Psych album of the week: Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi (2002)

The devil is in the details on the Scottish duo’s sophomore album

Geogaddi

Boards of Canada, Geogaddi

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The English band Spacemen 3 once released an album called Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To, which is an amusing title and probably pretty accurate as far as Spacemen 3 was concerned. Of course, you don’t have to take any drugs to enjoy music; music is arguably its own kind of mind-altering substance. For those so inclined, however, we offer the following as a must-hear.

Any album mixing vocal samples from Sesame Street, Leslie Nielsen, and “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” with Branch Davidian references, ancient Greek mathematical ratios, and the emotional turmoil of 9/11 is a deadly serious piece of art but also one not afraid to embrace the unlikely and the absurd. 

The year 2002 saw enigmatic Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada release their second album, Geogaddi. Their 1998 debut Music Has the Right to Children received widespread acclaim and Geogaddi was hotly anticipated upon its release. 

Geogaddi is considerably darker, and brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin deploy rich analogue drones and melodic phrases that thrum above gritty bass textures and squelching mid-tempo drums. Detuned and out-of-time parts shimmer and leave a lingering sense of disquiet. Many of the sounds and tones are degraded and the unease is palpable. Bursts of colour and emotion bloom and fade as the album alternates between longer tracks and short vignettes. 

The music leaves a very strong impression, but so do the disembodied voices that float and swirl around, suggesting everything while specifying nothing. These voices are often eerie wordless cries, but we also hear solemn intonations, reversed phrases, and heavily treated fragments. If you are looking to feel haunted by the past, troubled by the present, and uncertain about the future, look no further than Geogaddi

Despite all the grim unease, there is much beauty to be found in the darkness. A concept of balance plays out implicitly and explicitly throughout the album, including an exploration of “the golden ratio” applied to music. 

This is a mathematical ratio that, according to astrophysicist and author Mario Livio, “has inspired thinkers of all disciplines like no other number in the history of mathematics”. 

It states a+b is to a as a is to b

For the mathematically challenged among us, this can be boiled down to an aesthetically pleasing proportion that has inspired architects and artists like Le Corbusier and Salvador Dalí, and directly dictates the form and function of Geogaddi’s “The Devil Is in the Details”. 

The bass line and melody are an octave and a major sixth apart. The bass line/melody repeats the first note three times, yielding three consecutive “sixths” in a row, i.e. 6-6-6. Furthermore, the bass line and melody are approximately 1.618 seconds apart—the golden ratio.

The next track “A Is to B as B Is to C” also references this ratio in its title.

The album is so richly textured that it invites devotees to delve deeply and analyze every nuance of every sentence fragment. And there are certainly enough occult-ish references and unsettling moods to keep those so inclined forever chasing a dark intent. 

For those who simply want to relax and enjoy some down-tempo electronica, there is a lot to revel in here sonically, but any chill-out lounge featuring too many Geogaddi tracks is bound to fray as many nerves as it soothes. 

Key tracks

“Music Is Math”; the fractured but insistent “Gyroscope”; “1969”; “Alpha and Omega”; the golden ratio–inspired “The Devil Is in the Details”; the lo-fi, Moby-esque “Dawn Chorus”.

Trippiest lyrics

“Enola og ton retteb duoy, yadot sdoow eht ot nwod og uoy fi”

“If you go down to the woods today, you’d better not go alone!” (played in reverse in “A Is to B as B Is to C”)

In their own words

“’The Devil Is in the Details’ has a riff that was designed to imitate a specific well-known equation, but in musical terms.”  (Marcus Eoin)

“”We’ve been interested in these things for a while, but on this album, we thought it’d be fun to put it in as a theme. The golden mean is nothing new in architecture and music. All through history, there have been guys like Mozart who got into the Masonic knowledge and were fascinated by this stuff. On Geogaddi, there’s a vague theme of math and geometry and how they relate to religious iconography.”  (Mike Sandison)

Canadian connection

The band takes its name from the National Film Board of Canada, whose films the brothers enjoyed while spending two years in Calgary. The family had temporarily relocated from Scotland for their construction-worker father to work on the Saddledome arena project.

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