Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

George Harrison—
Electronic Sound


Released 1969 on Zapple
The Seth Man, January 2003ce
Originally conceived as an outlet for avant-garde recordings, the Apple spin-off label Zapple folded after a scant output of just two albums: John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Unfinished Music Number 2: Life With The Lions” and George Harrison’s “Electronic Sound.” But during its brief existence as a way-out boutique subsidiary of Apple, Zapple provided an outlet for Harrison with his aforementioned second solo album, which in retrospect is quite probably the most anarchic and maligned Beatle solo album of all time outside of Lennon’s work with Yoko Ono.

The title of the album is completely upfront and unpretentious regarding its content, echoed by its playful cover as within it lurked an experimental Moog synthesizer album equally as colourful. It’s not big in terms of structure, melody, arrangements or structure but for sheer freakery and sonic sounds alone, “Electronic Sound” is an extended and riotous Moog excursion.

Why do I love “Electronic Sound”? One reason is I’m highly entertained and transfixed by early Moog improvisations and b) it’s like all the scant moments of raging Moog-osity I always craved more of as a teenage ELP fanatic. I’d dutifully listen to their third album, “Pictures At An Exhibition” and sit wading through all their errant stabs at songwriting from acoustic balladeering to blues expositions just for those brief but exhilarating moments when Keith Emerson would forsake his Hammond organ to start manically whizzing off into freak-outer space on his massive Moog synthesizer. They were sounds I’d never heard before: thrilling, spaced-out and free of all rhythmic and artistic considerations. The only downside was that they never seemed to go on quite long enough. Why, if Emerson had dedicated himself to a more abandoned approach instead of slavishly copping out with classical re-writes and covering Copland tunes from here to Aldebaran (with a few Meade Lux Lewis rags thrown in for virtuosity’s sake) he could’ve been a supreme space punk. But alas, he did no such thing.

But George Harrison already had (back when Keith was still throwing knives at his Hammond organ in The Nice) subsequently spilling his electro-lab experiments out and into the appropriately named album, “Electronic Sound.” The cover sports a self-portrait of Harrison at the controls of his Moog as a green-skinned, friendly Frankenstein with a clown’s painted smile just barely masking his true expression of alarm as though he’s just hit on yet another sound that has completely freaked him out. He’s almost entwined in the spider’s web of patch bay wires, while the backside of his Moog seems to sport a paint job by the Dutch psychedelic art ensemble, The Fool (It’s either that or an interpretation of the sounds Harrison had been coaxing forth since November 1968, but it does resemble the style of The Fool: especially their cover for The Incredible String Band’s “5000 Layers Of The Onion”, Eric Clapton’s Gibson SG guitar and the outside wall of Apple’s building in London.) The album is comprised of side one’s 25-minute long free-form epic “Under the Mersey Wall” while side two is the more compositionally organised “No Time Or Space.” Both pieces are aural rollercoaster rides, featuring alarming and unusual zapping twists over an assortment of tone colours, pitch-controlled hi-jinks and outright experimentalism in the most extreme album Harrison would ever produce.

The far freakier side one, “Under the Mersey Wall” begins with a hissing percussive gun battle that quickly gives way for the oscillations to begin their percolations like Zappa’s “The Chrome-Plated Megaphone Of Destiny” from “We’re Only In It For The Money” -- but only for an instant, as George now starts messing with the oscillators. Then a wind blows through everything, interrupted by static-y hisses and soon is queasily rising and falling in pitch…Whooshes, burblings, electronic cluster zappings, clipped tones -- it’s all here, and nothing really overstays its welcome for too long, because L’Angelo Mysterioso has just unearthed another new tone and is soon surfing it into another beachhead of hisses and high pitched, gear stripping noises until the signals start running through an echoplex, blowing up the already unearthly noises into far greater dimensionality, making everything rebound all over the place. Moog footsteps then appear, and soon Hari Georgeson’s Moog is telegraphing to all solar systems as further echoed notes surround his planetary messages. Another abrupt fade and harmonic distortions increase, along with waves of white noise and e-sizzling…only to cut off. Echoed ripples in the Deep Cosmic Void abound -- and rebound -- all over the place and are carried along on currents of echoed Moog droplets falling into a Monsoon season lake as carrion crows caw and wheel above. The echoplex kicks in again, and an electronic bombardment ensues for the remaining five minutes of “Under The Mersey Wall” in an electronic playground of slides, chutes and ladders. It’s also so way out there, you gotta laugh or you’ll only lose it and take the record off. More and more squeaks, pitch shifting, electronic slinkies and abrupt rending of the sonic garment occur again and again, threatening to never cease…until quizzically, it does.

The amazingly-titled, gravity free zone of “No Space Or Time” is another album side in length. Recorded in California four months before “Under The Mersey Wall” (with the Quiet Beatle gaining assistance from Moog pioneer Bernie Krause) it’s interesting to note it holds more a defined sense of location and direction and is a different set of abstractions altogether. “No Space Or Time” is just as spaced out as “Under The Mersey Wall” but is a far calmer composition utilising a greater degree of restraint and silence. It begins with a jolting and repeating low foghorn tone as a floating colony of smaller, high pitched tones begin to volley, as though in molecular conversation. They’re soon swamped by a low, droning fog of a miked-aerosol can spray that continues to return in a slow motion lapping of waves. Some time later, scant bells and shakers are caught in the background, but they’re by no means acting out any sort of rhythm but seem to flow along with the drift qualities of the piece. Gentle organ-like tones hang hushed and anticipating in the background. All is lulling and gently sloshing around the universe until a completely uncalled for electronic signal dives upwardly in volume out of nowhere and crashes into a big, fat echo to cause answering rebounding ripples to respond in kind for many seconds afterwards. Ripples in the electronic pond begin to fan out wider and wider as high-pitched, winged insects buzz and swoop just above its surface. Slowly, it descends into a low, cavernous recession while slight disturbances in the upper harmonic atmosphere just as unpredictable raises in volume shoot up at will. Smaller pulsations of sounds gather together in tiny, eddying streams as curlicues of echoed tones start boomerang back and forth until it, too, finally fades.

George Harrison was truly a dark horse. And his still waters run no deeper than those of the electric ocean that is “Electronic Sound.”