Release Date: 2004
Availability: Online at www.systemstheory.net
Artwork by Paul Whitehead (www.paulwhitehead.com)
The debut album from Systems Theory, "Soundtracks For Imaginary Movies" is a musical journey to unlock your imagination and allow it to soar. Systems Theory have been around for a few years now, the 3 member project spread across two continents. I really don't know if the band have ever properly met or worked together in the same room. What I do know is this music works for me. Lush, ambient soundscapes like that of Robert Rich or Steve Roach giving way to Psychedelic weirdness with an air of Middle Eastern influences like that of Korai Orom, Hidria Spacefolk, and to a lesser extent, Ukrainian band, Ole Lukkoye -- then it turns somewhat to a dark, barren and mournful sound, like the music of Canada's Godspeed You Black Emperor.
The instrumentation used is as diverse as the music on this album. Aside from the usual suspects -- guitar, keyboards, percussion and bass -- there is also a great use of violin, viola, mandolin, tympani, hammond organ, loops, samples and other forms of gadgetry to keep the listener guessing at every turn in this album. And there is genuine mellotron.
Although parallels and influences are there, the band do not seek to merely clone or copy a somewhat stagnant style. This is refreshingly original and challenging music that will appeal to fans of the aforementioned bands and artists, and earlier pioneers of out-there progressive space-music and experimental world-fusion. "Soundtracks For Imaginary Movies" is definitely one of the best independent releases I have heard this year. Systems Theory are poised to do great things, and hopefully this will be the opening bars of their own amazing journey.
echoes, thunder) and other instrumental goodies that stretch to the horizon of a mostly cloudless aural sky. Four stars! ****
Systems Theory; US/UK
Systems Theory, 'Demos 1999-2000'
Demos 1999-2000; 2000 (42.52); ****/TTTT
Under Oriental Skies
Breakdance in Hell
Where Titans Sleep
The Boy Who Gazed at Stars
Systems Theory, 'Demos 2001-2002'
Demos 2001-2002; 2002 (55.34); ****/TTTT½
One Step to Freefall
The Cool Vibe of Asia C
(I am) the Reluctant Plumber
Red Sun Fading
Current availability, both titles: MP3 downloads from here:
Systems Theory describe themselves as an 'Internet project', and given that two members live in southern California and the third in Scotland, you can see why. Although they describe themselves as a 'progressive electronic/world music/prog-rock/fusion hybrid', it's fairly safe to say that they effectively fall under the banner of 'electronic music', with other bits thrown in. It seems that British ex-pat Steven Davies-Morris and Greg Amov met at high school in the late '70s, working together on and off over the years, before coalescing into Systems Theory in the late '90s. Mellotron owner Mike Dickson (scourge, or 'official cynic' of Streetly Electronics) came aboard initially as a collaborator, becoming a full member later.
Demos 1999-2000 is exactly what it says on the box, although the hoped-for album following their recording didn't happen. Five instrumental pieces, although I believe some of them were originally intended to be vocal numbers (can't work out how, but there you go). Different feels on each track, with the laid-back yet oddly insistent 'Under Oriental Skies' in stark contrast to the rhythmic 'Breakdance in Hell', with the highlight possibly being 'The Boy Who Gazed at Stars'. Mike's Mellotron work probably reaches far further than the 'usual suspect' sounds, but for what it's worth, here's what I can hear: 'Under Oriental Skies' has some string work in places, while although 'Breakdance in Hell' has more strings, it's mainly characterised by its choirs. More strings on 'Where Titans Sleep', and I presume that's 'Tron flutes at the beginning of 'Strange Obsession', while 'The Boy Who Gazed at Stars' (written for Steven's son) has the most upfront strings on the album, along with its only obvious (polyphonic) cello use.
The craftily-titled Demos 2001-2002 also has no cause to worry the trades description people and, if anything, improves on their first demo collection (which is as it should be, if you think about it). More of Mike's 'Tron, of course: 'Silent Service' has some distant choirs early on, shifting into an upfront string part, with some pipe organ later on. 'One Step to Freefall' opens with an unusual string sound (is this the infamous 'Dickstrings'?), while after a regular string part, 'Serengeti Surprise' doubles up one of the 'Tron brass sounds with (real) guitar, before slipping back into a faintly disturbing string part over a vaguely African rhythm, then more of that brass/guitar duetting. 'The Cool Vibe of Asia C' has much string/choir doubling, with occasional counterpoint, while '(I am) the Reluctant Plumber' doubles the standard 8-choir with, er, something, quite possibly not actually a 'Tron at all. Finally, 'Red Sun Fading' has what I presume to be Mellotron oboes, along with the 8-choir again.
So; two damn' good collections of demos, either of which would stand up perfectly well as an album 'proper'. Speaking of which, I'm assured such a thing is almost ready (at mid-2004), probably containing reworkings of some of the above tracks, along with newer material. Bring it on...
Official site: http://systemstheory.net/
Shame on the editor for letting this CD collect dust for so long before listening to it. Systems Theory’s music couldn’t be further from the atrocity described above. On this demo CD, the musicians of Systems Theory completely avoid the pitfalls and clichés so prominent among current fledgling prog bands. Rather than trying to rehash something that was recorded in the ‘70s, this band takes a more original approach to progressive rock. Okay, they do use a Mellotron extensively, but that’s about it. This is densely atmospheric, sometimes chaotic instrumental music which sounds like a mixture of recent King Crimson and very early Tangerine Dream. Think THRaKaTTaK meets Atem. Sheets of brittle Mellotron form the basis of much of this music while flute, Frippian guitar, fat, pseudo-analog synths and drum loops dart in and out of earshot. Many of the pieces feel at least partially improvised, which prompts a somewhat disorienting feel. One never really knows what’s coming next.
Unfortunately this CD suffers from pretty weak sound quality. The overall feel is small, flat and noisy. Things that should be louder, like the Mellotron, are often buried deep in the mix, while nothing really stands out. Bad sound is usually a hallmark of independent demo recordings, however, so this is to be expected. Here’s hoping the final cut sounds more professional. The only other major weak spot to this CD is the lack of a real drummer, but the sampled loops actually sound pretty decent, just not as spontaneous as would be preferable to most prog fans.
If you want to know what good cutting edge prog sounds like in the 21st century, keep your eyes open for Systems Theory's official album, which is due out imminently.
The music on “Demos 1999-2000” can only be described as occupying a space between symphonic prog, ambient, and space rock – however, it amazingly somehow avoids becoming just a derivative of any of these genres. Systems Theory have managed to find an unclaimed pocket of musical territory, and created a very forward-thinking set of tracks with which to colonize that new space. The band consists of multi-instrumentalists Steven Davies-Morris and Greg Amov as well as Mellotron/organist Mike Dickson. Diane Amov also kicks in with some tasty flute work that truly augments that textures that the rest of the band lays down. Those textures are usually mixtures of digital programming and real instruments, creating an incredibly eerie soundscape (made even more eerie by Dickson’s Mellotron). Systems Theory are absolute masters at selecting the appropriate samples and loops to maximize the emotional impact of their compositions – they know what buttons to push and which keys to press to maximize their artistic potential.
The CD kicks off with the aptly titled “Under Oriental Skies” which starts out living up to its name with its Far-East tinged samples and instruments. However, about halfway through the song is seemingly hijacked by a mixture of Robert Fripp and a college marching band drum section. After a minute or so of frenzied “hip-hop”-like beats, the song once again slowly descends back into a meditative Oriental-style. “Breakdance in Hell” is sort of a Porcupine Tree-ish 11 minute track that I imagine would be huge in dance clubs for the mentally unstable – the funky backbeat and electronic sounds are constantly clashing with Dickson’s mellotron throughout creating a very bizarre and almost disturbing experience. And when I say “bizarre” and “disturbing,” I mean it as a very sincere compliment. The other three tracks on the CD follow the same eclectic path – new-school electronica battling it out with old-school tape loops in a war that only listeners to System Theory will win. These guys are truly breaking new musical ground with their forward-looking progressive music, and deserve all the support they can get. Here’s wishing much luck to this innovative and creative band!
More information on SYSTEMS THEORY can be found at
"Under Oriental Skies" starts out with ominous string sound and far east sounding violin runs throughout. Loops, effects and keyboards add to the dark sound that is occasionally punctuated by quite eastern melodies. "Breakdance In Hell" is the highlight of the album for me, staying true to it's title. Frenetic action abounds, with different instruments all coming and going over the hellish mellotron backdrop. Various sound effects heighten the mood, such as mumbled, processed vocals here and there that sound like tormented souls. "Where Titans Sleep" continues with a very tribal feel, while "Strange Obsession" tones things down a notch, with a more jazzy feel. "The Boy Who Gazed At The Stars" is by far the most symphonic piece here, at times sounding traditionally symphonic, with a strong resemblance to the first Happy The Man album, but at other times much more aggressive overtones from the violin break it up. The bonus track, the final demo mix of "The Cool Vibe Of Asia C" is the most mellow piece included in the set, with a very atmospheric and tribal feeling with didgeridoo and ethnic percussion mixed in with mellotron and keyboard backing.
For a set of demos, the songs here are amazingly well put together and played; this could easily have been a finished product. My one complaint is that there is such a strong wall of sound in the songs which never lets up. A little breathing room here and there would be better, and judging by the newest song, the band has started to do just that. Can't wait to hear the completed album. Visit www.systemstheory.net for more info.
The first line of the Systems Theory web site describes the band as, "Progressive world music with tons of technology-derived spaciness and heavy rock derived attitude. Ambient without sending you to valium noddy-land. Proggy without slavishly imitating yesterday's symphonic giants." An obvious struggle to describe the territory they cover, and after several listens I'm sympathetic to the challenge. Systems Theory's music is rooted in classic progressive fusion rock. Despite the presence of "real" instruments the music sounds primarily electronic and displays clear space rock and experimental influences throughout.
On "Under Oriental Skies" the motif is most definitely oriental. But while I hear a smidgen of traditional oriental sounds at the beginning and end, the majority of the tune is a fairly freaky electronic take on a prog rock styled oriental theme. Some of the synth lines have a bit of a Steve Hackett guitar sound but that's a loose analogy as this has a melodic yet experimental bent that would never be heard on a Hackett tune. "Breakdance In Hell" begins in a more overtly spacey atmosphere. The mellotron gives the music the expected classic symphonic sound, yet it's simply the backdrop for a multitude of electro percussive beats, trippy synth noodlings, dancey techno and various other electronic patterns. Flute and sax bits give it a jazzy feel but these are just a single piece of what feels like an electronic progressive big band. The headphones treatment revealed an impressively busy, yet well constructed symphony of progressive rock, trippy jazz, and space rock. A little something for everyone.
"Where Titans Sleep" is still spacey, but more electronic prog rock oriented. The music kept me on my toes and at attention throughout, moving non-stop through a succession of themes that veer off in seemingly countless directions, and includes lots of cool oddball sounds popping up intermittently. Amov's violin fires off rapid little dissonant bits near the end, and the song ends on a part electro psychedelic, part industrial, part classic prog rock note. Lots of influences here, but coherence reigns to produce some fairly adventurous instrumental progressive space fusion. Rounding out the set is "Strange Obsession" which is similar to "Where Titans Sleep", being a somewhat jazzy progressive rock number, and "The Boy Who Gazed At Stars" which seems to fuse the gamut of the band's influences, from spacey electro experimentations to more melodic and goal-oriented progressive constructions.
In summary, Systems Theory would appeal to fans of complex but melodic instrumental progressive rock who also dig space and electronic influences. If these are demos, I'll be interested in hearing what Systems Theory considers the real thing. For more information you can visit Systems Theory at their web site http://systemstheory.net.