Captain’s Log: Star Date 02102023. About lunchtime.
Our sensors have detected soundwaves from a mysterious green planet populated by little men with propellors on their pointy heads. The Chief Science Officer believes this is the mysterious Planet Gong, which is usually invisible because it exists in another dimension. Furthermore, the inhabitants move about in vessels known as ‘flying teapots’ and occasionally visit Earth carrying what were once called ‘albums’ – collections of musical pieces designed to encourage human beings to stop hating each other and drink more tea.
All the indications suggest the music emanates from a group of politico-philosophical spiritual-anarchist musicians who collectively call themselves Gong. This group is in a constant state of flux, and has been since the Earth year of 1969 – indeed, it is believed that some of the present practitioners were not even born when it first began its aural experiments. But our computer memory banks suggest the Gong collective is akin to an enormous starship – some people get on, some get off but the starship continues on its course, rather like reboots of a popular science-fiction TV series.
But I digress. We locked on to the source of the music and beamed up what appears to be the latest Gong album, which is entitled Unending Ascending. Close study revealed it is a collection of eight tracks that merge into each other as a two-part suite of songs taking the listener on a trip through the cosmos. To do this they combine elements of psychedelic and progressive rock, space rock, jazz, ambient trance and many other musical elements found in the universe.
It launches with the album’s single, Tiny Galaxies – mellow, reverberating guitar notes shimmer brightly as the listener is exhorted to “Pick the telescope up, you’ll see infinity / Constellations lit up, impossibility / Don’t look down the other end…”. Then it crashes into thrumming guitar chords overlaid with glorious vocal harmonies and spacey vibrations reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domine.
Tiny Galaxies slides directly into track two, My Guitar is A Spaceship, which is built on a tricky guitar riff over alternate bars of 5/4 and 4/4. The Chief Science Officer describes the time signature as ‘illogical’ but somehow it all works. Lieutenant Uhuru even started boogieing on the bridge, until I reminded her of her duties.
Any fears of hostile intent are swept away by the opening line, in which the band is “Sending love from Planet Gong”. This group apparently comes in peace, as illustrated in the hypnotic, transcendent drone of Ship of Ishtar – inspired, we believe, by the fantasy book (a primitive, plant-based communication device) of the same name by the early 20th Century writer Abraham Merritt. It is the longest track on the album at nearly nine minutes, and features what we are given to understand is Gong’s signature sound of ‘glissando guitar’, in which the strings of the instrument are stroked with a metal implement. I have asked Chief Engineer Scottie to build me one.
Ship of Ishtar leads into the medium-paced, slightly funky Oh, Arcturus! As all Starfleet Academy graduates know, Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation of Bootes, a red giant nearly eight billion years old. Gong’s tribute to this celestial wonder allows once again for massed vocal harmonies and soaring lead guitar that is out of this world (and, at the end, reprises the riff from the second track). Truly, these creatures show quite advanced ingenuity in the field of musical production.
The second suite of songs begins with All Clocks Reset, based on a series of repetitive, rising notes played on guitar and saxophone. Vocal lines are punctuated by tricky riffs and seductive major seventh chords. Mr Spock has attempted to work out the time signatures on this song but so far it has defeated him, despite being all ears.
Choose Your Goddess appears to channel another popular 20th Century musical act called Led Zeppelin, with its staccato guitar opening reminiscent of Immigrant Song, although Mr Zeppelin did not use saxophone or glissando guitar on his recordings. There are also elements of earlier Gong compositions here, particularly the whimsically-named Fohat Digs Holes in Space from Camembert Electrique.
Lunar Invocation is another hypnotic, drone-based performance that breaks up the more frenetic tracks around it, with more glissando guitar and soaring vocal harmonies. We are not sure which lunar body this track refers to – there are 214 known and suspected moons in Earth’s solar system, while the planet Billiard has so many moons they bounce off each other.
The musical communication from Gong is brought to an end with the gentle, contemplative Asleep Do We Lay – and, suddenly, it is all over after just 42 minutes, although it seems much quicker. Perhaps, as Mr Spock has suggested to me, the music is so engrossing and uplifting that it appears to go by at warp speed.
I asked the ship’s medical offer, Dr McCoy, for his assessment. He praised the musical dexterity of the combo, singling out Cheb Nettles’s powerful, flexible drumming, Ian East’s cheeky sax, the strong, idiosyncratic guitar and bass lines and the close vocal harmonies. He also pointed out that while earlier incarnations of the group were based around a mysterious creature called the ‘Divided Alien’, the current arrangement is a more democratic affair, and sometimes all the better for it.
Many feared that without the ‘Divided Alien’ – also known as Dingo Virgin and Bert Camembert – the Planet Gong would cease its vibrations and disappear in a space cloud of nostalgia. But sensors indicate it has found a new lease of life, and its most recent emanations have proved to be some of the most exciting and enticing of all. One can only hope, as we travel through the final frontier, boldly going where no-one has gone before, that these emanations continue well into the future.
I asked Dr McCoy to sum up his reaction, and I think his pithy words reflect the opinion of all of us aboard the Enterprise.
“It’s music, Jim, but not as we know it.”
01. Tiny Galaxies (3:42)
02. My Guitar is A Spaceship (4:19)
03. Ship of Ishtar (8:55)
04. Oh, Arcturus! (4:05)
05. All Clocks Reset (4:20)
06. Choose Your Goddess (7:06)
07. Lunar Invocation (4:48)
08. Asleep Do We Lay (4:26)
Total Time – 41:41
Kavus Torabi – Guitar, Vocals
Fabio Golfetti – Guitar, Vocals
Dave Sturt – Bass, Vocals
Ian East – Flute, Saxophone
Cheb Nettles – Drums, Vocals
Record Label: Kscope
Planet of Origin: Gong
Date of Release: 3rd November 2023