Much to his family’s dismay, Michal Turtle – just twenty-two at the time – had overrun his family home with hardware. Stacked high and wide, the sheer mountains of synthesizers, drum machines and amplifiers scattered across his parents’ living room could have filled a separate studio. It was 1982 and the Croydon-born producer was obsessed. As a result of all his experimentation – night and day, in his South London home – the appropriately named ‘Music From The Living Room‘ was forged: an album revealing a brilliant and, at times, bizarre world of future-embracing ideas.
"Stacked high and wide, the sheer mountains of synthesizers, drum machines and amplifiers scattered across his parents' living room could have filled a separate studio"
Turtle kept recording. Propelled by the equipment at his disposal, he sought to put out another record. Having had the first pressed and distributed by the eclectic, UK-based label Shout – purveyors of oddball punk and new wave – this was a thrill well worth repeating. But, despite his best efforts, it never quite came to fruition.
Perhaps his ideas were too offbeat to have been appreciated at the time. Turtle stayed relatively unknown, and although he carved out a career playing with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, many of the cosmic creations he made in that house remained untouched for decades.
"A unique blend of futurism, music from diverse corners of the globe, and the downright strange – flung wildly into a sonic cement mixer, then doused in reverb and delay"
Now, just over thirty years after it was first recorded, the tapes have finally been dusted off. The ever-trusty imprint, Music From Memory, have made their mark unearthing obscurities from decades gone by. Following their hugely successful 12″ released last year – a sublime slab of proto-house and a fine reintroduction to Turtle’s music – ‘Are You Psychic?‘ – the eighties synth exponents are back with a full-length of unreleased Turtle tracks, three of which were featured on his 1983 LP.
Though it must be said that experimental music is a broad church, the way Turtle layers acoustic instruments with electronic counterparts makes his variety very difficult to classify. The whole thing is a unique blend of futurism, music from diverse corners of the globe, and the downright strange – flung wildly into a sonic cement mixer, then doused in reverb and delay.
There’s a new age mysticism running through his work – it’s immediately obvious that Turtle was influenced heavily by music from across Asia and Africa. One such example, ‘Village Voice‘ – first released in 1983 – is a dose of soft tranquility. Bells sound sporadically, ringing with the ritualistic resonance of a Ghanta on an ancient temple wall, ushering in a new phase of hushed voices and sub-aquatic pads.
"Think Brian Eno and Jon Hassell on Mars, with a slap bass and some outrageous sunglasses"
Then there’s ‘El Teb‘ – frantic, hollow-sounding drumming fused with supremely seventies sci-fi synth phrases: a combination that works surprisingly well if you just let it wash over. The distinct weirdness across the record becomes more and more consuming. The fractured bass notes of ‘Zoote Pointe‘ – on the second side – slowly seep in over the course of the nine minutes, while scurrying, far flung synth passages and freeform percussion build a perpetual atmosphere, eventually erupting into a full-on crescendo of interplanetary funk.
Think Brian Eno and Jon Hassell on Mars, with a slap bass and some outrageous sunglasses. A sort of otherworldly quality permeates through the track – an aesthetic that’s difficult to manufacture once, let alone with great frequency. Turtle seemingly does this for fun. The same feeling emerges in the magnificent ‘End Of An Era‘ – but this time it’s even more out there.
The unrestrainedly pitch-bent chords elevate the track into the cosmos, while an orgy of interspersed percussive stabs, space-age bleeps and electro-tinged snares rain down at random, zapping the world below into a cloud of vaporous dust. Fascinatingly, there’s a touch of Arthur Russell about the sound. Though not in his wistful, cello- wielding mode – but on his most experimental disco voyage to another galaxy.
"Square pegs continue to fit into round holes across this collection of tracks - and often so seamlessly, it's easy to forget what the rules were in the first place"
Somehow the whole thing manages to maintain its core listenability through the rigidity of certain elements: Turtle rarely strays too far out for too long. Disco continues to pop up. ‘Spooky Boogie‘ – one of the most accessible on the album – is a bizarre ride. Slo-mo kicks pump steadily; an infectious hook rolls continuously, while modular noise disperses skyward in a sonic shower.
“I credit my eyes with the light, but with difficulty” states a trance-inducing, unmistakably English voice from the heavens above. ‘Phantoms Of Dreamland‘– the title track – commences. An endless groove to ride, if you lock yourself in – the increasingly muffled voice reverberates in the distance while a punchy bass riff gyrates and analog drums slap down with a disco-driven emphasis. This is synth-pop with a stern and serious edge.
Square pegs continue to fit into round holes across this collection of tracks – and often so seamlessly, it’s easy to forget what the rules were in the first place. Where else would, say, the fusion of energetic Middle Eastern scales and pulsating modular phrases, be par for the course? The track in question – ‘Our Man In‘ – generally speaking, would be described as a bold step into the left field of electronica.
"You wake up right in the middle of a mysterious chorus of voices, babbling on into infinity over bouncing congas and evaporating keys - disorientated yet perfectly comfortable"
Alone, it’s as exciting as any on the album – but in the context of this whole collection, it’s commonplace – and that’s testament to the strength of Turtle’s production wizardry throughout. Countlessly, you manage to zone out and come back to reality during this record. You wake up right in the middle of a mysterious chorus of voices, babbling on into infinity over bouncing congas and evaporating keys – disorientated yet perfectly comfortable.
It takes just thirty seconds into this reverb-drenched trip – called ‘Rainwater Fijit‘– for something to become glaringly obvious. This really isn’t like other music.
Phantoms Of Dreamland is released via Music From Memory in July, pre-order a vinyl copy from Juno.
A1. Loopy Madness
A2. Village Voice
A3. Maid Of The Mist
A4. Ball Of Fire
B1. El Teb
B2. Zoote Pointe
B3. Spooky Boogie
C1. Our Man In
C3. Rainwater Fijt
C4. Phil #5
D1. Phantoms Of Dreamland
D2. End Of An Era
D4. Underneath The Window