Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mixmaster Morris

"Lay Down and Be Counted"
The Irrestible Force

Writer, DJ and composer Mixmaster Morris was one of the major players in new-school ambient electronica and its emergence from the dance world in the late 80's and early 90's. A passionate, kooky campaigner for the ambient cause ("it's time to lie down and be counted"), he first picked up a following via stints as a chill-out DJ in the early days of the U.K. acid house scene. His live shows combined looped sounds and samples from vinyl records with live electronic instruments with which he created layered, free-form mixes of sound and mood. As Morris told David Toop in the book Ocean Of Sound: "We've had sixty, seventy years of making records. That's stage one. Now we sample them".

It was a logical progression to take these techniques into a recording studio, which he did under the name Irresistible Force. Released on Casper Pound's iconic ambient techno label Rising High Records, Flying High is superior post-rave ambient that’s by turns playful, transportive and awe-inspiring. Elements of Tangerine Dream, Pink Floyd and Jean-Michel Jarre are in evidence but deployed only tastefully and sparingly, leaving plenty of room for original, inventive hi-tech mindscapes. A sequenced kick drum appears on occasion to anchor things down but only rarely does it actually rise above the echoing ripples of melody and richly detailed atmospherics. Track titles like "Sky High", "Downstream" and "Moonrise" are a good indicator of the mindspace Morris occupies, though the plainly titled "Symphony In E" provides the album’s most striking moment. Seemingly out of nowhere emerges a simple, hypnotic violin phrase which Morris then pairs with a spastic, wobbly bass line to startling effect.

The classic It's Tomorrow Already is the third IR album, released long after the Rising High label had sadly folded. Here Morris has found a new home at the experimental breakbeat/hip hop label Ninja Tune and the album finds him in spellbinding form. Interestingly, the template here is quite different. Once it was ambient techno, now it's the equally fertile and far out fringes of hip hop. Highlights include the lazy space funk workouts "12 O'clock" and "Nepalese Bliss". Morris has also recorded the Dreamfish albums with German ambient maestro Pete Namlook.

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