ALBUM: Peter Zinovieff ‘Electronic Calendar: The EMS Tapes’


Electronic Calendar: The EMS Tapes is the first complete retrospective of his earliest experiments in 1965 through the bankruptcy of his company, EMS Synthesizers, in 1979.

Stifled by academia, Peter Zinovieff began creating music from splices of tape and after pawning his wifes wedding tiara in 1964, his shed became the most advanced music studio in the world: 384 oscillators with a super-computer at the hub; a hub that attracted curiosity in such forms as David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

During 1966-67 Zinovieff worked with BBC Radiophonic deities, (beloved of groups like The Belbury Poly and The Advisory Circle) Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson and by 1969 Zinovieff formed EMS who developed the EMS VCS3, a portable analogue synthesiser used by The Who (‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’), Brian Eno and Jean Michel Jarre.

On this retrospective, Zinovieffs tackles the Christian song of mass ‘Agnus Dei’, the sound of syn(th) and penance, a ghostly voice escorting you to the altar to be introduced to the Maker and your ultimate fate. ‘ZASP 1-3’ sounds like a prototype Simon – the memory toy – with beeps and colours.

‘Chronometer 71’ uses recordings of Big Ben and Wells Clock, using an early form of sampling with pipes clanging, anvils hammered, taps tapping creating a nightmarish cacophony of disorientation. ‘China Music’ at times sounds like the start of the Rolling Stones ‘2000 Light Years From Home’ – an ominous eerie atmosphere whilst ‘M-Piriform’ is a ghostly musical, a female voice shrieks and shrills creating an aural assault of noise, the sound of sleep apnoea.

The collection consists of doomy, moody aural suites that linger, resonate and disappear, at times like extra-terrestrial communication. As historical artefacts of forward thinking music and the processes required to create such sounds (a feat done with considerable ease nowadays) this is an interesting collection. As a collection of songs well, its not; its unlikely to be adorning coffee tables across middle-England yet more likely to be heard sound tracking coffee-bean Beardfests across the nation.

This is the holy grail of electronic music, an archivists dream of what could be termed pre-progressive music. In times when all possible sounds have been captured and stored in little boxes this is the history of sound as sounds; echoes of a past that dreamt of bright futures, futures that didnt transpire the way we hoped.

In todays tech-connected hyper-sphere of instant gratification this is a reminder of the patience, diligence and vision once necessary to create the new, these are the sounds of trial and error, experimentation and dedication. One of the world’s first computer artists, this has to be listened to in the context of the time of its creation: this loop guru’s fingerprints are all over history from bpm to EDM. This is music as science, eerie sounds and atmospherics that could be the background to an episode of early Doctor Who or The Outer Limits. This thinking-man’s thinking music is a must for electronic buffs.

Electronic Calculator: The EMS Tapes is out now via Space Age Recordings.

Kemper Boyd