Brainticket is the artist name of the Belgian multi-instrumentalist, world traveller and explorer Joel Vandendroogbroeck. He released six albums in thirty years. Vandendroogbroeck founded Brainticket in 1968, a collective of like-minded musicians, in Basel, Switzerland, where he was living at the time. As a concept, they used voyages, explorations and adventures in the depths of people’s minds. Even though there were some similarities with a movement going on in Germany – that would later be known as Krautrock – Brainticket had its own unique sound.
Before Brainticket really took off, Vandendroogbroeck and his American girlfriend Carole Muriel got involved with Drum Circus that recorded the album Magic Circus (1971). It featured Swiss drummer Peter Giger and the American psychologist Timothy Leary – a controversial figure during the sixties and seventies for encouraging drugs – who wrote some lyrics. This album became the blue print for Brainticket’s debut album Cottonwoodhill, which was far ahead of its time. The music is very psychedelic, but different from the German cosmic music like Ashra Temple and the Cosmic Jokers. The album contains an almost funky bass line and rhythm section, above it distorted guitar, organ and vocals and loads of sound effects integrated in the music long before the existence of digital samplers. Vocalist Dawn Muir added some spoken words, recanting vividly an LSD-trip full of paranoia, ecstasy, confusion and sensuality.
Soon after the release of Cottonwoodhill, the first line-up disbanded and Vandendroogbroeck and Muriel moved to Italy where they formed a new line-up with, amongst others, drummer Bernhard ‘Barney’ Palm and vocalist Jane Free. Despite its title – a psychonaut is a traveller in the depths of the mind – the second album is not as psychedelic and experimental as its predecessor. In fact it’s mostly a song-oriented album containing six songs. Opener Radagacuca starts with a spacey organ and a flute before moving into a quiet song, but just before the end the songs burst into the wild and chaotic energy reminiscent of the first album. One Morning is dominated by the piano. Watchin’ You and Like A Place In The Sun are two kind of rock songs that remind me a bit of Amon Düül II, but with more organ and less guitar. Overall, the guitar is barely present throughout the album. On some tracks Vandendroogbroeck also plays the sitar. Feel The Wind Blow is a more quiet song almost George Harrison- like, and the album ends with the instrumental Coc’o Mary, a jazz-rock track where Vandendroogbroeck tortures his organ to its limits. The sound effects so heavily used on the first album are still there, but more subtle and better integrated.
During his stay in Italy, Vandendroogbroeck worked as a studio musician. Via his contacts he earned a record deal with RCA Italy and this enabled him to record Celestial Ocean. By that time Brainticket was reduced to the core of Vandendroogbroeck (keyboards, guitar, synthesizer, flute, sitar and vocals), Bernhard Palm (percussion, vocals and tabla) and Carole Muriel (vocals, zither, synthesizer and generators). Celestial Ocean was the first album on which Brainticket started to use synthesizers. Musically it sounds like a collaboration of Quintessence, Kraftwerk and Popol Vuh. The album is much more atmospheric than its predecessors.
Celestial Ocean is also a concept album about the Egyptian book of the dead describing musically the voyage of the faraos into the land of the next life. This voyage is also a metaphor for the transformation of human beings to a higher level of consciousness. Celestial Ocean is a very spiritual and ambitious piece of work, an unrecognized and underestimated masterpiece. The opening song Egyptian Kings is built around a bass line played by hand on a synthesizer. That’s quite common nowadays, but in those days sequencers were very limited and synthesizers were much more used as a solo instrument. A male voice sings and a female voice repeats the words. Jardins is an acoustic song with an eastern touch caused by the tabla and the sitar. Rainbow is a short electronic piece that builds up to the next song, Era Of Technology. This song starts with a nervous organ with some electronic and acoustic sounds played randomly, and male and female voices speaking in English, German and French. To Another Universe starts with a drum solo that slowly becomes more structured and then disappears to give way for a calm vocal part. The next two songs The Space Between and Cosmic Wind reminded me of early Kraftwerk during the Ralf And Florian-period: music built around the synthesizer and flute and some slow percussion. The closing track Visions is a beautiful piano solo that could have been played by Popol Vuh’s Florian Fricke.
Back in 1973 the world wasn’t ready for Brainticket. Following the release of the album, the band did a small tour through Germany, Switzerland and Italy to support it, but without success. They also were down on their luck that RCA Italy wanted to be independent from its international parent company. A better distribution deal could have been better for them. Because of disappointing sales Brainticket lost its record deal, moved back to Switzerland and broke up. Then Joel Vandendrooghbroek played in various jazz-rock bands. Around 1980 there was a short reappearance with, amongst others, Vandendrooghbroek and Bernhard Palm. They recorded a series of electronic improvisations that appeared on the albums Adventure and Voyage. After that the band kept silent for more than twenty years, but in 2001 Alchemic Universe had been released on which Brainticket was mainly a solo project of Joel Vandendrooghbroek with some vocals from Carole Muriel. At the time, Vandendrooghbroek lived in Hawaii. He is now said to be living in Mexico, if he’s not somewhere on a trip to explore new ethnic music.
Both Psychonaut and Celestial Ocean have now been re-released by the English record company Esoteric Recordings. It’s not the first reissue on CD, but this time the albums have been remastered. The cover artwork is the same as on the original albums and there are no bonus tracks. Both albums sound remarkably fresh today. It’s in fact the first time these albums are released in the UK. They are essential to listen to if you like Krautrock and/or seventies psychedelic music.
**** & ****+ Erik Gibbels (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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