Band members Related acts
line up 1
- Delia Derbyshire (RIP 2001) -- electronic sound realization
- Brian Hodgson -- electronic sound realization
- David Vorhaus -- special effects
- Annie Bird (aka Anne Stockdale) -- vocals
- Paul Lytton -- drums, percussion
- Val Shaw -- vocals
- John Whittman -- vocals
- Anne Stockdale (solo efforts)
- The BBC Radiophonic Workshop
- David Vorhaus (solo efforts)
Rating: 4 stars ****
Title: An Electic Storm
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: 1974 release
Catalog ID: 2251
My nature is such that if everyone starts yelling "this is great" my instincts tell me it's likely to be crap and I'll steer clear of it. I felt very much the same about "An Electric Storm". I'd actually owned a copy of this album for years (I'm almost ashamed to admit I bought it for the cool cover art). It was one of those albums I seldom played, but it was weird enough to hold on to. Plus nobody I know had ever heard of it which gave it some appeal. And then in the early 1990s the set got re-issued in CD format and critics started fawning all over it.
The mid-1960s found Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson working for the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop. Their jobs were to create sound effects for various radio and television programs, including the Dr. Who television series. Together with friend Peter Zinovieff, in 1966 the three established Unit Delta Plus. Building a recording studio in Zinovieff's London townhouse, Unit Delta Plus recorded early electronic music, as well as promoted the genre through lectures and various music fesivals. After meeting American born friend/graduate student/classical musician David Vorhaus at one of their lectures, the three set up Kaleidophon Studio, producing a host of electronic music for various radio, television, and theatrical productions. It also put them in the perfect position to form the band White Noise. A chance meeting between Vorhaus and Chris Blackwell left the president of Island Records so impressed by their experimental efforts, he offered to finance a full album. With two tracks in the can ('Love without Sound' and 'My Game of Loving'), and a three thousand Pound recording advance, a year later the trio had finished four more tracks. The final song 'Black Mass: Electric Storm In Hell' was completed in a day when Island demanded another track in order to flesh out the album for commercial release.
So how do you describe this unique album? Roger Waters and Pink Floyd overdosing on downers ? A less jazzy version of Sweden's Fifty Foot Hose ? Nah. About the best description I can come up with is imagine a mash-up of Atari sound effects, musique concrete experimentation, plenty of lysergic influences, slasher film soundtrack, and an occasional stray pop melody. It certainly won't appeal to everyone, but it is fascinating in an odd way; kind of like trying to take your eyes off of a really bad traffic accident. It's all the more impressive when you consider the primitive equipment Derbyshire, Hodgson, and Vorhaus were using in the late-'60s. No advanced synthesizers here. rather signal generators, oscillators, frequency shifters, and you don't even want to think about how much time they spent manipulating, splicing and overlaying tapes. The time and dedication devoted to generating and recording these thirty five minutes is simply stunning. It's also makes for one of those albums that grows on you the more you listen to it.
US released Island catalog number SW 9303
The album was initially released in the UK in 1969, but none of the group members would do interviews and it was impossible for them to perform the material live. Needless to say, sales were slim. Island didn't even bother giving the collection a US release until 1971. I'm guessing the US release sold about five copies ...
Electric Storm" track listing:
1.) Love without Sound (Delia Derbyshire - David Vorhaus) - 2:55 rating: **** stars
Geez, where do you even start with 'Love without Sound' ? Sponge Bob playing an Atari game while on a bad acid trip ? I read a description of it as "music a serial killer would listen to ..." and I can kind of make the connection. Fascinating, but also likely to give some folks nightmares. This was reportedly the song that convinced Chris Blackwell to finance a White Noise album.
2.) My Game of Loving (Georgiana Duncan - David Vorhaus) - 4:07 rating: **** stars
With Annie Bird on vocals, 'My Game of Loving' offered up the group at their most commercial ... Yeah. I'm using the term in a broad sense. The song actually had a nice melody, though it was buried between some twisted Beach Boys-styled harmonies, Indian percussion, a segment with French lyrics; a segment with German lyrics, and what sounded like a small village of people simultaneously enjoying orgasms. Geez, there was even post-coital snoring at the end of the song. One of the strangest tunes I've ever heard.
3.) Here Come the Fleas (John Renn McDonald - David Vorhaus) - 2:11 rating: **** stars
Anne Bird on the crazed "little girl" lead vocals. Brian Hodgson does the man with the Caribbean accent. English music hall through a lysergic curtain ? Other than those comments I just don't know how to even begin to describe 'Here Come the Fleas' ...
4.) Firebird (Delia Derbyshire - David Vorhaus) - 3:00 rating: **** stars
'Firebird' was another song that actually had a fairly conventional melody and structure. The Atari sound effects were certainly a bit dated now, but it made for a fun three minutes (which you couldn't say about side two of the album).
5.) Your Hidden Dreams (John Renn McDonald - David Vorhaus) - 4:53 rating: **** stars
Ever heard a song that was simultaneously calming and disconcerting ? Well, 'Your Hidden Dreams' fits the description. All I can say is fascinating ... In spite of some references that say this one featured Derbyshire on vocals, I'm pretty sure it's Anne Bird.
The internet is full of folks describing listening to side two of this album while under the influences of one illicit substance, or another. The common thread is the combination of lysergic elements and these two songs is never good. Kind of makes sense to me given 'The Visitation' and 'Black Mass: Electric Storm In Hell' are hard enough to sit through sober. Anyhow, 'The Visitation' is one strange and disturbing sound collage. Reportedly completed over a three month period, the song featured an array of dark and disturbing sound effects; including crying women, crashing cars, roaring motorcycles. I've read all kinds of stories as to what the song's about. My best guess is the plotline has something to do with the death of a motorcyclist who wants to let his family and friends no he is okay in the afterlife. Musically it's equal parts psychedelic soundscape and slasher film soundtrack. Bare in mind this isn't something for the fainthearted.
2.) Black Mass: Electric Storm In Hell (instrumental) (The White Noise) - 7:26 rating: **** stars
Reportedly recorded in a day, complete with irritating human screams, 'Black Mass: Electric Storm In Hell' sounded like something recorded for one of the American International throwaway horror flicks. The highlight was actually Paul Lytton's bizarro, extended drum solo.
Brian Hodgson and David Vorhaus are both still active in music. Only 64, in July 2001 Derbyshire died of renal failure due to alcoholism.
One of the things you see in dozens of on-line reviews of "An Electronic Storm" is just how disconcerting the album is when you're listening to it stoned, or stoned and in sitting in the dark. I'm in my mid-50s so about the only drugs I indulge in are for cholesterol and an occasional aspirin., but I decided I'd give it a spin in the dark. Take my word, for it, there's a distinctively ominous feel to the album sitting there in the dark.
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