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Boards of Canada

Boards of Canada are a Scottish electronic music duo consisting of brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin. Signing to Skam and then Warp Records in the 1990s, the duo received recognition following the release of their debut album Music Has the Right to Children in 1998. Their subsequent albums, Geogaddi (2002), The Campfire Headphase (2005) and Tomorrow's Harvest (2013), have received critical praise. They have remained reclusive, rarely giving interviews or performing live.

The duo's music incorporates elements such as vintage synthesisers, analogue production methods, hip hop-inspired breakbeats, and samples from 1970s public broadcasting programmes and other outdated media; it has been described as exploring themes of nostalgia, childhood memory, and nature. In 2012, Fact called them "one of the best-known and best-loved electronic acts of the last two decades."

History

Early years (1986–1994)

Brothers Michael Sandison (born 1 June 1970) and Marcus Eoin (born Marcus Eoin Sandison, 21 July 1971) were brought up in Cullen, Moray on the north east coast of Scotland. Between 1979 and 1980 they lived in the Canadian city of Calgary while their father, who worked in construction, took part in the project to build the Saddledome. Both brothers attended the University of Edinburgh, where Michael studied music and Marcus studied artificial intelligence, though Marcus dropped out before completing his degree.

Growing up in a musical family, the brothers first played instruments at a young age. They experimented with recording techniques from around the age of 10, using tape machines to layer cut-up samples of found sounds over compositions of their own. In their teens they participated in a number of amateur bands. However, it was not until 1986 when Marcus was invited to join Mike's band that Boards of Canada was born, naming themselves after the educational TV program distributor National Film Board of Canada, which they watched as children. By 1989, the band had been reduced to Sandison and Eoin. In the early 1990s, a number of collaborations took place and the band put on small shows among the "Hexagon Sun" collective.

Music Has the Right to Children (1995–2002)

In 1995, the band made their first Hexagon Sun studio release, the EP Twoism. Like earlier Music70 releases, it was produced in a self-financed limited run and was privately distributed, primarily to friends and labels. Unlike previous releases, however, a small number of copies were also released to the public through a mailing list. Though not a widespread commercial release, it was considered of sufficient quality and worth to be subsequently re-pressed in 2002.

The band made another release in 1996; titled Boc Maxima, it was a semi-private release that was notable for being a full-length album, and was the precursor to Music Has the Right to Children, with which it shares many tracks.

Boards of Canada's first commercial release occurred after attracting the attention of Autechre's Sean Booth, of the English label Skam Records, one of many people who were sent a demo EP. Skam issued what was considered Boards of Canada's first "findable" work, Hi Scores, in 1996.

The debut studio album, Music Has the Right to Children, was released in April 1998. The album consists of longer tracks mixed with song vignettes. It also includes one of the duo's most popular songs, "Roygbiv". Music Has the Right to Children received widespread acclaim upon release. It featured at No. 35 on Pitchfork's "Top 100 Albums of the 1990s" list. It was ranked No. 91 in Mojo's 100 Modern Classics list.

John Peel featured Boards of Canada on his BBC Radio 1 program in July of that year. The session featured two remixes from Music Has the Right to Children — "Aquarius (Version 3)" and "Olson (Version 3)" — along with the tracks "Happy Cycling" and "XYZ". Excluding "XYZ", the set was released on a Warp Records CD titled Peel Session TX 21 July 1998.

Though never an actively touring band, Boards of Canada did perform a handful of shows. Early shows saw them supporting Warp labelmates Seefeel and Autechre in a handful of UK dates. They also participated in a few festivals and multi-artist bills including two Warp parties: Warp's 10th Anniversary Party in 1999 and The Incredible Warp Lighthouse Party almost one year later. They made their most prominent showing in 2001 as one of the headliners at the Tortoise-curated All Tomorrow's Parties. They have not performed a live show since.

The band released a four-track EP, In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country, in November 2000, their first original release in two years. The 12" edition was pressed on sky blue vinyl.

Geogaddi and The Campfire Headphase (2002–2009)

Their second studio album, Geogaddi, was released in February 2002. Like Music Has the Right to Children, this album consists of longer tracks mixed with song vignettes. It also presents a darker sound than its predecessor. Geogaddi received universal acclaim from music critics.

It was described by Sandison as "a record for some sort of trial-by-fire, a claustrophobic, twisting journey that takes you into some pretty dark experiences before you reach the open air again."

Their third album for Warp Records, The Campfire Headphase, was released on 17 October 2005 in Europe and 18 October 2005 in the United States. The album featured fifteen tracks, including "Peacock Tail", "Chromakey Dreamcoat," and "Dayvan Cowboy". Two versions of "Dayvan Cowboy" — the original and a remix by Odd Nosdam — are on the six-track EP, Trans Canada Highway, which was released on 26 May 2006.

In late 2009, the Warp20 (Recreated) compilation featured two BoC covers, one by Bibio of their song "Kaini Industries" and one by Mira Calix of "In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country". Warp20 (Recreated) is part of the larger Warp20 boxed set, which also includes two previously unreleased Boards of Canada tracks, "Seven Forty Seven" and a 1.8 second sample of "Spiro".

Tomorrow's Harvest (2013)

On Record Store Day 2013, a vinyl record containing a short clip of music which was believed to be the work of Boards of Canada surfaced at the New York record store Other Music. Shortly after the release, Warp Records vouched for the record's authenticity. The record (titled ------/------/------/xxxxxx/------/------) contained a short clip of audio followed by a voice reading six digits similar to that of a numbers station. The record revealed what was to become one of six unique numbers that were part of a type of alternate reality game that was used to promote the release of their next studio album.

The rest of the codes were hidden through various websites and online communities, as well as being broadcast over BBC Radio One, NPR, and Adult Swim. After much speculation, the official website for the band redirected users to another website which asked for the user to enter a password. Once all six unique codes are entered, a video is shown announcing Tomorrow's Harvest, their fourth studio album. The album was released on 5 June 2013 in Japan, 10 June 2013 in Europe, and 11 June 2013 in the United States to widespread critical acclaim.

Remixes

In 2016, Boards of Canada released two remixes. The first, of NEVERMEN's "Mr Mistake", was released on 12 January, and was followed shortly after by a remix of "Sisters" by Odd Nosdam on 22 February. On 17 February 2017, an instrumental version of the "Mr Mistake" remix was released. In 2017 Boards of Canada released a remix of "Sometimes" by The Sexual Objects.

WXAXRXP (2019)

In 2019, Warp Records kicked off the celebrations for their 30th anniversary, entitled WXAXRXP, with a 100-hour takeover of online radio station NTS Radio, featuring mixes, radio shows and unreleased music from a number of artists on their roster. This included a 2-hour mixtape from Boards of Canada titled Societas x Tape, aired on 23 June 2019 at 9:00 PM BST, and featured music from other artists such as Grace Jones, Devo and Yellow Magic Orchestra, spliced with spoken word samples and music that is rumoured to be unreleased work from the group itself.

Style and methods

BoC's sound has been described by AllMusic as "evocative, mournful, sample-laden downtempo music often sounding as though produced on malfunctioning equipment excavated from the ruins of an early-'70s computer lab.” Critic Simon Reynolds described their style as "a hazy sound of smeared synth-tones and analog-decayed production, carried by patient, sleepwalking beats, and aching with nostalgia" while crediting them with "reinvent[ing]" elements of psychedelia through the deliberate misuse of technology. Their distinctive style is a product of their use of analogue equipment, mix of electronic and conventional instrumentation, use of distorted samples as well as live and recorded lyrics, and their layering and blending of these elements. For example, the duo have revealed that they use many old tape machines, such as those manufactured by Grundig. They also make use of samples from 1970s television shows and other media prevalent in the era of the brothers' shared childhood, especially the nature-inspired documentaries produced by the National Film Board of Canada. The duo's preoccupation with memory, past aesthetics, and public broadcasting would presage the 2000s electronic movement known as hauntology.

Brief interludes or vignettes feature prominently in BoC's music, often lasting less than two minutes; BoC state, "we write far more of [these] than the so-called 'full-on' tracks, and, in a way, they are our own favourites". BoC have written an enormous number of such fragments as well as full-length tracks, most of which have been held back from release. It does not appear that their music is made exclusively for commercial release; rather, albums seem to be the result of selecting complementary songs from current work. For instance, Geogaddi's allegedly involved the creation of 400 song fragments and 64 complete songs, of which 22 were selected (possibly 23, if the final track of complete silence is included). Says Marcus: "The idea of the perfect album is this amorphous thing that we're always aiming at […] the whole point of making music is at least to aim at your own idea of perfection."

Interviews with the Sandison brothers provide some insight into their creative process. They have cited several acts that have influenced their work including Joni Mitchell, the Incredible String Band ("we have all the String Band records […] our rural sensibilities are similar"), the Beatles ("[they] really became enthralling to us through their psychedelism"), and My Bloody Valentine ("even if we don't sound like them, there's a connection in terms of the approach to music").

They have also expressed a strong interest in the power of subliminal messaging and their work is full of cryptic messages including references to numerology and cult figures such as David Koresh of the Branch Davidians. When questioned about their aims in making such references, BoC express themselves in neutral terms ("We're not religious at all [...] and if we're spiritual at all it's purely in the sense of caring about art and inspiring people with ideas.") while remaining fascinated with the ability of music to influence the minds of others ("[We] do actually believe that there are powers in music that are almost supernatural. I think you actually manipulate people with music...").

Discography

Major releases



Studio albums

  • Music Has the Right to Children (1998)
  • Geogaddi (2002)
  • The Campfire Headphase (2005)
  • Tomorrow's Harvest (2013)

    EPs

  • Twoism (1995)
  • Hi Scores (1996)
  • Aquarius (1998)
  • Peel Session TX 21/07/1998 (1999)
  • In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country (2000)
  • Trans Canada Highway (2006)

    Old Tunes and other oddities