Intersystems’ outer limits musique concrète began as the soundtrack to the suitably named “Mind Excursion” event at the University of Toronto in 1967. This immersive environment filled ten rooms with sights, sounds and smells for a sensory overloading psychedelic experience.
The team behind this “electrosonic presentation” was sculptor Michael Hayden, architect Dick Zander, electronic composer John Mills-Cockell and poet Blake Parker. Over the next two years, Intersystems masterminded a series of similarly mind-massaging installations along with three albums, now lovingly enshrined in this lavish box set from Italy’s Alga Marghen.
The reproduced sleeve of 1967’s Intersystems Number One credits Mills-Cockell’s “musical visitations” and Parker’s “chaste mouthings,” as introduced on the immortal Orange Juice & Velvet Underwear. Scraping strings and hypnotic drones propel Parker’s deadpan conjuring of “gentle boys,” “smells of oranges” and “marmalade on velvet.” As Nick Storring offers in his essay, “it may be the most typically capital-p Psychedelic cut of their entire catalog,” but simply sets the scene for what’s to come.
Parker’s blending of the sensual with the surreal and the banal never quite becomes clear in the shimmering subaquatics of Intersystems’ debut. Sonic equivalents of his Burroughsian cut-ups are John Cale’s The Gift, Throbbing Gristle’s Hamburger Lady or the foghorn oration in an ocean of din from Bill Exley of the Nihilist Spasm Band (later signed to Intersystems’ label Allied Records on Hayden’s suggestion.) Parker’s poetry is far more kitchen sink, yet its power is felt subliminally, changing the temperature in any room where it’s played.
As Mills-Cockell explains in his essay, a device called “The Coffin” created the ominous acousmatics of Intersystems Number One. This satin-lined box was the resting place for piano wire, tuning pegs and contact mics to switch between ghostly samples like a radio station from beyond. By 1968’s Peachy, he had become one of Canada’s earliest owners of a Moog Mark II synthesizer, voyaging even further out.
Peachy opener Experienced Not Watched is comparable to the prog fantasias of Mills-Cockell’s later project Syrinx, but proves to be another fakeout. Intersystems’ masterpiece flows through a jump-cut collage of sputtering sound effects, orchestral swells and Parker’s disembodied Dalek buzzing. Their final album, Free Psychedelic Poster Inside, amps up the agitation with lobe-slicing sine waves and seasick stereo pans, alongside the story of a “plastic” couple on the brink.
Emerging from this spawning pool, Mills-Cockell’s Moog would be employed by the likes of Kensington Market, Bruce Cockburn and Anne Murray. He would see brighter lights, but these avant-garde origins deserve a flashback. Nearly 50 years later, the remastered LPs are packaged with 132 densely packed pages of images and essays, finally giving listeners the chance to lucidly experience Intersystems’ mind excursions in the mind’s eye.