Monday, August 16, 2010

Of All the Things We've Made

A little while ago my friend Chris Korte sent me a link to the great History of Electropop series that some dear soul added to youtube. I made the mistake of watching the OMD profile before 'going to sleep' - but after seeing the clip, sleep was not possible!!

For those of you who aren't already superfans, OMD, or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (a name they later regretted choosing, for its pretentious flare) released a series of innovative, dark, and unprecedented works between 1979 and 1983. Inspired by Kraftwerk, they were contemporaries of Joy Division, sharing with them a dark, bass guitar driven sound and a love of The Velvet Underground that placed OMD out of step with other UK synth bands of the era. Their period of greatest inspiration and experimentation culminated in the album 'Dazzle Ships,' recorded before the cookie cutter smushed down on the raw dough of synthpop. While some songs follow pop standards of verse and chorus, many of the tracks are tape collages of radio announcers voices and ship horns. It's the White Album of synthpop- with better cover art.

When I was living the musical life of the Littlest Hobo, touring with The Hidden Cameras, I fell asleep to Dazzle Ships every night. It's always taken me a long time to cool my thoughts before sleeping, but the combination of a nightliner bunk, a "sleep toque" pulled over my eyes, and "Romance of the Telescope" in my ears was even better than a bedtime Gravol. To the tune of the ship horns that open side two, I closed my eyes and imagined what the lights of the Wirral Peninsula might look like to the members of OMD. Soon the twinkling industrial scene darkened in the calm black shadow of sleep.

The procession of successive artists feeding on and reinterpreting a work of art is a testament to its greatness. A few years ago in Toronto, Owen Pallett covered side A of Dazzle Ships, imitating all the synths and samples with wood and string. It was the best possible tribute the the genius of Dazzle Ships, honoring the album and at the same time creating something higher than a cover- like a great director mounting a stylized version of Beckett's Endgame . While it's not the highest quality video, the youtube clip taken from a different staging of the piece will give you a taste of the experience.

By taking the sounds of ship horns and time signals out of context and building them up into a thing of beauty, OMD have punctured one of the illusions of the present. A time signal could be a melody, an accidental echo could be a call to a person in a far off land. The order of things is fragile and temporary, and the everyday could easily be quite different.

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