Eccentronic Research Council - The Dreamcatcher Tapes Volumes 1 & 2
They say there’s nothing as dull as hearing about someone else’s dream. It’s to the Eccentronic Research Council’s credit that The Dreamcatcher Tapes is anything but. A strange and deeply psychedelic project, the record had its genesis in 2015, when Sheffield-based musicians Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer celebrated the 50th anniversary of Delia Derbyshire and Barry Bermange’s Inventions For Radio: The Dreams, a collection of spliced and reassembled interviews with people describing their dreams to which Derbyshire applied music. To mark the occasion Flanagan and Honer sourced audio from a host of different friends, artists, actors, musicians, scientists, poets, and filmmakers and fitted them to music.
Now, the duo have released a second, bigger volume, exploring the kinds of dreams people have been having during the most profound mass mental shift of a generation. “I was really interested to see how the enforced lockdown and the removal of people's basic needs such as human contact and hanging out in close proximity to other humans was affecting the dreams of my friends, peers and those at the very front line of this horrible pandemic,” says Flanagan.
It's those whose dreams are most clearly impacted by the pandemic whose tracks are the most interesting when listened to on their own. On ‘Leonie’s Dream’, a nurse describes a PPE shortage at the hospital she works in, during which she dreamt that the staff had to wear a novelty Elvis costume instead, ”Not just a standard Elvis costume, a fat Elvis costume”, a move so successful that the hospital ends up buying 50,000 Elvis costumes instead of PPE.
Other dreams have explicit nods to the real world under coronavirus – the narrator of ‘India’s Dream’ notes the weirdness of getting a piggyback after not having touched another human being for so long – but for the most part the links are implicit. Make what you will of the fact that there’s so many dreams about sex – lust for the Greek enchantress Circe on ‘Evangeline’s Dream’, sex with a pair of grinder boots on ‘Ami’s Dream, masturbation while walking down the street on ‘Lydia’s Dream’ – or that the narrator of ‘Sarah’s Dream’, a teacher, is overcome with rage as she fends off zombies with a butcher’s knife.
Overall though, The Dreamcatcher Tapes is most interesting when you view all its tracks as pieces of a wider whole, individual dispatches from the same mysterious parallel universe where everything doesn’t quite work as it does here. Different people tell their stories in completely different ways. There are different accents, intonations, and affectations. Some sound like they’re reading from paper, their narratives tweaked and dramatised for maximum impact, others sound like they’re rambled at you by someone who’s just woken up, and others are peppered with little asides like a pub raconteur. Yet whether by the pandemic’s enormity, or just by the fact they’re all on an album together, all these different narrators feel somewhat unified.
The material the Eccentronic Research Council have to work with is enviable, a host of little vignettes that between them reveal an intimate glimpse into the human psyche. The brilliance comes with the lightness of touch with which they treat them. They’re constantly genre-hopping, from bludgeoning techno to bonkers psychedelic wig-outs to sunny soft-rock jams to sleek disco grooves to pummelling industrial noise.
They work with the narratives their story-tellers provide. A saucy soft-porn soundtrack ups the ludicrousness on ‘Ami’s Dream’, the one where she makes love to a pair of boots, with slide whistles and electronic squelches covering up any rude words. On ‘Wyndham’s Dream’ the duo’s steely electro-noir adds that little extra edge of grit. For ‘Don’s Dream’ they seize on the narrator’s hypnotic American baritone and provide him the drifting new age synth soundtrack to imbue it with the cosmic power of a cult leader. For all Flanagan and Honer’s abilities as instrumentalists, it’s always their contributors who lead the way. It all makes for an immensely weird and otherworldly record, but one ultimately shot through with a strange sense of community.
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