Compilations devoted to a specific genre are common. However, compilations dedicated to a particular type of instrument or studio are less so. This, then, is one of the rare beasts from the latter category. As the website explains, 'It is often said EMS gear has attained cult status, reaching a fervor of near worship among its users. The Synthi Group is an example and collection of such users.'
Such a write-up inevitably forges preconceptions about the music and its makers, and my immediate involuntary action was that this would be an album of nerd-muzak.
Again, from the website: 'The Synthi Group is back for the second installment of their ongoing Electronic Music Studio (EMS) instrument centered compilations. With the popularity of Vol. I, downloaded over 42,000 times, it was made clear that an interest exists for the unique sound of EMS machinery. Vol. II continues the DIY ethic of the first, encapsulating a diverse array of sounds from ultrasonic frequencies and spring reverb howls to rubbery logic sequences and colliding inverted ramp oscillators.
'The members presenting their own manipulations and interpretations of the Synthi. Encompassing elements from vintage analog, ambient, glitch and experimental, both beginners and aficionados of electronic music alike will find interest in the varying styles presented here. Available through Clinical Archives, the Synthi Group: Vol. II must not be missed. Bleep.'
It all sounds a bit technical, and this does little to allay my fears that this is going to be a collection of tracks by speccy geeks for speccy geeks. So I begin my voyage of discovery, to boldly go into these obsessive sonic territories...
Crickets and birdsong are the first sounds of 'Flirtation in Paradise' by THM. Long, gently sustained notes fade in ambiently. It's ok, but comes and goes without really achieving a great deal. What a contrast 'Le Fu De Saint Elme' by Trinite is. It may have a 'Tubular Bells' skeleton, but it's got a dark heart of sonorous organs and some sinuous muscles fleshing out its structure. 'Proto Raum' by Frequency in Cycles per Second takes things into meaner territories still, presenting a seven-minute stretch of sinister-sounding dark ambience in audio 3D. Distant rumblings, eerie barely-there drones and incidentals that make you turn and look over your shoulder all combine for a most unsettling experience. It's damn good, and is some of the scariest soundtrack music I've ever heard. It doesn't even need a film to induce a heightened state of fear and paranoia.
'Schizoland #9' by Jaciniti is similarly unsettling, this time leading the listener down a path of sci-fi horror with some weird echoes and sonic manipulations, and by now I've completely forgotten about the bleeps and geeks I'd anticipated and am getting quite jumpy. Yes, I'm lost in Schizoland after just a few minutes.
Karautrockin' 'Diode Malfunktion' by Alka has an aggressive, glitchy beat and some indecipherable robotic vocals and offers some respite, while Sam Samshuijzen delivers 'One of These Imps,' which is all about the glitch and grind. Before long the horrors of the preceding tracks fade away with the ticking of a hyperactive clock. From hereon in, things do get a little predictable in their noodlesome ways, with looping motifs overlaid with static interference and sounding very much like a collection of 70s and early 80s avant-garde pop outtakes. It's not bad, it's just all been done before.
Doombient return the soundscape to darker territory with 'Slower,' however, a nuclear wind blowing over a barren surface. Similarly, there's a hint of Throbbing Gristle's more ambient moments on La Guerre Des Boutons' '6eme Sens Giratoire,' and 'Ampulla Synthi Mumbo,' by Head Boggle but they're both less than enthralling, functioning more as interludes than a piece in their own right.
Just as things threaten to collapse into tediousness, Maelem's 'Metal Aliens Lap Dance' cranks things up to another level with wave upon wave of whooshing treble and distortion that could have come from a Whitehouse's 'Great White Death.' 'Mono-Polyys 'Blip00' is a similarly nasty exercise in speaker-shredding, brain-wrecking noise. Itys mercifully brief, though, and things are once again gentler from there to the end.
The audience for an album like this must be pretty small, because this is certainly niche stuff. Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed the sonic journey that this compilation takes, and was also suprised by the diversity of styles and the flexibility of the EMS kit. Small wonder people get so sold on it.