Radiophonic Tape Composition in Australia: a compilation of fine experimental music from the 1980s

Various Artists, Radiophonic Tape Composition in Australia, Creelpone, CP 244 CD-R 

Now known as Fine Music 102.5, the former 2MBS-FM is a community radio station in northern Sydney broadcasting mainly Western classical music (about 70 – 80% of its music output) online and on the radio. Other music featured on the station, staffed mainly by volunteers and a small number of paid staff, include jazz and non-mainstream contemporary and experimental music. One of its most famous programs, running for nearly 30 years, is “Ultima Thule” which runs on late Sunday evenings for 90 minutes without any announcements and includes a varied and eclectic mix of ambient music that can combine jazz, formal Western classical, New Age and world music, and electronic experimental among others. In 1985, to mark its 10th anniversary, 2MBS-FM issued a compilation LP of electroacoustic music recorded to tape that features the Fairlight synthesiser (then a fairly new creation) on a number of tracks.

I have to admit I don’t know any of the artists whose work appears on this compilation but all tracks have a beautifully clear and crisp sound, and are very well done. First cab off the rank is Peter Mumme’s “Veronica takes a bath” which uses quite a lot of found sound recordings of rainwater or shower water, water droplets, water going down a drain and water hammering on hard surfaces to generate an intriguing and pleasant soundtrack to what could be an outdoors scene. Unexpected spaceship pulse tones and whistles suddenly appear; I had not anticipated that aliens from outer space were interested in a commonplace human activity. The encounter seems quite civil and polite as a flute melody takes up the lead and the sounds of children’s laughter soon dominate the rest of the track.

Peter Schaefer’s “See” is not quite so friendly and seems a bit guarded at first – its charms reveal themselves very gradually as long drawn-out and steady drones of ambivalent mood. As more rich jewel and grandfather-clock chimes and tones are added, along with an occasional low-end drone, the music becomes a little warmer though the frosty feel never quite goes away. The clear sound gives the music a grand and rich majesty. The track slides into Robert Douglas’ “Homage to Bessemer” which is much more animated and varied, and has some great sounds and melodies, but is rather less distinctive as a whole work.

The remaining tracks by Jon Rose and Michael Hannan are both short in comparison to the previous tracks but are no less significant for their brevity. Rose’s “Colony: Survival in the Right Hemisphere” is a cheeky little creature, all buzzy and zippy with strange mutterings. Hannan’s “Callisto” is an instrumental track of sharp yet delicate and playful electronic tones, often very bell-like and sonorous, and bouncy rhythms.

While the compilation might be lacking in melodramatic and epic grandeur, the various pieces more than compensate by their individuality, their rich beautiful sounds and creative flair, and energy. The tones are so clear they seem almost four-dimensional. Chalk up another triumph of discovery to Creelpone for finding this gem!

Contact: Broken Music

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