The Transcendence Orchestra

Dreams, Waking Thoughts and Incidents

Anthony Child and Daniel Bean conjure up the sound of monumental earthworks and unknowable seas in an attempt to reach beyond all of it, says Bernie Brooks

Lately, I have become the Psychedelic Man, unshaven and wild-eared. Pärson Sound at full volume, dreaming up northern ruins and aurora borealis. Moundabout turned to 11, conjuring burial sites and standing stones. Henges as far as my mind’s eye can see. I am, I think, looking to transcend. Transcend what? Late capitalist doldrums? Web-based conferences? Workplace politics? Who knows! What’ve you got?

There’s something about this time of year that inspires this impulse in me, this desire to reach beyond the mundane horrors my fellow Americans and I have been saddled with, to imagine what it must be like to be moneyed and free to decamp with my spouse to the woods or a mountain or a faraway moor, to make pottery and look for geodes. Or maybe just have some paid holiday time? Look, the feeling’s kinda vague, alright? 

All I know is I’m trying to grab hold of this foggy notion and I think other people are, too. The Transcendence Orchestra get what I’m talking about. Or at least, their latest monolithic slab, Dreams, Waking Thoughts and Incidents, implies that they get it. Anyway, it sure as hell sounds like they do.

For the unfamiliar, The Transcendence Orchestra is the duo of British Murder Boy and tQ fave Anthony Child (aka Surgeon) and Daniel Bean. Their music they make – rooted in modular synthesis and “location recordings” – resists easy categorisation, especially on their latest. It’s definitely psychedelic, but a bit too prickly for most ambient tags to stick, a bit too gnarled for new age, a bit too grotty to properly fit in with the modern classical crowd. Given this nebulous state of affairs, our boys naturally found a happy home with Editions Mego prior to the tragic death of its founder Peter Rehberg, releasing three ‘proper’ studio LPs through the label. For this album, their fourth in five years, they’ve opted to go it alone via their Old Technology label, which I think makes sense. This record, their best by some margin, feels like the start of a new leg in the band’s journey.

Even fans of The Transcendence Orchestra’s previous work will be surprised by how incredibly tactile Dreams, Waking Thoughts and Incidents is. This is an album you feel as much as hear, setting the group apart from a sea of ambient-leaning Cluster enthusiasts armed with modular rigs and microphone arrays. The bass tones in particular are properly, properly heavy and Earth-en and stoned, holding fast to amplifier worship and soundsystem culture. Here, Child and Bean lay claim to a very particular blending of both ‘low’ and high-minded aesthetics that hits you just as hard in the chest as it does in the brain. These tracks stick in the way Kevin Richard Martin’s recent recordings under his own name do, or the way Mark Dicker’s do. It all boils down to a similar combination of patient headiness and unconventional beauty and rough tactility, to the clear presence of gut and heart at play in the compositions.

It’s tempting to label The Transcendence Orchestra as a kosmische outfit, but there’s not much of the cosmos on display throughout Dreams, Waking Thoughts and Incidents. Instead, rooted deeply in the earth, its sound is mostly that of old, buried things, of monumental earthworks and unknowable seas. But it’s more than that, too. Despite being terrestrial, this is a sound that gazes upward and allows itself to imagine, conveying an impossible yearning to defy

gravity, to float away. To, well, transcend the limitations of earth, maybe even of corporeality.

Near the end of the album, there’s a prolonged, very satisfying sort of roaring. Could it be the harsh noise of atmosphere, of rapid ascension, of breaking free? Hard to say, but could be it’s the sound of escape – of the idea of escape.

It’s a good sound. I’ll think about it the next time I log onto Teams.

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