The Unexplained: Electronic Musical Impressions of the Occult by Ataraxia (RCA, 1975)



Ataraxia is a pseudonym for Mort Garson, a Canadian-born electronic music pioneer who released a number of occult-themed albums starting with 1967’s The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds, a musical interpretation of each zodiacal sign and one of the first albums to feature the Moog synthesizer. In 1969, using the same lucrative premise, Garson released 12 separate full-length LPs in a series called Signs of the Zodiac. Black Mass, which Garson released under the pseudonym Lucifer, was released in 1971. Also of note is Garson’s The Wozard of Iz, a parody of The Wizard of Oz casting Dorothy as a hippie seeker. I’ll be covering all of these albums in later posts. Equal parts innovator and opportunist, Garson is unique in that he gave up a successful career as a traditional composer-arranger for the challenge of creating “pure electronic sounds.”*

The Unexplained is an impressive menagerie of weirdness. It has elements of the theremin-heavy scores of early sci-fi and horror, the early electronic music of Tom Dissevelt and Dick Raaymakers (compiled in the U.S. as Song of the Second Moon in 1968), exotica, and even “spy music,” but the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Garson occasionally descends into noodling, but all in all he manages to conjure the mysteriousness of his subject while separating the various tracks (each named after an occult phenomenon) conceptually.

The idea of using electronic sounds to capture esoteric ideas, to fashion them into moods, was novel at the time, and Garson’s work has had a lasting influence on space and dark ambient. Jacques Wilson, who wrote poetry and dialogue for many of Garson’s late-period albums, writes in the liner notes of The Unexplained that

A new music has evolved, so limitless in its possibilities it can embrace the regions of man’s other world, and evoke the wonders of The Unexplained…

As mysticism widens and deepens man’s understanding of himself and the universe, so does electronic music expand the horizons of his creativity.

It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that space age synthesizers can “evoke” the magical, naturalistic worldviews originating in primitive antiquity, but, as I’ve mentioned before, the West’s progressive embrace of occult ideas is deeply related to the precipitous rise of the scientific and technological worldview, which displaced the dogged religious one that preceded it.

You can stream The Unexplained here. The album’s cover design is by Gribbitt!.

Atlantis by Sun Ra (Impulse!, 1973)

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Originally released on Sun Ra’s Saturn Records label in 1969 (below), the LP, a collection of live recordings made between 1967 and 1969, was re-released on Impulse! in 1973, when the Atlantis legend had gone mainstream. (John Michell’s The View Over Atlantis [1969], Charles Berlitz’s The Mystery of Atlantis [1969], and Brad Steiger’s Atlantis Rising [1973] all followed the bestselling Edgar Cayce on Atlantis [1968]).

The liner notes of both releases include this passage:

THE DEAD PAST: The civilizations of the past have been used as the foundation of the civilization of today. Because of this, the world keeps looking toward the past for guidance. Too many people are following the past. In this new space age, this is dangerous. The past is DEAD and those who are following the past are doomed to die and be like the past. It is no accident that those who die are said to have passed since those who have PASSED have PAST.

Interesting, since every track on the album is named after a mythical civilization of the past. (I’m assuming “Yucatan” refers to the Mayans and their supposed relationship to Mu, even though there’s already a track named “Mu”). Unless you’re a diehard free jazz completist, the album is a tough listen.

Album cover art on the Impulse! release is by John Lykes. Art on the Saturn Records release is by James McCoy.

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(Some images via Discogs)

What the Bible Says about Flying Saucers by Rev. O.W. “Bud” Spriggs (Worldwide Records, Circa 1969)

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Suffice it so say that the “Chaplin of Hell,” as Rev. Spriggs calls himself, not only heartily believes in the existence of UFOs, but believes they and their alien pilots appear in the Bible, citing the now infamous verses (4–28) from the first book of Ezekiel covered in Barry Downing’s The Bible and Flying Saucers and Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods?, both published in 1968. His conclusion is:

I believe that we’re living in the last days. I believe that Jesus is soon coming back again… With all the problems of Communism and the lacksadaisical [sic] attitude of the people in America, I think that we are just upon the horizon of some great tragedy…

The first track is definitely worth a listen, as the Chaplin cracks bad jokes such as, “Anybody that’s been married for thirteen years surely believes in flying saucers…” The jokes are followed by unsettling, canned laughter. He also tells us that flying saucers could not be of Russian origin because “she” would have already done us great harm if that were the case. Conversely, the UFOs could not be from the U.S. of A because “we would have saved some of our soldier boys’ lives in Vietnam.”

The second track is an interview with Sgt. Neil Schneider, a Michigan (Washtenaw County) sheriff’s deputy who, along with several others, reported sighting a UFO in March of 1966. The case is now famous in the UFO literature, with J. Allen Hynek attributing the sightings to “swamp gas,” a conclusion that Rev. Spriggs mocks on the first track. Hynek, of course, would later repent his words and become the “father” of scientific UFO research, writing the seminal The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry (1972).

The third track is a standard hell and brimstone sermon about setting your soul right with the Lord before the Second Coming.

The Christian embrace of flying saucers and ancient astronauts appears odd on the surface, but it makes perfect sense. At the time, more than half of Americans believed UFOs were real. Fitting the anomalous craft fit into the divine framework of the Bible was an excellent way to fish more souls out of the secular sea. As Barry Downing explained in The Telegraph almost twenty years later:

It would establish scientific plausibility for the whole biblical field… It would reinforce faith and make it possible in a scientific context.

You can listen to the record in its entirety courtesy of WFMU, where I got the images above.