Essential albums: Global Communication

The album 76'14 fully deserves its hallowed status. It's a near-perfect example of tone painting in the tradition of classic European synthesiser music but recast for the 90's dance music scene with then-current music computers, sampling techniques, drum machines and a dash of Detroit techno.

Global Communication

country of origin:

Ambient techno, chillout, Berlin school, spacemusic

decades active:
90's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Pentamerous Metamorphosis (1993, Dedicated)
  • 76'14 (1994, Dedicated/Sanctuary)
  • Remotion (1995, Dedicated/BMG)

Tom Middleton solo:

  • Lifetracks (2007, Big Chill/Six Degrees)

Tom Middleton DJ mixes:

  • The Sound Of The Cosmos (2002, Hooj Choons)
  • The Trip (2004, Family Recordings)

Reviewed by Mike G

Global Communication was a part-time duo consisting of UK composers-producers-DJ's Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton, together responsible for the classic 76'14 (1994), one of the the most famous and widely-loved albums in ambient techno.

76'14 - named after its exact running time - fully deserves its hallowed status. It's a near-perfect example of tone painting in the tradition of classic European synthesiser music but recast for the 90's dance music scene with then-current music computers, sampling techniques, drum machines and a dash of Detroit techno. This is music that brilliantly evolves melodies and movement from pure texture, music with real respect for subtlety and an awe-inspiring quality that will just wipe you out. From sighing cosmic vignettes to precise, melodic electro-rhythms, the light and dark moods simply melt from one into the other. Middleton and Pritchard show they understand where to draw the line before music that’s sweet and uplifting becomes something that's merely trite. The second and fourth tracks (none of them have actual names) are outstanding in the way they evolve from the simplest of sound effects: one a ticking clock, the other a radio pulse pinged from deep space.

In a radio interview in 2004 on the album's 10th anniversary I asked Tom Middleton about the 76'14's  bittersweet quality. "My mother had recently died and Mark was going through a bit of tough patch as well. We were holed up in a house in the country and basically locked ourselves away. So some of that mood you can hear on the record." Mark Pritchard also spoke about the project in a 2008 article in ezine Cyclic Defrost: "I’d always leaned towards sadder and darker kind of music, and Tom was always more accessible and melodic. So even though to me it’s a lot lighter than something I would listen to, the reason it works is that there is some tension in there. With ambient music you always have to be careful that it doesn't become new-age, wafty music."

Although 76'14 is the greatest GC release, the duo's two other full-length albums from the 1990's are both magnificent nonetheless.

The duo's first album Pentamerous Metamorphosis (1993) sounds more and more seductive with each passing year. A complete and radical "re-imagining" of music from the album Blood Music (1993) by UK indie rock band Chapterhouse, it goes so far beyond a simple remix album that it's more accurate to call it an original Global Communication album based on some Chapterhouse samples. Mostly instrumental, it has the same spacey and exquisitely detailed sound as 76'14 and the melodies hit the mark consistently. "Alpha Phase" is profoundly uplifting, "Beta Phase" has a retro sci-fi melody to die for, and the twilight beauty of "Epsilon Phase" is almost unbearably sad.

Completing the trio of GC albums is Remotion: The Global Communication Remix Album (1995) where once again Pritchard and Middleton remold the music of mostly other artists with great sensitivity and skill. Their version of the jazzy "Natural High" by dance act Warp 69 might be the very definition of laid-back space jazz, a sparkling, shimmering, groovy masterpiece that's long been a staple for chillout DJ's everywhere. The duo's lush, spacey treatment of the remaining tracks is similarly impressive including originals by ex-Yes frontman Jon Anderson and techno outfit The Grid. There's also two tracks repeated from the earlier Pentamerous Metamorphosis.

After Global Communication

Unfortunately since Remotion, apart from a handful of singles, the duo haven't released any more joint compositions under the Global Communication name. However, they've continued individually to produce, remix and especially DJ in the genres of house, techno, breaks and - in Tom Middleton's case - ambient and downtempo as well.

In fact Middleton's intermittent project Amba has given birth to some outstanding one-off downtempo tracks on various-artist compilations like Freezone 6 (1999, Crammed Discs) and on the excellent downtempo discs that form part of his DJ mix albums The Sound Of The Cosmos (2002) and The Trip (2004). Happily, the promise of those one-off Amba tracks has since been fulfilled on his magnificent solo album Lifetracks (2007).

Although combining new music with previously released tracks like his Amba material, Lifetracks is an entirely cohesive statement. It's less the cool precision of Global Communication and more the sunny optimism of electro-acoustic chillout music ala classic Cafe Del Mar. From the soaring, epic ambient breakbeats of "Prana" and "Beginning Of The Middle" to the droning, cosmic beauty of "Astral Projection", Middleton displays remarkable melodic gifts. His layered progressions - especially his string arrangements - are often stunningly pretty without becoming saccharine or cloying. Lifetracks is a must; there's a sensitivity, a tenderness to this music that's special and stands the album head and shoulders above many others in the Balearic chillout style.

Since Lifetracks there have been no more albums in the style, though his ambient remixes of his singles "Wyv Auw Chu" (2013) and "Heva"(2015) on the Anjunadeep label are both lush, euphoric gems.

Share this: