Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Musical Quest Completed And Shared

I'm taking a week long vacation beginning today from Synthetix.FM. It's time for a bit of a break before the onslaught of Halloween and the end of year releases so if you only visit my site for hot new tracks I'll see you in a week's time when I'll return with the  October the 13th Weekend Update. For those of you who'd like to know a little bit more about my musical history, I have something special to cover in this parting post before my little vacation.

I often get asked how did I get into the music? Often, people are referring to the modern discovery of 80s inspired synth. For this post I thought I'd go back right to the beginning, and the album that got me into the original style of music from a very early age and lit a fire that has lasted a lifetime. When you look back at your life you'll find lots of magical musical moments, but there are always those incredibly special albums that redefine your connection to the music or open your mind to concepts inexperienced. For this post I wanted to share with you the album that has essentially made Synthetix.FM a reality.. many years down the road.

You'll have to forgive me for turning the sentimentality up to maximum for this post. I've been searching high and low for this 'holy grail' album for the better part of 15 years, and now I'm able to share it with you thanks to all the planets getting in alignment and to the internet finally divulging one of the last musical secrets I've quested for.

To set the scene, I need to go back to 1982. I was 10 in 1982 and had been very passionate about music for years previous. I have vivid memories of watching Countdown (Australia's premier pop music TV show in the 70s and 80s) in the late 70s and was enthralled by this apparent change that was occurring in music moving from traditional sounds to electronic ones that sounded like they were from the future. The changing from 1979 to 1980 seemed like a switch had turned on where the future was now and the 70s felt like aeons ago. It was an exciting time and to a kid with a whole decade of awesome music to experience ahead, I was tuned into radio and TV as often as possible to experience the sounds of tomorrow.

As is still the case these days, travelling to Bali (an island in Indonesia) for a family vacation was  the first experience for many young Australians beyond our country's shores. In the early 80s Bali was still relatively untouched by the Western world and was a huge departure from normal life in Australia. My family and I visited Bali for the first time in 1982 and the highlight of my holiday wasn't the hot weather, sandy beaches or ancient culture. No, for me, a fat little 10 year old cruising the streets of Kuta it was the cassette shops that seemed to exist on every corner. Stores of bootlegged tapes of every conceivable denomination of music, and all selling for about a dollar an album.

I spent as much time as my parents would let me listening to music in these little shops and purchasing as many tapes as they'd allow. I educated myself on everything from classic rock to the classics themselves but the real magic was the Top 20 chart sections in each store featuring all the latest new pop music from around the planet. Bali, even in 1982 was reasonably cosmopolitan as tourists from Europe and America found it a very attractive destination so the chart music reflected a worldwide mixture of popular sounds. I couldn't get enough of this, gorging on this vast array of music on a daily basis for a month was totally rockin to the max.

There was one cassette I bought, however, that became something that changed my life. I remember seeing this cassette and being attracted to the cover art. It was totally kick arse. Glowing futuristic hands  creating magic on a keyboard. The name of the album; The Best Of Synthesizer Art Rock. That name, it blew my mind. Art Rock. What the hell does Art Rock sound like? It was an epiphany to me. This one cassette with it's cryptic name and mind blowing cover art made me fall in love with it before I'd even heard it.

Upon inspecting the tracklisting on the back I saw a couple of familiar names, but a lot of completely unknown quantities. Vangelis I recognised instantly. Mike Oldfield next (my parents owned Tubular Bells), Rick Wakeman (again from my parents music collection) and then there was a whole bunch of other artists that I had no idea about but from their names and track titles I knew I had to hear and own this as soon as possible. Universal Energy. Giorgio Moroder. Yellow Magic Orchestra. Space (misnamed, it was Space Art), Nova, Future World Orchestra and League Unlimited Orchestra. All of these names and their tracks sounded like it had been magically time warped in from somewhere way off in the future and had come to enlighten me and tell me their story of the future, right now.

My family only had one cassette deck with us on holiday and as soon as I could I commandeered it and listened to my exciting new purchase. The sounds of the future began to emanate from the tinny mono speaker. The first track is 'The Force' by Droids. The introduction and melody actually delivered to me exactly every single bit of excitement I'd anticipated, and then more. It was the music of the future. But it was happening right now and my young mind was blown entirely.

This was but the first song, and even though it dates from 1978 it sounds just as futuristic today and is certainly one of the earliest forms of what would eventually become italo disco. The Art Rock continued into track two, the utterly beautiful synth piece from Nova entitled Sol. The hits just kept on rockin through side one with 'Chase' (listed as 'Midnight Express') from Giorgio Moroder and then into the epic 'I'm Not Afraid Of The Future' by Future World Orchestra. This is the only song on the compilation with a traditionally arranged vocal track and now I look back I see that this particular album is really what gave me the love for instrumentally driven music.

The psychedelic synth opera of Rick Wakeman's White Rock was next and this was then followed by the minimalistic brilliance of Francis Lai's 'Bilitis', the main theme from the movie of the same name. I always found this piece so beautiful and emotional and could never really explain why. It's an absolutely stunning piece of music that speaks directly to the soul through the heart.

Side A was completed with the totally rockin Equinox Part 5 by Jean Michel Jarre, one of his most energetic 70s pieces that I'm sure many readers will recognise. Side B opened up with the then brand new 'Chariot(s) Of Fire' by Vangelis. In 1982 this was the definition of sophistication with it's layered passages and electronic sounds many were hearing for the very first time. It's hard to picture music that is so entrenched in the public consciousness for decades as being brand new when it  released, but this is something I guess every generation of music listeners experiences but in 1982 it seemed even more visionary.

Universal Energy's self titled track was next up on Side B. This piece is dark and foreboding with dynamic details and sense of impending dread, as a kid this track scared me and was hauntingly morose. I'd often find myself fast-forwarding through this but it eventually became one of my favourite experiences once I allowed myself to understand it more fully in the years to come.

Continuing on Side B was another beautifully written track by Nova. 'Aurora' has such a jubilant and uplifting melody, full of beauty and positivity, providing the perfect foil to the previous track. The next track on this side was to become one of my all time favourites and really brought the future of tomorrow to today in every way conceivable. 'Computer Game' by Yellow Magic Orchestra with its game styled intro, huge build to the lead melody and the actual instrumentations created a work of art, well a work of Art Rock in fact.

Side B kept on rockin with a gem from Space Art (credited just as Space) in 'Onyx' which was another monumental experience in melodic exploration of the cosmos via synthesized sounds of the future. Mike Oldfield's 'Wonderful Land' followed next and to this day this piece of music is one of the single most inspirationally glorious compositions I've ever heard. It's utterly rousing and resonates deeply with me. Following on from this experience was something that ended up being incredibly pivotal to me as a music listener. The music is by The League Unlimited Orchestra and the track is 'Don't You Want Me'.

I was already a fan of the Human League and loved 'Don't You Want Me', but what was presented to me on this album wasn't what I knew. This version was an instrumental. The vocals were intimated by synths and the arrangements were structured in an incredibly new and exciting way. As a kid in 1982 I thought this was a cover of the single, I later learned (in the early 2000s, mind) this was off the Love and Dancing album by The League Unlimited Orchestra. The very first time producers had remixed a pop album to make it more dance floor friendly and essentially beginning the entire movement of 12inch mixes and remixes catering exclusively for the club market.

'Don't You Want Me Baby' was easily the most played song on this tape, I would rewind and re-listen to this three or four times before moving onto the next track. It was, and still is, one hell of a kick arse version of a classic song. The last track on Art Rock was listed as being 'Fogelsrei' by Eroc. This odd track reminded me of a futuristic western, with a hero riding his horse into the sunset with a solar system most unlike ours rising in the background. This track's actual title is 'Wolkenreise', which took me quite a while to work out.

You see, this record was a bootleg, and not only was it more than likely completely unauthorised by any of the artists but numerous mistakes were made in the track listing, unbeknownst to me at the time, of course. And this fact also made the quest to find this album again, even with all the resources of the internet, very difficult.

But the quest did have to begin, and the reason for this is because by 1985 I'd literally worn the tape out, and it unceremoniously snapped, never to be played again. From the time we'd come back from Bali to that fateful day in 1985 I'd listened to that album hundreds of times. I had a tiny Sony desktop cassette recorder (the flat mono ones) and a pair of cheap headphones that I'd religiously listen to all my cassettes on. In that 1982-85 period my favourite time with music was listening to this cassette in my darkened bedroom from start to finish, over and over, with those futuristic synth sounds transporting me
new galaxies and dimensions of musical entertainment.

Upon this tape passing away, I bid it farewell and embarked upon new musical journeys until in the late 90s I decided I needed to revisit that magical album. The quest to find this album came to completion this week, after 15+ years. Being a bootleg it was nigh on impossible to find any information about it, and for the last four or five years the quest was reduced to Google searches a few times a year, with no results and no clues to follow.

Until this week. My usual inspired search that has occurred over the last 15 years with clock-like regularity actually gave me all that I searched for. It was a blog entry in Indonesian about this bootleg (you can see the entry here) and it contained the most important thing I needed to partly complete the long journey: a photo of the back of the cassette to show the track listing. Although I remembered a few of the songs on the album, a lot I had entirely forgotten. This post now gave me the opportunity to remake this compilation and through much scouring of the internet over the last week that is exactly what I've done.

Ideally, I'd like to have the actual cassette in my collection again, and I did find a 'version' on eBay, although it's not got the same tracks. I have every hope that I'll eventually have this in it's original format in my collection but for now a digital reproduction will suffice. I've tagged and arranged the entire compilation in .MP3 format, along with the images, in a .ZIP file hosted here. I hope that you can enjoy this incredibly rockin compilation a fraction as much as I have. Looking back, I see so much of what I love about music today was cast in this album. The connection I have to instrumental synthesizer music has been in my heart for many years, and will be for many more to come.

I wanted to take this time to share this with you as I think it displays just how important music is to me, particularly the journey of 80s inspired synth music. I'll never make the music, or understand it's creation, but my deep love of it is eternally something I'm grateful of finding at such a young age. I've fallen in love with many other forms of music since, of course, but it's these sounds that are the nearest and dearest to me.

I'll be taking my leave of Synthetix.FM for the next week now, and I look forward to many more shared experiences with the newest evolution of these sounds with you in the future.

'Til then, as always, stay 80s and keep on rockin.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks for sharing this with us Rick. I've found most of the tracks that influenced my early love of music and have then gone on to inspire further discoveries. I'm glad that you've found this compilation after your long search! I'm looking forward to experiencing it as well.

  3. The Secret Origins of Rick Shithouse! Awesome and I'll be sure to download that compilation and give it a good listen. I think the closest thing to an analog I had in my life was the Transformers Movie soundtrack, which was the first CD I ever owned (in the late 90s) and would listen to repeatedly. Vince DiCola had a big hand in making me a life-long synth lover.

  4. Astonishing. I'm just ripping MY copy of this cassette now and was googling for info on it. Thanks for the info on the misnamed tracks/artists, I'd have never worked those out. My dad bought me my copy on a work trip to Saudi Arabia in the 80s. Still in good condition, so if you still want it, get in touch

  5. Incidentally, I just found the Eroc track is called Vogelfrei. The album its from is Wolkenreise

  6. Top work, Flip! Good catch on the Eroc track. I've since procured an original copy on cassette. Many thanks for the offer though. Keep on rockin!

  7. I'm still looking for the zip file with all the tracks you put together Rick, is there another hosting site you could upload it to?

    1. I've uploaded my copy here if you still need it:

    2. Link doesn't work unfortunately :-(

    3. My bad - pasted the wrong clipboard contents! Try this one in your browser:

    4. Brilliant, thanks so much! I think I still have the original tape in a box somewhere, but nothing to play it on. So listening to this takes me back many years when I first bought it in Jakarta (where my Dad worked at the time). It was one of the seminal albums of my youth!