Synth lord and composer Tim Blake has had quite the storied career, and it has been a voyage peppered with innovation and experimentation since the start. After catching his break in the early ‘70s as a member of influential UK space rockers Gong, appearing on the band’s conceptual “Radio Gnome Invisible’’ trilogy – Flying Teapot (1973), Angel’s Egg (1973), and You (1974) – in 1979, he would join another pivotal British band: Hawkwind. His initial period with the latter was even shorter than his first tenure in Gong, though in the years that have passed since, he’s never been too far away from either band, having frequently re-joined both for recording sessions and gigs. However, his solo work in the mid-to-late ‘70s is arguably best work to date.
His debut, under the alias of Crystal Machine, isn’t quite “solo work,’’ however. From a musical standpoint it is by traditional standards, though the groundbreaking live shows were a collaborative effort between Blake and French light artist, Patrice Werrener. Together, they pioneered the simultaneous use of analogue synthesisers and laser lighting on stage, which became just as synonymous with the live electronic experience as the music itself. In his accompanying essay for the remastered re-releases of the 1977 self-titled debut album and 1978s sophomore effort, Blake’s New Jerusalem, Abraham’s highlights that “Crystal Machine was conceptually as much an art installation as it was a bank of synthesisers…’’ (7). Live electronic music and laser shows have been bedfellows since.
Alongside Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and others, he was one of the progenitors of avant-garde electronica during the ‘70s and his debut collection is a masterwork which showcases the genre back then at its finest. The perfect backdrop to spliff-induced odysseys through the imagination, Crystal Machine can be described as a musical journey in the sincerest sense, with abstract, sci-fi leanings and hypnotic melodies giving it an otherworldly feel. Originally released on French experimental Egg, self-described as “The most progressive European experience,’’ the album not only encapsulated the ethos of the label, but it also provided an alternative to the commercially-orientated synth-driven music that was popular in France during the ‘70s – spearheaded by the likes of disco pioneer, Jean-Michel Jarre. Abraham’s describes Blake’s debut album as “positively new age and ambient in comparison to the paths [of] electronica-minded, but more populist, musicians [at the time.]’’ (6). Every track on Crystal Machine – from the swirling opener “Midnight” to the closing sci-fi prog experiment “Synthese Imtemporel II” (an extra for the reissue) – blends effortlessly. While the composition do sound similar, they each boast enough unique qualities to make them stand out on their own merits. Crystal Machine is evocative mood music more than anything, and if the mood is right, it might make your imagination soar.
In 1978, Blake would release what is arguably his best work: Blake’s New Jerusalem. The name is derived from the preface, “And did those feet in ancient time’’, from William Blake’s epic poem, Milton (1804-1810), though, as he tells Abrahams, it all stemmed from a joke conversation he had with dairy farmer – and founder of Glastonbury Festival – Michael Eavis: “I hope you call the new album Blake’s New Jerusalem.” (10). And that’s exactly what he did. It’s also a very fitting title, as the record is a defining relic of Blake’s historic career; solo or otherwise. Blake considers this album his official debut, with Crystal Machine regarded as a collection of songs thrown together for the purpose of finding a deal.
“It’s the New Age, Harmony, Science and Love,
Living, loving inside the New Age,
It’s better for you my Love.’’
Blake’s New Jerusalem is a seminal album; blending prog rock, folk and electronica seamlessly, it saw Blake incorporate live acoustic instruments with analogue synths to create a spectacular effort. Furthermore, he would also sing more on this record; opening tracks “A Song for a New Age.’’ “Lighthouse,’’ and “Generator (Laser Beam)’’ demonstrate his vocal talents as well as highlight his daydreams of love, world peace and galaxy exploration (“Lighthouse’’ even pays homage to Star Trek’s Captain Kirk by opening with a log entry). The rest of the album is predominantly instrumental, with the exception of unearthed closing track, “Jupiter to Jerusalem.”
The remastered editions of both albums courtesy of Cherry Red Records are well worth the investment if you’re a fan of Blake’s work in any sense. With the inclusion of rare tracks only available on old cassette tapes until now (that don’t sound out of place next to the original album selections), as well as the original artwork and Abraham’s detailed essay, they will serve as suitable collector’s items for seasoned fans – and perfect starting entries for new listeners. All in all, these are highly recommended for connoisseurs of experimental music, especially those who appreciate science fiction.
Abrahams, Ian. Linear Notes. Crystal Machine & Blake’s New Jerusalem, Tim Blake, Cherry Red Records, n.d. LP