Album Review: Jeremiah Chu – In Electric Time

[International Anthem; 2023]

If you are into vintage synthesizers, then (unsurprisingly) the Vintage Synthesizer Museum (VSM) in Highland Park, Los Angeles is the place for you. An interactive museum, it allows visitors to get hands-on experience playing a huge range of both modern and vintage electronic instruments, even allowing them to record their sequencing too. Los Angeles-based composer, synthesist, graphic designer and multi-medium artist Jeremiah Chiu was one such visitor back in June of this year, spending two days going about the museum’s six different sections. With the help of the VSM founder/curator Lance Hill, Chiu approached creation with an improvisatory angle, letting the mixer setup of the machines help guide them.

The setups definitely seemed in Chiu’s favour; the first piece was written and recorded in under an hour. The two-day session bore fruit that would become In Electric Time after being edited to completion in the two days following. It’s a sweet, small, and spontaneous album, capturing a musician playing to their strengths in a setting that seems perfect for them. Interspersed with light studio chatter, In Electric Time goes between short improvisatory moments and longer drawn out explorations, recalling Raymond Scott’s electronic studio recordings and the calming aquatic quality of Jürgen Müller’s classic album, Science Of The Sea.

For a record that cuts about suddenly at times, In Electric Time is remarkably gentle and peaceful. Its short moments bleed into its longer ones, and eventually the whole thing becomes an electronic wash to bathe in. This is down to the textures Chiu creates: his favouring of soft, buoyant, and dreamy tones make for a cushiony listening experience. “Seawater Swell” shimmers like sunshine reflecting off a body of water as a bobbing bass melody lolls about languidly; washes of fuzzy synth come and go, like gentle breezes. Echoes of Chiu’s work with Marta Sofia Honer on their lovely Recordings From the Åland Islands album from last year seem to have carried over too. Despite the track’s busy layers, it’s remarkably peaceful. 

It’s a trick Chiu does well during the album’s best moments. “Transparent Spheres” becomes starry and quietly dazzling as it unfurls across five minutes while the closing title track bathes in neon 80s synth chords aside it’s reverberating tinny percussion, like the opening moments of a cult horror flick. On “Rococco Rondo” they stay true to the feel of The Ghostwriters’ original track, letting that irresistible kaleidoscopic melody take the limelight as it folds in on itself over and over. Brief tracks add different textures to the palette too, helping save everything from bleeding into each other but also guiding the watery textures in the album’s first half into more starry ones come the other end. The swirling high tempo of “Static Stone Railway”, the organ-like hum of “For Voices”, and the pensive “Rhythm Bell” don’t say much of anything on their own, but in context they feel like required jigsaw pieces.

For those so inclined, there’s also plenty of technical detail from In Electric Time to geek out over, from the processes Chiu adopted to the synthesizers they used. (These are listed and documented on the International Anthem Bandcamp page.) The album is the sound of a synthesizer megafan essentially getting to run around their version of a toy shop for two days. That playful spirit emanates from In Electric Time as Chiu dots between airy ambient textures and fuller composed workouts on the machines. “Let’s fire this stuff up and see what happens,” was their original plan. The rest they just let happen. Sometimes the simplest approach to music is just to find a place full of the instruments you love and dive in.