Tim Blake Page 3
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    Rykiel has also worked as a synthesizer consultant for several important people, notably Vangelis. His skill with the Yamaha DX7 has become legendary. Despite it's vast popularity in the early 80s, the DX7 was notoriously difficult to program, mainly because of a tiny screen and flat, pressure-type buttons. Programming it has been likened to painting the hall through the letterbox. I own one myself, and I can confirm that. It isn't actually as difficult as many people claimed at the time (though getting anything other than bells or electric pianos can be a challenge), but it is very fiddly. Jean-Philippe's programming skills with the DX7 are amazing enough, but when you consider that he was born blind and he had to get to know the instrument by asking someone else to tell him what came up on the screen and then memorising the various parameters, the skill and dedication are breathtaking. The legend that he created twenty thousand patches with the DX7 is something of an exaggeration, but the fact that the story arose says a lot about the recognition he gained as a DX7 genius.

Jean-Philippe Rykiel has a MySpace site (see links section below), and his recent album Under the Tree can be bought from Tim Blake's site.

Tim Blake is one of the many excellent musicians who periodically become members of Hawkwind. The band seems to be rather less well-known elsewhere than they are in Britain, though they're soon recognised when you mention that their bass player Lemmy formed Motorhead soon after leaving Hawkwind. The song `Motorhead' was in fact a Hawkwind song, written during Lemmy's time with the band.

Blake joined Hawkwind for the first time through the end of the seventies and the first couple of years of the eighties, subsequently rejoining from time to time. His current work with the band provides a much needed focus on stage. It's been commented for a little while that there was a bit of an empty space centre-stage at Hawkwind gigs, and Blake has been filling that by providing virtual guitar solos on a strap-on keyboard, as well as making novel use of the Theremin.

The use of the Theremin in Hawkwind requires some extra comment, because basically it's one of those strokes of genius that make you wonder why no-one ever thought of it before. Originally invented in 1919 by Leon Theremin, the instrument was one of the first electronic instruments to become widely known and used. In particiluar it provided eerie swooping notes to many 1950s science fiction films. Played skilfully, it's possible to perform conventional musical notes - skilled players can play classical cello music, for example, with all the expression of the original instrument. The sound fits Hawkwind perfectly. It has all the electronic swooping their music needs, and it also connects back to the feel of 1950s science fiction, giving a vintage feel to the science fiction element that's been a mainstay of Hawkwind's image and subject-matter. It's also quite a physical instrument to play - it's the only instrument that's played without touching it, and the player manipulates electronic fields by various arm-movements - making it a good focus on stage.

The next Blake solo album after New Jerusalem followed after quite a lengthy break. 1991's Magick has all the electronic magic of the earlier albums, but breaks new ground in songwriting. While Crystal Machine is the classic analogue electronic performance album, and New Jerusalem is the New Age electronic song album, Magick sees Blake performing songs of an almost uncomfortably personal nature, full of love, biography and personal vulnerability. The opening and fourth tracks are still classic electronic instrumentals, there's an eerie and very clever dream sequence with unsettling tempo changes, and a song about astral travelling and archetypal figures, but the rest of the album is very personal. I tend to feel I'm evesdropping on something I shouldn't with this album, which I suppose is testimony to Blake's honesty and forthrightness.

Tide of the Century is Blake's Millenium album, but don't let that put you off. Where countless people made Millenium cash-in albums for the sake of it, this album is a reflection on the processes of time, cycles of change, and so on, imaged against the symbol of exceptionally high tides experienced along the coast of Brittany where Blake has made his home. Again, it's a unique album in the series of Tim Blake solo works. The songwriting is probably the strongest he's achieved so far. The song `Tide of the Century' itself is superb. `St Dolay' is another very personal song, but has an objectivity that the songs on Magick didn't have. `Byzantium Dancing' is one of the most spectacular of Blake's instrumentals. And `Sarajevo' would have been a massive hit single if there was any justice in the world.


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