BENGE: Twenty Systems (Expanding Records)


Posted on Nov 10th 2008 10:41 pm

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Benge: Twenty Systems

Twenty Systems
Expanding Records 2008
20 Tracks. 64mins25secs

‘Beautiful electronic music’. The motto of London-based Ben Edwards’s Expending Records has been his primary concern pretty much since he first appeared as Benge in the mid-nineties. His last couple of releases especially, Meme Tunes (2002) and I Am 9 (2004) were rich expanses of wonderfully lush and melodic electronica, harking back to a time where electronic music was made to sound like an alien form rather than reproduce organic sounds.

With his latest offering, Edwards celebrates the twenty years during which electronic sound synthesis rose from a radical and futuristic music form to become a very accessible mean of producing music. Toward the end of the sixties, the first commercially available analogue synthesizers began to appear, and developed into various forms until the end of the eighties, where they were progressively replaced with digital instruments which were more accessible to play, but were far less versatile. With Twenty Systems, Edwards creates twenty tracks, one for each of the years between 1968 and 1987, and each built using just one synthesizer. The list of makes, Moog, ARP, Roland, Serge, Korg, Yamaha, Oberheim, and models used is likely to send shivers down the spines of many aficionados, and the accompanying liner notes provide much needed information on each machine and places them in there respective context.

The resulting music is much sparser and minimal than Edwards’s usual work. Sometimes reduced to just a small pool of sounds, these compositions at times reflect some of the limitations of these synthesizers, but also highlights the possibilities that they offer. Edwards’s compositions are overwhelming ambient in nature here, and his slow moving pieces give time to appreciate some of the grain and tone of the instruments used. Attempting to cover every single aspect of these machines in just one track would be foolish. Instead, Benge isolates only a few sonic elements and create something out of these, altering the pitch or tone of a particular sound, giving it depth and relief to affect the resulting compositions. As the years advance, the music occasionally becomes more complex, reflecting the technological developments of synthesizers, especially in the latter part of the seventies and in the eighties, when polyphony, allowing for much more complex music to be played at ones, and preset, giving musicians stable, reusable sound pools, became the norm. But Benge retains a certain minimalist aesthetic throughout, placing this particular work close to some of the experiments created by the Radiophonic Workshop and equivalent units around the world.

This album also dispels one of the myths of electronic music. Detractors of the genre often claim that it is cold and inhuman. Concluding the liner notes, Ben Edwards reveals that the original idea for Twenty Systems was to ‘set these machines running and hear what they could do with no personal input at all’. Yet, none of these instruments can do that, and they do require for someone to activate them in some way. With this album, not only does he document many of the legendary analogue synthesizers that have been the staple diet of musicians between the end of the sixties and the apparition of digital instruments, but he also makes the point of placing the necessary human touch right at the heart of this work.


Expanding Records
Buy: CD

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Comments (2)

2 Responses to “BENGE: Twenty Systems (Expanding Records)”

  1. mlron 28 Jan 2009 at 8:03 pm

    incredible work of texture and synthesized depth.

    truly an essential package.

  2. themilkmanon 01 Feb 2009 at 4:23 pm

    It is not his most accessible work by a long shot, but, as you said, there are some brilliant textures and sounds throughout the record. Now, what would perhaps be interesting is if he took these and combined them into something different.

    I must say that there is currently a bit of a resurgence of old-style synthetic sounds I think, which can only please me as this is what brought me to electronic music in the first place. This album certainly provide some of that.