True North - 1970
|The birth pangs of electronic music within pop were often tentative affairs. Bands like the Fifty Foot Hose and the Silver Apples had to absorb such obtuse luminaries as Karlheinz Stockhausen or Morton Subotnick and then attempt to incorporate their complex ideas into the rather simple guitar/bass/drum rock idiom. By the seventies the more portable and affordable mini-moog would become a vehicle for that post-Hendrix obsession with virtuosity, replacing the guitar in extended, self-indulgent wankfests - think ELP, Edgar Winter or Head East. Still others, such as Walter Carlos, reworked classical themes, thus establishing a veneer of respectability for the instrument. Often ignored are those Germans - Popol Vuh or Cluster come to mind - who were unencumbered by the rockist protocol of rhythm/chords/solo, coaxing spacy meandering "head music" from their synths. The overlooked Syrinx falls somewhat into this camp.
Syrinx is essentially the brainchild of songwriter/multi-instrumentalist John Mills-Cockell, who had previously helped found the Mind Excursion Centre in Montreal, a sort of free-form art space existent at the end of the 1960s. A resultant LP soundtrack to an installation there, the privately pressed Free Psychedelic Poster Inside, was released under the name Intersystems (a precursor it would appear to Stereolab's Music for the Amorphous Body Centre, the accompanying music for a Charles Long exhibit at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York in 1995.).
On their eponymous debut here - only the second release on the indie True North label - the trio of Mills-Cockell on moog, piano and organ, along with Doug Pringle on electric saxophones and Alan Wells on hand drums and gongs, meld the artificial textures of synthetic sound with placid, pastoral themes, especially on extended tracks like 'Appalosa-Pegasus' (11:34) and 'Chant for Your Dragon King' (10:22). After a short opening track, the eerie, pulsating moog of 'Melina's Torch', the record moves to a decidedly more cosmic tone. The aforementioned 'Appalosa-Pegasus', with Mills-Cockell weaving whirling synths around the subtle staccato rhythms of Wells' hand drums, soars to the interstellar regions in an almost nostalgic sort of way, and 'Chant for Your Dragon King' is loopy and meandering, predating Tangerine Dream's trippy pieces by several years. The ultimate effect on Syrinx is like a less edgy, more bucolic Music for Films.
Mills-Cockell and Syrinx pushed on throughout the seventies, with a minor hit on their follow-up LP Long Lost Relatives (True North), the pithy 'Tillicum', better known as the theme to the CTV series Here Come the Seventies. Mills-Cockell would ultimately find success writing scores for the theatre, dance, radio and TV before finally decamping to quieter pastures on that hoary hippie resting place, Vancouver Island. Doug Pringle, locks shorn and attitude sharpened, would eventually team up with future wife Michaele Jordana in Toronto new wave/punk act the Poles, who scored locally in 1977 with their ode to T.O.'s famous phallus, 'CN Tower'.
A Third Testament
Long Lost Relatives
Luke and the Apostles
You Make Me High / Not Far Off - 7"
The Electric Lucifer
Rick Wilkins and the Mutual Understanding
Christmas with Rick Wilkins and the Mutual Understanding
The Gainsborough Gallery
Life Is a Song