Cyclic Selects: Jason Sweeney (Panoptique Electrical)


I first heard the work of Jason Sweeney in the late 90’s early 2000’s via his Pretty Boy Crossover project with Cailan Burns. The music was something special, forward thinking, pop orientated experimental electronics that felt significantly more assured and accomplished than much of the electronic music being made in Australia at the time. Over the course of their existence the Adelaide duo released albums on Pleasurecraft, Surgery, Clan Analogue, Sensory Projects and it’s impossible to exaggerate their influence on electronic music in this country. Sweeney, who has also recorded for film and theatre, has never been short of musical projects, including, but not limited to Simpatico, Mist & Sea, School of Two and Other People’s Children, and has released his work on labels like Morr Music and Library Records. His solo material as Panoptique Electrical, is a remarkably assured ambient music that would see a series of releases on Sensory Projects as well as a collaboration last year with Hood and Declining Winter’s Richard Adams as Great Panoptique Winter. Sweeney’s Panoptique Electrical is nothing short of beguiling, gentle, ambient, atmospheric music, often with prominent piano. His latest release is Disappearing Music For Face (Sound In Silence), which continues his exploration of ambient sound, with restrained piano, minimal electronics, and gentle evocative atmospheres. As long time fans of Sweeney’s music in pretty much all of his guises we thought it would be fascinating to hear about the music that moves him.

Kate Bush – The Dreaming (EMI)
If I could I’d choose everything by Kate Bush. I’d list all her albums and songs. She is the greatest, the one musician and songwriter I hold to highest of esteem. So how could I choose a single song or album?‘The Dreaming’ is a definite stand-out. It’s often thought of as her ‘experimental’ album. It’s definitely her most jagged and angular pop. Rumbling in with ‘Sat In Your Lap’ and rising to the end peak of ‘Get Out Of My House’ (which I read is apparently based on Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’) complete with donkey wailing this album is such a beautifully strange work of Kate genius. This album is a gorgeously great exploration of the Fairlight CMI which she first used on ‘Never For Ever’ and then to perfection on ‘Hounds of Love’. Kate for Ever!

The Smiths – Meat is Murder (Rough Trade)
Morrissey saved me from the death trap of high school, no competition. Each of their albums was a year of high school for me. ‘Meat is Murder’ was 1985, year ten. Awful time! The height of school torment. So you can imagine the first song, ‘The Headmaster Ritual’, struck a deep chord. “Belligerent ghouls run (insert any sadistic high school here) schools”… etc. I rushed home most days after school to listen to this album and commune with it. I find it one of their most political albums and it’s the one that really led me down the path of vegetarianism and eventually veganism. The title track is the anti animal cruelty anthem of all time. It’s hard to get more succinct than those lyrics. “The meat in your mouth as you savour the flavour of MURDER”. This album was like my armour to fight against the bullying of school and got me into all sorts of trouble as I used it as my defence for my many introvertedly rebellious ways. I remember when I used to display stickers against animal cruelty or express myself about such issues I got pulled aside by the headmaster and told to stop being provocative. I certainly was not in a safe school environment then. I’m sure I used to think ‘what would Morrissey do?’ is such situations. Mm, I’m realising that the artists I’m listing here are all my distant role models. Of course I will always wish to be Morrissey. I suppose I’ll stick to Sweeney for now.

Fever Ray – Fever Ray (Mute/Rabid)
Karin Dreijer Andersson is an artist who inspires me the most in contemporary electronic music, along with her brother Olof in The Knife, sadly now disbanded. As a ‘solo’ project Fever Ray is exactly the kind of strange, immersive electronic pop music that I love. Slow, mysterious, many darkened corners. I always want to wear make up like Fever Ray but she does it so exquisitely that I’d be afraid to be seen as a weak copyist. The videos from this album are also excellent and weird and beautifully unsettling.

Stephan Micus – Panagia (ECM)
I’m a little bit obsessed with Stephan Micus – and his astounding back catalogue of 23 albums since 1976 means I often just have his albums playing in sequence or, if not listening on vinyl, it’ll just be on random selections. He studies and plays a broad range of instruments such as the Shō (a chinese reed instrument) and the shakuhachi flute from Japan. He also has a voice direct from the medieval ages, not unlike Brendan Perry from Dead Can Dance, and Stephan always transports me to a place or time I’ve never known. And like another of my favourite artists, Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance) he’ll often invent a language in which to sing. ‘Panagia’, a pretty recent album from 2013, which coincided with his 60th birthday, incorporates another of my favourite musical obsessions – the Greek Byzantine prayers. Stephan takes these prayers and makes something completely original with them. There’s a beautiful structure to this album, a ritual unfolding of sung pieces and instrumental works. I think I’ve always wanted to be Stephan Micus too (what a hybrid I’d be!). He seems to embrace this otherworldliness and reclusive character amongst the mountains (although I believe he lives on an island) – an aspiration I carry with me through life!

Coil – Horse Rotorvator (Force & Form)
This was a choice between another of Coil’s remarkable records ‘How To Destroy Angels’ – an incredible ritualistic soundscape for the accumulation of male sexual energy. But I chose ‘Horse Rotorvator’ because it is a record that, alongside The Smiths entire catalogue, got me through high school as an anxious queer lad interested in darker themes and subversive approaches to music and life. This album kicks off with the queerly insistent anthem ‘The Anal Staircase’ and followed swiftly by one of my favourite Coil tracks ever, ‘Slur’. I think when I had this album during my teen years it made me realise that it was possible to be a queer musician experimenting with electronics, songs, soundscapes. Coil were John Balance and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (sadly both now dead) and were partners in music and partners in life – another great inspiration to me. I secretly always wanted to be like Coil, my partner/lover and I working and living together in life and art. I’m now very fortunate to have this be a reality as my partner Mike and I are beginning Winter Witches – a queer electronic music project, and we’re totally inspired by Coil and particularly this album.

Diamanda Galas – Litanies of Satan (Mute)
I was introduced to Diamanda’s music when I was working at Three D Radio in Adelaide. The first album to cross my ears was this one and I’d certainly never heard anything like it – or like it since. Her music transcends language.

Dead Can Dance – The Serpent’s Egg (4AD)
And speaking of language transcendence, Lisa Gerrard is the queen of it. Lisa is known for her invented language, as if channeling the pre-verbal into song through finding a voice of vowels and cries and spirits. Her music made with Brendan Perry has probably influenced me the most with the music I make in Panoptique Electrical. The stellar track ‘The Host of Seraphim’ (most popularly used in the film Baraka) begins the album and draws you deep into this sonic world of ghosts and medieval/pagan chants and drone-folk songs.

Ruth White – Flowers of Evil (Limelight/Verve)
Oh Ruth White, what an incredible artist. Her scores and recordings stretch back to 1947. This album is her ‘electronic setting’ of the Charles Baudelaire poems using all kinds of electronics, drones, tape echoes and eerie vocals. I really wanted to choose a Broadcast album (I would have chosen them all) but instead I wanted to put Ruth White in the mix as I hear so much influence there upon Broadcast’s work, particularly the later albums like ‘Witch Cults of the Radio Age’ collaboration with The Focus Group. Anyhow, Ruth White’s album from 1969 is everything I love about electronics and tapes, that murky strangeness of the analogue instrumentation and monotone delivery of the poems. This album followed her “Seven Trumps From The Tarot Card And Pinions” (1968) which places her for me amongst the greatest of the truly pagan sonic explorers.

Scott Walker – Tilt (Mercury Records)
For many years friends would ask ‘have you heard of Scott Walker?’ and I would, for some reason, not follow them up on their suggestion despite always owning the 7” of The Walker Brother’s ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. ‘You’d love him’, they’d say. And sure enough, years later, I finally listened to ‘Montague Terrace in Blue’ and was married to his music for life. ‘Tilt’ is the album that really nailed it for me. From the jaw-dropping opener ‘Farmer in the City’ this album is as dark, strange and complex as its tar-like sleeve artwork. Scott Walker remains an artist that I collect any time I find one of his older records in a shop, including all the Walker Brothers stuff. It’s a bit ridiculous really as so many of them are just compilations of the same tracks. But, yes, everything from ‘Scott’ onwards is just a gem for me and ‘Tilt’ is that real moment of no-turning-back of what I suppose has now become the contemporary Scott Walker sound. I often think that the listening to his albums of the last 20 years are like dedicated investments in layered, rich, abstract, often infuriating and perversely rewarding art-music experiences.

Laurie Anderson – United States (Pts 1-4) (Warner Brothers)
I feel so lucky to own this 5 disc vinyl box set! I found it one day when I was still in high school in an amazing (now defunct) shop called Umbrella Records in Adelaide. I think that’s where I found Coil’s ‘Horse Rotovator’ too. Laurie Anderson is someone I could listen to for hours, even forever. She and Kate Bush are two people that I can often spend hours on the internet soaking up interviews and performances. ‘United States’ is a live recording of a series of performances she did at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1983. There’s something so delicious about the production and recording, this kind of echoey world of the many melancholy and darkly humorous stories and songs Laurie sings and speaks. Her ‘voice of authority’ persona (later named Fenway Bergamot by her late partner, Lou Reed) features heavily on this recording too.

PJ Harvey – White Chalk (Island)
My favourite PJ Harvey album. Polly at the broken piano, singing of pain, ghosts, burial, silence, decay. All the great things for an epic that only lasts 34 minutes. Dark, ancient and truly pagan chamber pop.

You can find Panoptique Electrical’s Disappearing Music For Face here.


About Author

Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.