Joel Vandroogenbroeck: Seven Colours of Sound

At 79, Belgian-born Joel Vandroogenbroeck hasn’t got just a long name. His comparably long and fascinating career that began at the age of three saw him build up an impressive repertoire of unusual instruments and a diverse body of work that is gaining brand new fans today, thanks to multiple reissues of his albums in recent years. From classical cinematic pieces to drones and electronic funk, the experimental offerings of this multi instrumentalist is an acquired taste. For those ready to take the plunge, Tijmen Lohmeijer has prepared a selection from Vandroogenbroeck’s solo excursions to get your feet wet.

While searching the Web for cover art by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, well-known for his bizarre, alien and mechanic paintings, I stumbled upon the name Joel Vandroogenbroeck. The painting “Biomechanoid 75” pictures a strange and sinister fusion of a human-like creature and machine. Knowing Giger had done a lot of artwork for big names (Debbie Harry, Emerson Lake, Palmer etc.) I was curious to hear what Joel Vandroogenbroeck’s album Biomechanoïd would sound like, and the usual Discogs/Youtube research began.

Newly reissued by Aguirre Records in 2014, Biomechanoïd is one of Vandroogenbroeck’s 1980 solo releases, but his name was already known to a cult following almost a decade earlier, due to his contributions as the only constant member of experimental krautrock band Brainticket. Back in the 70s, Brainticket was considered revolutionary to some, yet controversial to others due to their association with psychedelic drug use, the latter of which subsequently led to the worldwide ban of their albums. These censorship troubles and the eventual dissolution of Brainticket indirectly steered Vandroogenbroeck’s creative energies towards pursuits of a solo nature. So began a highly productive streak of multiple solo releases lasting more than a decade.

Vandroogenbroeck’s musical journey spanning two-thirds of a century took him from his birthplace Belgium to what was then the Belgian Congo in Africa, where he played bass for a jazz group; to Italy, where he rubbed shoulders with local luminaries such as Ennio Morricone and Mussolini’s son; to Bali, where he immersed himself in the mastering of traditional instruments such as the gamelan and joged bumbung – which led to his founding of the Joged Bumbung Band in Switzerland. These days, the Brussels native calls Mexico – the country he landed by accident in the mid 80s – his home.

Made for the Flirt records Stage & Screen series, this album immediately shows Joel’s use of a synth in combination with traditional instruments and singing. With a steady pulsing kick Sensazione Fisiologica sets a haunting mood.

A super infectious flute melody over a mellow but steady grooving drums. The synth bass line makes this track a slow but uplifting composition without sounding like a Disney soundtrack.

The 1980’s album Biomechanoid is sort of a sci-fi library music LP with trippy and sometimes pretty scary electronic excursions. It seems Joel got inspired and made a world of sound around H.R. Giger’s work. This album is notably darker than his other material.

In contrast to Biomechanoid this album is light as a feather, evoking a New Age version of Mort Garson’s music for plants. Echoing arpeggiators over Lush pads!

A stunning vibraphone solo over a metallic soundscape.

In the late 80s, Joel acquired some new drum machines to work with. This album is one funky computer virus. Sampling video games and computer sounds, Vandroogenbroeck could turn the local Arcade into a club without any problem.

This is the future. With chords straight from Detroit, the track builds up to a skippy percussive workout.