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ZIRCON & THE BURNING BRAINS - HISTORY

Nigel Harris, Alan Freeman, Steve Freeman
experimental, industrial, electronics & multimedia





Zircon & The Burning Brains in 1984: Nigel (seated), Alan (choosing a record), Steve (seated, drinking wine)

Zircon & The Burning Brains (aka ZBB for short) was established as an incognito project of the brothers Steve and Alan Freeman, debuting with the cassette release "Schreek" in 1981. Encouraged by Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound) who really enjoyed the tape, copies were also sent to some fanzines and gained a mixture of puzzled and positive reviews. ZBB = Zircon, after Frank Zappa's "Zircon encrusted tweezers" from The Mothers "Overnite Sensation", Burning Brains, from Tangerine Dream's "Electronic Meditation" an album conceptualised around a "Burning Brain", and a source for a lot of the album and track titles! Originally a sideline to the early "screaming at the world" Holy Atheist, ZBB was just a re-branding with a new concept at the start, and would have gone no further after failing to come up with successful recordings for a second release.

From 1982 onwards ZBB were an actual band, a trio comprising Alan & Steve Freeman (from Alto Stratus) and "Kafka Man" Nigel Harris. The debut by the trio "Take Two" saw the rebirth of the ZBB project, and was soon followed by 3 further releases in just over a year. Zircon was the equipment, originally an old ITT cassette recorder rewired as a feedback device, and the Burning Brains were the human performers. Instrumentation included motors, tin cans, pots and pans, pocket calculators, radio, lots of cassette recorders, a Sinclair Spectrum computer, and later on various cheaply bought analogue synthesizers, Casio keyboards, etc.

Early ZBB was purely improvised with microphones scattered around a room, home-made tape loops, hand-wound record players, motors dancing on guitar stings, etc. There were many more releases from that time than are currently available, largely because not everything stood the test of time we decided against reissuing everything. So, the releases documented on this site reflect the very best output - the music we're still proud of, plus some dips into the early mayhem of primordial ZBB. Electronic based, between industrial and contemporary avant-garde, ZBB made a spontaneous and innovative music that is quite unlike anything else! Nigel's fascination for esoteric (French and Oriental) cultural elements mixed with a music hinting at Throbbing Gristle through to Nurse With Wound, via Krautrock and Electroacoustic/musique-concrete. When one realises what basic instrumentation and resources we had - it is all the more remarkable.

The "Cortex!" cassette was always fondly thought of as the finest ZBB. In it analogue synthesizers, tape-loops, a primitive sequencer (on a Sinclair Spectrum no-less), found-sound, impromptu vocals, etc. add-up to a unique experience. One where everything was as perfect as it could be. All this time on, it is still a music that challenges, is fresh and original, and defies convention, in that it is still very much avant-garde today. Pretty highly rated too, with copies being sold for as much as £20+ on Amazon back in 1999! So, it was the inevitable title to publish as a first CD. Digitally transferred by Colin Potter and sounding great, it has 2 bonus tracks: "Imaginé" originally on "A Cage Went In Search Of A Bird" and the title track from the "Out Of The Ashes" cassette. Snazzied-up with flashy improved artwork, it made a great value debut for the Ultimate Transmissions label. £8.00 + p&p from Ultima Thule is also a much better option than an over-priced and old worn cassette original!

The Auricle Archive CDs round-up all the best of the rest from the ZBB vaults. The first two are anthologies of choice works going right back to 1981. "Cold Smoke" adds up to an essential "industrial" history of ZBB, and features two unreleased remixes, plus all the remaining material from "Out Of The Ashes" cassette. "Embers", in contrast, tells the tale from a more abstract/avant-garde angle, with an unreleased track, selections from the hitherto undocumented "db" cassette, and yet more rarities, ending with the sonic blitz of "Theatre Of Modern Warfare". The later "Dissecting Human Life" was compiled after a trawl through various unreleased session tapes from 1984-86, including material for an album that was never completed. You'll also find a rare ZBB tracks and CD-Rom material on the "Rarities" disc.

After a final 80s session (circa 1987) that never came to much, ZBB was then put on hold (as with all other musical projects) when Steve and Alan started up Ultima Thule as an official business. Also, not so long after that, Nigel moved to Japan and got married. The only times we heard from Nigel in the 90s was when he bought a copy of The Crack In The Cosmic Egg book or to order Audion magazines.

Much later we re-established contact again, thanks to a newfangled thing called email! Nigel had been in other projects, in art and music, most notably solo work under the guise of Sukurappu Koujou Sumire Gumi (what a mouthful!) with a few very eclectic and engaging releases. Steve and Alan were also again very active in music with Endgame and many other projects, of which The Newt Hounds particularly intrigued Nigel. So he suggested that maybe we do something together again in a similar fashion. Thus, over 2 decades after ZBB split, two new albums were recorded, "Zircognition" the result of transcontinental volleys by mail over a year, and "Occidental Encounter" made during an intensive day's session in the Tachyon Studio when Nigel came back to England for a holiday. Quite remarkable, it was almost as though ZBB had never split, but mutated with all sorts of new gadgetry and an even higher level of musical communication. It may have been a short-lived reformation, as no further collaborations have happened since. Although, also completed at this time was the remarkable hybrid ZBB / Endgame sessions and the CD release "Fire Lane" under the guise of The Zircon Game.

discography...

SCHREEK - MC Musiques Nouvelles MN 002 (1981)
TAKE TWO - MC Syzygy ZC 60.005 (1983)
THEATRE OF MODERN WARFARE - MC Syzygy ZC 60.007 (1983)
MANA - MC Syzygy ZC 60.020 (1983), Dark Star DSC 00 / DS304, CDR Dark Star DSC DS304 CDR (2010)
ANAM - MC Syzygy ZC 60.021 (1983), Dark Star DSC 01, CDR Dark Star DSC 01 CDR (2010)
db - MC Dark Star DS301 (1984)
«CORTEX!» - MC Dark Star DS306 (1985), Auricle AMC 006 (1986), CD Ultimate Transmissions UTCD 001 (1999)
OLD WOUNDS, VOL. 3 - MC Dark Star DC03 (1986)
OUT OF THE ASHES - MC Auricle AMC 022 (1987)
COLD SMOKE - CDR Auricle Archive AMACDR 001 (2000)
EMBERS - CDR Auricle Archive AMACDR 011 (2001)
ZIRCOGNITION - CDR Auricle AMCDR 057 (2005)
OCCIDENTAL ENCOUNTER - CDR Auricle AMCDR 061 (2005)
DISSECTING HUMAN LIFE - CDR Auricle Archive AMACDR 017 (2012)

original ZBB tracks on other releases...
 ILLUMINATED PLEASURES - MC Dark Star ST 1 (1983), CDR Auricle AMACDR 014 (2007) track: Darkness!
 AURICLE 2005 SAMPLER - CDR Auricle AMSCDR 013 (2006) features 2 remixed tracks

Zircon & The Burning Brains reviews in Audion - #6/31, #9/20, #42/5+42

 

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