Systems Theory - Demos 1999-2000
Year of Release: 2000
Catalog Number: STD001
Total Time: 42:02:00
When you have a mix of synthesized and "real" instruments, it's sometimes hard for a lay person to tell the difference, especially when the synthetic parts sound as warm and vibrant as the real. Of course, often those "synthesized" parts are samples of real people playing real instruments, which further confuses the situation. And that's the problem here - everything is just so warm and rich.
Without looking at the liner notes, you'd figure System Theory to be an eight or more piece band. But instead, there are "just" four here, though mainly the work of Steven Davies-Morris and Gregory Amov playing all instruments, sample loops, and MIDI programming. Guests include Mike Dickson on mellotron and Diane Amov on flute. One of the samples that Dickson has used is Ian McDonald's flute - McDonald was once a member of King Crimson, so it won't seem surprising to find him here.
There are some textures here that are clearly synth but that is far from being said as a negative. I should also tell you that these are "close to finished demos intended for the debut release..." so says the band in the liner notes.
Even still, the 11 minute "Breakdance In Hell" is my favourite. It is dark and atmospheric - sounds drift together then pull apart. Somewhat like Tangerine Dream at the beginning - there's a repeating three-note phrase that tinkles like water dripping from stalactite in a cavernous cave. It's a little Pink Floydish at nearly 3 minutes in, where there is percussion so reminiscent of "Time" (Dark Side Of The Moon) , yet the beats are different. Then the rock begins - drums pound angrily and cymbals crash like falling glass, synths buzz and burp, while violins tear angular holes in the fabric of sound, only to give way to flute trills and later to sax-like tones. Bass percolates beneath the surface. How much of the brass and violins is Dickson and how much Amov is perfectly unclear. There's nothing false about mellotron-played sounds. King Crimson has provided some of the influences on System Theory's sound - hell is well represented here - this is where the fun is. This track will make you go there just to join the "happenin' party." However, it ends wistfully - you feel yourself leaving while the party continues without you. There's a great sense of pulling away - choral voices (mellotron), loops, and the effective use of the fade-out.
"Where Titans Sleep" begins with mellotron that reminded me of the build up to "Watcher Of The Skies" though it never mimics those familiar tones - here it becomes something dramatic, like the score to a 40's detective film. There are other hints of Genesis floating around in there, though I don't think they're intentional. I thought of the parpy opening keys to "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight," a song that seems much reviled in the prog community, but don't get hung up on, or put off by that association.
Dynamic percussion - Davies-Morris composed these with ACID - takes the track away from Genesis and I'm thinking more Steve Roach around the time of Strata or his Suspended Memories project with Suso Sais and Jorge Reyes. There is a strong "fourth world" element to it. This is another piece that I couldn't even keep up with to describe it except to say that we get percussion - and more percussion - violins and flute.
"The Boy Who Gazed At Stars" is the most Crimson influenced track here. But, lest I do a track by track, I'll stop here and say these are intriguing and involving pieces. I seem to say that a lot lately - maybe I'm easily intrigued or maybe I'm just lucky to hear music that's a cut above the fodder the big labels throw at us. But then, that's what's great about progressive music (of all stripes) - it's aiming for a higher place.
Whatever the album will eventually be called, I'm calling it a terrific release. MP3s of this music are available at the Systems Theory site.
Under Oriental Skies (6:47) / Breakdance In Hell (11:23) / Where Titans Sleep (9:50) / Strange Obsession (6:38) / The Boy Who Gazed At Stars (for Trevor) (8:04)
Steven Davies-Morris - instruments, sample loop programming, MIDI programming, drums programming
Gregory Amov - instruments, sample loop programming, MIDI programming, violin
Mike Dickson - mellotron M400
Diane Amov - flute
Demos 1999-2000 (2000)
Demos 2002 (2002)
Soundtracks For Imaginary Movies (2004)
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