To see Miles Brown play the theremin, the remarkable instrument created by Russian Leon Theremin in 1929, is an incredible experience. Classically trained by Russian theremin queen Lydia Kavina, his mastery over the instrument is immediately apparent, creating gorgeous evocative melodies on an instrument that he never touches. Whilst he performs solo sets with theremin and electronics, he’s also a member of the Night Terrors, a Melbourne based dark, at times psychedlic electronic outfit that blur the boundaries between soundtrack, rock, prog, ambient music and everything in between. With their new album due in Febuary they’ve just released their first single The Devil Played Backwards on Homeless Records. Miles though is due to release his debut solo 7″ Electrics in a couple of weeks on IT Records.
Recently he sat down for Cyclic Defrost to reflect upon some of the music that shaped him.
1. Neneh Cherry – Buffalo Stance
This was one of my first favourite songs. I remember watching Video Hits with some of my older mates at age 11, and something about the sound of synths in this track just got me straight away. Of course, now when I see that clip it makes so much sense – as it’s all killer Moog sounds. I really love the minor key hook in the choruses – I think this song might have been the start of my interest in sad intervals used in pop music. The way it is constructed has real emotional resonance that is a great counterpoint to the lyrical subject matter and Cherry’s super cool vocal delivery. This is a tough, fun song but it has a real melancholic quality that kicks it over into classic territory for me.
2. Sea Scouts – Pattern Recognition
Growing up playing in music in Hobart was a real privilege. Being surrounded by musicians who were competing to be more original, without any temptation to change what they were doing to gain commercial success, was a wonderful freedom. I remember the first time I saw the Sea Scouts I really didn’ like it – it was so unlike anything I’d heard to that point – dark and harsh and difficult to digest. But after playing with them many times I was totally won over – this band didn’ sound like anyone else except themselves. They are also another great example of beautifully sad chord progressions – deployed here within a terrifying snarling mess of bleakness that I’ve always thought was such a perfect reflection of Hobart’s stark remoteness. Dark Green in particular, with its drowning-themed lyrics, makes me think of staring down into the murky waters of the Derwent river, then looking out to the horizon toward Antarctica and thinking â€œfuck, this really is the end of the earthâ€. Alex Pope’ distorted bass playing was a big influence on mine and there were more than a few moments in early Night Terrors rehearsals where we’d write a new song and then go â€œbloody hell, we’ve ripped off the Sea Scouts againâ€.
3. Chateau Marmont – Solar Apex EP
This Parisian band was such a revelation when a friend first showed them to me. The synth and sequencer action is so bloody tasty, and the way this record is produced is a very satisfying to listen to. It’s a total vintage electronics space pop fantasy. You can hear the quality of all the recording gear and heaps of sensible production decisions. It’s analogue and retro but still essentially modern electronic music. Some of their later material has veered a bit further into pastiche territory, which I’m not such a big fan of, but this is just a huge collection of amazing hooks, fantastic sounds and great instrumental writing. Plus I love a well-used vocoder, and these guys do really nail it.
4. Add N To X – Add Insult To Injury
When I first started becoming interested in the theremin I discovered these guys from a list of bands on the thereminworld web site. If you’re into analogue synths this is pretty much heaven. Killer rock drums and seriously out-there synth sounds. Years later at a festival in Germany Joe Dilworth the drummer taught me a really great trick for opening one beer with another beer (using a deft backwards kicking action) which I still use frequently. The tracks I like best on here are Miami Dust Mite Harvest and Poke “Er “Ole. Once again really great melancholic chord progressions but this time in a much more cool, fun psychedelic rock context. I’ve always imagined this would be a super fun band to play in live.
5. Clara Rockmore – The Art of the Theremin
I’d heard about Clara Rockmore and had never been able to find her music anywhere until happening across this CD in a classical store in Melbourne. The sheer musicianship and virtuosic performances on the album are absolutely flooring, and unfortunately do make a lot of other thereminists pale by comparison. Clare Rockmore’ playing is totally sublime, and considering she was so involved in the actual development of the instrument (through her close relationship with Leon Theremin) there are many reasons that she is considered the ultimate goddess of the theremin universe. Hebrew Melody in particular is so heavy, sad, austere and full of gravitas. Some of the runs Clara pulls off on this record are just astonishing. This is essential for anyone with even a passing interest in electronic music, even though it’s all classical material.
6. The B-52s – Self-titled
Some albums make me wish I was a member of that band instead of mine, and this is definitely one of them. I can’ even imagine how much fun it must have been playing these songs live, and Ricky Wilson’ guitar parts are all so fucking cool. I’m a huge fan of synth bass, and Kate Pierson’ synth work on this record is sly, minimal and super effective. The drums are just full-party the whole time. Usually I’m not a fan of joke lyrics but something about the B-52s sense of humour is much creepier than other stuff in a similar vein. Even though it’s a party record there’ something pretty sinister just below the surface that I just love. Cindy Wilson’ vocal on Give Me Back My Man is desperate and unhinged and fucking killer.
7. Ministry – The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste
17-year-old Miles Brown spent a year stalking around Hobart with this album in his headphones almost exclusively. It’s such a great balance of threatening electronics and gnarly rock guitars – in a time well before nu-metal turned such an idea sour. Al Jourgensen’ voice is cool and scary and over the top, but stays just shy of going into ridiculous territory. The production on this album is kinda flat and strange which I think really adds to vibe of the record as a whole. The world is fucked, drum machines are inherently aggressive entities and industrial guitars are still simple and super effective. I’ve read about the making of this record and how the band drilled and drilled rehearsals to make themselves sound more like a machine. Considering how far before Protools this was, it sounds scarily precise and sharp as hell. Ministry is probably still my all time favourite band, even though the more recent stuff is not particularly interesting.
8. Bananarama – Cruel Summer
Another killer synth bass line, and one of my favourite pop songs ever. I love the languid drum programming and the inebriated feel of this track, and here again we have some quite melancholic chord progressions / hooks that exist within what is still a pretty tough pop track. I really like how the vocalists’ limited vocal range adds to the depressing lyrical content. I was always a big fan of the theme music from the kids TV show Round The Twist and I’ve recently realized it bears more than a passing resemblance to this song. Similar to Buffalo Stance, there’ that great guitar-like chiming synth hook in the choruses which gets stuck in your mind and just won’ fuck off.
9. Esquivel – Music From a Sparkling Planet
I picked this album up when I was first researching theremin, as I’d heard Esquivel used the instrument in his arrangements. I’m pretty sure there actually isn’ any theremin on this record, but what is there is so over the top and ridiculous, it’s hard not to love. Like an orchestra conductor with A.D.D., Esquivel can’ seem to allow any one instrument hold the melody of a tune for more than a few seconds. I love the â€œzu zu zuâ€ choir parts and how often he gives the lead melody line to tuned bongos. This is lounge music but waaay wackier than your typical Martin Denny material. When I showed this record to my jazz aficionado grandfather he said â€œHmph – Mickey Mouse musicâ€, which kinda made me like it even more. It’s supremely daggy, but always puts me in a good mood, and it’s a really great palette cleanser if you’ve spent all week listening to â€œgothic technoâ€.
10. Serena Maneesh – Abyss in B Minor
We played with this incredible Norwegian band the last time we toured Germany and they were bloody amazing live. Their bass player had some of the coolest stage moves I’ve ever seen. This album is dark, heavy and really quite strange. It’s psychedelic and confusing at some points, then all summery and poppy at others. The writing always sounds kinda sideways and unsettling to my ears, like someone trying to explain an idea that I can’ quite get my head around. I think this was one of the only bands that every member of The Night Terrors was totally on board with musically straight away. The opening track Ayisha Abyss is a wonderful swirling nauseating headfuck of a song, and was even more of a swarm to the senses live. Sometimes this album sounds a bit like two separate songs being played at once, which is rather wonderful. I think they have a new record coming out really soon too, which I can’ wait to hear.