System 7
Point 3: Water Album






Here we have an album that is close to my heart, if only for the ideas that went into it and the overall presentation or the field recordings and sound effects that were recorded in Bali – it‘s not just the music itself but the encapsulating history that makes this album so interesting. Steve Hillage and his wife Miquette Giraudy form the duo System 7. In 1994 the band released their album Point 3 in two versions: a pumping, dance-friendly Fire Version and a mellow, Prog Rock-influenced Water Version, which is closer to my heart, as you may have imagined already. Not only did System 7 remix almost all of the tracks of their Fire Album, they also changed the running order, spending as much thought about the remixes as they did on the presentation. Today, the remix culture can be tiresome and hard to grasp. I find it fascinating, however, when artists remix their own songs, and this happened quite often from the late 80's till the middle of the 90's. If artists then present their remixes on a whole album, that's even better. You can fully enjoy the Water Album without knowing the Fire Album versions which are considered as the original mixes. Let's check out all of the 9 aquatic tracks.

Batukau (World Turtle Mix) starts with exotic percussion, bouncing didgeridoo-like synth pads, cherubic but fragile synth backings and rather dark synth strings that become polyphonous and much more majestic after a short time. Hillage's electric guitar is used as an incisive device that adds my favorite Progressive Rock element to the mix – gently screeching spacey strings. Shortly after its introduction, the song morphs into a Jungle or, if you prefer that other term, Drum & Bass track that doesn't lose the focus on the crystalline percussion and the rhythmically thumping double beats. Sirènes (Tranquility Mix) is next and already mentions the focus in its name which delivers a pitch-perfect description: glacial synths and meandering guitar screeches are traversed by gently clicking percussive devices and mesmerizing, incomprehensible female vocals. Flittering whirls of galactic synth pulses are the only perceptible additions to the setup, which remains largely unchanged. Since the song is a bit longer than 5 minutes, the setup of the atmosphere is exactly right. This mix of Sirènes is a powerful offering that is neither a Prog Rock song nor a tribal Goa rendering, but a proper Ambient track.


Up next is Coltrane (Firefly Mix) which is the longest track with over 14 minutes runtime. The engine of a flying airplane is heard, dark jungle noises and various birds are introduced next to an acid-like, rather complex loop that is soon accompanied by hectical maracas. The tribal feeling is thus increased as well as the feeling of joyfulness and bliss due to euphonious background synth washes. The middle section of the track is beatless, shifting the focus to the oscillating acid-loop which is presented in a gentler form now. Airy electric guitar strings can be heard as underlining ingredients in the background, and the bird noises are re-introduced as well. The final 3 minutes consist of another wave of beautiful synth washes that are more reduced, though. The song ends with steps and movements in the water. This remix shows what was right about the diverse Trance and Progressive Dance movements of the 90's. The tracks are journeys, and no one gives a damn about genre specifications or expectations by the listeners. Electronic music experiments are the only things that count, and even though this track is rather long, it never gets boring, but oscillates between gorgeous sections of happiness and more relaxing, beatless counterparts. Yes, this music is considered clichéd nowadays due to the prominent inclusion of electric guitars and bird noises, but believe me, music like this isn't produced anymore. Sarcastic people might add several good reasons for the waning existence, I however am bathing in nostalgia, ignoring every remark. Ha! A less successful track, to my mind, is Mysterious Traveller (Dust Devils Mix), which starts in medias res with airy hi hats and electronic percussion; it furthermore presents a panopticon of uneasily warped melodies of mystery. Although the song features no drums, it is a masked dance song with an atmosphere of despair and craziness. A huge letdown for me, but a clear nod to the band's trance roots and the version that is featured on the Fire Album.

Dr Livingstone I Presume (Hotuatabotol Mix) is a beautifully kitschy Middle Eastern-styled Ambient track with sitars, trembling flutes, glowing background synths, underlining guitar strings and praying bedouins, all of them evoking the feeling of a sizzling hot desert. The deep rumblings are a welcome counterpart to the cascading synth flitterings, and the mood is tense and mysterious. A huge favorite of mine because of its kitschy flair. A good example of electronic Exotica music. The following Alpha Wave is one of System 7's best known tracks and is presented in the so-called Hemi-Sync Mix, merging typically fluttering, pulsating loops with glinting synth crystals and cherubic electric guitars. An interesting addition are the distinct acoustic guitar pluckings that are interwoven a few times in the mix. Basically, the track mimics a typical System 7 Progressive Trance track, but without the pumping beats. Liquid Sky is a track that was specifically written for the Water Album and features the well-known interplay of spacey guitars and flittering sparkles of chopped pulses. A few minutes later, the track grows louder as cacophonous bursts and overdriven noises are present, but nothing much changes otherwise. To this day the track sounds a bit too weak in my opinion, and I would have liked more dominant synthscapes. Nonetheless, the glistening atmosphere does work, although the track is a tad too long for my liking.


Gliding On Duo-Tone (Cascade Mix) shares its attributes with Liquid Sky, but here the setup works, for the sparkling synth loops are much more playful and yet soothing, with additional rapturous synth backings, bubbling water noises and flying lasers. Soon, the track moves into Goa territory with staccato beats and a reduction of the synths while still retaining the lasers and various other noises. Added hi hats and cymbals further enhance the pressure, and you are waiting for the beats to occur, but unsurprisingly, they never will, and the Ambient effect seems almost forced. The final Jupiter! (Feed Your Head Mix) presents witty horse samples as well as gallopping sounds, but the dense, concentrated mood soon re-appears with trembling electric guitars, frosty but mellow background strings and warm modulations of synth pads. This is yet another take on the mood of the previous two songs, and this time everything is right due to the gentler approach of every aspect, the included bongo beats and the swirling sound effects that fit much better in happier surroundings that are less keen on acid- or dance-like components.

Say what you will, but the Water Album of Point 3 is not only a great idea on paper, but features different viewpoints and setups of the Fire versions and is hence a conceptually interesting offer that few artists have considered in the field of electronic music, Hiroshi Watanabe aka Kaito being a famous exception who comes up with beatlesss versions of his tracks a few months after the regular release. The Water Album wasn't even marketed as a pure Ambient album, and yet the focus is clear: all tracks are beatless renditions of their pumping Fire brethren, and while the atmosphere isn't always as dreamy as on the mixes of Sirènes and Dr Livingstone I Presume, the tracks always shimmer and gleam due to shedloads of lasers, space opera sounds and flittering synth whirls and the omnipresent electric guitar strings. Indeed, some songs seem to be clichéd by now, but they weren't back then. If you cannot stand space settings or electric guitars overall, you should avoid this album. However, everyone who wants a brighter version of the terrifically abyssal darkness of Tony Scott's Voyage Into A Black Hole or wants an album that can be distantly compared to Sun Electric's majestic journey to the sun called 30.7.94 Live, consider the Point 3: Water Album, but prepare for a stark flavor of ingredients that are usually found in various Trance or psychedelic dance tunes. If you can successfully ignore or even embrace these specific synth hooks, you will definitely enjoy System 7's Ambient-esque Water Album.




Ambient Review 041: System 7 – Point 3: Water Album (1994). Originally published on Feb. 29, 2012 at