John D. Nathan is a writer, artist, and benevolent werewolf.
The Music of Boards of Canada
Boards of Canada (or BoC) is a band formed by Scottish brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin. While their music is classified as electronic, almost all the samples they use are purely acoustic with many sources from nature documentaries, scientific devices, and frequency modulation.
I decided to do a deconstructed review of my favorite album of theirs: Geogaddi. I didn't realize what sort of insane project I was getting myself into when I started this. However, I must certainly be thankful for the kind folks at BoC Pages for help in explaining some of these tracks.
I must warn you that this music is not for everyone. Many of the more skittish listeners will be turned off by the unfamiliar sounds, and those who are concerned about "demonic influences" may be scared away entirely before even getting halfway through the album. I sincerely doubt the band members are evil or devil-worshipers. They're just very inquisitive, intellectual, and beautifully strange on a level all their own.
Track-by-Track Review of Geogaddi
I have included videos for all of the longer tracks, and just put in links for the shorter ones. Originally, I was going to have videos for each track on this album. Then I realized that putting 23 videos on one page was really going to bog down some of the slower connections.
And with that, let's begin.
1. "Ready Lets Go" (0:59)
A rather gentle track to start off the album. It brings an ambiance more of a sound test than an actual song, but it does help to put you in a calm state of mind and prepare for "Music is Math."
2. "Music Is Math" (5:21)
This track is a personal favorite of mine, though I really cannot explain why. Often times I will listen to this while walking around at lunchtime or on my way to work. Despite the thumping backbeat, it does bring with it some sort of a harmonious equalizer, possibly to ground me back to Earth.
3. "Beware the Friendly Stranger" (0:37)
This track should be instantly recognizable to anyone who is a fan of David Firth's post apocalyptic animated web-series known as "Salad Fingers". The song may resemble the playfulness of children coupled with a disturbing undercurrent of unknown terrors from what lies beyond the innocence.
4. "Gyroscope" (3:34)
The track starts rather abruptly and quickly slaps you in the face with noise. This is where the album starts to take a much rougher turn with heavy drum beats in the foreground, coupled with a muffled low wailing tone and the voice of a little girl continuously counting. If you have been lulled to sleep by the previous tracks this one will quickly startle you back awake.
5. "Dandelion" (1:15)
What should be first identified when listening to this song is Leslie Nielsen's commanding voice. Leslie Nielsen narrated several nature documentaries in his lifetime. It's possible that this recording came from the documentary Dive to the Edge of Creation (1980). This track was constructed so that a listener will get a satisfactory-sounding song whether listening to it normally or in reverse. I was fortunate enough to find a reversed video of this song along with the standard track.
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6. "Sunshine Recorder" (6:12)
Yet another track that could be an equally pleasant song when played in reverse as it would when played normally. They used reversed acoustic tones layered on reverberated drum beats to create a rather melodious tone that continuously carries the listener along a river of sound. A sunshine recorder is a simple device that records the amount of sunlight in a given day. It does this by using a glass sphere that focuses light onto a card, burning a line into it with varying intensity throughout the day.
7. "In the Annexe" (1:22)
This track brings us back to a level with a continuously varying set of long tones. Birds singing can be heard in the background at several places. This helps to prepare us for the harsher sounds coming in the next track.
8. "Julie and Candy" (5:30)
Towards the beginning of the track there is a short amount of muddled dialogue from the 1972 film Season of the Witch, which then beings the listener into some severely-warped thumping sounds of recorders and flutes. It's heavy on the ears, but it's the result from a complicated labor of love. Through the recording and re-recording of several tape decks back and forth they were able to take some perfectly natural sounds and make then much more murky, like an image reflected infinitely between two mirrors.
9. "The Smallest Weird Number" (1:17)
This track provides a quick, gentle buffer between "Julie and Candy" and "1969", both much more harsh to the ears. In mathematics the smallest weird number is 70, which also happens to be the length of the music on the track (70 seconds), leaving 7 seconds of silence.
10. "1969" (4:20)
This is another song that many may shy away from, and it makes perfect sense. After all, the chorus line and the very first lyrics in the song are "Although not a follower of hseroK divaD (David Koresh) she's a devoted Branch Davidian."
However, the year 1969 does not really have anything to do with the Branch Davidians or David Koresh. Instead, it could represent the forming of the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation or the publishing of The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey, both of which occurred in 1969. This is explained in a 2002 interview with OOR magazine:
"We're not Satanists, or Christians, or Pagans. We're not religious at all. We just put symbols into our music sometimes, depending on what we're interested in at the time. We do care about people and the state of the world, and if we're spiritual at all it's purely in the sense of caring about art and inspiring people with ideas."
11. "Energy Warning" (0:35)
A short public informational video about why it is important to conserve energy, spoken by a ten-year-old child. This is not as resonating as their speech about censorship in "One Very Important Thought" on the album Music Has the Right to Children, but it's still conveys a good message. Though I'm not sure in the middle of a CD is a proper place for it. Of course, Boards of Canada have never really been concerned about what is proper.
12. "The Beach at Redpoint" (4:18)
Redpoint is a small village in the north-west of Highland, Scotland. There's nothing really more to say about that. Like most of the longer tracks on this album, this one is a heavy hitter, with sweeping sound distortions and heavy bass thumps. Whenever I hear the first 30 seconds of this song, before the major distortion and bass, it reminds me of the rainy day MIDI track in Daggerfall (1996). I don't really know why it reminds me, but it's a touching memory.
13. "Opening the Mouth" (1:11)
Once again, this is another short buffer track between two longer segments. It is haunting, with a lonely moaning wind sweeping through the background. The name of the track may be in relation to an ancient Egyptian burial rite where a statue is placed in the tomb in anticipation of becoming a living form for the deceased person's spirit to occupy.
14. "Alpha and Omega" (7:02)
Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and also an appellation for God in the book for Revelation. None of this seems to have much to do with what is in the song, however the song itself is very complex. There's a wide variety of voices spread across the track. Some are garbled, reversed, or slowed down. However, there is one voice that is alleged to be saying "Alpha and Omega" at the beginning and end of the track.
15. "I Saw Drones" (0:27)
This very short track that layers on a quick series of audio waves on the listener. It is possible that the title of the track is in reference to synesthesia, in which the stimulation of one sensory pathway causes an involuntary reaction by another sensory pathway. An example of this "cross-wired" condition might be someone who sees different colors or shapes when they hear certain sounds.
16. "The Devil Is in the Details" (3:53)
Here is another track where it is apparent that the artists are definitely screwing with the listener, as they put plenty of uneasy potentially Satanic references in, using known and rather scary symbolism to put the listener at unrest.
According to the musical experts at Bocpages.org, "The bassline and melody of 'The Devil Is in the Details' are an octave and a major sixth apart. The bassline/melody repeats the first note three times, yielding three consecutive 'sixths' in a row, i.e. 6-6-6." The lyrics are also a bit disturbing, sounding very distorted as though the speaker was slowly drowning . . .
"Just relax and enjoy this pleasant adventure. Here you are, secure and protected, in this...your special place. Letting my voice flow into your mind. You don't need to concentrate, just gently as you go. Suggestions are going into your unconscious mind. Open yourself up to the greater wisdom and understanding. So now you're letting the sound of my voice reach the inner, healthy, receptive center of yourself. See yourself now, in your imagination. You are being transformed in a positive, healthy way. Slowly you are programming your unconscious mind, Gaining new insight to your directions in the future. Allow yourself to be more aware of your pathway through this life. Enjoy new opportunities."
I actually find this to be a quite relaxing track.
17. "A Is to B as B Is to C" (1:40)
The title of this track is an example of a mathematical "golden ratio". This is a rather short and interesting track, as it encompasses many seemingly random elements. Many samples of many different voices are spliced together for a nearly-continuous stream of communication. While listening to the counting voice I heard a distinct sound that reminded me of a sound I've heard in an old Donkey Kong game. It doubtful that this is the same sound.
18. "Over the Horizon Radar" (1:08)
The title is in reference to a particular design of radar systems that allow them to sense targets at a very long distance. This is yet another track that can be played backwards for an equally interesting song. Played forward this piece is a short and rather melancholy tone giving a feeling of cold desolation.
19. "Dawn Chorus" (3:55)
A dawn chorus is a natural occurrence when songbirds sing at the start of a new day. There is also an electromagnetic dawn chorus, which is an unexplained phenomenon of electromagnetic interference that occurs right at sunrise. The electromagnetic dawn chorus occurs more frequently during magnetic storms. Given BoC's interests in both the natural world and technology, the title could be in reference to either definitions. Overall, the track itself is a strange mix of heavy lows and joyous highs.
20. "Diving Station" (1:26)
This is one of the few songs on this album that has something that actually sounds like a musical instrument. Some minimalist piano is played while a heavy amount of low stuttering scraping and white noise is layered in the background. According to a rumor, the background noise is the distorted and severely stretched-out voices of people shouting "We hate you all."
21. "You Could Feel the Sky" (5:14)
This is an incredibly complex song from the large amount of layered samples, reversed, stretched, and distorted. Throughout most of the song, a heavy thumping and crackling sound reverberates in the primary sound channels, while a terrible buzzing sound fluctuates in the background.
When reversed, it seems to present a somewhat lighter and pleasant song, along with what sounds like a mention of a "god with horns", which could have meaning in Paganism or Christian mythology. This is one of the tracks that does scare away the more cautious about potential demonic influences.
22. "Corsair" (2:52)
Throughout the entire track, there is a constant and consistent humming. It's almost a gentle moaning that becomes a bit overpowering at times, while at the same time sounding disparate and distant.
23. "Magic Window" (1:46)
While I respect Boards of Canada's creativity, there are times I really think they're just making filler. This is most certainly one of those times because this track is almost two minutes of complete silence. I had heard that the reason they did this was to extend the total album time to 66:06. It's certainly something I would do if I produced an album. Anyway, despite being almost two minutes of silence, someone with too much time on their hands made a video on YouTube for it.
Bonus: "From One Source All Things Depend"
There is also a track that was included only on a limited Japanese release of this album. It contains several children reciting various Christian prayers and discussing their thoughts on God. While this is occurring, there is a very quirky, light, and airy song playing in the background.
John D Nathan (author) from Dallas, Texas. USA on December 19, 2012:
Thank you for reading, Chris.
It does seem that there are many things that appear in this album, albeit very subtle, seemingly for the sole purpose of getting a laugh or messing with the listener.
Chris on December 19, 2012:
"Magic Window" was actually included in the album at the suggestion of Warp Records' president, Steve Beckett, to basically get the album to 66:06 for the lulz.
John D Nathan (author) from Dallas, Texas. USA on December 19, 2012:
Interesting thought, Chicago.
Through the journey of researching this album I have uncovered a wealth of information that helped me realize that Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin are much deeper than I could ever have imagined, and put far more care into intricate details that most people will never notice.
Chicago on December 19, 2012:
Re "Magic Window": It is always worth noting that on the vinyl release of Geogaddi, "Magic Window" was not a playable track, but an engraving on the record itself.
I like to assume that it's this image that bears the title "Magic Window", a detail that cannot be captured in audio.