1. The Cave (23:35)
2. White Light, No Heat (11:28)
3. God’s Elastic Acre (18:16)
4. Sati & The Trainman (11:14)
Gayle Ellett – analog and digital keyboards, electric guitar, effects
Chuck Oken, Jr. – analog, digital and modular keyboards, electronic percussion, effects, loop processing and reconstruction
Richard Pinhas – guitar loops (1-3)
Ukab Maerd’s The Waiting Room, the second of Djam Karet’s side projects to be released in 2010, is a very different affair from Mike Henderson’s song-oriented White Arrow Project. The brainchild of Djam Karet’s founding members Gayle Ellet and Chuck Oken, Jr., with legendary French musician Richard Pinhas guesting on three out of four tracks, Ukab Maerd (“Baku Dream” spelled backwards – a reference to DK’s 2003 album A Night for Baku) is a vehicle for the creation of hypnotic soundscapes inspired by the European electronic music of the Seventies. The two musicians describe the album’s content as mind music that draws its inspiration from dream language and Surrealist art – a definition that fits it to a T.
While neither an expert nor a dedicated listener of progressive electronic music, I recognize its importance both in historical and artistic terms, and The Waiting Room provides a fine example of the possibilities offered by technology. Even if its running time of about 64 minutes (divided into four tracks, none under 11 minutes) might turn it into an ordeal for people who are not used to listening to music produced almost exclusively with electronic instruments, the album undeniably possesses a mesmerizing quality, at least if taken in judicious doses. As can be expected, the main points of reference are German giants such as Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, as well as their followers from other European countries (including Pinhas’ former band Heldon). Most of the album was recorded live at two different performances by Ellett and Oken, with Pinhas’ parts added subsequently.
Many people are put off by electronic music on account of its supposedly cold, overly cerebral nature, unlike warmer, more down-to-earth musical forms such as rock or blues. While this may in some respects not be entirely wrong, the music presented on The Waiting Room intrigues and captures in a sharply different fashion than guitar-driven rock, progressive or otherwise. As the pointed out in the press release, it is music that appeals to the mind rather than the body, conceived to be listened to with some degree of concentration, and therefore always at risk of fading in the background if used as a soundtrack for other activities. With a minimal amount of percussion, and guitars manipulated in such a way as to become unrecognizable, the music ebbs and flows with hypnotic regularity, while all kinds of electronic sound effects enhance the moods and atmospheres created by layers of synthesizers.
“The Cave” evokes the titular place with uncanny accuracy, eerie sounds suggesting machinery or sloshing underground waters, the keyboards surging in waves or subsiding with a movement that may come across as monotonous, but also subtly unsettling and quite fascinating. The following “White Light, No Heat” alternates between majestic keyboard surges that create a sense of keen tension and disturbing industrial noises, replaced in the second half by tinkling yet vaguely robotic keys; while “God’s Elastic Acre” unfolds in a cinematic sweep underpinned by clanging, echoing sounds, droning and bubbling noises, while the solemn tone of the keyboards takes on a more upbeat, Eastern-tinged note towards the end. Album closer “Sati and the Trainman”, the more accessible number by far, revolves around a pulsating synth line paralleled by a slower, more atmospheric tune that suggests a train running through a darkened, slightly sinister landscape.
Needless to say, devotees of this particular genre will be able to show The Waiting Room the appreciation it deserves; while those listeners who can only process small quantities of almost completely electronic music might find it a bit too demanding to sit through the whole 64 minutes, and decide instead to break the album into separate segments. On any account, The Waiting Room is a fine example of vintage progressive electronics, and – even for those who, like me, have never been keen followers of electronic music – it is very much worth a listen.