Stereo Telepathy Academy
CD HMS 006
February 15, 2005
I Am Spoonbender is one of a handful of groups in serious danger of
falling through the cracks merely because they were unfairly and inaccurately
lumped in with the glut of trendy Electroclash groups that found brief,
faddish popularity in the early 2000s. After the wreckage cleared
and everyone came to their senses, it seemed that IAS and a few other
bands only tenuously connected to this scene were effectively disposed
of in certain critical circles, like the proverbial baby with the
bathwater, despite the fact that they significantly preceded the trend
and differ drastically in their musical approach and content.
I Am Spoonbender were clearly much more than just another in a legion
of vapid fashion clones making derivative, pseudo-nostalgic garbage
tarted up with bitchy posturing, but perhaps because of their usage
of synthesizers, drum machines and their tantalizingly retroactive
referentiality, they were nonetheless linked to Electroclash, much
to their detriment. A few like Ladytron and Adult have managed to
survive the post-clash diaspora with a modicum artistic integrity
intact, which means that there is hope for IAS as well, especially
since the San Francisco band have always had a lot more going on in
the idea department than either of the aforementioned two groups.
Their live shows are spectactular multimedia affairs combining seizure-inducing
light shows with sophisticated rear projections and music that comes
on like the bastard child of Klaus Schulze and Devo, live drums and
banks of Numan-esque synths churning out pulsating, mindbending frequencies
of sound with subtle aesthetic/political programming seeping in like
subliminal propaganda. Their recordings reveal layers of intelligence
and complexity with repeated listens. In short, IAS are far too smart
and thoughtful to be stuck in the same hole with all the other pidgeons.
In fact, if I Am Spoonbender could be said to belong to any particular
milieu, I would place them within the small and perhaps heterogeneous
collection of wildly creative San Francisco audiovisual artists that
also includes Matmos, irr.app.(ext.), and Sagan.
All this sets the stage for Spoonbender 1.1.1, described as the "tele-ambient
dream self" of I Am Spoonbender. Where IAS is the platform for
the groups more populist, outwardly directed energies, Spoonbender
1.1.1 seems intended as a willfully esoteric, theoretical counterpart.
The music is more abstract and freeform than IAS proper, longform
ambient compositions synchronized with specially chosen visual elements.
In the case of Stereo Telepathy Academy, the visual element
is director David Cronenberg's rarely-seen early short film Crimes
of the Future, a twisted, disturbing bit of Ballardian mindfuck
that put the director on the map as a truly original voice in modern
film. Though the album soundtracks an edited-down version of Crimes,
it includes all of the voice-over narration from Cronenberg's other
early experimental film Stereo, a film that purports to be the actual
video record of a scientific study conducted for the purpose of exploring
experimental surgical procedures meant to advance telepathic communication.
Throughout the film's silent succession of vignettes, a cold, monotone
voice frequently breaks in to describe the purpose of the study and
the findings, callous and clinical descriptions that are often belied
by the disturbingly emotional and sexual imagery on display. Spoonbender
1.1.1 retain this voice-over narration along with their ambient synthesizer
excursions, so that the CD might serve as a sort of Pink Floyd/Wizard
of Oz hybrid alternate soundtrack to Cronenberg's Crimes,
which is thematically linked to Stereo in ways that might not seem
obvious were it not for this unorthodox juxtaposition.
Appropriate to the soundtracking of a film that plays on that strain
of experimental, transgressive literarature typified by Burroughs
and Ballard (whose landmark experimental novel Atrocity Exhibition
is consciously evoked in Cronenberg's films),Spoonbender's technique
here is a variant of the Burroughs/Gysin "third mind" technique.
Combining two film sources that were never meant to be combined, then
bridging the ideological gap with their richly evocative music, the
music preserves the elements of chance and synchronicity. This effect
comes across splendidly when actually using the CD as a sountrack
to the Cronenberg film (which is only available as an included extra
on the DVD of Cronenberg aberrant racing car b-movie Fast Company,
strangely enough), full of zeniths and nadirs that often seem to correspond
with the film's strange rhythms.
The music itself, taken on its own terms, is spacious and hypnotic,
a gorgeous inner/outer spacescape to rival the most galactic of krautrocks,
with deliciously ear-massaging sprays of self-reproducing analog spores.
Along with the surreal, detached recountings pseudo-scientific concepts
like "psychic dominance" and "socially isolated telepathic
gestalt" provided by the Stereo narration, Spoonbender
1.1.1 create a gloriously suggestive blanket of shape-shifting psychedelic
drones, quivering energy fissures and ghostly evocations of hopelessly
obscured transmissions. I enjoyed it in much the same way I enjoyed
Delia Gonzalez and Gavin Russom's Days of Mars and Dopplereffekt's
Linear Accelerator, but somehow to my ears Spoonbender 1.1.1
has it even more on the ball. Their particular mutant method of birthing
spaceborne ambient electronics is more crystalline in its purity,
more specific in its intent, and ultimately more powerful in its effect.
It is clear that IAS are ready to emerge from under the long shadow
cast by the unfortunate critical assocations of their past. No one
is going to mistake this for the new Fischerspooner album. - Jonathan