Sunday, August 10, 2014

Jürgen Müller - Science of the Sea

 Jürgen Müller - Science of the Sea (Digitalis Recordings, 2011)

The backstory is almost unbelievable. According to Digitalis Recordings, "Jürgen Müller was a self-taught amateur musician who, while studying oceanic science at the University of Kiel, purchased some electronic instruments and set up a mobile studio on his house boat, docked along the town of Heikendorf, on the North Sea. Utilizing only a handful of barely-remembered childhood piano lessons, Jürgen set about creating his marine-influenced vignettes with some electronic instruments he had gathered through friends, as well as borrowing some new equipment from a local school’s music department. As a general music lover, earlier in the '70s he had taken note of several avant garde electronic composers who he felt simultaneously captured a purity of sound and sense of wonder that was lacking in other music. He dreamt of fusing this ideal with the synthetic recreations of nature. In a sense, one could say he stumbled onto an early “new age” aesthetic through pure ignorance and coincidence. As a result, it took several years for him to actually realize his sole full-length recording, Science of the Sea, the sessions for which began in late 1981, before finishing a year later. Less than 100 copies were pressed, and few of them were even sent out to potential clients. Most copies were eventually given to friends and family."  

30 years later Digitalis Recordings reissued Science of the Sea. Its experimental sounds, rooted in electronic krautrock or kosmische records from the 1970s, were lauded universally. I was totally intrigued by the reviews and dutifully picked up a copy - one of the Second Edition, limited to 500 copies on beautiful semi-opaque turquoise vinyl. I wasn't disappointed, Science of the Sea has been on regular rotation round my way since. It's a beautiful record and brings to mind the work of Roedelius or Philip Glass or Raymond Scott.

Indeed it turned out that the story was too good to be true and Jürgen Müller was actually Norm Chambers who records under the Panabrite moniker. Chambers told Robert Ham in a November 2013 article for Consequenes of Sound that, "The backstory kind of wrote itself. The idea of dragging synthesizers onto a houseboat is pretty hilarious, but also makes for a great concept." Chambers went on to explain to COS that he was initially going to release the recordings under the Panabrite name but, "noticed there was a particularly different sound than my usual work. There was something a little more refined, yet decidedly lo-fi about it." So he made up the story about Jürgen Müller a German composer who had pressed 100 copies of an album in a Private Press. 

It was a brilliant little hoax and brings to mind XTC's The Dukes of Stratosphear project from the mid 80s. Irregardless of the backstory though, Science of the Sea is a really stunningly beautiful record well worth checking out. 

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