Spaceship Eyes
(CD Review and Interview)

by Jerry Kranitz

From Aural Innovations #4 (October 1998)

Spaceship Eyes - "Truth In The Eyes Of A Spaceship" (Hypnotic, 1998 CLP0248-2, CD)

Spaceship Eyes is the work of synth/electronics maestro Don Falcone (ex. Melting Euphoria and Thessalonians). While last year's Kamarupa was an ethereal, trancey instrumental effort, this new release is an interesting mix of techno dance beats, freaky space electronics, and ambient soundscapes. Falcone plays most of the music and is joined on most tracks by various guests including Harvey Bainbridge.

The opening track, "Mind The Alien", sets the tone for the disc by starting off with a spacey orchestral wash that soon launches into a techno beat. The ambient parts return periodically as well as lots of freaky gurgling electronics with the techno beat in the foreground, a combination that seems to be the CD's trademark sound. This is music that could appeal to a wide audience and indeed Falcone reveals his own varied interests when he says in the liner notes, "I'd like to welcome all lovers of ambient, dance, electronic, progressive, and space music".

Of note to readers of this magazine is that while on the surface this disc is more techno/dance than Kamarupa, in terms of sound exploration (and sound playfulness) I found it more adventurous. A cursory listen might put off some SpaceRock fans, but the more interesting space gems are easily missed. In fact, I had listened to the disc a few times, but I too heard the music in a new light after listening close enough to write about it. I have to confess that I'm partial to musicians who throw me for a loop from one release to the next and indeed this was a surprise after Kamarupa. Aural Innovations explored these differences in an email interview with Don Falcone.

AI: Tell me about the differences between Kamarupa and the new CD. Kamarupa is very ethereal while the techno and hip hop influences are prominent on Truth.

DF: They are interpretations of the same theme, but from very different perspectives. I started Spaceship Eyes to explore rhythms in space, where space is ambient, spacerock, or techno. On Kamarupa, the rhythms are light rock, jazz and techno sequences or a mix of these with Gary Parra, an avant garde drummer I knew from Cartoon. You could say that Kamarupa is the calm before the storm. On Truth there's probably more real drum sounds, but they are samples and they come together in unnatural ways. These are also mixed with electronic patterns, but the perspective has shifted to electronica and drum 'n' bass. The freaky bits are more like spacey stuff I did with Thessalonians, but freakier. Symbolically, I'd say Truth is the storm. The repetition offers another reference point. The hypnotic nature of Kamarupa breathes from the arpeggios and pads. Classic ambient and space techniques. The hypnosis of Truth lies in the percussion. I find it very interesting to listen to one of Truths manic 160 beat per minute tracks at a quiet volume. It's like turning all the basic concepts of new age music inside out.

AI: Your music over the years has been rooted in space rock, ambient, techno, etc. How do you see these genres as being separate or converging? Do you see your space/Hawkwind scene background as influencing, or bringing something new to, the techno scene?

DF: I often describe Hawkwind as old Black Sabbath meets old Tangerine Dream, two bands I like on their own, one for their hard earthiness, the other for their expansive spaceness. Then, of course, I have to come up with a movie that had Dream music in it. I think many musicians are still coming to grips with balancing earth and space, or acoustic and electronic. Do you try to marry them, or do you keep them apart? Both approaches have something to offer. One of the joys I find in Hawkwind is that they keep redefining themselves as they experiment with this balance. I think we're all better off if things keep converging and then take off in new directions. Life is not about being static. It's about push and pull. Reflecting and growing. You asked about audience before. For me, the mixture of genres is the key. As a listener, I like to hear music that I've never experienced before. I love hearing new sounds just like I like eating and tasting a new spice. I love the Eno-type mixed marriages - on his first two solo CDs he used well-respected musicians like Fripp, well-respected popsters from Roxy Music, and then our heroes from Hawkwind who are not always so respected. Such a marriage is unchartered territory. It can lead to something unexpected, fresh. For the musician, growing, you need to dig deep into your entire bag of tricks. Maybe like James Joyce taking the Odyssey and applying an entire new language (or perspective) to each leg of the journey. This means it's just as important for me to create new patches on my keys, as it is to write a song in a key I tend not to use. Plus, I have a better chance of creating something interesting if I consciously or unconsciously consider Hawkwind and all my other influences, then proceed forward. In fact, why not consider genres that aren't influences? It's a greater challenge, and it makes the musical journey all the more mysterious. That being said, I've found spacerockers, as well as proggers very open to this mix. Many of us inherently believe in freedom -- a better world -- so it's not surprising when our open attitude spills over into our musical tastes.

AI: In your article on the Calvert web page you say you were a poet before you were a musician. How did the poet gravitate toward music?

DF: I wrote poetry first, but once I moved to San Francisco and began performing in public, I was doing both concurrently. But it was like leading a second (but not so secret) life. In the 80' I wrote a lot of poetry which I recited at cafes; much of this was language poetry and some of the rat-tat-tat and "dig-a-the dig-a-the dig-a-thee earth" rhythms were kind of influenced by Calvert and his machine gun delivery. I also wrote a lot of vocal pieces that were performed with rock songs. And, I was writing instrumentals. For some reason, I always kept these separate, neatly tucked in their own box. With both Thessalonians and Melting Euphoria, it finally felt ok to bring some of the poetry into the ambient and rock forums. Maybe the biggest influence was a poetry teacher at San Francisco State named Francis Mayes. (She's currently got a bestseller out.) When asked by a fellow student about how important it is to find one's 'voice', she responded that we need to find our 'voices'. I've taken this plurality as a personal mantra and I believe we're all better off (and have far more to offer) if we look for the chameleon within.

AI: As Spaceship Eyes is instrumental music, is the poet expressing himself in some way through music alone?

DF: Moreso than ever. First, I try hard to choose voice samples that have character, or emanate characters. Whether you consider the figure in a photo, or a friend that just does things that keeps your life interesting, characters have stories to tell. They're perfect for instrumental music. The voice on "Cheebahcabra," Luis Endara, just has this great way of saying 'check it out' It's his verbal signature, if you will. So, I asked him if I could add his voice to the story of that track on Truth and he said yes. For "Dreaming Without The Right Side" I had this dream where I was being operated on by some sci-fi baddies and they removed the right side of my brain. But the dream continued after the operation. When I returned to reality, I asked my brother who's a psychology professor what would it theoretically be like if one could dream without the right side. He dialogued a full tape on the subject and I chose choice phrases to build a musical piece. I actually used different samples on the 12-inch version of "Dreaming." The version on the CD was the second interpretation. Not only do they have some musical variations, but they have different messages at the end. More recently, I did a remix with Gary Numan on vocals for his In The Mix CD. For the "Deadliner" track, I tried to use phrases and sounds that emulate his words. Without falling into clich' sound effects associated with radio commercials and TV bloopers. I expect to have a few vocal tracks on the next Spaceship Eyes CD, so I'll try to delve deeper into this experiment.

AI: You seem to work concurrently, and in live performance, in combination with Spirits Burning. How do you view one band vs. the other, and what musical needs are met for you by your participation in one vs. the other?

DF: Spaceship Eyes is a solo project, with occasional guests. When I bring Spaceship Eyes into the live setting, I try to assemble an interesting group of musicians to re-interpret the studio works. For example, I'll do one show with just a tabla player, then another with up to seven people on stage. In 1996 or so, I decided I wanted to continue the work I started with Melting Euphoria and do more of a Hawkwind style band. Taking their best moments and moving forward. My bandmates suggested I resurrect a band name I created in the 80's, Spirits Burning. That was the good news. Unfortunately, I didn't choose people who love spacerock, love to experiment, or just create a passionate atmosphere where it's fun to play. With Spaceship Eyes comfortable as a solo act, I didn't need to be in a band just for the sake of it. However . . . . I really had unfinished business in purer spacerock. And Aural Innovations gets to be the first publication that I announce that Spirits Burning is becoming a gathering of spacerock artists. A few months ago, I decided to start contacting spacerock artists from throughout the world, and ask them if they'd like to be a part of something new and different. Basically we all become part of Spirits Burning. So far, almost 50% of the invites have said yes. If all goes well, you should see a full-length Spirits Burning CD next year. When we're closer to completion, I'll let you in on who's contributing. It'll be quite a trip, like none before it.

AI: Do you get to play live much? If so, is it solo with Spaceship Eyes or with others? Just in California or do you get to tour around at all?

DF: If I can get a core of musicians in the Bay Area (and maybe a fly-in guest), then we'll consider playing some of the Spirits Burning material live again. While I love performing as Spaceship Eyes, I sometimes miss rocking in space. Spirits Burning is all about filling that void. Now, in terms of Spaceship Eyes. I like playing special events. Even if it's an ongoing series. San Francisco has a couple of showcases, like Cafe Du Nord's Downhear series where you can see a spacey electronica act open, then an avante garde artist perform and then a DJ. It's a nice variety for those who like the stimulation. That's why I've played the Expose Progressive Rock showcase twice. I really believe in what they're trying to do. Maybe someday I'll be able to work out playing something special that's further away, like Strange Daze, or Baja Prog. I'm open to traveling if the event is special enough.

AI: I mentioned earlier that it seems your music would appeal to a varied audience. Do you think this is reflected in the audience at your shows?

DF: Only in that I'm playing events that naturally draw different types of listeners; listeners that are likely searching for adventurous music. I probably don't perform often enough to build a strong local following, but I'm not convinced I would do so even if I played more. A local jazz act like the Broun Fellinis can play regularly because jazz, even when it's a little experimental, is rather easy to digest. I've never seen a spacerock dinner show. At least I don't think I have. In the long run, it's easier for bands like the Spaceship Eyes, Thessalonians, Melting Euphorias, etc., to create a worldwide buzz, as if there was something special going on in San Francisco. And there is, in the sense that music is being created that touches people far away. But the truth is that these are local underground bands that the average person here has never heard of. The real audience for this music is global, and the first point of contact is usually via a recorded piece.

AI: I'm a big Present fan. How did that show go? Were you a good pairing with them in terms of audience response?

DF: Present is incredibly intense (and confident). Not only did I enjoy the pairing, but I got to chat with them one-on-one the night after at a dinner party. We did a special one-time Spirits Burning vs. Spaceship Eyes to open the show. I wanted to create a sonic war. And I think our material -- the mix of electronica themes juxtaposed with 'Levitation' style Hawkwind created its own special intensity. At it's height, I was playing keys with my hands, one foot on a Sequential Circuits synth on the stage floor, another foot on my Digital Audio Workstation's scrubwheel. I was really happy with the Spaceship Eyes side of things. For that night's version of Spirits Burning, it was a night full of attempts. Some worked. Some didn't. I was asking a lot of musicians not really into spacerock and experimenting. But I think they hung in there and there were some great moments. I do think there's something special in attempting something with potential highs. I used to think Hawkwind was special in that sense: some of their jams bombed, but others moments -- like the segue into Golden Void -- are breathtaking surprises.

AI: How did you hook up with Harvey Bainbridge?

DF: One of my earliest recorded works was with Satellite IV for Silent Records and its Fifty Years Of Sunshine LSD tribute album. Satellite IV included Kim Cascone and Paul Neyrinck; the three of us later recorded with Thessalonians and Spice Barons. (Paul actually mixed a couple of tracks on Truth.) Anyway, here's this comp featuring Timothy Leary and Psychic TV and it just begged to have Hawkwind on it. So I made contact and was able to get both Hawkwind and Harvey on the CD. In fact, by mistake, Harvey got two tracks from Interstellar Chaos on it. A couple of years ago, I visited England and my wife and I made arrangements to visit Harvey while he was living in Gloucestershire. She took the picture in Amberley. When he was driving us around, he pointed out -- tongue-in-cheek -- the largest hedge in all of England, saying "There's the great yew hedge." That's how I named the track he contributed to.

AI: Finally, what are you working on currently? Any news you would like to share?

DF: The Spirits Burning spacerock project is underway. If I missed inviting anyone, and they're interested, they can contact me through the Spaceship Eyes web site. I'm almost finished with a new ethno-ambient project called Quiet Celebration with Edward Huson on tabla, a Native American Indian flute player from Albuquerque named David Fein, and myself on synths. Maybe it's space-folk music. Then it's back to the Spaceship Eyes journey. I plan on using a little more guitar and vocals on the next one. Even a poem. It'll probably be titled "Of Cosmic Repercussions." And it'll be the consequences of everything I've done up to this point.

For more information and to contact Don Falcone you can visit him at the Spaceship Eyes web site and the Spririts Burning web site.

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