Bionaut - "Au Naturel" (CD, 69:00)
Bionaut - "Big Causeway To Gone" (CD 70:00)
From Aural Innovations #8 (October 1999)
In 1975, the then experimental VIRGIN records released what was the 6th LP by TANGERINE DREAM, entitled "Ricochet". I must've played the LP at least 300 times the first weekend I bought it, completely enchanted with the band's entire concept to Electronic Music making. "Ricochet" filled the promise of the band's earlier works, was more concise and spacey than "Phaedra" (1974, their first LP to feature the sequencer in instead of BassGuitar & drums) or "Rubycon" (1975, which introduced Prepared Piano to the mix). The release of "Ricochet" traumatized the SpaceRock Community, and its innovations set the standard for the next 20 years of development of Electronic Music. "Ricochet" became (and STILL is an oft-played disc here) my hot weather music, soothing many a hot NYC summer night with rhythms and sounds that seem to mirror the urban environment, be it NYC or some city on Mars.
BIONAUT has reached into the well of material originally pioneered by TD; this Mass. duo have crafted two fine CDs of floating, "Berlin" school Electronic Mmusic. These CDs are great examples of an "American" take on this musical format.
Formed by Architectural Metaphor Synthesist Paul Eggelston and ex-AM Synthesist/percussionist Chris Green, the band has performed at all three Strange Daze Festivals, the Burning Man festival, and in & around Boston MA. "Au Naturel" was recorded in 1996, and is a strong blast of Space based on the "Berlin" signatures of Drone/Sequencer/Choral Comps/Lead Synth formula, enhanced by an array of sampled sounds (tubular bells, ocean waves crashing, and Mellotron hovering in the background). Both synthesists utilize a battery of analog and digital equipment, and have created a set of medium length works that stand up to repeated playing; I am especially impressed by the restraint these players used in creating the CD, and the fact that most of the music is improvised. Paul Eggelston's talents are on display in a way that contrasts his work in ArcMet; in Bionaut, one gets to hear his ideas more clearly, and his intent as a player in this context seems more relaxed than when he is playing in AM's thicker and more arranged sound. Particularly impressive here is "Born To GOA", which is driven by up-tempo sequencers, and swept by slashes of "Vintage Keys" Mellotron.
"Big Causeway to Gone" was recorded two years later in 1998, but unfortunately breaks no new ground, although the band has actually refined their approach to the music. "Leary's Second Debut" opens the side with samples of an oft-used-these-days clip from a sixties anti-LSD public service video, but it goes a little long. The title tune is up next, and is this CD's best, 22 minutes of the full "Berlin School" treatment (and is ironically longer than either side of Ricochet). The piece begins with a great thick drone filter-swept modulated by LFO, with filtered noise adding appropriate atonalities to the mix. The tune continues to build over its duration, finally fading the way it came in; some really great work here, but the similarity of the other cuts to the first CD might detract somewhat from this CD's effectiveness.
Bionaut Live is quite different, more energetic and harder edged, judging by the three times I've heard them at the Strange Daze festivals, with Paul and Chris rockin' it up. They play really well together, which are the fruits of their long musical association; I'd be curious to hear Arc Met with Chris involved again, as he has developed a distinct voice on his instruments. I'd recommend either CD to the uninitiated, as BIONAUT's traditionalist approach can serve as a tonic to all the lame stuff heard these days; and I checked, they work well on those over 90 NYC summer nights, so pick up on these folks.
You can visit Bionaut at their web site.
Reviewed by Doug Walker