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THE ORDER OF STORMS
DREXCIYA - HARNESSED THE STORM
TRANSLLUSION - THE OPENING OF THE CEREBRAL GATE
THE OTHER PEOPLE PLACE - LIFESTYLES OF THE LAPTOP CAFÉ
ABSTRACT THOUGHTS - HYPOTHETICAL SITUATIONS
LAB RAT XL - MICE OR CYBORG
TRANSLLUSION - L.I.F.E.
SHIFTED PHASES - THE COSMIC MEMOIRS OF THE LATE GREAT RUPERT J. ROSINTHROPE
DREXCIYA - GRAVA 4
Order of Storms
Using information from James Stinson interviews and the few records that stated their number in the series its quite clear that Drexciya’s Grava 4 is the odd one out. At first I thought this had to be part of the series, if not the eye of the storm itself. However, once you know that this is the first post storm album its very exciting to see where they get to with their concept.
For now though I will simply list the order of storms.
1. DREXCIYA - HARNESSED THE STORM
2. TRANSLLUSION - THE OPENING OF THE CEREBRAL GATE
3. THE OTHER PEOPLE PLACE - LIFESTYLES OF THE LAPTOP CAFÉ
4. ABSTRACT THOUGHTS - HYPOTHETICAL SITUATIONS
5. LAB RAT XL - MICE OR CYBORG
6. TRANSLLUSION - L.I.F.E.
7. SHIFTED PHASES - THE COSMIC MEMOIRS OF THE LATE GREAT RUPERT J. ROSINTHROPE
Harnessed The Storm
Looking at the music content first we begin as the title of the first track suggests as a storm is brewing. But this is not a storm of the land for these are ‘Under Sea Disturbances’. Once this track kicks in though it's business as usual, classic dance-floor Drexciya. 'Digital Tsunami' is cut from a similar cloth and of course the title brings to mind further aquatic storm conditions albeit of a worsening variety. The digital reference could only mean music, so this is another way of saying musical storm. 'Soul of the Sea' is more contemplative, the first breath for air from the unbroken fast tempo so far. The pace picks up slightly on 'Song of the Green Whale', you could dance to this although it tends to intentionally break down in places as it nears the close. This track is good to illustrate how Drexciya use a live approach in recording as opposed to sequencing. I've no idea how many versions they might have to jam through before they get to the definite version but certainly this way allows the odd tell-tale mistake to creep in, but nothing more than the odd split second release of a track in the wrong place or an increasing effect being held for a bar too many and overloading. This approach might even be one of the secrets of the music's success; giving it a raw dangerous element of surprise.
'Dr Blowfins' Black Storm Stabilizing Spheres' is much more threatening sounding with lots of sharp angles as it rattles along. This track also introduces us to an early character of Drexciyan yore and also contains a reference to a storm, now we're on to something! On the 'Grave 4' sleeve-notes it states that Dr Blowfin was given the orders to initiate the seven dimensional cloaking spheres to hide the other three planets from Earths view as an Earth scientist has just discovered the Drexciya home planet. The most obvious thing here is the seven spheres reference which has to mean seven storms. Would seven storm spheres cover 3 planets, therefore stabilizing matters and keeping the secret of the planets location? The reference to black storms might mean that the space would now appear to Earth as black, empty. So what does this mean for our interpretation of the seven musical storms? Do they somehow act as cloaking spheres? Well, the first thing to come to mind would be that they do hide the identity of their creators on all but this first one which maybe makes sense as this is the moment when all the storms are harnessed together and everything proceeding will be a mystery. Going further, seeing as Earth has discovered the planet Drexciya then it's ok to give that name away at the beginning as it's no mystery anymore. However I wouldn’t go too much further with this interpretation beyond stating how practical it is that they should use the freedom that pseudonyms provide when releasing so many albums that cover such a variety of styles.
'The Plankton Organization' is very fast paced, on the attack. The title might refer to a group in authority, more on this later. 'Mission to Ociya Syndor and Back' again made sense when Grava 4 came out. Not only is there a track called 'Ociya Syndor' but on the map of the Drexciya home universe there is a planet called, you guessed it, 'Ociya Syndor'. Again more on this later. Musically it might be the most adventurous here, stop-starty and experimental . 'Aquatic Cataclysm' doesn’t sound like things are getting better, this is a violent storm and it’s reflected in the majority of the music. 'Lake Haze' sounds more old school than anything on here but firmly designed for the dance-floor. The positively titled 'Birth of New Life' is my favourite, very laid back, and could easily fit the template of Storm number 3 by The Other People Place. I will tackle this Storm later and only say now that it is very much the love/philosophy album of the seven. Which makes this the violent scene-setter of the series.
In the Pratt interview James Stinson said this directly about the album, "For me and my partner, there was a lot of pressure and lot of personal things in my world being turned upside down. 'Harnessed' has a lot of personal memories. It's melancholy and very well-rounded. There's lot of different emotions: laid-back, mad, frustrated, happy . . . it has it all.” This certainly sounds like they were creating a world that reflected their own at the time. Speaking of the title of the album he said in the Beere interview, "It relates to this whole situation directly with the seven storms that are brewing. It took a whole year to put together these seven albums. It was very, very violent and very chaotic in a lot of different ways. Ups and downs. If you're in the middle of a storm, you have your ups and downs. You have all the elements that there are on this planet that exist in a storm, from water to air, fire, electricity. You might have a cow or a truck mixed up in there too. Those are the images that we perceived when we made the music and that's how the concepts come about. To answer your question, it had a lot to do with the album and everything going on around us was very turbulent.” Knowing this it seems likely that each album was approached separately during this turbulent year, but something like The Other People Place album is quite different in that it sounds like it was completed in one mood, while 'Harnessed' sounds like it was done over a period where many different moods held sway with its creators, but it won't be the only one like that in the series.
I would sum up the story being told in this opening Storm as follows. 'Under Sea Disturbances' is obviously the beginning of major problems in Drexciya's underwater world. This culminates in a tsunami so violent that it effects the very soul of its civilisation, throwing its inhabitants out of its own home, in every sense this is very much a paradise lost. There are a few lines about the Pythagorean concept of the music of the spheres which Robert Fludd wrote that resonate with this idea, "Earthly music is only the faint tradition of the angelic state, it remains in the mind of man as a dream of, and the sorrow for, the lost paradise. (The music)produced from the impact upon the paths of the planets, which stand as chords or strings, by the cross travel of the sun from note to note, as from planet to planet." Perhaps the 'Song of the Green Whale' is composed to mark this momentous event so people do not forget. The scene now changes to the Drexciya Home Universe where perhaps acting under orders from 'The Plankton Organisation' which might be what passes for government/rulers in this place, Dr Blowfin decisively acts and sets in motion the seven black storm stabilising spheres. On the surface level we learn in the 'Grava 4' sleeve notes that these are to hide the remaining planets of the Drexciya Home Universe from the prying eyes of Earth but this is also I believe a metaphor for a puzzle which needs to be figured out before we can ever hope to regain paradise. Back on Earth there is now a mission undertaken to go back to visit this home universe, specifically to the planet Ociya Syndor and then to return. That would be the typical practical reaction, a scientific reaction contemporary with our own reaction if this situation should befall us (if we had a home planet to go to of course). However the seven spheres or storms are there to be understood and when we do we will attain the same goal. In many ways this journey can from now on be read as metaphor, although Drexciya will continue to use the physical journey as a device to tell the story. The most important part of this journey is the return, this is the key to the whole series. But returning to what, a memory of themselves I would say. This is what the rest of the Storm series is all about, becoming, remembering, rediscovery.
The full impact of what has happened their underwater world really hits as the mission begins it’s journey and the event becomes known as the ‘Aquatic Cataclysm’. ‘Lake Haze’ may stand for how they are already forgetting their previous existence. The lake here implies that they don’t even remember that it was once the ocean itself that was their domain, the haze now the fog of memory. ‘Birth of New Life’ can only mean hope. The following storms begin the real process of making us become what we once were, this first one is the very beginning of that process, learning the facts of what has gone before and this kindling a hope within us of a new life, our return.
Sadly there were no extra tracks on the Digital Tsunami 12” to gleam for clues and even the artwork for ‘Harnessed’ was not done by the band. Hard to know if they had much say in it and whether it can really tell us anything.
It proved fruitful with ‘Harnessed the Storm’ to follow the running order of the tracks but here we’re in more uncertain territory. Mind you, you could take the opener ‘Transmission of Life’ to be a reference to ‘Birth of New Life’, the last track on ‘Harnessed’ but there, save the last track, the sequence ceases to be of much help. The literal meaning of ‘Transmission of life’ would be to broadcast or spread life. It seems obvious that this would be the ‘new life’ referred to already. So what is the nature of this new life? I believe this is what ‘The Opening of the Cerebral Gate’ makes clear. The new life is not about a new species just the rebirth of an old one, us, the rebirth is mental in nature, and this album marks those beginnings.
The place to begin this change is always within, there’s no point in changing your surroundings in the hope of becoming another person. The title ‘Look Within’ in this context means to become fully aware of yourself, make this your starting point of change, another level of the meaning of this track later.
This storm is also when the ’Dimensional Waves’ phrase starts to reveal its true meaning. This is the production company name that Drexciya used for the series, revealingly it doesn't appear on the post-storm Grava 4. So are we to take it that each storm is from another dimension? Possibly so, but a dimension of what, time, place? I would say it's a dimension of thought, of the mind. In this context ‘Dimensional Glide’ could be a reference to the ease with which they are moving from one dimension to another during this intensive year of production.
To re-cap, the storms are cloaking spheres which are hiding something. On Grava 4 we learn that they are hiding the Drexciya home planet, but this of course is only the surface meaning, a metaphor. There is a revelation waiting for us if we can figure it out and each storm is a puzzle in itself to be understood before we can see the last crucial piece for what it really is.
To open the cerebral gate is to allow this album right into your mental experience, which is the mental dimension, one that is inside us all. Another way of saying this would be the same as the track title ‘Crossing into the Mental Astroplane’. ‘Negative Flash’ might be acknowledgement that the way is not without difficulties, but at least it is only a temporary feeling. ‘Walking With Clouds’ might not be the most amazing title in the world but it probably describes another aspect of the feeling of oneness which this inner flight brings. ‘Unordinary Realities’ is quite an awkward phrase to use but again it’s meaning is quite clear as you start to see things differently. ‘Cerebral Cortex Malfunction’ sounds like something negative, but maybe in this context it is the point where we are set free from its normal function. Maybe this is a necessary step towards where we are going, an evolutionary step. Evolution will become important as the storm continues.
‘War of the Clones’ is a bit of a puzzler, again quite a negative image, although this could make more sense as the storm continues. I think that ‘Cluben in Guyana’ is a sort of day dream title which reminds me of when James Stinson talked about playing unannounced live shows in Japan. I’m sure they, like most musicians, were amazed at how far their music had travelled and all the different scenarios and places it might now appear.
The final track is the perfect link to the following 'The Other People Place' storm. Here we finally have a vocal, which TOPP is full of, and the question, ‘Do you want to get down?’ If your on the same journey as me then the only answer is yes.
This is the album where things start to become clear, we are on the first real step of the journey towards truly finding ourselves, the gate into our mental life has been opened. The significance of there being a second Transllusion album plus a 12" of exclusive tracks later in the series should not be overlooked. I also wouldn't underestimate one or both of their beliefs in God, he gets a ‘special thanks’ in the credits and this is not the first time he has either. Whether they believe in the Christian interpretation or not doesn't matter as it all comes from the same impulse to believe in a creator/controlling intelligence. Anyone who truly believes in a God is a moral person and I believe the intent of this series is extremely just and when understood may deliver one of the greatest gifts of all.
Drexciya took their image as seriously as their music and both aspects influenced the other. That’s what makes their canon stand up so well today as their work continues to reveal itself with time and inquiry. They managed to strike a balance of giving us just enough information that we were left wanting more, that we would have to use our imagination to fill in the blanks. It might well be true that only the odd title or clue exists to link each storm and everything else is down to that curious human ability to find meaning and patterns in everything. Certainly a percentage of this exists only in our own mind, like so much we imagine about the arts in general, it is a personal thing, but all great art leaves us that option, works of depth. James Stinson said to Tim Pratt, “There are small itty-bitty links between them all - and that's the fun part. You have to see what the pattern is to figure it out. It might just be one song but there's a lot going on." In the same interview he elaborated more, "After the music is created, we're building a concept around it: moods, emotions and feelings from the music helps build the concept. Basically, what we do is listen to the record and then your mind starts to wander and images come to your mind. Hopefully, people that buy the record feel the same thing. When you listen to the music and read the title, you basically have to run with it. The images have to go also with the themes.” On reading this I'd be surprised if they had planned out the concept of the storm series in advance, but it seems like they might have had a broad idea which they more or less stuck to for the storm series and up to Grava 4. That's not to say they didn't go into it blindly either and just work it all out as they went along as this Stinson quote more forcibly attests, "There's nothing that's planned, there's no set course. So the mystery of the unknown is really what makes us tick. The curiosity of not knowing where we're going to end up at once this track is done, or when this album is done, and so forth and so on. We never plan our course or where we're going with a particular project. It's mainly the unknown is what makes us tick. It's like living on the edge."
In interpreting their work we do have some advantage as we can take a subjective viewpoint and look back at the work as a whole and in this way we may notice things that their originators did not, things that only their subconscious was aware of. Of course some people will prove quite immune to their music and world, but to those that know and care about such things it is the entry point to good times and wider possibilities.
The Other People Place will be discussed next but I'll leave the last word to James Stinson who obviously knew people were already intrigued by mystery itself, "We're humans and humans love mystery - we're very curious creatures. If you don't challenge the intellect of people, they're going to be bored."
The Other People Place
At first I thought The Other People Place has to be a dimensional reference, but where exactly would its location be? Where the other people are. The first question then is who are these other people? I’d like to give you a better answer than, the people in the other dimension, but for now that’s were I’ll cop out. Lets tackle this from another angle, the artwork. Now, discounting some blurred swirls on the inner sleeve of ‘Harnessed The Storm’, I don’t believe the band had much direct input into the artwork of the series so far and that includes this album, but that situation will drastically change later. But surely The Designers Republic had some sort of brief for the striking images they produced. Lets presume they got some pointers from Drexciya about the nature of the name of the project and title of the album. Now a lesser design company might have just stuck a steaming coffee cup next to a laptop and left it at that but luckily their not the average company and they came up with an image that hints at the meaning of the album. They made nature a strong dual image alongside current modern technology. The cover image itself could be read to mean that technology, in this case an Apple Powerbook, is the link between the primitive/natural state and this other people place, a glimpse of which we get on the laptop screen. Significantly it appears as the corner of a room someplace indoors, the opposite of the great outdoors environment the laptop sits in. But isn't this just a glimpse of our own world, hardly an exotic other dimension. I think what is simply meant by the titles and artwork is that the other people place is just modern society which technology has hastened to the point we are now at, today's laptop cafe culture. The cover just shows how far we’ve come and acknowledges technologies role.
Going purely by this information you might except to be in for a future embracing cyber sex cloning extravaganza inside but the themes that are actually tackled are all basic human nature stuff, namely love and meaning. The message here may be to not lose focus on human nature in our rush to embrace more and more technology. The Storm analogy could be used here quite easily as we fight to retain our humanity as more and more unnatural/technological behaviour is expected. How face to face conversation happens less and less as email and text messaging becomes the norm or the growing reality of human cloning replacing sexual reproduction would be the most basic examples. Not that Drexciya are taking a luddite stance here, but I think they can see a conflict, in that not everyone can as easily adapt and that maybe we have gone to far. So maybe there is a luddite tendency at work here too.
There are eight gorgeous slow paced tracks on this album, six with vocals. Due to the lyrics this the most direct Storm yet, with no confusion about the sentiments of the tracks. Love and possibly lust are what makes this record tick. The only exception being ‘Let Me Be Me’ which appears more broadly philosophical in nature with the repeated vocal loop of ‘Let me be what I want to be.’ I think this is also my favourite track, such a simple statement which could be directed at parents, lovers, anyone in authority over us. I think it may also be the central piece of the album which connects to the previous storm as it echo’s similar sentiments on the Transllusion album about finding your true self.
The longest vocal is on the opener ‘Eye Contact’, “What do we have here? Wow! Something's happening to my transmitters, starting to over load., sitting here in this cafe drinking my latte. Something's happening to me. What do I see on the other side of the room? My my, hmm that's what, my, she’s gorgeous. So let me slide over, transmission, communication sent.” It sounds like he might have sent her a wireless infra red message or did he really slide over and talk? The following track, ‘It’s Your Love’, has a vocal loop of “It’s your love that’s keeping me sorry” which gives some emotional balance. ‘Moonlight Rendezvous’ is instrumental but the title references the lyrics of 'Running From Love’, “ I’m a fugitive in the moonlight just running from your love”. Maybe the instrumental soundtracks what happens when he stops running? The idea of running from love might be to ask why we are afraid or unwilling to give in to those emotions. It could be another reference to how modern society is growing ever more complicated, so much so that we would prefer to resist something as precious as love. Although love can still break your heart without any interference from outside.
The first appearance of what seems like a female vocal appears on ‘You Said You Want Me’. The woman asks that question to be answered by the male “You know I do.” I guess with technology this might not even be a woman singing, but I would like to think that it is, something else we‘ll never know. In fact there is an obvious question here about the male vocalist. Is this Stinson or Donald, if either. I would plum for it being Stinson, only because it just doesn’t sound like Donald but we’ll never know unless we’re told. Another female vocal, presumably the same person/effect, is on the closing ‘Sunrays’. Another standout track on an album full of them. The lyrics loop the phrase “Relax your mind, slowly unwind, catch some rays of the sunshine.” Sublime and so simple. Not a love song, more a chill out/simplify message which does chime in with the whole getting back to nature concept.
‘Lifestyles of the Casual’ is another instrumental and a bit of a mystery. I guess as it’s so close to the album title it may mean we can refer to the inhabitants of the Other People Place as Casuals, but this might be taking it too literally. It could mean the lifestyle of accepting casual occurrences also, but that is really just another literal interpretation.
Love and the awakening of an inner life could certainly be described as a storm and fits in well with the concept so far.
There is one other release by The Other People Place that I want to consider, even though it came out a year later and on a different label. Sometime in 2002 Clone released the 12" 'Sunday Night Live at the Laptop Cafe'. This was the first time Clone hooked up with Drexciya and they went on to build a strong relationship with the band culminating with their Grava 4 swansong and continuing into today with Der Zyklus. Of course to add more confusion this is actually The Other People Place featuring Mystic Tribe a.i. First of all the producer of Mystic Tribe is Sherard Ingram who is a respected producer in his own right. He must have been a close friend of Drexciya as he is also their Drexciyen DJ Stingray. The mesmerising and very ‘Lifestyles’ sounding ‘Sorrow & a Cup of Joe’ is credited to TOPP while ‘Telepathic Seduction’ is down as written and produced by Mystic Tribe a.i. The artwork presents a mock handwritten poster on the window of what looks suspiciously like the Clone record shop. It reads, ‘performing at midnight The Other People Place’ and ‘special guest Mystic Tribe A.I. will be performing at 2am’. Maybe this release is more oddity than anything, only linked to the 3rd Storm by its titles. But as Stinson himself said of storms, that they can be pretty chaotic, a piece of debris like this flying off should come as no surprise in this context.
I suppose to sum up in very broad strokes where we have got to with the interpretation of the series would be wise at this point.
‘Harnessed The Storm’ is the violent scene setter that tells us that all is not well but ends on a note of hope of a new kind of life.
‘The Opening of the Cerebral Gate’ is when things start to become clear, it is the first real step in the Storm towards this new life. We learn to look within and explore our mental dimensions.
‘Lifestyles of the Laptop Cafe’ tells us to continue this process of finding our true selves but also to develop/retain basic human emotions, especially love and not to become a victim of the coldness of technology/modern society.