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

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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!.

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