Spoonbender 1.1.1
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 Dean