electronic treatments - with stolen wind effect from Pink Floyd's 'One Of These Days' - I think! 'Eye of the Deep', on the other hand, reduces a folk song to a still atmosphere, with Cavanagh's hushed calm voice, shadowed by Brogan's wafting accompaniment, amidst bells and oscillating tones. Steeped in studio hiss, 'Touchdown', produced by Jim Beattie (Adventures In Stereo, Spirea X, and a founding member of Primal Scream), unfurls to some thick electronic ambience underpinned by solid bass throb as a backdrop to Brogan's wordless ghostlike accompaniment. This track comes closest to the haunting version of The Singing Arc track I heard live.
Diapause ends with Electroscope's take on Geoff Goddard's Joe Meek production 'Sky Men'. Shorn of its sped-up 60's beat Electroscope's take on Goddard's earth welcoming alien song features Brogan's soft whispered words over Farsifa organ and humming analogue electronics. Appropriately enough, 'Sky Men' was released as Electroscope With Mount Vernon Arts Lab which takes us back to Drew Mulholland and to where this review began.
Diapause needn't be approached as a normal album but with its hybrid of folk, psychedelia and vintage electronics it is charming and offers enough clues in order to follow up this West coast of Scotland experimental pop art duo. Electroscope ceased recording in 2001, with each member going on to pursue solo projects: Gayle Brogan as Pefkin and John Cavanagh as Phosphene, as well as continuing as a respected radio broadcaster and record producer - including lauded folk outfit Trembling Bells. Brogan and Cavanagh are now working together again. Diapause, collecting a number of long out-of-print titles, provides a worthwhile reminder of what they've done. Diapause is released by Curiously Euphonic with an A5 sized booklet of essays and track history. For more information go to www.apexonline.com/melodybar/