X In Search Of Space

Released 1971 on United Artists
The Seth Man, October 2002ce
The springtime of 1971 was already a confusing time in Hawkwind’s history, exacerbated by the first of many major personnel shakeups that would become as much a trademark of the band about as much as their consumption of illicit euphoriates and their organic, primitive space rock freak outs. At this time both bassist Thomas Crimble and audio generator operator Dikmik left the group (with the latter rejoining several months later) replaced by ex-Amon Düül 2 bassist Dave Anderson and sound mixer Del Dettmar filling in on electronics. One further pair had also attached themselves to the band when dancer Stacia (whose unscheduled appearance onstage with them at Glastonbury Fayre in June) and writer Robert Calvert (who began to make impromptu live appearances on vocals as well as contributing lyrics) were absorbed into the band alongside core members Dave Brock (guitar, vocals), Nik Turner (vocals, woodwinds) and Terry Ollis (drums). Completing the six man team of musicnauts whose sole offering together would be just this one album, “X In Search Of Space” it was freakiness itself. So freaky, that the concept behind it was that playing the record would free the group from a dimensional compression within the album itself, for as the following entry in the accompanying ‘Hawklog’ attested:

“1027 hrs. 5 May 1971.
Ladbroke Grove.
Space/time supply indicators near to zero.
Our thoughts are losing depth; soon they will fold into each other, into flatness, into nothing but surface.
Our ship will fold like a cardboard file and the noises of our mind compress into a disc of shining black, spinning in eternity...”

And graphic designer Barney Bubbles’ killer sleeve design allowed for such release when played with a tri-directional fold out sleeve and intricate die-cut cover to approximate the shape of a space hawk spreading its wings to the four corners of chaos, eternity, infinity and The Void (the very places Hawkwind’s music described and expanded into) illustrated with inlaid photographs from one of their many free concerts under the Westway overpass in their native community of Ladbroke Grove. Also included within the album was a free, 24-page ‘Hawklog’ written by Robert Calvert and filled with information relating to scientific data, occult references, astrological tables, cartoons, and a travel log whose entries followed non-chronological progressions in time. And it was a perfect reflection of Hawkwind itself: a distilled collage of sci-fi scenarios, hippy values, psychedelic awareness, gnostic explorations and visions of time, space, thought and body into a D.I.Y. Spaceship Earth ethos.

A collection of huge, metronomic epics and wistful, lysergically-tinged ballads with electronics pushed to the fore as everything funneled through a battery of echo, reverb and phasing, “X In Search Of Space” showed how hard Hawkwind had willed themselves forward in terms of both arrangement and performance, creating a collection of material that for all its hard-won confidence was still as roughhewn as ever. Indeed, the sound of the album reflects the decision of several members’ requests that their own tracks be turned down, resulting in a weirdly hollow, highly imbalanced and inadvertent space rock dub mix years ahead of its time. Side one has only two tracks, but they sound and feel like one single massive and barely structured jam that builds, fades, collapses, re-builds and re-fades all over itself with drastic, chaotic ease. The first track, “You Shouldn’t Do That” takes about four minutes to finally achieve lift-off into a roaring, brittle flight that threatens to never, never land. The boomeranging jamming always returns back and when the two chants start up with barely ‘sung’ double-tracked lyrics, everything but the roaming and always unexpected VCS3 trajectories of Del Dettmar are crowded to the back of the mix. Other instruments will assemble, fall away altogether or gain in prominence but at all times the constant un-folding-ness is upheld. Nik’s interstellar message relay sax transmits over the lightly-produced drums which thud out hollow pagan fills until a quietly shuddering VCS3 line wobbles as wah-wah’ed guitar and electronic gulls wheel and climb above the crashing waves of Breath-Land. This pre-ambient freakscape ushers in “You Know You’re Only Dreaming (Visions Of Beyond Recall)” with hurried clusters of Brock’s psy-wah-wah/distortion riffing. The feel of the background vocals are soothing comfort itself -- the very ones which 10cc’s later “I’m Not In Love” utilised for full windy autumn night while the rain spatters lightly against your bedroom window effect. Flutes echo trippily all around Anderson’s distinctly Amon Düül 2-ish bass architecture until Turner switches to sax to rejoin the fray until it slowly blacks out into electronic breathing and a neat, filigree guitar passage. Anderson’s bass continues into the locked inner groove of breath that ends side or leaves it spinning into eternity, depending on the turntable or your state of mind. (Unfortunately, the version on CD just fades out which makes no difference EXCEPT that it is not how it was intended or first experienced when it was released in 1971. And another thing: why does the sleeve clearly exhibit the true title of the album -- rendered within QUOTES, no less -- as “X In Search Of Space” although on the spine and label of the original album it is without the “X”, as Hawkwind’s graphic cartographer Barney Bubbles had so lovingly intended? I believe it was a typographic error, but perhaps Nik Turner’s 1978 solo album, “Xinittoday” for which Bubbles also created the sleeve was so named to compensate for the mysterious “X” omission.)

“Master Of The Universe” starts up the second side with a high-pitched electronic signal rising upward and taxiing off the ensuing Dave Anderson bass line, splintery guitar rhythm and a background reverbed and distorted riff that burns unabated throughout the track’s psychic rollercoastering. Turner releases a gloriously stoned and backward-echoed vocal and the harsh background guitar grind of Brock recedes and returns with each and every wax and wane of the ever-fanning wave of propulsive rhythms. Phasing appears and covers everything like a glowing layer of treacle but for all the honeyed mind-melt, even that sticky mess cannot keep it off its unswerving path. “Master of The Universe” was the beginning of a far harder direction of Krautrocking metronome-drone that Hawkwind would pursue further over the next four years, and it would grow into a monstrously heavy track over the coming months, as well as becoming one of their best known album tracks, ever. A final, phased explosion crossfades with the shimmering acoustic 12-string guitar that sets sail into “We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago” and it would be the most soothing of lullabies were it not for its many unquiet warnings. This is followed by the unsteady and freaked-out “Adjust Me”: Freaky electronic oscillations, saxophonic wah-wah-ing and mere cymbal taps all float by in a set up for disconcerting and cryptic instructions, intoned from the lowest of all evil robotics into tripping chipmunks as it speeds up into the nearest black hole and stretches into infinity. The instrumental section enters cautiously, as though sniffing around to make sure the vanished narrator will not return and commences carefully with a brief freak-out borrowed from “Phallus Dei” (which Amon Düül 2 themselves borrowed from Jefferson Airplane’s “Spare Chaynge”) as additional wafting of ghostly electronic oscillations pass overhead until then the instrumental is next up to be unmercifully swept up in speed and into a shattering, electronic stutter right up against the wall of The Void and cross-cut into the downered acoustic “Children Of The Sun,” which draws the album to a numbed, stupefied close.

Dave Anderson departed Hawkwind soon afterwards, along with drummer Terry Ollis and Hawkwind’s chemistry would alter once again. But never again would it be quite as imbalanced between vibe, capability and sound production as “X In Search Of Space.”