As computer-based music composers learn the ins and outs of their instrument, one startling reality shines above all others: Anything is possible. No sound is forbidden or unattainable (a crow's-caw rhythm?), no orchestration too cost-prohibitive (a 275-violin synthetic string section?), no keyboard configuration unattainable (a 17-note chord?). With so much available, where does one draw parameters?
Most electronic composers draw them inside their more talented peers' ideas. They steal rhythms, samples and structures; mimic styles; and attempt to put a personal spin on someone else's innovation. With so much freedom at their command, the uninspired seem unable or unwilling to accept the challenge: to create one's own private Idaho.
Boards of Canada, who are from Scotland, create said own private Idaho. Geogaddi is their second full-length and the most anticipated electronic record of the year. Their debut, Music Has the Right to Children, struck a deep chord with listeners; it was gentle without being easy, rich without being overdone, smart without being pretentious. It had its own personality, one filled with soft tones, steady, uncomplicated beats, ethereal whispers and an ocean of mysterious sounds.
A quiet bell introduces the 23 songs within Geogaddi, a few subtle tones that gradually collect to form a pretty little melody. It's a small bit of drama that ultimately gives way to a simple, muffled snare and a secret voice that utters a defining sentence -- "The past inside the present" -- which itself gives way to a more defined beat and a computer-voiced moan. Throughout the next 23 songs, the statement's truth becomes evident as voices from the past sneak in like gusts of spring wind through a curtained window. These voices -- many of which are of children laughing, crying and playing -- float and swim around the room, creating a mysterious force.
The drunken "Dawn Chorus" is so rich with texture -- music-box twinkles, sorry strings, otherworldly moans and a steady, unobtrusive beat -- that it threatens to collapse under its own weight. The precious "Julie and Candy" seems to drift out of the wooden funnel speaker of an old 78 player. Voices long lost appear as from a dream fragment or a vague memory of a summer day spent on a playground.