Earlier this year, when Disaster Amnesiac read about Switched-On Eugene's immanent release, I felt pretty excited and confident that it would be highly worth checking out. I have long had a fascination with the release's time frame of mid-to late 1980's synthesizer music! Of course, this feeling has been proven to be correct.
Over the course of fourteen tracks, the listener is treated to a beautifully detailed overview of Eugene, Oregon's Electronic Music Collective, founded in 1984 by six of the musicians featured. The synthesizer-generated music featured on this release is all wonderful and diverse, linked loosely by a common focus on Post-Psychedelic and New Age aesthetics; that said, all of them are uniquely realized and are clear examples of the individual vision of their respective creators.
Eugene kicks off with David Stout's The Seven Rays. This track features Stout's dramatic incantation about crystals and numerology, backed by great marching drum pulses and a mixture of billowing and bleeping tones from his synthesizers. What a great, definitive opening statement for this release! From and artist with the excellent nom de plume of Phyllyp Vernacular, track two, The Clinging, has a bit more driving pulse, classic machine sounds pushing big keyboard chords towards a slow fade. One can really feel one's self within a blissfully digital realm here. A very meditative piece for Prophet 5 Synth, Shimmer, comes next. Peter Thomas's largo approach features a lovely mixture of longer, longing tones and wistful commentary from the higher notes. It really does indeed shimmer within the perceptions. It seems like a definitive statement of New Age Music from that time frame. Other Playgrounds, from Peter Kardas, proves to be quite a good transition from its predecessor on Eugene, as it continues with the longing feelings in some ways. His Jon Anderson-inspired vocals hover above a drones generated from a delay pedal before fading out. The peripatetic (at least during that time frame) Kim Carter and his lively, almost Beatles-ey Energy wanders in next. Driven by a jumpy drum machine beat, this song is really catchy in a Pop sense. Sadly, its insightful lyrics are probably a bit too deep for mass consumption. This one has been bouncing around in Disaster Amnesiac's brain for days. The more rhythmic sensibilities continue with Great Moves, by Nathan Griffith. It gets to the heart of the machines as robotic poly voices mix and mingle within its moves. Moves veers almost into Punk Rock territory, not so much in overt show, but in its harder edged surfaces. Joel Horwitz joins the action with a very cool fusion of drums and synthesizers for Finale From "A Walk Down Serenity Lane". A track that can by its nature be considered Electro-Acoustic, it was produced to be promotional music for a drug rehab clinic. Joel mentions that it was not used as intended. Its tripartite form runs the gamut from harrowing to uplifting and has some really fine, loose drum set action. What was Serenity Lane thinking? Perhaps the term of Techno-Primitive can best be used to describe Michael Chocholak's Skomorokhi. Sparse washes of sound and a incessant, tapping beat frame vocal samples of the track's title. Its atmospheres are quite mysterious and perhaps a bit dark, and provide fascinating contrast to the dreamier cuts that precede it. Every story needs an element of tragedy, and Derryl Parsons may well fit that role on Switched-On Eugene. After reading about his jaw being broken in a street altercation and his somewhat early passing, Disaster Amnesiac certainly has sensed so. The icy synths of Floating Landscape (including Chase Scene), Derryl's contribution to the the disc, pulse along gaily and belie the sorrow which the man apparently embodied. Chase Scene is particularly cool with its Minimalist stuttering and water atmosphere. Dance Pacific, by Portland OR native Scott Blair is very aptly titled. He managed to coax bamboo Gamelan sounds from his Yamaha CX5M, along with bright chimes and longer, supporting tones atop them. Really gorgeous tones here. Heather Perkins brings The Eugene Electronic Music Collective to a pretty much Punk Rock place with Burning Through. Her slurred recitation about not being cool and remaining her own person in the face of social pressures has a really sharp edge. The spare electronic percussion bed upon which her lyrics rest is perfect for this type of street level ranting. It's a testament to the broad mindedness of the organization, hinted at from a quote in the liner notes, that they allowed this declamation sit side by side with the more Aquarian sentiments generally expressed. More drum set and electronics fusions emerge with Self-Regulation (II). A trippy blend of bent guitar (?) notes, up beat traps drumming and electronic washes from Carl Juarez, it carries on with the harder sounds. A blending of Punk Rock with Psychedelic in the fine tradition of the German groups of the early 1970's. The next couple of tracks, The Ride and Patterns, by Talve and Suse Millemann respectively, seem to show a return towards more upbeat, vocal-oriented Pop sensibilities. The former has a quite catchy chorus that Disaster Amnesiac has been humming a lot, delivered from Talve's clear soprano. The latter, a bit more subdued, has Suse singing in a rougher alto. Both are finely crafted and inspiring, really nice pieces of 1980's styled song writing. I've really enjoyed these ones during early morning commutes from Richmond CA to Concord CA along Highway 4, a somewhat rural stretch surrounded by ranches. They lend themselves to early morning contemplation. Switched-On Eugene concludes with the very placid New Snow by Peter Northagle. It is a sumptuous piece of smooth tones that floats the listener gently away patient waves of synthesized chords. Along with Shimmer, Nothagle's piece may be the most classically New Age of this set, and it's a fine ending statement.
Additionally of note about Switched-On Eugene are the lovely cartoon graphics by the late Paul Ollswang, numerous reproductions of Eugene Electronic Music Collective tape covers and show flyers, and wonderfully candid photos of most of the artists represented. Numero Group clearly put a ton of effort into this beautiful package. No surprise there, of course. They are stunningly meticulous about all of their output.
Switched-On Eugene would surely appeal to both long time fans of Electronic Music or curious new comers to this fascinating, wide ranging genre. Disaster Amnesiac has been loving this very intimate glimpse into this hidden, hermetic scene and its admirable d.i.y. aesthetics. Most of these artists are still around, doing cool stuff in the world. Throw 'em a couple bucks and some listening time!