The Nightcrawlers: The Biophonic Boombox Recordings (2CD)


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1 Phase I: Discovery and Approach
2 Beckoning Beacon
3 Geistesblitz
4 Crystal Loop III
5 Luv-Li-Musik
6 Zeitgeber
7 Reprieve
1 Sizzling Highs
2 Transsonic
3 Baba Yaga’s Flight
4 Spring Torsion
5 Modern Pre-Flight
6 Barriers
7 Awakening

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Deep, diverse, and unheralded, the Philadelphia ambient electronic music scene of the 1980s is explored with The Nightcrawlers’ The Biophonic Boombox Recordings, an expansive archival collection documenting the hard-knuckled kosmische synthesizer trio’s home recordings self-released and distributed over 35 cassettes between 1980 and 1991.

Featuring the farthest reaching spacescapes of those cassette releases – improvised straight into the mic of a JVC Biphonic Boombox – none of these performances have been released beyond the original format, and essentially went out of print when Nightcrawler Peter D. Gulch got tired of dubbing them to blank tapes to mail-order through his Synkronos label and sell at live shows. Restored and recalibrated from the original cassettes, The Nightcrawlers’ music has never sounded better or so readily accessible.

Both salt-of-the-Earth Jersey-ites (Peter was a chemist, while brother Tom Gulch was a mailman, and younger third member Dave Lunt was a graphic designer) and eccentric technicians (particularly when it came to MIDI innovations), The Nightcrawlers created a sound which both evoked the heights of German synth pioneers of the previous decade, such as Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, while reflecting their classical influences, particularly in the minimalism and pattern-based music of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. This was music that the Gulch brothers and Lunt were absorbing through Philadelphia outlets such as WXPN, the University of Pennsylvania’s radio station, and the Painted Bride Art Center, both eventual – and strong – supporters of the group.

Piling their gear into Peter’s Volkswagen Beetle (all the seats had been removed but one, the better to stack keyboards atop one another), the trio performed at artist spaces and galleries like Painted Bride and churches, improvising (often in total darkness), with impressive intuitiveness and chemistry, audiences stunned into altered states. Peter gave a litany of gear that would crowd the group’s live stage to Syne Magazine in its Summer 1985 issue: three Jupiter 6’s, a Korg PolySix, a Korg Poly 61, a Crumar DS-2, a Korg Poly-800, a Korg EX-800, a Korg MP-4, a Roland MSQ-100, a Roland TR-808, SH-1, SH-101, MC-202, TB-303, a few effects pedals and an Electro Harmonix Super Space Drum. That arsenal – still intact, but currently untouched for decades – would only continue to grow.

When The Nightcrawlers weren’t playing out, they were jamming and recording in Tom’s garage, where most of the music on Biophonic was created. According to one of their associates, they attempted to make each improvised piece fit on one side of a C-60 (60 minute) cassette. Which raises the question of why these mad scientists, obsessed with fidelity and performance, recorded most of their music on a boombox and never properly toured. Peter puts it pretty directly, “I don’t like studio work at all. To me it was just like putting an ice pick in my ear”. Likewise, despite Dave’s enthusiasm for touring possibilities, the Gulch brothers were hesitant to put the brakes on their day jobs, despite acquiring enough state-of-the-art equipment to dwarf the dreams of Duran Duran – whom Dave’s previous new wave band had once opened for.

What we’re left with then, is the rarest type of outsider music – stubbornly anti-careerist, but also skilled technically, played emotionally, meditatively, and sane (if off-center). While their contemporaries edged toward electronic music’s future as dance music, The Nightcrawlers held onto their belief in the cosmic, the classical, and the ambient, and left a large, mostly unheard body of work that both holds up next to their better known, European counterparts, as well as a looking glass into a fertile, now forgotten scene, one that should have resonated further than it did at the time.

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Weight .4 lbs

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  1. Webstore Manager

    What better breeding ground for Electronic Music than a detached garage in Merchantville, New Jersey? Both unworldly sonic visionaries and conscienceless musical innovators, decades ago The Nightcrawlers offered a new view across the release of three accomplished LPs and 35 homemade audiocassette albums. Most active during the decade of 1980 this group was more than just three isolated figures functioning in a mythic hinterland of technology and expression; underlying the wires, amplifiers, speakers and gear was their tale of a better tomorrow. The Biomorphic Boombox Recordings attempts to chart their larger story with a pure invitation to listen.

    As studio standards did not matter much to The Nightcrawlers (Peter D Gulch, Tom Gulch and Dave Lunt), their raw, consumer grade, open-mic recordings contained a great number of extraneous sounds from the room (or even the surrounding neighborhood), a lack of fidelity, as well as a healthy helping of tape hiss. Thanks to the careful application of modern audio treatments, the experience of listening to the music selected for inclusion on this anthology has now become a bit more enjoyable.

    Fueled by the illusion that an artist’s potential is limitless, The Nightcrawlers perfected live, improvised, real-time composition – the three musicians fully realizing their work in its commission. Possessing a brutish edge, they exerted a serene, secure authority and their numerous jams and live concerts became the learning ground for many emerging artists.

    The NightcrawlersBeginning with a great number of interconnected music machinery, and ending in a vivid sphere of atmosphere, at every outing The Nightcrawlers managed to produce a fantastic netherworld of floating forms, bristling nodes and torrential electronic energies. Their quiet, smooth space interludes were more works of imagination than invention – and relied heavily on the chemistry between the three members, as opposed to conventional virtuosity or song structure. As they wind out in riotous pulsations, each piece gains power and depth. Guided along a plot arc which was devised on-the-fly and in-the-moment, each one of their numerous synthesizer ceremonies gave rise to a realm of eerie beauty. Alternating between sequencer bustle and space-age grandeur, their prolific performance sessions came out different at every new beginning. Through the generation of rich textures and hushed tones, nothing more than our own thoughts now guide these minimal movements. To see the stars we need a dark core, but with warp-drive we may touch them – and most of the tracks on The Biomorphic Boombox Recordings exemplify these kinds of explorations. Energy builds as sequencer patterns deploy, and synth lead lines unfurl – all in service to the kinetic zone through which we are traveling. Granted, this music is a bit unusual, even by Spacemusic standards, and we will benefit from any adjustments made to our expectations. But their creations are more than an assembly of minor-key notes and moody timbres. Whether augmented by the presence of a substantial audience, or just the three musicians together feeling their way through uncharted space, each track found on The Biomorphic Boombox Recordings ranks among the most open and honest music ever played live.

    While we may be better off not trying to fathom the inner mysteries of The Nightcrawlers, it is undeniable that they were responsible for music that captured moods, expressions and atmospheres in ways that still has us re-thinking our relationship with live performance. Free, unfettered and alive, their vitality, intimacy and courage carry their work on well past the time of its inception.

    The Biomorphic Boombox Recordings The Nightcrawlers were not ever conventionally ambitious, and took an eccentric path through musical expression. Listening to The Biomorphic Boombox Recordings we may feel as though we have encountered the collective unconscious of a lost underground movement. A questing trio, they made forward-thinking Spacemusic that commanded our attention, music that asked to be listened to. That was how the future looked to us back then. And now today… we cannot help but wonder – how is it looking now?

    – Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END 22 February 2018

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