Doug McKechnie – The Complete San Francisco Moog 1968-72

There’s nothing fancy about the title. It is what it says. Back in the 60’s when Robert Moog (actually pronounced as in rogue, hence Moog Rogue) was fiddling with circuits and transistors and creating a working modular synthesiser, Doug and his flatmate Bruce Hatch, who had managed to persuade his rich Dad to buy a very early Moog modular series III with a view to manufacturing and selling these unusual instruments. However Doug managed to cotton on to this very new art form and it wasn’t long before he was experimenting with it, leading to him performing and lecturing within a short space of time. Although he made recordings using it he regarded it primarily as a live instrument and would perform in schools and local Californian Bay area events, attracting the attentions of fellow minimalist composer hippies like Terry Riley, even leading to being an opener to The Rolling Stones ill fated Altamont show in 1969. In 1972 he had planned on selling the instrument to The Byrds but the deal fell through and it was finally sold to Christopher Franke of Tangerine Dream, whose use of sequencing was thought at the time to be unique. However these tapes, which initially were shelved as mere personal experiments, prove that Doug was pioneering these sounds 5 years previously, and had pretty much been written out of history, so these recordings are not only an important document in the history of modular synthesis, but also predate the broad scope of the sonic 70’s which influenced groups as diverse as Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd.

I for one could never resist the bouncing soundscapes of the mid 70’s sonic experimentations as exemplified by albums such as “Phaedra” and “Rubycon”. Setting up a moog sequence while adjusting the knobs to make those glorious whooshing sounds (I make no apologies for my non-technical descriptions of synthesis) is the stuff of acid fuelled fantasies and escaping into other worlds, which in the late 60’s was definitely the thing. However, irrespective of its importance in the grand scheme of things, the question is, is it any good? I mean that’s the big question, right? It doesn’t really matter how much renown you give to something if it’s actually boring, and I have spent many hours sat in rooms while someone else noodles endlessly with a synth, and it’s usually only interesting to those who are doing it. However that is not the case here.

The music is often simple and clean with very little in the way of overdubs, but it is excellently recorded, usually in the right environments like experimental research labs etc. It follows fairly basic guidelines too in terms of setting up a sequence of notes and “soloing” over the top, but with the addition of a bit of reverb and echo, that is generally all that is needed to make these sonic journeys a pleasant meander. They were created with a journey in mind, either spiritual, drug induced, or very possibly both. Take the first song, aptly titled “The First Exploration”, which already makes you think of Tangerine Dream with its repeating 3 note droning, wah-wah’d into submission, flowing and bouncing in a Riley-esque fashion. The helicopter machine sound of “Meditation Moog 1968” bring to mind elements of Pink Floyd‘s “On The Run”, and the noises used on “Welcome To The Machine”. “Baseline” would fit very neatly into Brian Eno‘s ambient world, as would “Berkeley Art Museum” with its deep reverb and playful bleeps. “Crazy Ray” takes us into the minimalist pattern world of Terry Riley again, the sequence shifting subtly over the course of its 8 plus minutes, both frantic and relaxing, like a Steve Reich repetition. “Search For An Honest Man” and “Gyre And Gimble” remind me of those early 60’s shape dance records of Daphne Oram, both silly and strange. The shortest song on the album, “Meditation Moog 2”, is also the most minimal, with just a very slow pulse drenched in dark reverb. “Glide” and “Moving”  bring us back into Tangerine Dream mode.

The fact that these were all done so early on makes them fascinating. The fact that they easily stand the test of time and are possibly even more listenable today than they would have been at the time is remarkable. Yes they are an interesting historical document, and a hint as to what was to come in the future, but this album makes a welcome addition to any home, and easily stands up to many of the more well known synth explorers like Klaus Schulze and Edgar Froese.

Andrew Wood / /

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