Essential albums: Global Communication

The album 76'14 is a near-perfect example of tone painting in the tradition of classic European ambient synthesiser music, but recast through the early 90's British dance scene's new-generation samplers, drum machines and infusions of Detroit techno, electro and various other scene sounds.

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/Warp)
  • Remotion: The GC Remix Album (1995, Dedicated)

Tom Middleton solo:

  • Lifetracks (2007, Big Chill/Six Degrees)
  • Sleep Better (2018, Universal)

Tom Middleton DJ mixes:

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

Reviewed by Mike G

Global Communication is the duo of British composer-producer-DJ's Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton. Both are still active today but it was during the 1990's they recorded as GC, creating three albums of original and semi-original material. They're still best known for the classic 76'14 (1994), one of the most famous and widely-loved albums in ambient dance music.

76'14 - named after its exact running time - fully deserves its hallowed status as a classic of early British techno aka IDM (that's, ahem, intelligent dance music). It's a near-perfect example of tone painting in the tradition of classic European ambient synthesiser music, but recast through the early 90's British dance scene's new-generation samplers, drum machines and infusions of Detroit techno, electro and various other scene sounds. This is music that brilliantly evolves melodies and movement from pure texture, electronica with real respect for subtlety and an awe-inspiring quality that will just wipe you out. The second and fourth tracks (none have actual names save their running times) 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.

From its sighing, cosmic hymns to precise, melodic IDM beats, the album's mix of light and dark is finely judged, walking that difficult line where sweet and uplifting avoids becoming trite, where seductive shadow avoids grim darkness. In a radio interview in 2004 I asked Tom Middleton about this remarkable bittersweet quality. "My mother had recently died and Mark was going through a bit of a tough patch as well. We were holed up in a house out in the country [in Cornwall] and basically locked ourselves away. So some of that mood you can hear on the record." Mark Pritchard also spoke about this in a 2008 interview with ezine Cyclic Defrost: "I’d always leaned towards sadder and darker kinds 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."

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

Pentamerous Metamorphosis sounds more and more seductive with each passing year. A complete and radical "re-imagining" of music from the album Blood Music (1993) by indie band and rock-dance crossovers Chapterhouse, it goes so far beyond a simple remix album that it's more accurate to call it an original Global Communication album that uses 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" - the only piece with obvious Chapterhouse DNA - 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 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 write, produce, remix and especially DJ in the genres of house, techno, breaks, leftfield electronica and - in Tom Middleton's case - ambient and downtempo as well.

In the 2000's Middleton's intermittent project Amba birthed 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). The promise of those one-off Amba tracks was subsequently fulfilled on his magnificent solo album Lifetracks (2007). Although combining new music with previously-released tracks like his Amba material, it's 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 that stands the album head and shoulders above a lot of other Balearic-style chillout.

Since then there have been no more Tom Middleton albums of downtempo beats or ambient techno. But notable is the super-deep and beatless double-length release Sleep Better (2018). Informed by his work as a sleep science coach, the album is – conceptually at least – a surprising and fascinating departure into therapy music. While ‘relaxation’ as a genre is usually utterly barren creatively, the album's three long suites - "Sleep Better", "Relax Better" and "Recharge Better" - are exceptions that work on both musical and functional levels. The beatless, glacially morphing cycles of sound are certainly conducive to relaxation and heavy eyelids, while texturally and harmonically they are often seductively spacey and lush. The piano-led progression of “Lake” and “Awakening” is hands-down one of the prettiest things he’s ever done. Whether it’s bed time or just chill time, Sleep Better is the business.

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