(1980; LP reissue, Aguirre, 2015)
This reissue of 1980’s Biomechanid on Aguirre Records is my introduction to experimental Belgian composer and flutist Joel Vandroogenbroeck. Here’s why it’s the perfect way in for me, and if you’re on the same wavelength, it’ll be perfect for you too: First, it’s based solely on science-fiction themes. Know the saying, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? Well, the way to my heart is through science fiction, so there. Second, that’s an HR Giger print on the cover – in 1980, not long after Alien terrified moviegoers, a Giger cover was pure gold, in my opinion anyway. (Ridley Scott based his titular monster on Giger’s Necronom IV.) Third, Vandroogenbroeck, also of kraut second-wavers Brainticket, here composes whacked-out synth soundtracks to space adventures, drawing inspiration from Can, Amon Düül II, and Faust, thus completing the trifecta for a Critical Masses review. This is right in my wheelhouse, you guys.
The burbling electronic experimentations take you right there, right to where extraplanetary elements exist and form and move, and life forms unrecognizable to humans emit communicative waves and patterns and fluctuations. Everything is alien, and that’s not a pun. Literally everything that is out there in space is not of this Earth, and thus alien by definition. And Vandroogenbroeck titles his compositions expertly, with excursions like “Dark Plasma” and “Elements” sounding exactly like you’d expect them to – synths burble and oscillate on the former and pulse and crack on the latter, perfectly encapsulating the unknowable state of their respective material forms (at least to the layperson). It’s like Vandroogenbroeck has had some sort of mental connection to otherworldly phenomena or an experience where he’s left his body and traveled to outer galactic reaches, such is his ability to approximate at least what I’m thinking of when I think about these things. Or maybe he’s just seen Alien a ton of times, I don’t know. This is 1980 after all.
There are other, less obscure interpretations of science fiction, such as “Strange Lady,” which twinkles and shimmers and almost has a discernible melody. It brings to mind another film, this one released in 1980, so it’s the album’s precise contemporary: Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The track and film are more tranquil in their approaches, but still evoke danger. Perhaps “Strange Lady” is V’ger’s probe replication of Lieutenant Ilia in the film, a human projection from a mechanical entity trying to understand human life and looking for its Creator. Actually, with that description, “Strange Lady” may even be the most “biomechanoidical” entry in Biomechanoid. But that’s my reading. (Continuing on the Star Trek path, but not beyond this aside, “Plastic Gnome” may have been the inspiration for the “whale noises” emitted by the alien ship in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, that’s how close they are in tone.)
Side B is back to the treacherous environment of space, where wonder and horror are combined in its inhospitality. “Metallic Agony” combines synth and piano runs in chaotic patterns, and the mood of “Lost Planet” is one of mystery and impending dread. “Asteroids” pretty much sounds like a warning siren in the cockpit of a spacecraft as it approaches an asteroid field, and “Interstellar Insects” pretty much sounds like the chirping of metal cicadas on strange worlds. But “Galaxy Recall” ends the album on a terrifically harsh note, as it sees Vandroogenbroeck once again ramp up the dread he easily conjures in his synth scores. It’s easy to gather here that not only would Biomechanoid surely have been the perfect soundtrack for any science-fiction film that came out around the same time as the album, but also stands the test of time today, and would be just as useful to outer space films that require more mood than flash (think Moon, Sunshine, Interstellar, or Europa Report as examples). So whether or not this album is your introduction to Joel Vandroogenbroeck or not, there’s lots to parse, discuss, and enjoy. Those are my favorite kinds of albums.
RIYL: Panabrite, Pulse Emitter, Klaus Schultze