Thursday, 23 November 2017

Throwback Thursdays Retro Video Project Pres; The Silver Apples And Syrinx

This week on my Throwback Thursdays Retro Video Project; The Silver Apples and Syrinx.
Back in the late 1960's while everybody else was slinging guitars, organs and the occasional sax the Silver Apples and Syrinx were among the first groups to use synthesizers. Although both groups were hopelessly obscure and mostly forgotten by all but the nerdiest of rock-snobs (like yours truly) they pioneered a path leading directly to the synth-pop, industrial and techno bands from the 1980's onward. Especially fellow New Yorkers Suicide.

The Silver Apples were one of the weirdest products of the New York underground scene of the 1960's. And this was a scene that included the Velvet Underground, the Holy Modal Rounders, Lothar & The Hand People, Albert Ayler and Moondog. Starting in 1967 as a fairly conventional psychedelic band that included the electo-noodlings of Simion Ross. The Moog synths of the day were massive affairs, with a jungle of patch-chords and vacuum tubes. They were not only huge but also expensive so Simion didn't actually play one, instead he built his own jerry-rigged contraption of various electronic pulse generators, effects pedals and feedback. The resulting mountain of gear took up two tables and was referred to as the "Simion". This ungainly monster was capable of an arsenal of whirring feedback and hypnotic tones for a spacey, ethereal sound that sounded like literally nothing that had ever came before (or since). This cacophony soon drove all of the other members of the band out as superfluous save the drummer, Brian Taylor. Influenced by Mitch Mitchell, Taylor developed an intricate rapid-fire style that filled up the space left by the now departed guitars and drums. On top of all this Ross added his own ghostly tenor vocals and the occasional banjo or flute.

Somewhat amazingly these weirdos actually got signed to Kapp Records, an otherwise thoroughly conventional home for acts like Loouis Arsmtrong, Cher, Burt Bacharach and Bob Wills (although they also had Budgie). They even managed to put out two albums in 1968 and 1969 which, in an unexpected development, failed to get any airplay or press. They had recorded a third album which was not released before Kapp gave up on them. After that they broke up and returned to the void from whence they came. In the 1990's the group was rediscovered by a small group of electro-nerds and their two albums were released on one CD in 1994 and Simion Ross reformed the group (minus Taylor) albeit using more conventional synths and samplers as his original "Simion" had long since been broken up and tossed away. In 1998 Taylor discovered the master tapes of the lost third album which was finally released as well. Taylor died in 2005. Simion Ross continued to record and tour until a serious car crash badly injured his back and smashed his gear in 1998. After taking a few years to recover he has resumed recording and touring.

Not surprisingly there is no live or video footage of the band. When I went about making some I decided the abstract shorts made by German Dada film-maker Hans Richter in the 1920's and the Op-Art films made in the 1960's by George Maciunis would perfectly suit their ethereal sound.

Using a 1966 film made for the New York Flux Films collective.




Unlike the Silver Apples Toronto's Syrinx actually did use a proper Moog and could be considered perhaps the first real synth band, along with the Germans Tangerine Dream with their first albums coming out in 1969. Syrinx consisted of Moog player John Mills-Cockell along with Doug Pringle on sax (often played through various effects) and Alan Wells on percussion. Their sound was more lush and conventionally melodic compared to the droning cacophony of the Silver Apples. The trio were also trained musicians while Simion Ross was an inspired amateur (although Apples drummer Derick Taylor did have jazz training) which allowed Syrinx to weave longer, more complex pieces similar to those being toyed with by the similar sounding Germans Tangerine Dream (first album in 1969) and Terry Riley. They put out two albums ("Syrinx" in 1970 and "Long Time Relatives" in 1971) which were released only in Canada and did some touring and played on the CBC before breaking up. Mills-Cockell would go on to do film and TV soundtracks while Pringle would go on to found Toronto punk one-hit wonders The Poles with his performance artist wife Michelle Jordana. The Poles would go on score a classic hit single with "CN Tower" before fading away. In spite of their status as electro pioneers Syrinx were quite forgotten about for years while their German contemporaries Tangerine Dream would go on to decades long world-wide success with a similar approach. In 2017 their long out of print collected works were put out as a box set and short film doc was made.

Unlike the jarring other-worldly noise of the Silver Apples the more contemplative sweep of Syrinx seemed to lend itself to more conventional film narrative.

SYRINX ~ "December Angel";

This mournful track off the 1971 album uses newsreel footage from the Titanic.


This track uses footage from the 1915 German sci-fi horror film "Homonculus". This largely forgotten film was a major influence on the later classic German Expressionist films as well as "Frankenstein".


For this track I used a film by French director George Melies, "The Airship".

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