REVIEW: Global Communication ‘Transmissions’ box set

Transmissions (3CD set, Dedicated/Evolution)

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. The new Transmissions box set collects this, plus its predecessor Pentamerous Metamorphosis and another disc of extra GC bits and pieces. Their third long-player Remotion: The GC Remix Album (1995) is not included.

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 regarded by many as the greatest GC release, the duo’s first album Pentamerous Metamorphosis sounds more and more seductive with each passing year. I’ve always regarded it as highly as its better-known cousin, and listening to it now leaves me feeling no less positive. 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.

The third CD in the set collects tracks that were either unreleased at the time, or were released as standalone singles, or various remix work. Actually, it’s mostly a repeat of the bonus disc from the 2005 reissue of 76’14. There’s some excellent material here: the exquisitely dreamy remix of dance act The Grid’s “Rollercoaster”; a brand new and very Detroit-ish remix of the track “5’21” by Nottingham producer Lone; and a distinctive GC take on 90’s deep house called “The Deep” infused with a intriguingly techy, sci-fi flavour.

Finally, the Transmissions booklet with new notes and a fresh interview by music scribe Ben Cardew is extensive and worthy, managing to glean fresh insights despite all that’s been said and written about this music in the last 25 years. For me, the biggest revelation is how the full-frequency thunder of early UK jungle/drum ‘n’ bass influenced the GC sound. Says Tom Middleton: “We liked drum ‘n’ bass and if you listen to the frequency spectrum in Global Communication we are kind of dealing with similar things. It might not be the same intensity of rhythm, and the tempo is different, but actually the sub-bass and use of very low frequency is prevalent throughout all of that music.” After reading that comment I listened again to 76’14 with fresh ears and, by Thor, he’s right. It’s also not a quality I’ve heard much in other music from British techno’s early-90’s halcyon days, which just further amplifies the album’s singular beauty.

Look, if you already have both Pentamerous Metamorphosis and the 2005 expanded reissue of 76’14, you don’t really need Transmissions. These newly remastered versions add nothing more to the sound that I can hear, and a cheeky comparison of the waveforms suggests very little has changed; after all, they were immaculate productions to start with. But if you need to fill a gap in your GC collection, go for this lovely box set. And if, by chance, you’ve never heard these albums? Oh, what wonders await you. No dated e-music artifacts, these. Dive in, dive deep and be beautifully blown away.

Transmissions is available on CD, vinyl and digital download.


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