Many sounds have never been heard—by humans: some sound waves you don’t hear—but they reach you. “Storm-stereo” techniques combine singers, instrumentalists and complex electronic sound. The emotional intensity is at a maximum. Sleeve note for An Electric Storm, Island Records, 1969.
An Electric Storm by White Noise is reissued in a remastered edition this week. It’s a work of musical genius and I’m going to tell you why.
Hanging around with metalheads and bikers in the late Seventies meant mostly sitting in smoke-filled bedrooms listening to music while getting stoned. Among the Zeppelin and Sabbath albums in friends’ vinyl collections you’d often find a small selection of records intended to be played when drug-saturation had reached critical mass. These were usually something by Pink Floyd or Virgin-era Tangerine Dream but there were occasionally diamonds hiding in the rough. I first heard The Faust Tapes under these circumstances, introduced facetiously as “the weirdest record ever made” and still a good contender for that description thirty-four years after it was created. One evening someone put on the White Noise album.
It should be noted that I was no stranger to electronic music at this time, I’d been a Kraftwerk fan since I heard the first strains of Autobahn in 1974 and regarded the work of Wendy Carlos, Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno and Isao Tomita as perfectly natural and encouraging musical developments. But An Electric Storm was altogether different. It was strange, very strange; it was weird and creepy and sexy and funny and utterly frightening; in places it could be many of these things all at once. Electronic music in the Seventies was for the most part made by long-hairs with banks of equipment, photographed on their album sleeves preening among stacks of keyboards, Moog modules and Roland systems. You pretty much knew what they were doing and, if you listened to enough records, you eventually began to spot which instruments they were using. There were no pictures on the White Noise sleeve apart from the aggressive lightning flashes on the front. There was no information about the creators beyond their names and that curious line about “the emotional intensity is at a maximum”. And the sounds these people were making was like nothing on earth.