Keyboard Choir - The Electric Unity Ep

Martin Goodhead 08/06/2009

Rating: 4/5

This is elevator music-and in the purest, most startling sense.

Perhaps you've heard that story about Brian Eno's uber-ambient Music in Airports, when piped out into…airports, sending people into paroxysms of nervousness, -so serene and so weird an accompaniment to fears not dispelled by exacerbated by that pod-like effect aimed for by airports which conceals the dark roar of aviation, random searches, and the shadow of crashes and dislocations. You know that faint hum in an elevator, the drone of its grated air conditioning. Doesn't it sound like after a 'Really' hard day- the whirr of some insect conspiracy, the voices that emerge from it like lost children suddenly become electronic gargoyles?

Oxford quintet Keyboard Choir's The Electric Unity EP is similarly minimal and uncommon; five tracks and a live version on the broad theme of entomology-complete with documentary samples with reassuring modulations of benign technology with an aural face. Those voices though crumple and warp like fly-paper under magnifying glasses - exist creepily as those subterranean crackles from the grave common to 's modus op. Or to of elevator automatons and other one dimensional flat imitations of humanity.

There's a sinister history to this limbo-like opaqueness. The likes of ambient pioneer Steve Reich's tape experiments in the 60s, were akin to Manichean psychology experiments; Eno's follow-on 'Life in the Bush of Ghosts' combined the prosaic and the weird into 'white noise' radio snippets years before De Lillo's novel; Stockhausen weaved household noise into his torturous orchestrations.

And 'The Electric Unity'? In a sense, it's like an interactive nature documentary turned inwards, from voiceover to ecosphere. Along your spine like caterpillars or moths between your vertebrae, here it conjures up those creatures of salt and whistling light-head air as you start to panic and see moving spots in that elevator. Those pitch-calm pre-recorded tones begin to mimic that peculiar insanity which, scarily, half-delights you even; those creatures, their documentations and that headspace of clean-button antiseptic prettiness and madness link the EP.

The root melody and beat driving this Choir is no more obscure than 'Kid A' (title track); the robot soul inside a well- virtually every reader will know what it sounds like to them, just as with the ping of elevators and the thud of blood-vessel clammy air-con small-space induced thin migraines in late summer afternoons. A dullness of glitches and sound orbs which suddenly erupts like falling night into grunge-trop guitar sheets flowing like black milk through your ventricles. Or is it stars-- from that air-con gone silently haywire emitting fumes perhaps- hitting a frequency known only to your subconscious where from the waves emerge soul-sighs. This is the soundtrack to those inner flights where the bad trips on the edge of your psychic tongue, like rapids heard from afar. From a 'Music for Films' (Eno again), its soundtrack quality quickly imitates Apocalypse Now meets Screamdelica's ''inner-flight'' harp key chords, and then twists the knife of the fading afternoon fear. Those melodies performed first by ARP 2600 style subtracts then the airy Solina string style violas warping into pretty melt downs.

The basis of this record with its Spartan piano tones and reverential funereal angel-glow serenity, resembles those early experimentalists but cranks that uncanny up to tenth until it actually does become the technological paranoia of a Massive Attack or 'druqks' freak out. -Trapped inside, in that lift- head-clouded by the oxy-dim. Your memories suddenly become ablaze - each argument, as someone once put it, 'like reciting Faust down the phone'- each colour hot as like butterflies stinging your eyes, and each sound- sounds like this, with all the high frequency reverb of bliss and terror even as on the surface the alteration is imperceptible.

Electronic cello notes hover, stretched alimentally between the heart-scrapingly pretty and, like in the private film playing out- the monster oozing from beneath the benevolent surface; a plant people, blind-smiling cultist kool-aid horror as they proffer the eschatological flask and around you nature melts. 'Stagged' somehow takes it into classical horror-routes; begins with a Danny Elfman cloying-Gothicism like Victorian-tomb frills stained with lacuna's over unnamed dulcinea's in black silks. Then arrives that cello like an industrial symphony for the weeping ghost-bride in the catacombs, or equally the stone-muffled echo of high-rise wind-chill corridors and stairwells. Soon 'woo-woo's of those mid eights choirs are symphonic metal key-chain melodies; from ciphers under feedback to 'Thorn-rose Coil' band visions of abandoned vampirellas translucently whispering melting cunning-glass songs across abandoned dining halls with blouses of cobwebs and white-worm lace draped acoustics.

Indeed across its pieces 'Electronic Unity' recalls those Living Channel parapsychology documentaries on haunted- paranormal ectoplasm waves rendered onto hissing analogue with all the dissonant musicality of the accidental pieces the sort of place creates, attracting energies because itself is liable to create unconscious patterns of creaks -like a giant lute tuned to 'spooky' That same manufactured ghost-in-the-shell chip.
Then there are Tranine and Tokyo at Night. In the former images spill-from processed raindrops filling the moss-eked clay-vases in the mildew early morning in the grounds of the house after the eruptions, echoing elongated as those protracted three chord notes on the watery glockenspiel treated by the sampling instrument.

The latter - initially more akin to an imagined Shanghai French Quarter with it's tea-house lutes tones fused to techno - gets swallowed into synth codes played at the key of Aphex Twin's 'Boy Girl Song' with its uneasy purity. Abstract as soundtrack back drifts — it's ostensibly the pastel aftermath to those '100th Window' style Japanese wave-painting monitor style meltdown crackles preceding. But beneath the white washed surfaces and penetrating light of day, which dissipates the eiderdown terror, still lingers unexpelled a soft circuitry-hymn; a treated-choir of paranoid cyborg children.

Live, their noise is just as potent, to judge from the bonus tracks, especially 'Bugs'; whether by post-engineering, on this evidence kind of music which only demands the blank sheet of dimmed rays with the sympathetic flicker of Egl'S like any eloquent post-rock. No masterwork in scale or formal ambition, it nevertheless fills those EP space-minutes with a series of connections as cumulatively, quietly searing as illustrious predecessors, as you leave those confined spaces still dazed. Just like those malchordant victory strings after the lift opens to safety in the movie only for you to see the deadened- battery lights and nebulous figure in the car park's distance.

Electric Keyboard Choir is downloadable now through Independent online.

Release date: 01/06/09