Whoever is hidden behind the sound alias Pye Corner Audio is, without a doubt, a consummate sound engineer who knows all of the tricks of the trade necessary to come up with that mysterious, noir texture that primitive 60s and 70s electronic music had. Maybe that is why in the eyes of the public, he calls himself The Head Technician, a sort of title of nobility - or a name for a superhero of the turntables - that only someone who is either inordinately vain, or who really knows perfectly well that he has reached a high level of mastery of his art and feels satisfied with it, would give himself. Accordingly, listening carefully to the contents of “Black Mill Tapes” (which Type has now issued on vinyl for the first time - the first record in green, the second in blue, 700 copies for the whole world, and the first seeming to have a sky-high resale value, with prices no lower than 60 €) it does give off the air of mystery and mastery of the old analogue language. It is an air similar to any of the recordings of kindred soul Jon Brooks - more the ones he signs with his own name on Cafe Kaput than the ones he releases as The Advisory Circle on Ghost Box - and which should head straight to the core of the current wave of retro-futurism with a hauntology stamp.
Two random examples that follow one after the other: “Theme Number Four” is an impressionistic miniature awash in nostalgia, which calls to mind the short pieces that acted as interludes and hinge pieces for “Music Has The Right To Children”, by Boards Of Canada; meanwhile “Electronic Rhythm Number Eight” wouldn’t have been out of place in Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s recreation of the Mega-City One universe on their recent experiment “Drokk”. This indicates that the influence of Jon Carpenter’s soundtracks, with their layers of insistently repeated disjointed synths, form a part of Pye Corner Audio’s sentimental education. And it is starting here that a career is born, one that is taking its first steps; this double record should be a necessary wake-up call so that his contributions to vintage pieces don’t slide down the drain into oblivion, or disappear among the fallen leaves of things that are self-released on the internet. Although last year he shared a 7” on Ghost Box with The Advisory Circle – so birds of a feather flock together – Pye Corner Audio had so far been reluctant to put anything out in hard copy. The three volumes of “Black Mill Tapes” released so far — the last in January of this year, the one that we might soon see issued on vinyl; the other two in 2010 and 2011, and subtitled respectively as “avant shards” and “do you synthesize?” – only came out as a folder of .flac files (or .mp3). Furthermore, his second release was issued as a highly limited edition on cassette via Further Records. In short: his work so far has been better hidden and more inaccessible than a witness protected by the FBI.
Pye Corner Audio is a skilful musician who handles himself well, moving among different schools. At times he calls on the vast tradition of library music – one smells the terror in “Transmission Three: Briar Lane”, which could be music from the first season of “Doctor Who” – and the no less important tradition of radio sound effects or music for nature documentaries. These passages, which generally appear in the form of little sketches in between, are what establish a generalised tone of melancholy, with a touch of paralysing worry. It’s as if the music transmitted a wave of frosty air before each long song, in which Pye Corner Audio tends to give us his best; from the machine-like post-krautrock repetition of Carpenter’s soundtracks ( “We Have Visitors”) to the umpteenth tribute to the sepia-tinted evenings of Boards Of Canada ( “Gathering”). And all of this is just on the first record.
The second record, which was originally produced a year after the first exercise, shows the concept to have evolved, taking the sound to even darker territory. Although the first cut greets us with a pastoral fanfare like Belbury Poly ( “Mirror Sequence”), the truth is that almost-industrial mantras abound, as if Coil had somehow fused with Goblin ( “Electronic Rhythm Number Seven”) or Jim O’Rourke had studied with Pierre Schaeffer ( “Toward Light”). But the thematic continuity remains firm and unalterable: more giallo, more British library music, more Carpenter, more Boards Of Canada, lots of hauntology - more of all of this, but without being tiresomely excessive or too imitative. It is true that at this stage of the game, when a massive reclaiming of obscure electronic pieces from 1984 backwards is taking place (previously the empire of dance music) and there is a very large young generation that is interested in imitating their guidelines, it is increasingly difficult to sound different - let alone original or inspiring -within the retro-futuristic circuit. But Pye Corner Audio stands out from the crowd, and “Black Mill Tapes Volumes 1 & 2” should hold an outstanding position in the esoteric portion of it.