Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Sunroof - Delicate Autobahn Under Construction

Delicate Autobahn Under Construction

Released 2000 on VHF Records
Reviewed by alKmyst, 21/03/2003ce

CD 1 -
1. Misty Spring Morning
2. Valentine
3. Stately Metal Trees
4. Jacking Off Making Airplane Noises
5. Silver Pennies
6. The Last Lemure

CD 2 -
1. Schooner Trapped In Ice
2. Grey Felt Village
3. Prince of Thieves
4. Drive By #1
5. Shiney Tunnel
6. Cleopatra's Wedding Gift
7. Twilight Theme Park
8. Drive By #2

Matthew Bower, John Godbert, Neil Campbell

According to the Skullflower website "Matthew Bower first surfaced in the UK power-electronics/noise scene in 1982, when Pure, containing many future members of Skullflower (and two former members of Zos Kia), evolved into Total in 1982. Somewhere between 1985 and 1987, Total mutated into Skullflower and Total became Bower's solo project". Since then Total seems to have shapeshifted into Sunroof, who produce a sound that makes me want to use words like "enlightenment" and "samadhi". As an aid to meditation this music has an advantage over albums of polished stillness such as Pete Namlook’s (in my opinion rather boring) Silence. Such music is so transparent that it relies on you being in an extremely quiet place, the sudden clashes of city noise, for example, cutting through it to ruin your concentration. Not so with Sunroof, whose shimmering, restless fluttering is filled with a holy chaos, a cacophony that makes any background noise, no matter how harsh, into part of the music.
They specialise in high-pitched, airy, shimmering drones, reminiscent of some Vibracathedral Orchestra tunes, filled with flute-like tones, soft feedbacking guitars and restless, metallic percussion. Music as white as snow and light as the wind.

Delicate Autobahn Under Construction, their first album, begins with Misty Spring Morning, a title which conjures to mind an image which perfectly describes all of Sunroof's music. There is an alchemy of sound at work in this music in which the individual identities of each instrument are lost in a greater whole. It is, therefore, hard to say which instruments are playing at any one time. This track involves bowed strings and is dominated by shimmering percussion, metallic and glassy gongs and tambourines, lacking in bass frequencies. This music is not so much a journey as a stillness, hanging like wisps of mist over a steaming forest. It has the freshness, the cleanliness, of the very early morning, before the day has started, or of spring, before the year has started. This music doesn't really develop or intensify and is both joyful and calm.

Valentine has a more piercing sound, constructed from feedbacking, distorted guitars and the human voice, dancing on the edges of discord. This track has more of a development within it, the drone slowly intensifying, the high-pitched vocal chanting interspersed with the occasional African-sounding tribal whooping. Extremely high-pitched whistling noises slice the top of your head like a child splashing in calm water. This is ceremonial but in no way solemn. The high pitched tones of this, and of all Sunroof's music, resonate in your head, not your body. The thunderous sound of Skullflower can be felt in your belly and bowels - Sunroof vibrate inside your skull, between your eyes. The lack of bass frequencies make the music sound like it could levitate away into the sky at any given moment, defying the gravity that tethers us to the Urth.

Stately Metal Trees is a slightly deeper drone with restless and chaotic, yet slow, percussion. Bells ring, gongs sound and sticks clack, this metallic percussion giving the music a glassy, polished surface, glowing and reflective, shiny. It shimmers and shakes like a gentle wind whipping across a lake, fizzes and hisses like a golden-green firework. This is gentle and calm, the occasional feedback squeal of discord only emphasising, by way of contrast, the overall sweetness. Single, powerful guitar chords sound and sustain seemingly endlessly, suspended in eternity, hanging, floating, levitating. This music has the lustre of sheets of ice in the sunlight (TING! goes each glisten). It shivers and rattles with the cold yet has the frozen stillness of a glacier. It intensifies extremely slowly, becoming more constant, more present. Indeed, this music is a calm, still presence, detached, observing. Near the end it starts to shimmer with many colours, like sheets of light emitting glisters of many hues. Occasional piercing feedback winces in your head, like a flash of very bright light.

Jacking Off Making Aeroplane Noises (what a title!) is a slightly deeper drone but with some extremely high pitches resonating inside it. It has a drilling sound, as though boring into your third eye (a bit like LAMF's Yggdrasil). It pulsates slightly on the very high notes, with a metal-on-metal sound, pure flute-like tones hanging throbbing in between your eyes. Stately, dignified, calm and filled with light.

Silver Pennies is a drone of epic length, over twenty-five minutes long, in this way allowing you to really settle in and make yourself at home in the space it creates. Screaming stabs of feedback slice through a mid-range, scratchy drone sound. Gongs and cymbals gently shimmer amidst the clanging metal sounds. A chaotic flute thrashes occasionally - reed and string sounds join in nearer to the end of the track. Heavily distorted guitar sounds single, monolithic chords. The piercing sounds become stronger as it develops. Sunroof use these piercing sounds in a unique, and truly magickal, way. Think of the sound of someone scratching their nails down a blackboard, and the drastic effect that this sound can have on many people. This music employs exactly that wincing frequency of sound but for a shamanic, rather than a mischievous, purpose. It makes me glow with an extremely bright light, unlike many psychedelic drones, which seem to, rather, drive me out of my body. Sunroof doesn’t send you to somewhere else, it makes you more present here and now. The rattling, chaotic cymbals and gongs, a holy racket, keep you fizzing with a general level of light. The most piercing sounds draw particularly bright flashes out of this, and during these screaming stabs of sound I feel my head completely empty of thought, like a lightning flash inside my skull. These flashes come more and more frequently as the track develops, giving you the opportunity to sustain the blinding, dazzling light for longer and longer periods. The percussion has rhythm at times but is, on the whole, too chaotic to be truly rhythmic. This level of chaos intensifies as the track progresses, yet the high-pitched vocal chant seems untouched by this, remaining fixed on one note, calm and steady. The chaos of the percussion emphasises the stillness of the voice and vice versa. Yet the two are not unlinked - when the voice is particularly intense so is the sacred cacophony of the percussion, as though chaos were being sang into existence. Such chaos dissolves the order, the reason, that imprisons you, destroying the boundaries of your sense of self, your ego. This track is so long that the development of its intensity is utterly imperceptible, as though it were playing a psychic trick on you, making you glow ever brighter without you even realising it, operating beneath and outside of your conscious thought.

The Last Lemur will startle you, after the music which precedes it, with its bass frequencies and regular rhythm. The piercing tones are still there but this time scratched out of some stringed instrument. You soon realise, however, that the “regular rhythm” is an illusion as the beat becomes increasingly restless and chaotic, fluttering like hummingbird wings. Its as though the drums are toying with you, coming so close to being a recognisable rhythm that your brain seizes onto them crying “Aha!”, only for them to burst away into chaos once more. The other tracks have a very light, airy tone - this is a richer, more luxuriant hue.

The second CD begins with Schooner Trapped In Ice, another title that succinctly describes Sunroof’s music - frozen stillness. Flute and strings shimmer and shine, this time with none of the rattling percussion of shrieking feedback. You know that really early time in the morning, just as the Sun is coming up? Well that feeling is this music. Or maybe its a Chinese painting, one of those where the mist curls in the valleys around the feet of ponderous mountains. The intensity builds slowly, the drone becoming fuller, more present. Nearer to the end lower tones, plucked strings, weave simple, dawdling, wandering melodies. This sound is clean like the air on the fells, calm as a summer afternoon, harmonious, at peace. Like a draught of clear, cold water. Like a perfectly calm lake reflecting the sky. Pure, untouched (untouchable?). It makes me feel peaceful and still, contented (not joyous). There is an ecstasy in it, but it is not the ecstasy that makes you get up and dance with joy but rather the serenity of the Buddha. As pure as Balder.

Grey Felt Village is a deeper space with darker echoes. The metallic clanging sounds rattle the beginning of this track but soon calm to a shiver of gongs, soft distorted chaos guitar and woodwind tones. Strings bring rare hints of a more intense richness. Occasionally there are very loud clacking sticks, feedback screams and chaotic reedy sounds that startle suddenly, as though the energy had spilled over, for that time, into a more powerful mode. This music is like the crackling, fizzing sound and flickering light of a light switch held at the exact point between off and on. Like a feather gently brushing your skin, the tingle just occasionally tickling you and making you wince away. Lucid and clear-headed.

Prince of Thieves has an Odinist title and deep string tones mingled with higher pitched keyboards and spare and chaotic Buddhist temple percussion. There is not a little feedbacking guitar distortion. The red-wine richness is intensified as the track progresses, bubbling over into starbursts of plucked strings and metallic percussion. Piano notes playfully wander through it. The rhythm of this track is slower, not so much a simmer as a steady pulse. It ends in one very pure, very long, opaque high note - the effect is similar to the ending of Acid Mothers Temple “Acid Heart Mother” but with more flute than keyboard or strings about it.

Drive By #1 is deeper still, darker, with a more prominent and thunderous electric guitar. The guitar crashes a chord, and immediately the drone starts to pan around your head chaotically, like a smouldering, smoking ball of brimstone. The distorted, chaotic tone slowly purifies as the panning becomes less extreme, smoothing into a Klaus Schulze, Irrlicht-like sound. As soon as this energetic purity is reached, the guitar drops another crushing chord and the track erupts into chaotic panning and distortion again, once more slowly calming down into a long, smooth tone. This pattern repeats endlessly, the chaos exploding then slowly smoothing into order, only for the explosion to begin again. Its like stones being dropped in a still pool, disturbing the mirror-like sheen with rippling circles of chaos. Like depth charges exploding inside the very centre of your head releasing swirling energies that expand outward with the force of a nuclear shockwave.

Shiney (sic) Tunnel returns to the purity of flute tones, once more, this time particularly high-pitched. Again, there are the crashing, hanging single guitar chords. The percussion sounds like wind-chimes hanging from the boughs of a zephyrd tree. This track makes excellent use of stereo, channelling different drones into each ear. There is a kind of zoetrope flutey keyboard that stutters rhythmically on the left channel like a strobe light, fading in and out. Some of the sounds pan around your head. Its as though this music was trying to say one thing to your left-brain and another to your right-brain. It feels like energies rotating through your head in a horizontal circular motion, yin and yang, as though the right- and left-brain were making love. Sometimes, when the panning is not so extreme, it feels like the music is separating the two halves of your brain, but then it’ll suddenly begin rotating again, uniting them. Its like the music is purifying the two polar energies by separating them only to spin them together in some dizzying act of creation, of conception. The sound becomes more homogenised as the track progresses, the polar energies becoming less distinguishable from one another. Very high-pitched flute-like tones blend seamlessly with the feedback from a stuttering tremelo guitar and the occasional human voice. The high notes sometimes get very intense indeed. The percussion is spare and calm, not at all centre stage except for very brief moments.

Cleopatra’s Wedding Gift is a scraping, stringy drone, occasional plucked strings pulsing deep within it. A very high, but not a smooth, tone whistles at the top of it, like the wind howling through a very narrow gap. Where the other tracks on this album make me feel very still, inert, this one gives me a sensation of travelling at high speed whilst my body remains very still. Like sitting cross-legged and immobile as you rocket forwards over the land in effortless levitation. The sound is as a vapour trail behind me, like the thrust of an engine - this shamanic flight is not a horse-riding gallop but a spaceship smooth jet propulsion.

Twilight Theme Park is dominated by stately, slow, sitar-like melodies, a very simple, repetitive tune, mainly a descending, eastern-sounding scale. Airy sounds whoosh beneath it. The sound is not exactly mournful, but leaning in that direction. The drones and airy sounds give it a cosmic feeling, as though a lone musician were looking out on a vast emptiness and giving expression to the sorrow and mystery of the void on her plucked strings. As it develops a tapping rhythm joins in, the drone intensifying and a bowed string instrument painting patterns around the plucked sound. This is a lonely music, that one plucked, hypnotic melody echoing endlessly into the abyss. Yet it is also as though the plucked strings are somehow slowly drawing energies out of the void. This is the sound of what the Qabalists call the “first swirlings”, the first stirrings of energy summoned out nothingness at the very beginning of creation. Divinity is the pressure that keeps the energies pumping through creation, the pressure that first forced “something” out of “nothing”.

The album ends with Drive By #2, a track that burns darkly, gongs crashing like something bursting into flame. A firework-like hiss and helicopter sounds fades in then depart. Monolithic guitar chords flame like obelisks. The whole thing pans around your head, propelled by shimmering, shivering gongs. It washes in and out of your brain like the sea, but with a faster rhythm, restlessly dancing around your head. Indeed, this music sounds a lot like the sea, gongs crashing like breaking waves followed by the hissing of foam as it races up the beach. This has the same “energy circling horizontally in my brain” feeling as Shiney Tunnel. No tone remains constant, fading in then washing away again. If this is the sound of a sea then it surely an alien sea, on a planet where water is somehow more like air, lighter, faster flowing. It ends suddenly, and you get the feeling that it did not end because the music had finished but simply because they’d run out of tape. This music lives eternally somewhere.

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