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Dave Greenslade

The Pentateuch Of The Cosmogony

Review by John Pierpoint

This is a recent CD reissue of a spectacularly ambitious full-colour book and double-album project from 1979. The concept, text and artwork are by English artist Patrick Woodroffe (famous for his book-jacket and album covers), and the music is by keyboard player Dave Greenslade – who was already well-known as a member of prog-rock groups Colisseum and Greenslade. The original package was a lavish 12x12” hardback book, with the vinyl discs stored in pockets attached to the inside front and back covers. Amazingly, the CD reissue designers have made a stab at reproducing all of the artwork from the original book in the digi-pack's booklet. Given the smaller format, inferior paper and less precise printing process, this hasn't been 100% successful, but at least those who don't already own the original version can get an idea of just how good the whole experience must have been. The music is now crammed onto a single Compact Disc, which has necessitated the trimming of one track to make it fit. It's not possible to adequately describe the music without first paying some attention to the text and artwork, as the music was written to accompany the book, not the other way around. The book purports to document the treasure of artistic and technological artefacts found inside a derelict alien spacecraft, discovered orbiting Titan. After some pages describing and sketching the vessel, the book then reproduces translated text from a sequence of ancient books found in the hulk, accompanied by works of art that were also found aboard. The effect is like an illuminated Bible, as the books tell the story of Creation (or, more accurately, a creation). A being – a Pan-like deity – is born into the void. He creates stars as his playthings and companions, then fashions a solar system consisting of a planet (the “Earth”) with seven moons orbiting a sun. On the planet, he creates demi-gods to govern the air (“Beltempest”) and the sea (“Glass”). The book goes on to detail the unfolding story of this world: the shaping of its lands and seas, its population with all manner of strange creatures, the coming of humans (all of this tackled in an imaginative and very non-Darwinian way), the corruption of men by the representation of evil on this world (a strangely sympathetic female spirit called “Ildrinn”), the wasting of the beautiful natural world by war and deliberate pollution, and the final exile of the surviving humans to an uncertain cold and technological future in a pitiless and empty space. So, in essence, this is a parable about war, greed and ecological disaster. Although the story is presented in a very formal, biblical style (similar to that of Tolkien's book The Silmarillion), it is hard to not be moved by the heart-rending narrative.

All this is dramatically portrayed by Woodroffe's meticulously constructed art work and calligraphy, which features a specially created ideogram system for the original written language of the alien race. There are beautiful (and sometimes graphically violent and horrific) images, rendered in a variety of styles and media, in order to convey the idea that these are representatives of a hoard of precious artefacts that were created over millennia by many generations of artists of a world not too dissimilar to our own. Some images are made to look like everyday objects from this imaginary world, such as an illustration on a playing card, or another on a fruit juice label. One illustration shows an artist at work creating a Renaissance-like fresco. Woodroffe is a hugely talented artist, blessed with a vivid imagination. Many of the images reward repeated contemplation, as they are filled with incredible detail, observation and wry touches of humour. So, what of the music itself? The 70s saw many albums by synthesiser artists, but Greenslade has a quite unique sound when compared to the likes of Jarre, Vangelis or Tangerine Dream. The key here is Greenslade's unusual choices in patches and tones. To go with the often Renaissance feel to the art, he has used sounds that emulate Baroque instruments (notably the faux-guitar featured prominently in “The Minstrel”) and composes tunes that channel the spirits of Bach, Rameau and Vivaldi. To continue the classical analogy, recurring leitmotifs are used for the major characters, some of whom are depicted in the book as being associated with particular instruments. Particularly in the early sections, light feathery sounds abound, including emulations of harpsichord and flute. As the story progresses towards darkness, the music follows suit, with disturbing, foreboding soundscapes and heavier treatments. Pitch-bend and VCO control effects are used for transitions, and there is much vocoder-work. A real church organ makes a welcome appearance near the end. Several tracks feature drums by Phil Collins or John Lingwood, which help to brighten the sound and add extra textures. At other times, syndrums (very 70s!) are used.

There's a lot here to satisfy discerning listeners. While space-rock lovers and metal-heads may balk at the absence of (real) guitars and shortage of powerful, heavy tunes, I promise that this album will only grow on you in time. Many of the themes are very potent, and will have you humming along to their memory, days after listening to them. Greenslade has a unique sonic style and an ear for early music that is a refreshing change from the legions of high-tech keyboard maestros that are around now. The production has a lightness, an airiness, that leaves room for the tunes to breathe – something sadly missing in many of today's over-compressed, intense products. The presence of Collins and Lingwood is another incentive, if you're a fan of Genesis or Manfred Mann's Earth Band. One complaint is that it would have been so much better to release the book in its original 12” hardback format, with two CDs of music. This would remove the need to shorten “Moondance,” and perhaps some album out-takes or other contemporary Greenslade tracks (or even some digitised Woodroffe artwork!) could have been added to fill the two discs.  As it is, if you do invest in the CD, I can heartily recommend that you track down a copy of the vinyl version as well, as the small CD booklet format really doesn't do the artwork justice. Then you can listen to the CD, and enjoy the full effect of Woodroffe's beautiful book. As you can guess, this review is somewhat biased, as I have for a long time been a fan of the album and the artist. I'll admit that there are several tracks that could have been better executed (or dropped altogether), but it's still an outstanding piece of work.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Introit
The album starts gently with bright, tinkling tones that seem to dribble from the speakers, signifying a simple beginning. Louder and more forceful keyboards come in and build up to suggest growth and travelling, including a very long pitch-bend sequence which finally resolves, and blends into the next track.
Moondance
A light flute sound is used for the main theme, with guitar arpeggios, and the somewhat incongruous electronic popping of syndrums. This is the only track (to my knowledge) that has been trimmed to fit the album to a single CD. It's such a shame, as the tune takes time to establish itself, and then is whisked away in a fade before the listener can start to enjoy it.
Beltempest:
A creepy, changing tone slides across the stereo image, to the sound of a tolling bell. A strident, uplifting horn tune comes in, sounding like the heroic theme from a wartime aviator film (such as “663 Squadron”). Perhaps Greenslade took the idea of an aerial character a little too literally! The sounds used are bright and brittle, accompanied by sharp-sounding electronic percussion. On the final note, the tune plummets down in a cascade of bubbles to bridge to the next track.
Glass
A distant thumping is heard: the sound of heavy, monstrous footsteps. Washes of synths create a nautical feel, before the brassy horns return. The heroic theme from the previous track joins in, depicting the joyous music being made together by the two spirit brothers. A detune-beat effect forms a segue to the next track.
Three Brides
The characters of these spirits are depicted in linked themes which range from delicate, pure gossamer synthesiser tones, to a gentle contemplative Bach-like harpsichord tune, and ending in a bolder, modern funk feel, with pounding double-tracked pianos near the end. This track also features the first guest spot from Phil Collins on the drums. It fades out, ending what was originally the first side of the first vinyl disc.
Birds & Bats & Dragonflies
A lively calypso tune fades in. John Lingwood's drums accent the off-beat to give an irreverent, jaunty aspect to the music. A simple tune on emulated pipes is given greater impact by effective use of multi-tap echo. Strange chirping, wriggling sounds make an appearance, suggesting some of the creepy-crawlies depicted in the illustration. The tune fades into the next.
Nursery Hymn
I must admit that this track is just too twee for me, and usually makes me cringe when I hear it. Along with a simple (but beautiful) nursery-rhyme tune, there are the spoken vocals of Greenslade's young daughter, processed through a vocoder. Halfway through, a beat picks up, only to end very shortly. A new tune takes its place, suggesting the calming of the seas to prepare the way for the conjunction of the air and sea creatures.
The Minstrel:
This is one of the highlights of the album. A guitar-like instrument can be heard tuning up (shades of 2112!), before bursting into a speedy baroque gigue. It is joined by tambourine, then other instruments. A vibrant sawtooth-wave synth takes up the tune (emulating an overdriven electric guitar). It's a great moment, but as this is one of the shortest pieces on the album, it just doesn't go on for long enough.
Fresco/Kashrinn
The sound of waves crashes in. An eerie atonal pipe tune blares, accompanied by subtle Gamelan tones. Another detune beat effect shifts this to a haunting low pipe tune (reminiscent of the theme to much-loved British children's TV programme “The Clangers”). This sets the scene for one of the most uplifting songs on the album.
Barcarole
A bouncing, innocent electric harpsichord tune, this is full of life and joy in its optimistic directness. Collins returns on drums. Whistles and brassy stabs punctuate the busy proceedings. Vocoder vocals represent the men, singing about their destiny as they build ships to find their eventual home.
Dry Land
A series of repeated motifs suggest the long journey. This fades to a reprise of the vocals from “Barcarole” - this time to a sombre tune, and ending with a plea for help. High-pitched, nervous rapid synth notes indicate that something is wrong. A plaintive, almost elegaic tune strikes up briefly. Thus ends side two.
Forest Kingdom
Collins provides a driving, expressive beat and percussive ornamentation to this funky, relaxed piece, which has owes a lot to Stevie Wonder. There are horns and fretless bass (all faked on keyboards of course), and piano. The tune ends in an urgent riff, which will feature prominently in later tracks.
Vivat Regina
This has a strange “Europop” flavour, with its Vocoder chorus and joyous, Bach-like themes. A subtle shift to minor key in places perhaps signifies the sadness that is all too quickly to follow. It ends with an audience applause and clap-along!
Scream but Not Heard
Anguished screams and cries from the keyboards, to the steady thump of a highly-damped kick drum (representing a heartbeat?). Lots of pitch-bends, rapid panning and detuning effects add to the eeriness and disturbing atmosphere. It perhaps goes on for longer than necessary, but it sets the stage for the most memorable tracks on the album.
Mischief
For many listeners used to rock and metal (who – let's face it – probably would buy this album because of the lurid cover art!), this and the following track may be the most readily accessible tunes on the album. The sound of some infernal contraption comes into earshot. The leitmotif for Ildrinn's evils begins – a strangely compelling, bouncy theme – almost like Marvin Gaye's “Grapevine.” This will be built up over the course of the next two tracks. Lingwood's relentless drums add to the mood of evil intent. After a brief respite, a new theme of echoed descending notes begins, reminding me of the middle section of Holst's “Mars The Bringer Of War.” This is taken up in turn by various instruments. The sequence levels off satisfyingly, only to return to original theme with an introduction of accented drum rolls. It continues seamlessly into the next track.
War
The “Mischief” theme continues, accompanied by increasing levels of background effects, emulating the sounds of sirens, side-drums, marching armies, gunfire, the rumble of artillery, and any number of exotic alien weaponry being discharged. Think of the middle section of Yes' “The Gates Of Delirium” and you'll get some idea of the sheer cacophony of sounds brought into play. The pitch-bending and doubling of incongruous instruments reaches deranged levels, indicating the psychotic atmosphere. The tune ends unexpectedly and cataclysmically in the unmistakable whoosh of an atomic detonation. Finally, a plaintive little coda of the second theme (played on flutes) winds down.
Lament for the Sea
This is a very slow, sad tune, with doleful, low synth tone. A simple drum track still manages to accent the off-beat in places to add interest. A forlorn reprise of Glass's theme near the end makes it clear that he has died.
Miasma Generator
Marching feet, mechanical sounds, and a dramatic swirling theme begin. A faux-sax (a vocoder, or synth with breath-control) plays a sad tune, but this time the backing kicks into an upbeat swing feel, with chugging horns, and cracking drums courtesy of Collins, almost as though representing the denial of the situation by the participants. The original dramatic theme comes back at the end and fades.
Exile
A brutal, hollow drum/gong sound echoes. The vocoder breathes a desperate message. This fades quickly to a pure vocoder piece, tearful in delivery, with lush harmonies and chords. The sound of rocket engines fades in, drowning out everything else.
Jubilate
After the grim, depressing tone of the previous song, this comes as a breath of clean air, and ends the story (but not the album!) on a hopeful note. An urgent synth tune – somewhere between an alarm and a fanfare - starts off, then moves into an elegant anthemic theme, partly played on a small church organ. This is a welcome sound (I wish there was more of this on the album, but suspect that it was a deliberate decision to use it only on this track, so as not to lose the effect). Syndrums and brassy synths incongruously fire off at intervals, especially as the rising tones from “Introit” are recapitulated. They are joined by celebratory bells at the end.
The Tiger and the Dove: Epilogue
This is the track that most resembles the sort of music that other synth poineers were producing at the time, and is a strange shift in style from the rest of the album; but it's a beautiful finale, with a smooth sequencer beat, and subtle organic shifts as the atmosphere builds up over the course of the tune. It depicts the transformation – illustrated in the last six panels of the book – of the Tiger of War into the Dove of Peace. The lead instrument used has an unusual muted jazz-guitar sound. The use of multi-tap echo adds to the ambience. At about three and a half minutes in, a high-pitched piping synth takes over the lead (perhaps marking the first emergence of the dove in the accompanying illustration sequence).
 
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