An old Hammond organ sits in a dank basement of a thrift store somewhere in Barcelona. It doesn’t work anymore, but you can tell from the worn patina that it has a lot of history to share with us. If you pull your fingers across the keys today, all you’ll hear is the clunking sound of plastic against felt and wood as the springs recoil back into their fixed position, the muted ghost of the music that once reverberated from the instrument. “I used to play the bastard every day”, says Tim Robertson. That organ was his pulpit, an ecclesiastical apparatus for the expression of reverence. He would putter around on the keys, playing and composing music right at the very spot where a layer of dust has gathered now. Some of those compositions were captured on tape and have even survived the organ. One such tape arrived in the hands of Aguirre records, but this was no ordinary tape. Here a friend of the label picks up the story…
“(Tim) told me his life changed after spending some years in Niger and Ethiopia. He returned from that experience totally renewed and decided to somehow capture all the ideas he had during his stay in Africa. He bought an old 4 track recorder and started jamming around the simple but complex idea of how church music in space would sound.”
Made for the future temples of Saturn and Neptune, these tapes were all but destroyed with only one surviving the destructive frustration of Robertson. It arrives with us today as an album, Outerplanetary church music. Maintaining some of the gritty tape aesthetic of the original, the Hammond organ pleasantly distorts some of the upper frequencies as it tells us the story of the future from its distant past. It starts with a simple harmonic movement with the notes of the melody never straying too far from the previous note, moving up in seconds and down by sevenths. A synthesised angelic choir fills out the arrangement and the static nature of the composition sets a strange yet familiar tone. The music is sombre, reflective and simple, and does away with much of the pomp of religious music. It can be seen perhaps as the most extreme descendent of church music after the English reformation, music for the masses in a language everybody can understand. It’s an accurate representation of the future of music, especially considering the music of the present.
The sonic palette he delves in stagnates the progress again, understandable in view of the age of the music. Bell-like synths and brassy tones dominate most of the sonic atmosphere alongside that Hammond organ, and paints a picture of a past-future, long left behind like the organ itself. At the same time it also makes a refreshing change from the harsh digital noise and sustained sub-bass drones that the modern-day equivalent of this music likes to wade in. Robertson’s staccato notes give the piece a sense of temporal movement that’s thwarted by their own repetitive behaviour from going anywhere else other than this moment. They are often held in place by a sustained spatial chord and the notes merely orbit around your ears like those rings around Saturn. It creates a soothing atmosphere for the listener, one that comes as close to a spiritual experience if I’d ever experienced one. It is not common knowledge what religious organisation Tim Robertson wrote this for and why this particular religion might be located on a different planet. We do however get a definite sense that the music is born out of reverence and the lightness of the compositions suggests that it’s all going to be ok, to a hypnotic extent at times.
Tim Roberson’s personal religious reasons behind the music will only be noticeable to those who are enlightened in the same manner, but for those of us who are not – and I believe Agguire records were quite right in not sharing the details of that religion with the listener – the music will have the same effect, albeit not quite in an ecclesiastical way. Outerplanetary church music is a solemn experience and one that will stay ingrained in the listener’s thoughts for some time, even if you don’t believe in a higher power. It brings with it a reflective air and encourages a peace of mind. The Hammond organ will probably never see the light of day again, but at least the music that once spilled from it is now forever enshrined in this recording.