Time Out of Mind [as FSP/Brendan Pollard/Hashtronaut] (2009, 77.14) ***½/TTT½The Valther Twins
Time Out of Mind
Mind Out of Time [as FSP/Brendan Pollard/Hashtronaut] (2010, 79.12) ****/TTTTShadows and Fog
The Upper Chamber
"Option C" (Slight Return)
In early 2009, Holland's Free System Projekt duo teamed up with Britain's Brendan Pollard (Rogue Element) and Hashtronaut for a session at Pollard's Bedford-based studio, Radial Velocity. The end result is pretty much as you'd expect from four EM devotees: a full-length disc of Berlin School atmospherics and sequences, short on originality but long on magnificent analogue textures and improvisational skill. Despite its inordinate near-half hour length, the title track is probably the best thing here, with some vicious sequencer work (no, really) and a superior sense of dynamics, although there's nothing here to disappoint your typical EM fan. Three of the album's four participants play one or both of Pollard's M400s, Pollard himself and both the FSP guys, Ruud Heij and Marcel Engels. We get strings, cellos, flutes and an unidentified woodwind on The Valther Twins and Exodus, with a major string section part and a belated appearance from the choirs in the title track, with more string overkill in "Option C" (surely a nod to The Tangs' Sequent C' from Phaedra?). After a slowish start, this turns into a very nice 'Tron album, with absolutely no doubts as to its veracity, for once.
The quartet recorded a sequel, quite possibly at the same sessions, released the following year as Mind Out of Time (ho ho). You know perfectly well what you're going to get with this stuff, but this really is an excellent example of the genre, particularly exceedingly lengthy opener Shadows And Fog, which surprises by being ambient for over half its length; we're almost twenty-three minutes into the track before the sequencers kick in, while it's also the lightest on the Mellotron. Amusing to hear Brendan's Solina in closer "Option C" (Slight Return), too, as I've subsequently bought the instrument from him myself. The studio's two M400s are played by the same three participants, although it takes a few minutes for the Mellotron to enter the fray, but it finally appears on Shadows And Fog with an almost-yet-not-quite discordant flute melody, with heavily reverbed choir chords later on. The Upper Chamber opens with low cello/double bass notes and regular strings, with more flutes later in the track, while "Option C" (Slight Return) adds brass to the ubiquitous flutes and almost overpowering strings, making for a very listenable and nicely Mellotron-heavy release.
I doubt whether this combination of musicians will play together again, sadly, as they worked well together, taking the pressure off the two solo acts involved. Realistically, you're only going to like these albums if Tangerine Dream and their ilk are your thang, but the collaboration does what it does well, with plenty of Mellotron work for the aficionado. Recommended.
Free System Projekt is basically Dutch synthesist Marcel Engels, one of the major names on the international EM scene and a prolific collaborator, not least with our very own Brendan Pollard. In 2000, Engels played with Dave Brewer at Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia, as immortalised in Tangerine Dream (had to get them in sooner or later)'s 3 am At The Border Of The Marsh From Okefenokee (from Stratosfear), releasing the recordings as Okefenokee Dreams. The collaboration seems to bring out the best in all concerned, most of the album's material standing out from the average, not least Ibis Flight's heavy-duty solo sequencer work and the lengthy A Night At The Museum's ominous rumblings. Three samplotron tracks, with a massive, lush string part opening Ibis Flight, with less convincing flutes a few minutes later, polyphonic flutes and phased strings on Billy's Island and long, drawn-out string notes and reverby choirs on A Night At The Museum.
E-Live, Veldhoven, Netherlands, September 10th, 2000 is a slightly harsh recording, certainly when compared to the Okefenokee titles; it's possible that it's actually a bootleg, although it's listed on the band's website. A largely reflective set, the sequencers only kick in at a couple of points and then only for a few minutes each time, Cottage #3 being a rhythmless piece, heavily featuring Engels' Solina (fittingly, a rare example of a Dutch synth, despite being rebadged in the States by ARP). Samplotron on both parts of Infinite Echoes, with flutes and lush string chords all over Part 1, with a beautiful unaccompanied string part closing the track and more of the same (right down to the near-unaccompanied strings) on Part 2.
The previous Okefenokee project was considered so successful that they had another go the following year, Engels and Brewer playing with John Christian and Peter Ruczynski from UK EMers AirSculpture and US guitarist Bill Fox. The album opens with a recording of someone snoring loudly; unfortunate, as this kind of stuff is so often seen (with some justification) as soporific. Maybe they're being ironic? Probably. The rest of the album consists of all the usual Tangs-inspired moves; perfectly good, but largely indistinguishable from everyone else doing this stuff to all but the most hardened aficionado. As expected we get sampled Mellotron choirs, strings and flutes on most tracks, with a particularly upfront flute part on the relatively brief Road To Nowhere, admittedly in rather predictable 'Berlin School' style.
2002's live Atmospheric Conditions opens with the beautiful, tranquil Naiad, while Thalassa's several minutes of untuned synth effects make a welcome change in the genre, although the bulk of the overlong set sits in standard EM mode. Samplotron on most tracks, notably Naiad, with flute warbles a few minutes in, choirs and strings following. Rather than the better part of 140 minutes, I'd find this a far more listenable proposition if it consisted of nothing more than its first two 'side-long' tracks, but then, I'm hardly a hardened EM fan. An amusing postscript to the album is the seven-minute Echoes Promo, where the band lead an American journalist through their (by the sound of it) entirely digital/softsynth rig.
2004's Passenger 4, a collaboration with US EMers Dweller at the Threshold, is a fairly undistinguished release, sounding little different to many, many similar mostly-improvised efforts, although a few shorter tracks make for a welcome change. Two samplotron tracks, with male choirs and unisex flutes and strings all over Arrival and flutes and choirs on Passage. The following year's Moyland is, if anything, even less distinguished, being entirely EM-by-numbers, sadly. The album opens with swathes of samplotron strings, although it's by far from a major player overall, only cropping up on a couple of other parts.
There's nothing specifically wrong with 2007's Gent, yet nor is there anything specifically right about it, unless you're prepared to settle for just another EM album that sounds exactly like every other EM album. Harsh? Possibly, but I found this an unedifying release. Yes, it contains some samplotron. Just to be contrary, 2008's Narrow Lane starts excellently, with ominous samplotron strings and flutes over wibbly synths, carrying on to do several of the things you'd like EM albums to do, both on the synth and the samplotron fronts.
The following year's British Aisles: Live at St John's the Baptist Church May 2008 would be more listenable were it a great deal shorter, probably by a factor of around one third. Saying that, it has plenty of decent moments, but, as with all of these albums, this is aimed fairly and squarely at a genre audience and is never going to make the band any new fans. Samplotron all round, a gentle flute line appearing around ten minutes into the hour-long (!) Electronic Supplication, followed by the usual strings and choirs. The same year's Procyon is rather better, not least due to being under half its predecessor's length, with a lovely unaccompanied samplotron string part on opener Procyon A.
Free System Projekt seem to be one of the better of the current crop of EM artists, willing to take risks, at least occasionally, although they're so firmly locked into their field that the possibility of them ever doing anything genuinely radical seems remote.
Official Free System Projekt site
Official Rogue Element site
Official Hashtronaut site
Official AirSculpture site
Bill Fox MySpace
See: Brendan Pollard | Rogue Element | Gert Emmens/Ruud Heij | AirSculpture