Taking a Trip to the Great White North in the Winter of Love
You won’t necessarily get a comprehensive (or even comprehensible) story about what Intersystems was all about by reading the 56-page booklet that comes with this extremely limited edition box set, but rest assured it was wild. Mixed media, experimental sounds, all coming about in the late 1960s in Canada. More precisely, the group bubbled up from the Toronto underground in the early days of 1967 with an installation called “Perception ’67”. This wasn’t the summer of love of course because it was still the winter and being Canada especially cold. The aforementioned event was meant to involve a weeklong discussion of the lysergic or as your grandparents may have called it, LSD. Allen Ginsberg was there, Timothy Leary couldn’t make it but the Fugs performed. At the heart of the heart of this was the Intersystems installation which took up a decade of rooms at the University of Toronto. Dubbed a “Mind Excursion”, this blast of the surreal from our polite neighbors to the north employed colors, textures, images, smells, sounds and all the other stuff one might need for a rad (or not so rad) in that moment. Thousands turned up, thousands of others were reportedly turned away.
Coincidentally (or not) 1967 saw the release of not one but two records from Intersystems. The first of those, titled Number One Intersystems features nearly 40 minutes of musique concrete, poetry, sound collage type-stuff and all the other trappings of the psychedelic era. Placed in more familiar language: Imagine Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy, the stuff that John Lennon and Yoko Ono committed to tape in the earliest days of their relationship and a less acerbic version of Negativeland and you might start to get a sense of the craziness these cats were up to. It’s hazy and spooky and makes that Flaming Lips Zaireeka thing with the four boom boxes seem like a trip to Sunday school. (In other words, don’t play this in front of flashback-prone Uncle Phil unless you give him a good dose of high quality Owsley first.)
Kudos to he who can make it through this sonic trip without questioning his own sanity and blessed is he too who can make their way through the second ’67 platter from this lot, Peachy. Peachy is, by comparison, 90125 to the first record’s Tales From Topographic Oceans and both of these make those Yes albums sound more accessible than Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation. It also all makes Dumbo sound like a black mass. So.
The following year the humorously titled Free Psychedelic Poster Inside appeared and promised to become the dance hit of the decade. What with “Mirror Maze”, a track that will sound familiar to anyone who’s a fan of pure, unadulterated, central nervous system debilitating noise, or “Red Strobe, Green Strobe” which may be the sound of R2-D2 having a nervous breakdown some years before he strode in the public mind via George Lucas’s Star Wars. “Floating Room” at least brings us back to the familiar and is something of a return to form, something a little more akin to what we heard on the first two Intersystems recordings.
As experimental music goes? It’s still a little mess-around-y, not quite as realized as it might be in order to call it a full-on assault on the classics. But “Pastoral” is a welcome collection of the record’s earlier themes and maybe the best thing on the whole box.
It’s fitting, then, given how weird this is all is that it’s available in a limited edition box, with something like 500 copies in existence, notes from founding member John Mills-Cockell, Michael Hayden and text about founding member Blake Parker. It’s hard to full get a grasp on what’s going on but that’s part of the fun. This probably won’t be one of those collections that racks up points as one of the best reissues of the decade but it certainly will be one of the weirdest things in your collection. Guaranteed to clear out unwanted guests and a good companion should one want to take a trip and never leave the farm.
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