Board’s of Canada – Geogaddi: Music as manipulation.

The thing that must be said initially about Board’s of Canada’s uber album Geogaddi is a hearty congratulations on all the love its solicited. It is certainly an adored album.  I read in the album’s Wiki that it has mixed reviews, but I have to confess on all the guru music sites I frequent, the album is heartily adored. This is no small accomplishment and considering how little has changed in their style between releases, to be even more commended.

I enter the review of this album not having heard the previous releases which places me at great disadvantage and of course – being behind the eight ball as usual. I only have this work to go by, and I haven’t purchased or heard any of the previous albums, including the much discussed Music has the right to Children. I was keen to get into the album, having read several of the reviews and being a huge fan of electronic music.

My first impressions had an edge of disappointment to them. The album is almost perfectly produced, giving it quite a sanitized feel. The more I listened the, more I felt manipulated, as if some sort of superiority or  – I guess in a way, contempt for the listener lay behind the work. It is definitely beautiful – absolutely!  I guess a good way to explain my feelings about it, are comparing an elaborate flower arrangement to a flower bed. Geogaddi is the perfect flower arrangement. So perfect, you want to reach out and check if those lilies are real.

Then I read this:

“I do actually believe that there are powers in music that are almost supernatural. I think you actually manipulate people with music, and that is definitely what we are trying to do. People go on about hypnotizing people with music, or subliminal messages and we have dabbled in that intentionally. Sometimes that’s just a bit of a private joke, just to see what we can sneak into the tracks.” Marcus Eion

That for me perfectly sums up my experience of their music. The problem here is, you either belive that you are hypnotizing people with your music, or you don’t.  Marcus tries to have it a little both ways here – he says he believes that you can manipulate people with music and then in the next breath he says people talk about hypnotizing people with music so for a joke they try to do that with subliminal messages. This was the central question for me. Is this a joke, or do these guys really want to hypnotize me with this music?  For me, the manipulative feel of the tracks implies their joke is a little bit of a not-joke.  While this has that oh-so-Herzog experimental appeal, for me (as with Herzog) it completely interferes with my experience of the art.  I don’t get a sense here of a love for the music and the art as much as a love for their own cleverness.

They certainly love their subliminal messages. “You Could Feel the Sky”. Around the two and a half-minute mark, an discernible sample plays forward with the minor and fluttering echoes of crackling fire and the ringing of church bells. When this sample is played backwards, the vocal track reveals “a god with horns… a god with hooves.” And this is just the START of the occult / mathematical references. Various references include the light spectrum as having the mythological seven colours rather than the now considered more accurate six; ‘Over the Horizon Radar’ is the name of   a Tesla Transmitter the Soviets were apparently using  that was supposed to yield limitless supplies of energy by creating resonant frequencies and transmitting the energy throughout the earth; vocal samples on ‘Gyroscope’ are taken from ‘The Coronet Project’ which was  the documenting of a numbers station (Numbers stations broadcast random numbers on the short-wave radio band, which spies utilized to communicate to each other. Numbers stations were undecipherable because no universal language existed, each communication had a different character, letter, or idea assigned to a different number for each broadcast. ) and so on. For a very detailed list of the conspiracy theories used on the album, take a look at Kenny Bloggins great article here.

As with the addition of the above, there is a feeling of a universal perfection added in via numbers theory in this album as well. If anyone has any ‘evidence’ of this or thoughts on it I would love to hear them. I get the feel from this album that there is a striving for numerical perfection, the imposition of order. It’s like some theory or philosophy has been plastered over the top of the sound, to prevent any semblance of chaos. For me this is at the expense of passion. This is a completely passionless album, as if it has been scrubbed and washed and cleaned over and over to remove any chaotic dirt and with that washing all the creative power has been lost also. The feeling I get is as if the music has been imbued with number theories AFTER the work was complete.  Where complex algorithms in art emerge, that is the rise out of work that never intended them to be there, I (without any proof) think an attempt at something similar has happened here, only the mathematics has been imposed. Except for the obvious influx of numbers as an idea on the album (track the second is titled ‘Music is Math’) I can’t actually find any evidence of this to give a stronger example. I can just hear it is all.

I’ve been a little harsh here. The album is certainly lovely, and I encourage everyone to have a listen. For me it’s just too much clever and not enough ‘music’ and that’s a bit of a shame.  Above are a couple of reversals for your amusement. Enjoy!