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Mnemonists: Horde

Glenn Astarita By

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The Mnemonists are a group of composers and musicians who hail from Fort Collins, Colorado. “Horde” was originally released on their own DYS label in 1981 and re-released by the adventurous ReR label in 1985, presumably on LP. The Mnemonists eventually became “Biota” and as the press kit states “The Mnemonists name was retained by the visual part of the group, and they continue to collaborate”. In fact, the CD artwork for Biota’s “Object Holder” and others are credited to the Mnemonists.

This writer has been anticipating the re-release of “Horde” on CD format. Delving into the early creative spirits and mindset of these folks is quite a treat. Since the days of “Horde”, the personnel of the Mnemonists (now, Biota) stay intact despite some personnel changes and as in Biota’s “Object Holder” (see AAJ April 99 review) guest stars such as ex-Henry Cow drummer/composer Chris Cutler and Forever Einstein’s C.W. Vrtacek lend their expertise. The musical characteristics and identities of Biota and The Mnemonists intersect while a formalized discourse on cross-genre comparisons may yield inconclusive results. There lies part of the beauty. Music that beats the odds and plays tricks on one’s senses.

As the proceedings commence with “Puncture/Throng”, we detect faint voices or perhaps through the savvy and inventiveness of this conglomerate we think they are voices. The immediate turbulence of this piece complete with strings, electric guitar and electronics suggests musical construction that is at times reminiscent of Brian Eno’s early experimental days. The separator may reside within the compositional development, which pulls together loose fragments of concepts and motifs performed as if the band were a large-scale symphonic orchestra. The pieces are joined at the hip as the compositions weave in and out; therefore, this recording emits the appearance of being one huge opus, or suite. On “The Undergrowth”, the music is at times dark and haunting featuring dissonant cello passages as choruses of hectic strings and various woodwind instruments flutter in the background yet become dominant as the piece progresses.

Some of these tracks evoke images of being in a machinist’s shop or a large industrial plant complete with off kilter woodwinds that portray the musical aspects or aural glimpses of other worldly places. A metamorphous of sorts, as the loops, strings, woodwinds and electronic processing project a scenario that frequently transcend descriptions yet the distinctive qualities and soundscapes generally converge or become unified as the musicians remain focused and conscious of the thematic developments. On “Limbs”, we detect a shift in strategy as the ambiance is dark and foreboding which rekindles thoughts of the French band, Art Zoyd, namely their 1990’s “Faust and Haxan” releases but bare in mind that “Horde” was created well before the aforementioned Zoyd releases. “Triptych” is the longest piece on the CD and perhaps the most “musical” of the lot. Here, the Mnemonists put forth orchestrations that are at times bizarre; however, the real treat here is the up front implications of perhaps an Irish jig gone awry.

This writer would be hard pressed to cite any other group of this ilk performing music of this nature given the period. If you are a fan or student of electric-progressive-ambient music than this is a must have for the collection. Overall comparisons would be scanty and ill advised. The Mnemonists have sewn the seeds for the equally amazing Biota yet the music and conceptual approach sounds fresh and contemporary; therefore, “Horde” deserves **** out of 5 stars. Highly Recommended.

USA and Canada distribution: Cuneiform. Email; Cuneiway@aol.com

UK & Europe distribution: ReR. Email; megacorp@dial.pipex.com


Title: Horde | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: ReR Megacorp


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