Following the release of Mark Pritchard’s mighty Under The Sun LP, Piers Barber invents a new feature in order to pen an ode to one of the pioneering producer’s finest moments to date: 76:14, the ambient techno classic released alongside Tom Middleton as Global Communication.
Originally released in 1994, 76:14 is the otherworldly joint creation of vital dance producers Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard. Over twenty years since its release, the record retains a special aura: largely beatless and intricately textured, it’s a staggeringly beautiful concoction of ambience, choirly vocals and soft drum machine textures, coloured throughout by the captivating techno sounds that were filtering out of Detroit and industrial England in the early 1990s. The result is one of the clear masterpieces of the post-rave ambient canon.
The record’s origins are uniquely English. Middleton, originally from Cornwall, learned the wizardry of music production from Richard D. James and co-produced ‘Entrance to Exit,’ which appeared on Aphex Twin’s vital Analogue Bubblebath EP. He met Pritchard after moving to Taunton in Somerset to study. “There was very little going on there,” Middleton explains, “but then one night I saw that there was a night put on at the local club. It was Mark. He was DJing, and playing all the tunes that I was loving at the time.”
It was the start of a prolific, pioneering and eclectic musical partnership, propelled by a shared musical fascination with classical styles, film soundtracks and a diverse range of popular genres pioneered by the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, Derrick May, Vangelis and Masters at Work. Recording under the names Jedi Knights and Reload & e621, the pair’s first releases were effective Detroit-flavoured numbers that reflected their joint admiration of that city’s pioneering sound. The name of the pair’s label, Evolution Records, created in 1991, was even derived from one of their favourite Carl Craig tracks.
The Global Communication moniker, under which Middleton and Pritchard released their more ambient, downtempo productions, debuted with The Keongaku EP and was followed by a full-length remix “translation” of Chapterhouse’s Blood Music album. 76:14 came not long after. “It was about making an inclusive listening experience for sharing with friends, family and lovers,” Middleton says of the GC project, “bypassing gender, age, race, language, religion and sexuality.”
76:14 (the album is named after its length, as is each individual track) remains Global Communication’s definitive achievement. Recorded in Crewkerne (a small town in Somerset somewhere between Yeovil and Chard), the album’s perfect pacing, delicate intricacy and pioneering production style ensures it always steers safely clear of the chill-out room predictability which has badly aged so much of the ambient canon. Indeed, it’s a brilliantly complimentary merging of sounds and styles. As Mark Pritchard explains:
“I’d always leaned towards sadder and darker kind of music, and Tom was always more accessible and melodic. So even though to me it’s a lot lighter than something I would listen to, the reason it works is that there is some tension in there. With ambient music you always have to be careful that it doesn’t become new-age, wafty music.”
The result is a collection of remarkable compositions, which reverberate around in the subconscious long after its 76 minutes and 14 seconds have passed. The album is devoid of vocals – with the exception of wordless choir textures and spoken samples from nine different languages – and is instead built on painstakingly arranged layers of synth, soft bass lines and tasteful live instrumentation. Despite deriving its magnificence from the music’s cumulative impact, certain tracks particularly endure in the memory. ‘14:31,’ for example, with its recognisably infectious piano melody and compelling ticking clock rhythm, is perhaps the greatest track in its genre. ‘9:39’ is a weightier offering of swinging techno, while the urgent chords of ‘8:07’ and ‘5:23’ form the album’s remarkably arresting climax. It’s brought to a close with a soul-cleansing, ethereal 15 minutes of perfectly spacey ambience.
Since 76:14, Middleton and Pritchard have endured as two of the most influential and unpredictable producers in electronic music. Between them – both collaboratively and as lone rangers – the pair have delivered critically acclaimed and boundary-pushing productions which have defined a host of genres: house, deep house, ambient, acid, broken beat, instrumental hip hop, techno, drum and bass, grime, dancehall, trap and rave. Under The Sun, Pritchard’s latest project and the first released under his own name, is a masterfully atmospheric beatless affair, all droning atmospheres and filmic soundscapes. Indeed, it’s perhaps the closest either Pritchard or Middleton have come to replicating the moods of 76:14 in a full-length format (Not Club Music, Pritchard’s marvellous promotional Spotify playlist designed to set out the tone and roots of Under The Sun, includes some of 76:14‘s standout tracks).
The album itself endures as a undeniable classic, despite the gradual decline of the genre which it came to define. Its ten year anniversary was marked with a remastered release which also brought together other defining Global Communication moments, including the house-fuelled ‘The Way’ and the glistening textures of ‘Sensorama’. In 2010, the duo once again came together to play the album in full at several shows and festivals (see above, in Tokyo), an opportunity – as illustrated by this Resident Advisor interview – which offered Middleton and Pritchard a chance to reflect on the record’s mighty legacy.
With electronic music all but grown out of its ambient-obsessive phase, it’s unclear whether quite so potent an example of this genre will ever be recorded again. No matter. Striking, bittersweet and liberating, 76:14 comes as close to mastering this indefinable sound as its likely possible to get.