Automate: Off Beat Records (O-124), 1998 (Germany) / Metropolis Records (MET 106), 1998 (US)
Automate 2.0: Basic Unit Productions (BU003PROD), 2000 (Germany)
Looking back, I think this is where my love affair with ambient music really started. In the mid-1990s, I was a die-hard club-frequenting EBM/industrial music fanatic, I’d heard and appreciated Forma Tadre’s 1996 album Navigator for its Lovecraftian and intellectual take on the genre, but when Andreas Meyer released the follow-up, I had no idea that it would have such a lasting impression on my musical tastes.
When I first listened to Automate, I expected something similar to Navigator: creative, club-friendly tracks with strange lyrics and stark melodic atmospheres. What I heard was quite, quite different. The first track, “La Cite”, enveloped me in vast spaces, perhaps full of the unknowable geometry so prevalent in Lovecraft’s stories. Meyer’s synths wandered peacefully through wide chasms; the first steps on a journey of wonder. Even when sticking to genre convention, Meyer always experimented, keeping his music on the fringes, never allowing it to become disposable. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Meyer was a musician first and a composer second, and this is perhaps the top reason his work remains compelling twenty years after release.
Automate was released in two versions. The first appeared in 1998, and an expanded version in 2000. The album proper is very close to the same, the most noticeable difference being the complete reworking of the title track in the expanded version. Automate also includes five bonus tracks not included in the initial release, and, of course, the artwork is completely new.
What, then, makes the album so compelling? Meyer’s creativity and sense of pace tantalize without overwhelming, easing the listener through the album’s darkly majestic voyage, and his creativity was ahead of its time. The oddly titled “Sinus Park” opens with what is, at its core, a slow-paced echo-laden glitch pattern, with reverbed melodies floating in the distance. Then, with enviable ease, the track adopts a sparkling, almost uplifting sequence, while a curious, near-human-voice sample dots the cosmic haze, before everything floats away on delicate pulses. This track is Forma Tadre at its best, evocative without effort, organic in its flow, chock-full of inspiration, all in less than seven minutes. The follower, “Lo Rez Skyline,” harkens back to the more structured tracks of Navigator, with a low bass-line, sparse beats, meandering synth work, and Meyer’s distorted voice chanting deep in the mix. It shouldn’t fit in an ambient album – especially one so minimal – but it does, and perfectly.
Nor is Meyer hesitant to give his tracks room to breathe. “Le Musee Des Appareils” is a ten-minute affair with a restless pulse that moves gracefully from speaker to speaker, while waves of strings and pipes rise and fall far away. One gets the sense of walking through a vast dark hall, with dust motes floating lazily through dim beams of light; a sad place, perhaps, but a safe one, waiting to be explored. Navigator featured its share of beatless ambience, but only hinted at this level of mastery. “Node Rituals” shimmers and shifts with IDM precognition, and despite its distant thunder, nervous flutters, and heraldic gongs, “Dagon” is peacefully transcendent, containing none of the brain-shattering Lovecraftian horror the title might suggest. The final track, “L’Exodus”, is perhaps the darkest, with an ominous drone as its backbone, but Meyer does not let it saturate the mood too heavily, and we’re soon climbing out, attracted by an inviting glow.
The extra content in Automate 2.0 continue the foundation laid in the album. The strange, warped warbles of “Fountains” slide easily into a squelchy live version of “Lo Rez Skyline,” the irresistible and playful “Mocromat” (the melody here will stick in your head for days), and the deft, subtle atmospheres of “Corona Mundi” and “Hologrion.” It’s certainly worthwhile material, but it feels like the addenda it is; the true genius of Automate lies in the album proper.
Forma Tadre was not a prolific project (and I use “was” with reservation). To date, Meyer released only one more album, the self-released and digital-only conceptual “The Music of Erich Zann,” with Lovecraft serving once more as muse. As it appeared in 2008, ten years after Automate, we can’t close the book on Forma Tadre just yet. Even if Meyer’s recording career is over, he is responsible for two of the most compelling and timeless electronic releases I’ve ever heard. While Navigator is a classic in its own right, it’s Automate that stands as the pinnacle of Meyer’s unique blend of darkly tinted magic. I’ve listened to this album countless times, and I my admiration for it has never wavered; in fact, my appreciation for it continues to grow.