Originally released in tiny CD-only quantities in 1992, this Belgian album got a lot of play in Sydney at Punos’ chillout rooms and later at the Cryogenesis recovery and island ambient parties throughout 1993-1995. I remember picking the original CD release up at Disco City, one of the crucial import stores in Sydney that bought direct from Belgian distributors. Its cover was a garish blue/green Photoshop construction with oversize fonts, and a background image that reminded me, at the time, of computer game landscapes like Peter Molyneux’s Populous (1989) and Will Wright’s Raid on Bungeling Bay (1984). Against the slick graphic design of The Designers Republic covers for Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series and The Orb’s UFOrb, it looked nothing like how it ended up sounding. For the next three years of ambient parties, I gave the album a good hammering and many many partygoers would be entranced by its spectacularly spacious warm production and captivating melodies.
Apparently made in a bedroom studio made over the preceding four years and obviously heavily influenced by the brief ‘ambient house’ moment in 1989 (The Grid’s Flotation, The Orb’s Adventures in the Ultraworld, Love Corporation’s Palatial, The KLF’s Chill Out) as much as the sci-fi imaginary of Detroit techno, Sublunar Oracles is designed to be listened to in a single session with tracks flowing into each other, bridged by film samples and synth sweeps. The opening track Arrival and Mount Void trundle along on quiet breakbeats, Dencity and Surfacing float on Detroit synths whilst Athavarveda’s Fourth World groove is all sitar, percussion and saxaphone. Only one track, Amma, the most Deep Forest-esque, sounds dated.
The early 1990s ambient techno/chill out room sound was crowded by endless compilations and very few hold up as well nearly 30 years later, but there are still gems like Sublunar Oracles. The Van Elsen brothers would later go on to make another Trans-4M album, Clustered, as well as a number of excellent mid 1990s releases as Brain Pilot on Nova Zembla. Now re-released by Young Marco’s Safe Trip label, and with a reversed out cover design, Trans-4M’s epic debut is once again available and hopefully meets a much wider audience. Safe Trip have toned down the original cover art with a white/green duotone remix of the original too!