Updated: Mar 9
music has the right to children - 20th anniversary
April 20th 1998. 2018 seemed a world away, but here we are, 20 years later, celebrating the anniversary of Boards Of Canada's debut album, Music Has The Right To Children. For those of you who don't know who BoC are, they consist of Scottish brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin.
"I've never heard of them." There's probably a good reason for that. Despite four albums and a number of EPs, the brothers seem to avoid the spotlight, and very rarely post anything on social media - they don't even have a website. It's almost like they don't exist between albums, which is quite cool actually - producing a work of art then disappearing for years until the next one. Seems the complete opposite to the Kardashian lifestyle - famous for absolutely nothing, but always in the spotlight...
The album first came to my attention via a customer during my days at Superfi in 1998. He gave me a list of electronic albums to seek out, including Autechre, Nightmares On Wax, Mr. Scruff, and many more. One of those artists was Boards Of Canada. I headed to HMV, which was custom at the time as their CD collection was pretty extensive, and spent God knows how much on a bunch of CDs I'd never heard before, trusting the recommendations of, well, a complete stranger really.
Over the following twelve months, much listening was done, and a few of those albums stood above the rest for me, getting repeated plays, and a vinyl purchase too. Music Has The Right To Children was so different to any other electronic album I'd ever heard. The 80s and 90s was full of squeaky clean, pin sharp, jagged edged, electronic pop, and yet here was an album that seemed to reverse that - smooth sounding, wavering synths, distorted beats, and dialogue samples that were sometimes barely recognisable as dialogue. In fact, I usually hesitate in calling it electronic. The whole album has a sort of retro, nostalgic, fuzzy Super 8 vibe to it - for me, it conjures up those long, sunny school holidays in the 70s. In fact, the cover itself lets you know exactly what you're in for - not that you'd be able to tell that if you'd never heard it before! But once you listen to it, it sort of makes sense.
Part of the childhood thing is perpetuated by a number of samples of children, and even from Sesame Street! There are numerous references to colours and numbers throughout the album, and BoC have a bit of a thing for shapes too, particularly hexagons. There are tracks on this album like 'sixtyten', 'turquoise hexagon sun', and 'roygbiv' (red, orange, yellow, green, brown, indigo, violet). I believe a Yamaha CS70 was one of the keyboards used on the album - an analogue synth from the 70s. These colours, numbers, and shapes crop up throughout the album and beyond - they named their studio they work from 'hexagon sun', and run a multi-media studio called 'music70'. I could go on and on, but there's a great site that covers all of this sort of stuff in depth. There's even pages for each album, listing the samples used, their origins, as well as the meanings and supposed meanings behind the tracks. Along with the fan run Facebook page, it's a really interesting read if you like the album:
On initial listening, Music Has The Right To Children (and even Boards Of Canada's other albums) seems fairly basic and repetitive to those who have never encountered BoC before, but the treasure lies in repeated listening, with multiple layers of sound effects and dialogue, making each new listen a new experience. It's almost like the theory I have when people audition hi-fi - many people just listen to what is represented in front of them, and tend to ignore the 'bigger picture'. Once you listen to a BoC album a few times and get past that sort of basic listening, there's a while soundstage of information that is floating around waiting for you to discover it. Due to the nature of the music, even listening on different formats can unearth little details, as there's less emphasis on the bass with the vinyl record.
If MHTRTC was released now, it wouldn't sound out of place, nor would it give away its year of production. That's quite a feat for electronic music, as digital technology has changed and improved over decades from its inception, and when you hear an early 80s pop track from the likes of Gary Numan or Howard Jones, and you know they're early 80s - not because you know the track, but the keyboards and the unique sounds they produce give that away. Listen to MHTRTC and despite the hazy 70s vibe, which you know isn't 70s as there's punchy beats and samples, but the keyboard sounds don't identify the decade - the sounds produced don't belong to an era - this is genuinely timeless music.
Before MHTRTC, there was nothing like Boards Of Canada, in my opinion. BoC produced a number of EPs before MHTRTC, which were a little more conventional sounding, almost like they were experimenting to find the right sound before releasing a full album. There was electronic music pre BoC, of course, but much of it fell into the trap outlined earlier - carving their era into the zeros and ones of the (presumably) digital master forever.
When reading through bocpages, the sheer depth of information about their music is quite overwhelming, and you get to a point of wondering whether the fans are looking way too deeply into it all, or the Scottish brothers are musical geniuses.
Some may or may not have noticed, but before I even decided upon the name 'the little audio company', I had already knew the font I wanted to use. Much like BoC's music, it's a font which is retro, but not old fashioned. Nor is it trying to be futuristic. As we know, 'futuristic' has a habit of looking dated very quickly. It's not sharp and precise - it's rounded, which is easier on the eye.
One day I hope to host a full playing of BoC's albums for those interested, and for those that are curious. Details will be released when something is finalised.
davidf @the little audio company
the little audio company