Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company ‘Like A Duck To Water’ (Earthquack, 1976)

Imagine a time when, as a concession to your audience, you’d show them cartoons while you were busy repatching your synthesisers between songs. It was the best idea Boston minimalist David Borden could come up with back when he and his ensemble were pioneering live electronic performance. 

In a grainy piece of archival footage buried deep on YouTube, Borden – who was tangled up in the ill-fated soundtrack for the ‘The Exorcist’ in 1973 – talks about how the improbably named early synth outfit Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company came to be.

“Steve [Drews] and I had a group that played contemporary music at Cornell University. The group was brought into being because no one played avant-garde music there. Bob Moog had his factory 20 minutes away from where we lived so we got to know synthesisers. He gave us a key to the factory and we went in every night for a year or two and experimented.”

By the time the band got around to recording this, their second long player, they had become such proficient players that it was amazing to hear (and on rare occasions see…) how they pulled off their extended, arpeggio-heavy pieces without the use of sequencers. 

Drews’ ‘Waterwheel’ opens the LP with a moody tranch of icy ambience before tumbling into a hypnotic analog weave. The dreamy top lines of ‘Oleo Strut’, which prance above some deep Moogy bass patches, takes up the remainder of side one. The entirety of the flip is given over to ‘C-A-G-E Part II’, which strides out of the speakers like a measured electronic meditation on surfing the curvature of space.

Having first appeared during punk’s year zero, there are plenty of gob-soaked reasons why a fantastic record like this might have passed unnoticed. Contemporary mid-70s releases from Tangerine Dream (‘Rubycon’, ‘Stratosfear’) are perhaps a lazy comparison, but Mother Mallard manage to pull off similarly pure, synth vibes minus the usual heavy Tuetonic ambience or prog pitfalls.

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