As the first contact pop reverberates outward from “Approach Lights One,” before a single note is struck, it’s clear that Wayfinding Beacons from Planet to Planet is going to be exploratory in nature. That initial ping – well, it’s hardly a ping sound, but I’m thinking of it as some sort of sonar projection – flickers out into the expanse with discovery on its mind. What’s out there? Why do we need to know? Oh sonar, illuminate me!
That sense of discovery is perfectly logical given Jeffrey Alexander’s recent exploits. Alexander, who has performed in The Iditarod, Dire Wolves, Black Forest/Black Sea, and JOMF (pronounced “jawmf” – just kidding, it’s an abbreviation for Jackie O Motherfucker), continues the psychedelic/drone/sound collage experimentation he’s perfected with those groups, and thrusts it to the far reaches of the known universe. His compositions inspire awe at the star stuff flitting through my mind right now (if I had a telescope to pair with my imagination, I’d be peering through it for the full effect), the patterns and transmissions penetrating constellations and nebulae in their attempt to communicate with what’s out there. Wayfinding Beacons is as science-y an album as you’ll come across, interested mainly in getting at the stuff we don’t know about. Yet.
As I mentioned in my post on “Approach Lights Three,” the video for which I’ve included here as well, Alexander’s music was used in an actual scientific envirionment. Indeed, San Francisco’s The Exploratorium, an educational museum the likes of which I wish existed in my backyard for constant access, piped Jeffrey’s tunes through its hallowed halls, where the experiences of kids and adults alike were enhanced by the recordings. Imagine wandering through The Exploratorium’s Tactile Dome, a pitch-black maze where you touch stuff (cool!), with the “woooaaaaaowww woooaaaaaowww” of “Approach Lights One” the only other sensory stimulation. I’m on the wrong coast for this, but it sounds like a blast – does The Exploratorium have a planetarium too?
Because that’s where Wayfinding Beacons would totally shine – it’s trippy as heck and begs for a dome full of stars and planets and other space phenomena as a visual aid. Is it too late to radio a copy of this record to Voyager 1 as it heads beyond our galactic boundary? Or did we lose it already? I think we may have found our common space language with this. This and mathematics. (We put some math on Voyager 1, right, not just the Beatles? Somebody please confirm.)
Regardless of your predispositions to experimental music, museums, planetariums, and the like, Wayfinding Beacons is a magical trip whether you’re hallucinating or not. Or, if you hate experimental music, museums, planetariums, and hearing music that makes you trip right out, maybe you should just stay home. And not read this. You’ll miss out on discovering something way cooler than whatever’s grabbed your attention in your parents’ basement. Me? I’m sticking on headphones, turning out the lights, and wandering around my house with this psych/drone-fest buzzing in my ears, playing the home version of Tactile Dome. So far I’ve only knocked over a priceless vase, three scotch tumblers, and an ancient Japanese sword given to me by traveling dignitaries on a diplomatic mission. I’ll get over it.
RIYL: Robert Beatty, Expo ’70, Jackie O Motherfucker