Resident archivist Jack Dangers explores the electronic output of 1960s Canadian multimedia project, Intersystems

Intersystems is a Canadian electronic music and art project put together for a psychedelic festival in Toronto in 1967. I first discovered them via their second album ‘Peachy’, which I stumbled across when I was getting into that late 1960s electronic/psychedelic music scene thanks to Silver Apples. 

The music was the work of John Mills-Cockell. In the late 1950s, when he was just 15, he lived in London for a while and worked in the music department of Harrods. At a Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall, he heard a piece of tape music, ‘Dripsody’, by Canadian composer Hugh Le Caine. It’s only about 90 seconds long and it was made completely from a recording of a single drop of water. It blew his mind.

Back in Canada, he started his classical music training at the University of Toronto in 1960, where he discovered his first electronic music studio, and then switched to study composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music, where he also ran a casual electronic music course with the composer Anne Southam. Through the course, he met two future members of Intersystems, artist Michael Hayden and poet Blake Parker. They came together as a unit in order to present a multimedia event as part of the University of Toronto’s ‘Perception 67’, a “psychedelic art festival”. Architect Dik Zander completed the line up and between them they created a 10-room installation called ‘Mind Excursion’. Blake Parker’s poetry and Mills-Cockell’s sound design were played in each room. 

The event was a great success, and led to the group being commissioned to create more psychedelic art installations (which they called ‘Presentations’) over the next 18 months, culminating in a huge version of ‘Mind Excursion’ with a budget that ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

They released three albums, which all came out within that period, ‘Number One’ and ‘Peachy’, both in 1967, and ‘Free Psychedelic Poster Inside’ in 1968. 

The collective went their own ways in 1968, and Mills-Cockell went on to form Syrinx, a really interesting electronic/prog/jazz outfit who are also well worth seeking out.

All three Intersystems records were re-released individually by the Italian label Alga Marghen a few years ago, and as a deluxe boxset with a book, which is just as well because the original albums are very rare indeed. 

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