The Second Coming of John Came

by coldwarnightlife
John Came

(Via Mute)

Mute have announced the release of John Came’s Rhythmicon album, out on 8 September 2023. The album – a concept album using computer software and synthesisers – was shrouded in mystery on its original release in July 1995. Who was John Came (theories included Alan Wilder, Vince Clarke and Daniel Miller), and what exactly was the Radiophonic wizardry concealed in the Rhythmicon? At a time before the world wide web would proport to answer any question we could possibly think of, and in a world before fake news would become so every day, listeners could only guess…

John Came’s detailed biography pointed to an artist born in London, one of the “ten-pound pommies” who emigrated to Australia in search of a better life, returning to the UK, then seeking inspiration in the islands of Northern Scotland before cycling from Skye to London.

And what of the mysterious rhythmicon? Came was introduced to the instrument by Nick Cope of the electronic group Pnin. The Rhythmicon was a machine co-designed by the American composer Henry Dixon Cowell (1897-1965) and Leon Theremin (inventor of the Theremin). The instrument aimed to realise one of Cowell’s musical theories, in which intervallic and rhythmic relationships could be reduced to common mathematical ratios; in effect, a “harmonic” approach to rhythmic organisation. Having the Rhythmicon as a ‘given’, Nick decided to invert the logic and derive harmonic and melodic information from rhythmic information, and vice versa.

Using sound and theory, John Came introduced their ideas to the world via a series of instructive films showing Came playing his compositions (arhythmically) into a simulacrum of the Rhythmicon thereby generating the rhythmic data of the pieces. From there the rhythmic information of the pieces was turned into notes; and then the two separate strands of transformed data are overlaid and entered into a music notating/playing computer.

The wild theory and deadpan delivery gave rise to a suspicion that John Came was a pseudonym and his rhythmicon the result of the fertile imagination of an artist knowledgeable in the fields of electronic experimentation. Happily we can now answer: ‘yes’ and ‘sorry, we still don’t know’. John Came was indeed a pseudonym, the masterminds behind the concept were Simon Leonard and David Baker (aka Komputer / Fortran 5 / I Start Counting), but the exact details of the instrumentation and how this unusual album came about is still the subject of some conjecture.

Listen for yourself to a long-lost album of classic electronic experimentation. Its composer’s deep immersion in the worlds of electronic pop are evident, as is their long history with Mute. The artists, who started working together in 1982, released their first music on Mute in 1984 [I Start Counting’s ‘Letter to a Friend’, produced by Daniel Miller], before segueing into the more dance / techno focussed Fortran 5 [notable tracks include the Midnight Cowboy sampling ‘Time To Dream’ and the club hit of ‘Heart on the Line’]. The John Came album arrived at a time when Leonard and Baker were transitioning from Fortran 5 to Komputer, who would go on to record their wonderful paean to Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space [‘Valentina’, 1997]. David Baker is currently working on his solo project, lonelyklown.

Rhythmicon tracklisting
Heavenly Clean
Transit Authority
Hapsburg Chin
Coffin Filler
On The Reef
Nitrogen Narcosis

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