The Stereo Morphonium

by Joel Bourret

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I met Darren Hayman in 1995 after seeing an early version of Hefner play at the Bull+Gate in London. I played bass for them briefly in a trio that included Antony Harding on bongos (and one cymbal). Just before I moved away to Vancouver, Canada, I hooked him up with Boogle Wonderland Records, who had released a single from my band MELT. Then they released Hefner's first two singles. While I was living in New York, Hefner came over to do some East coast U.S. dates and I sold Darren his first synth which was a Moog Rogue.
In the spring of 2001 I moved back to London for a short stint. Darren was just finishing the "Dead Media" Hefner CD and he was really into synths. I'd brought over my JX3P synth so we decided to book a few gigs and this would give us two weeks to write a set of music. We used a crappy drum machine and four analog synths (Roland JX3P, Roland Juno 106, Moog Rogue, Future Retro 777) and wrote and recorded six songs. The gigs went well and we were asked to do a John Peel Session, but I moved back to NYC before that could happen due to London having very crap weather -- it was June and I was still wearing a winter coat !
I remixed the six songs in NYC, but both of us had moved onto other projects -- The French for Darren and Mutronium for me. Then in 2004 we started work on two brand new songs and Filthy Little Angels released the EP. Darren did the amazing artwork. The EP includes the two new songs plus three of the older songs.

All songs written by Joël & Darren 2001/2004 and mixed by Joël

Some synths that were used: Roland JX3P, Roland Juno 106 , Moog Rogue, Moog Source, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Sequential Circuits Prophet 600, Korg Poly 61, Korg Trinity, Future Retro 777, Casio CZ101, modular, circuit-bent Speak&Read + Speak&Math


released August 4, 2005


The Stereo Morphonium EP (Filthy Little Angels)
The Stereo Morphonium represents the love affair of Darren Hayman and New Yorker Joël Neumatic with analogue synthesisers. They originally came together in an early version of Hefner and in 2001 wrote and performed a set of songs with drum machine and cheap synths. This EP contains some of those early songs plus two new ones. It’s a side project - Darren is now solo and Joël plays in Mutronium - but an interesting one.
Apart from the freaky, farty-sounding ‘Ozmodiar’, the record is fairly melodic electronica. There’s plenty of space pop: ‘The Stereo Morphonium’ is Schneider TM ethereal, though the voice sounds like a Furby, and ‘Gemini Six’ is lighter than Air. Vocals aren’t a big deal on the EP but the lyric-rich ‘Plight of the Manhattenite’ sounds the closest to a Hefner or French song as Darren’s words describe urban and personal decay. The most entertaining song is ‘Pigeon Box’, a glam-rock instrumental that has Gary Numan’s bootprint all over it. It’s a bit of an oddity but one that’s fun to explore.

The Stereo Morphonium EP
And this here record is the latest little project from Darren Hayman of Hefner, The Stereo Morphonium being a synthesizer duo with Joel Neumatic from the New York band Mutronium.
If you remember the last Hefner album, Dead Media, by far their most under rated album, and pretty synth heavy, then that gives you a good starting point, as a couple of the more vocal based songs on this E.P. are reminiscent of that, in particular Plight Of The Manhattanite, but this is probably more due to the presence of Darren's familiar voice as much as anything else. And overall you have to say that this isn't really like late Hefner nor The French at all, and its pretty lazy of me to keep comparing it to it. But being lazy unfortunately I probably will, even though I am absolutely happily surprised at how different it is. It's no use to keep repeating yourself no matter how good you are, which is obviously something Darren understands well, hence the end of Hefner, and brilliantly interesting releases such as this.
So instead of Hefner what we do get is largely instrumental, analogue synth work outs, backed only by a shit drum machine and liberally embellished with some vocals, but really the music is the focus of this record. And that music consists of some glorious squelchy melodies bounding over the warm fuzzy tones that support, a little playing with the arpeggiator, and the obligatory and welcome use of vocoder.
Anyway, the most refreshing thing about these songs is that they realise that the music they're creating through layers of synths don't always need vocals to lead them, and far more interesting it is for it, basically this is fun and clever pop synth music, managing to avoid the twin pitfalls of dumb and cheesy 80's synth pop and the archness and pomposity of synth based prog rock, which are both so scarily popular again in their new guises of retro and post rock. This really is just fun synth music, by a couple of guys who are obviously just enjoying making some crazy new sounds, freed up from their guitar band day jobs.
Crucially for this type of largely instrumental music the songs never out stay their welcome, with just the right amount of repetition and establishment of themes to leave the hooks in your head without ever verging on the boring. At times it sounds huge and dramatic, with swooshes and sweeps, and at other times just sounds like a couple of guys enjoying making silly squelchy bass noises, but all the time it sounds different from what you'd probably expect.
I'm finding it slightly more difficult than usual to describe this type of music, without making people think of the horrible things that it's actually a million miles away from, I guess the most pathetically obvious reference point would be Low and Heroes Bowie, for the instrumentals, and the Eno stuff from around the same period such as Tiger Mountain or Warm Jets, but its not really like those either, having more of a sense of fun and playfulness around it in a Hefner type way I guess. While both those artists had real senses of humour in a lot of their work, I think those records had a touch of the epic around them, detached from every day reality, whereas The Stereo Morphonium seems to attach itself more tightly to every day reality, in the slightly grim, modern large city manner of London or New York, the sounds made are much more human and real. Not that they don't sound as well crafted as Bowie or Eno it's just that they're not as grand, and sound as if they were made my genuine people to soundtrack real life, rather than to soundtrack films about aliens or super heroes with huge foreheads.
So basically if you just love Hefner for all the guitar based songs about girls then there's not that much point in looking into this, but if you generally like playful, clever and honest music, with lots of lovely analogue synth sounds thrown in, interspersed by some of Darren's trademark vulnerable pop melodies, then this is for you, plus if you just want something that's just that little bit different, and far more interesting for the contrasts of synth instrumental/indie pop it synthesises (sorry!) together then give it a go and smile and nod at your stereo.
Me, I'm just a sucker for a warm synth, hmmm synth geek.

The Stereo Morphonium EP (Filthy Little Angels)
The Stereo Morphonium, a synths-and-drum-machine duo who both appeared in an early incarnation of Hefner (of whose Dead Media album this EP is rather reminiscent), strike me as slightly geeky and obsessive types. However, I suspect their obsession is more endearing than alarming: this six track demo EP may be a Flaming Lips-esque bubbling of mad scientist ideas and strange sound effects, but coupled with that singed-eyebrows air of up-all-night obsession is a My First Chemistry Set amateurishness and charm.
And that air of wide-eyed innocent experimentation, alongside TSM's deceptively accomplished trick of infusing a seemingly simple repetitive riff with an absurd amount of emotion, makes for a CD which you simply can't avoid being touched by. It's just so charming, so sweet and simple and cunningly lo-fi in its analogue-synth-and-drum-machine cleverness, that it wins the listener over without even seeming to try. After which conquest it presumably steals your identity and sells it to an international gang of fraudsters, and then you find yourself locked out of your own house and your place in the world is lost forever. It's always the quiet ones...
It does creep up and win you over. Very nice.
Drowned In Sound

The Stereo Morphonium EP
Filthy Little Angels label are at it again ! Here we have another oddball project that defies the ears and confuses the mind. The Stereo Morphonium are Darren Hayman (Ex-Hefner) and Joel Neumatic, and they make strange electronic/indie. 'Pigeon Box' is excellent, it's got all the trappings of a dancefloor stomper. I remember Bis trying to make this sort of stuff a few years back when they decided indie was dead, they didn't quite pull it off. These lads have. Mixed in New York when Joel went back home, each track is lush and beautifully crafted, leaving the listener totally entranced. 'Gemini 6' brings spacey keyboards and robotic strainings together, lead by a simple dream like keyboard line. The Stereo Morphonium bring together genuine electronic passions (Damon Albarn doesn't really convince me) combining them with lo-fi leanings and catchy keyboard hooks. They wrap their songs in a blanket of dream like melodies, and 'Plight Of The Manhattanite' is no exception, sometimes touching almost on Joy Division's early experimentations with the synth. That timeless sound, conjures up all kind of thoughts and feelings. The Stereo Morphonium are an interesting new Chapter to Darren Hayman's career in music. Instead of going up his own arse/disappearing or writing crap clone like material, he's collaborated a project that's thought provoking, intelligent and really fun to listen to. If you have a keen interest in creative music, cheeky bleeps and dreamy songwriting. You're in the right place. Pull up a seat.
The Plastic Ashtray

The Stereo Morphonium : 5 Track EP (Filthy Little Angels)
Stereo Morphonium is Darren Hayman's (from Hefner) avant / electronica project. This five track EP was produced by Joel Neumatic who as well as contributing to this EP, also sings and plays synth and guitar for NYC band Mutronium.



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Joel Bourret Memphis, Tennessee

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