Systems Theory - Soundtracks For Imaginary Movies

Year of Release: 2004
Label: Independent Records
Catalog Number: IR24612
Format: CD
Total Time: 74:14:00

Systems Theory's latest release, Soundtracks For Imaginary Movies, evokes movies that would be impossible to realize in the real world. Why? Because the pieces are so convoluted - in a good way - that something as linear as a real film would be much harder to execute than imagine. I bet if you listen to this without reading the titles, the journey your imagination takes will be different than that suggested by the composers, and different again from any other person experiencing the same pieces of music -- your imagination becomes the unlisted instrument. There are just three men, plus an array of guests, who have created this sonic soundtrack to your subconscious: Greg Amov, Steven Davies-Morris and Mike Dickson, the array of guests being Diane Amov, Brian Daly, Dun Strummin (really? See, he plays guitar...), Michael Futreal and Cyndee Lee Rule (full credits in the usual spot below the review)

I'll try my best to not insert specific images in speaking about the music, so that my "movies" don't become your "movies" (to tell you what "movies" I see would, I think, spoil the whole experience for you) - but given the vibrant or strong colours that the music is painted with, it is nigh impossible to abstain entirely.

Most of the album's 9 pieces - arranged in three groups of three - are richly layered. It's not an album you take in on the first listen. Yes, you'll find pieces that strike will you immediately -- the first track "Green Miata Baja Bound" for example, a piece that has just the right amount of movement and bounce for a song about driving (the percussion) with a bit of a Middle Eastern feel amongst its southwestern atmospheres (acoustic guitar, screaming electric leads (Brian Daly)) -- Al DiMeola comes to mind. It's a track that's as warm as the California sunshine (where two-thirds of the group are located)...

Others will take a while, will require additional exploration before you have discovered all it has to offer. And that's a good thing (though don't think you'll have sussed out "GMBB" in one go). Once you think you have captured the essence of a piece, it slips, slithers or bolts in another direction entirely. "Silent Service," the second longest piece at 11:16, begins with soft, silvery percussion, quietly groaning guitar and birdlike effects, only to give way to organic, sometimes sultry, percussion. "Four Piece Suit" the longest, begins as breathy spacerock (a la Kevin Braheny, for example), warms up to a delicate percussion-led piece with just a hint of flute (courtesy of Mike Dickson's mellotron), where it simmers and percolates before gradually expanding into an increasingly frenetic slice of electronica (early Tangerine Dream and Steve Roach both come to mind)... evolving again into something tribal, rhythmic, organic ... continuously evolving ... Brassy tones return in this piece too, well deep into this 13-plus minute track (here at about the 11th minute).

There are shorter pieces that stick to just one or two moods: "A Lifeboat, Tallulah And Me" is a stark, dark, gloomy and moody piece. This is not George Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte"*... a piece I mention because it came to mind with its very bright colour palette and relaxed atmosphere, the diametric opposite to "A Lifeboat..." Something very grim indeed has happened here... very grim.

The latter third of "Last Letters From Stalingrad" also is quite dark and gloomy, including a tolling bell ... and you know what means ... It's here, at the beginning, where we hear the "Hitler" sound collage mentioned in the credits for Mike Dickson, but that only is only part of this track (and only a part of what he plays).

"The Cool Vibe Of Asia C," has jazzy textures, a shimmery piece filed with tones that are brassy (trumpet) and cool (flute), all driven by snappy, mid-tempo drums, tinkling percussion. It manages to sound both Middle-Eastern and Native American at the same time.

A piece that moves into classic prog rock territory is "Zero Sum Equation," with its Pink Floyd-like feel and Gilmour-esque guitar soloing from guest Dun Strummin.

And what are we to make of "One Step To Freefall"? It starts out as slinky, poppy, quirky spacerock ... evolving into a sonorous, yet slightly off-kilter piano playing across techno-hiphop-esque beats and dramatic keyboards... Terms like avant-garde will come to mind... then... then we're in freefall... For me, flashes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Outland come to mind, maybe it's because of what sounds like quiet, yet heavy, breathing as heard from inside a spacesuit. We know it ends badly in Outland ... and from the sound of it, it doesn't end well, here either... chaos takes over (and the piano returns)... the piece finally coming to a close with a breathy flute.

There's more to explore than what I've mentioned; the moody, dramatic "Water Through Fingers" is one I've not mentioned yet ... well, except just now. Soundtracks... is rich, deep, lush at times, sparse at others, and what results is a fairly fantastic suite of music. To my ears, this is what I love about music - dramatic sweeps and intimate portraits, contrasts of dark and light, moments of tension and release... beautiful, ornate without being ostentatious... while there is a lot going on compositionally, it hasn't squeezed out any sense of feeling.

The obvious "similar artists" list also includes early Tangerine Dream. I also had Djam Karet come to mind once or twice, mostly with the first track; James Reynolds, the synthesist who composed the music for the second Mind's Eye animation collection ... even maybe Jan Hammer, who composed the title music for Miami Vice (and also the first Mind's Eye collection, as it happens)...

*I first came across this painting in a literature class I was taking in collage, and it's imagery has stuck with me. It inspired the movie Sunday In The Park With George...

'Side One': Green Miata Baja Bound (6:39) / The Cool Vibe Of Asia C (5:44) / Four Piece Suit (13:18) - (a) A Wolf In Sheep's Breeks - (b) Larks Loons In Linen - (c) Technopants - (d) Solar Flared Trousers / 'Side Two': Silent Service (11:36) / A Lifeboat, Tallulah And Me (5:00) / Water Through Fingers (7:21) / 'Side Three': Zero Sum Equation (7:20) / One Step To Freefall (7:12) / Last Letters From Stalingrad (9:36)

Greg Amov - synthesizers, sequencer, MIDI electronic piano, viola, fuzz violin, e-bow guitar, percussion, and sample loop programming
Steven Davies-Morris - guitars, bass, synthesizers, MIDI acoustic piano, percussion, hand-claps, sound and vocal effects, MIDI, soundfont, sample loop and drum programming
Mike Dickson - Mellotron M400 (3 violins, string section, cello, mixed brass, 8 voice choir, Russian choir, church organ, solo flute, Ian McDonald flute, bass clarinet, cor anglais), Hammond T500 organ, bass pedals, synthesizer, sequencer, acoustic piano, timpani, 'Hitler' sound collage, sound and vocal effects, and sample loop programming


Diane Amov - flute (2)
Brian Daly - electric guitars (1, 7)
Dun Strummin - electric lead and harmony guitars (1, 7)
Michael Futreal - dulcimer (9)
Cyndee Lee Rule - violin (2, 7)

Demos 1999-2000 (2000)
Demos 2002 (2002)
Soundtracks For Imaginary Movies (2004)

Genre: Other

Origin US

Added: December 18th 2005
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1052
Language: english


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