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Members include Marcus Eoin (born on May 27, 1973, in Scotland), synthesizers; Michael Sandison (born on July 14, 1971, in Scotland), synthesizers, drums. Addresses: Record company--Warp Records, P.O. Box 25378, London NW5 1GL, England, website: http://www.warprecords.com; Matador Records, 625 Broadway, New York, NY 10012, website: http://www.matadorrecords.com. Website--Boards of Canada Official Website: http://www.boardsofcanada.com.
The enigmatic duo Boards of Canada, or BOC, stand among the most celebrated and popular artists in the genre known as IDM--Intelligent Dance Music, a broad term that encompasses many styles of experimental electronic music. Drawing on hip-hop and electro rhythms as well as British folk and psychedelic-rock recording techniques, Boards of Canada members Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison have forged a distinctively melancholic sound that invokes both nostalgic feelings of childhood and the vague dread commonly felt in nightmares or drug experiences gone awry. The group's disorienting, pastoral music has been emulated by scores of other electronic musicians since the twosome's seminal recordings first emerged on small independent labels in Great Britain.
Despite the often-bizarre atmospheres that permeate their songs, Boards of Canada have attracted many indie-rock fans, due largely to the group's landmark debut album, Music Has the Right to Children, coming out in America on alternative-music bastion Matador Records. Writing about Boards of Canada's unique approach, Kodwo Eshun observed in The Wire: "BOC turned away from the hyperrhythmic complexity that seemed mandatory [in the mid-1990s] towards poignant mood mirages evocative enough to induce disconcertingly vivid childhood flashbacks.... It's as if BOC had tapped into a store of screen memories that electronica had collectively repressed. Their records supply you with fresh memories you never had before."
Scottish citizens Sandison and Eoin lived in Alberta, Canada, in the late 1970s, and that country's television documentaries and their soundtracks greatly influenced their aesthetics. At age nine, in 1980, Sandison started creating music with old synthesizers, drums, and tape decks. Inspired by the National Film Board of Canada's documentaries, Sandison named his band Boards of Canada in homage to that organization, and he continued to make music in a conventional band configuration of guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums for several years. When Eoin joined the group as bassist in 1986, Boards of Canada swelled to five members, then dwindled to three by 1989.
Established the BOC Sound
In its early days, Boards of Canada blended traditional instruments with computer effects and audio snippets from television and radio. Sandison also shot Super 8 visuals, which, by the late 1980s, developed into feature-length films for which the band recorded soundtracks. Boards of Canada eventually settled into a duo format and started the Music70 company to issue its films and music. Eoin and Sandison also set up their own studio, Hexagon Sun, in Scotland's rural Pentland Hills, where they continue to live as recluses, granting few press interviews and rarely embarking on tours. This reclusiveness, along with the duo's cryptic album artwork and sublimely involving music, has garnered Boards of Canada an obsessive, cult-like fan base ravenous for information on the group.
In 1995 Boards of Canada released their official debut, the mini-album Twoism, in a limited edition of 100. Twoism quickly became a much-coveted collectors' item; copies of the original 12-inch vinyl have reportedly sold for as much as $1,200 on Internet auction website eBay. Warp Records reissued the mini-album on CD in 2002, making it readily available to non-collectors. Clocking in at 36 minutes, Twoism proves that Boards of Canada's sound had sprung fully formed three years before the release of their breakthrough album, Music Has the Right to Children. The disc's opening track, "Sixtyniner," boasts one of Boards of Canada's trademark wistful, poignant melodies set to methodically funky beats, while on "Oirectine" the duo modifies James Brown's oft-sampled "Funky Drummer" beat while a tune of unearthly beauty mysteriously swirls around it. Boards of Canada's interest in danceable funk rhythms culminates on "Seeya Later," which features a deep, undulating bass line and an eerie, muted flute motif bearing an emotive, decayed sound that recurs throughout the band's canon. Susanna Bolle noted on the Weekly Dig website: "Twoism ... gently maps out [Boards of Canada's] twilight territory, scraping across themes that would later become the quintessential, oft-imitated, never-bettered BOC sound: Bittersweet evocations of childhood, spooky fields of open space, grainy electronics that sound detached from the world around them."
Utilized "Obsolete" Technology
Boards of Canada's unique sound is largely a product of the band's preference for obsolete sonic technology (for example, old analog keyboards, Tascam 4-track tape machines, compressors, filters, and an arcane machine they call the "Secret Weapon") and instruments found in secondhand shops like Aeolian harp, recorders, flutes, and steel-string guitars. This approach lends the group's music an organic tone unusual within the electronic-music genre. They then mutate those traditional instruments with samplers until it takes on a wavering, slightly out-of-tune quality, lending Boards of Canada's music a poignant fragility. "We want to evoke the feel of old TV recordings," Sandison told Ken Micallef in Remix magazine. "We go to ridiculous lengths sometimes to make a piece of music sound dated and damaged."
What further sets apart Boards of Canada from their electronic-music peers is that, as Sandison stated in an interview with Pop Is Dead magazine, "We're much more interested in melody than rhythm, and we appreciate the emotional power of a melody." Adding to Boards of Canada's mystique is Eoin and Sandison's isolation in northern Scotland's countryside; the pair has admitted that communing with nature informs the band's music.
When the six-song EP Hi Scores came out in 1996, it further solidified Boards of Canada's reputation as an innovative force in electronic music. Eoin and Sandison refined their ability to craft tranquil chill-out music that also contained unnerving undertones of menace. This skill is exemplified in "Turquoise Hexagon Sun" (which later appeared on Music Has the Right to Children), in which sluggish, quasi-funky beats thud under a delicately beautiful vibraphone melody and faint party chatter that occupies a subliminal layer in the mix. Similarly paradoxical, "Everything You Do Is a Balloon" begins with a twinkling music-box introduction before segueing into classic trip-hop rhythm with elegantly morose strings, evoking both loss and a glimmer of hope. Other cuts employ 1980s video-game sound effects and electro rhythms that animated much of that decade's popular hip-hop; in Boards of Canada's hands, however, these references do not sound heavy-handed as they do with many other artists influenced by that era.
With their startling 1998 debut full-length, Music Has the Right to Children, Boards of Canada significantly expanded their audience and also spawned countless imitators. Over 18 tracks and 71 minutes, Boards of Canada combine subtly warped electronic ambience, poignant wind instruments, molasses-slow hip-hop beats, and muffled dialogue from field recordings and sundry films and television commercials. The effect is remarkably psychedelic, haunting, and head-noddingly groovy, leading some commentators to dub the music "folktronica." Whatever people call it, though, Music Has the Right to Children revolutionized electronica just as profoundly as Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works, Vol. II did four years earlier. But Music boasts a much warmer, more inviting aura than does Selected Ambient Works, and the disc found its way into the collections of even casual electronica fans as well as indie-rock aficionados looking to broaden their horizons. Erik Davis commented in the Village Voice, "Music Has the Right to Children ... is as sweet a work of electronic melancholia as you are likely to hear, proof positive ... that all those knobs and gadgets can indeed capture complex emotional hues."
Following the abundant critical accolades and hoopla earned by Music Has the Right to Children, Eoin and Sandison maintained a low profile and spent much of their time in their Hexagon Sun Studio. They recorded a live EP for legendary BBC radio disc jockey John Peel in 1999 and delivered a four-song EP in 2000 titled In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country. Full of the morose, bucolic, downtempo electronica that marked Music Has the Right to Children, the EP held the duo's fans at bay while they worked on the follow-up to their debut album. Geogaddi finally came out in 2002; while some critics believed the four-year wait was worth it, others thought Boards of Canada had merely trod ground covered on its debut album.
Many commentators found Geogaddi to be a nuanced elaboration of the first album's best qualities; the disc is another slow-motion, psychedelic display of off-kilter funk and eerie, meandering ambience. The music here is generally darker and more disorienting, and it consists of more movingly beautiful melodies than the debut full-length, and the duo's lethargic rhythms have accrued more grit. Eoin and Sandison again have alchemized oddly quaint sounds into timeless music in a manner few musicians have been able to achieve. In the Remix interview with Ken Micallef, Sandison claimed that Geogaddi has "a vague theme of math and geometry and how they relate to religious iconography." Kitty Empire opined in NME.com: "Geogaddi has an emotional depth and a sublime accessibility unequalled by more intellectual or obnoxious electronic exercises. It boasts great tunes ... and is mined with sufficient riddles and sonic will o' the wisps to delight and confound for a long time."
by David Segal
Boards of Canada's Career
Group formed in Scotland, 1986; recorded several limited-edition cassettes, late 1980s/early 1990s; released the mini-album Twoism on its own Music70 label, 1995; issued the Hi Scores EP on Manchester, England, cult independent imprint Skam, 1996; appeared at the prestigious Phoenix Festival in Great Britain, 1997; played a concert with celebrated British electronica duo Autechre, which brought Boards of Canada to the attention of Warp Records, 1997; released debut album, Music Has the Right to Children, on Warp in the U.K. and Matador (with one bonus track) in the U.S., 1998; recorded a live session for renowned British radio DJ John Peel, which Warp issued as a three-song EP, Peel Sessions, 1999; remixed Midnight Star's "The Midas Touch" as Hell Interface on the MASK 500 12-inch EP, 1999; issued four-song EP In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country, 2000; sophomore album, Geogaddi, released by Warp, 2002; Twoism reissued by Warp, 2002.
- Selected discography
- Twoism (EP), Music70, 1995; reissued, Warp, 2002.
- Hi Scores (EP), Skam, 1996.
- Music Has the Right to Children Warp/Matador, 1998.
- Peel Sessions (EP), Warp, 1999.
- In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country (EP), Warp, 2000.
- Geogaddi Warp, 2002.
- Pop Is Dead, February 1999.
- Remix, July 1, 2002.
- Village Voice, January 26, 1999.
- Wire, April 2002.
- "Boards of Canada," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 7, 2003).
- "Geogaddi," NME, http://www.nme.com/reviews/10230.htm (July 7, 2003).
- "Twoism," Weekly Dig, http://www.weeklydig.com/dig/content/2009.aspx (July 7, 2003).
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