silvered dreams: airwaves and nostalgia for the future

July 19, 2014 at 6:08 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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Airwaves – Ambient Tracks (download, Oracle Netlabel, ORE108)


In 2006 I gave up on science fiction. I had been a voracious reader (yeah, we’re talking about books here – I have some interest in SF cinema, none in SF television) for the previous 25 years and had taken it all in from the golden age of starships and robots, through the pyschonautical adventures of the new wave, skating over the gleaming surfaces of cyberpunk to the post-post-modern present. Ironically perhaps, my interest waned because of an increasing concern for the future. SF’s wave function collapsed for me when I finally measured it against reality.

At the time I was experiencing a kind of long-form political awakening. The build up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 had pulled concepts like ‘resource war’ out of dystopia and into the reality I appeared to be living in. I read up on peak oil, on permaculture, on climate change, on the whole coming storm and, at the same time, novels about terraforming and interstellar travel which just ignored the difficult questions or glossed over them with macguffins. After an illustrious history of satire, prophecy and back-lighting the present by extrapolating into the future, SF seemed to be increasingly irrelevant and anachronistic. Like a know-it-all mate who might be entertaining in conversation, or good on a pub quiz team, but bloody useless at a time of actual crisis. I turned my back on it and used the time I saved to learn how to grow vegetables.

However, in the intervening years I have, on occasion, found myself nostalgic for the future. It is an odd, unmoored emotion that can range from a wistful yearning for a bucolic, post-scarcity utopia to a spitting rage at wasted opportunity. Those could have been the days, eh? I’ve had cause to re-examine the feeling twice in recent weeks.

Firstly, following a conversation with Dan Thomas and Kev Sanders in which Dan was lamenting the ballooning tendency for fans of popular culture to pick it to bits before even experiencing it. Thus: the dissection of movie clips released in advance to create ‘buzz’, the speculation that runs rampant between the broadcast of one episode of a television series and the next etc. Kev made the interesting point that traditionally backward looking attitudes and activities: appreciation, analysis, nostalgia and so on had been spun around and were now facing forward. It was a brilliantly useful notion and, like shoe shops when I need a new pair of boots, suddenly I’m seeing it instantiated everywhere. In fact, some forum posters seem to exist solely in this queasy, unwholesome fug made up of part thwarted expectation, part whiny entitlement. This is nostalgia for the future distilled down to an airless and wholly unsatisfactory mode of being. Ugh.

And then, in counterpoint, I heard this: Ambient Tracks by Airwaves released as a free download on Miguel Perez’s Oracle Netlabel.  Airwaves is the alias of Mexican musician Oscar Menzel, who sadly passed away in 2012, and these recordings date from 1994.  Before proceeding let’s take a second to applaud Miguel’s breadth of imagination in making this available.  Oracle is known as a borstal for punishing noise, flu-symptom drone and lizard-brain improv so to find this epic of retro-futurist synthtronica sharing a cell with these repeat offenders is, well, surprising to say the least.  It’s like the album asked for directions to Sanity Muffin tapes then got into trouble at the border…

The IDM/electronica boom was well under way here in the UK when this was recorded on the other side of the Atlantic and some of these tracks sound very much of the time.  I know I always mention 76:14 by Global Communication when I’m talking about this kind of music but it remains a favourite album of mine, a classic of the genre and was originally released in the same year.  Some of Ambient Tracks could be found brooding in the same car park.

The rest of the album harks backwards – to the electronic edge of Krautrock, to the high gloss of Vangelis, to the claustrophobic pulse of John Carpenter.  If I’d heard this in 1994 I might have thought it old fashioned but the ambition, sweep and sincerity of this music has aged considerably better than the more hip, knowing froth on Warp and RePhlex that I was obsessing over back then: all agitated surface and in-jokes.  Do I listen to any of it nowadays?  No.

Menzel’s music reinvigorates the notion of nostalgia for the future.  There is nothing kitsch or naive about the vision expressed here.  Its scope and scale are impressive, its emotional content earned and genuine.  The task of documenting the never-has-been is necessarily Quixotic but if done, as here, with heartfelt conviction the task has nobility and conveys – dare I say it? – hope.  These are silvered dreams in which we might just see ourselves reflected.  Think about that for a second, comrades – these could have been the days!


Airwaves on Oracle – also for write up by Miguel and further links to Menzel’s work.

P.S.  Yes, I was supposed to be keeping things to the point due to being frazzled but, hey, I found myself with something to say.  Pithiness to come next.

1 Comment »

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  1. Oscar in the other side is smiling for this. Many thanks!

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