Space Music: Occult Music for John Dee Week

Atarakixa: The Unexplained  Fifth Dimension Records
Atarakixa: The Unexplained Fifth Dimension Records

This week's podcast series on Elizabethan mathematician, scholar and occultist Dr. John Dee probes some fascinating territory, covering everything from angelic magic and the trade of heretical tomes to Elizabethan cryptography and espionage. Dee is such a strange and fascinating figure, so I found myself in need of strange and fascinating music to aid my research. I turned to the work of 1970s electronic pioneer Mort Garson (1924-2008).

I've blogged about Garson's work here before, so perhaps you've already plunged into his diverse discography. He's perhaps best known in mainstream circles for co-writing the mainstream R&B hit "Our Day Will Come," but his best work came in the form of experimental, occult-themed synth compositions -- and those are the works I turned to during my Dee research. He released each under a suitable pseudonym:

'The Unexplained' by Ataraxia

Garsons' 1975 album "The Unexplained: Electronic Musical Impressions of the Occult," released under the Ataraxia moniker, is perhaps the perfect pairing here. Each track is thematically linked to certain aspects of occult thought: Sorcerer, Seance, Cabala, Astral Projection, etc. To modern listeners, the sound delivers a vintage synth sensibility, and this album in particular feels a bit more cinematic -- almost as if it's the soundtrack to a nonexistent 70s film about the good doctor. Plus, I suppose I can't help but see parallels between Garson and Dee -- both of them technically-minded explorers of new, uncharted realms. Here's a taste:

'Black Mass' by Lucifer

The older of the two albums featured here, "Black Mass" feels even less bound to a particular age. There's plenty of classic synth splendor here, but at times the tracks feel more in keeping with more contemporary, backward-gazing artists.The track "Exorcism," for instance, brings to mind such future electronic standouts as Siona Caves and Boards of Canada.

Sadly, both albums are rather hard to come by. Vinyl and CD re-releases pop up from time to time (such as a 2015 reissue of the Ataraxia album by the German label Fifth Dimension), but digital options are scarce -- aside from unofficial postings on YouTube, SoundCloud and music blogs such as Egg City Radio. Garson's sounds are out there, though. Seek and ye shall find.

Space Music is a continuous exploration of our expanding cosmos of sound, with an emphasis on electronic music. Sample a little of everything from past posts at the Space Music Sampler playlist on Spotify.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.