Space-rock pioneer Sonic Boom performs with Spectrum | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Space-rock pioneer Sonic Boom performs with Spectrum 

click to enlarge Big hits: Spectrum
  • Big hits: Spectrum

The "Great Man" approach to history -- in which particular historical figures are credited with sweeping cultural and political changes -- is pretty far out of vogue. Likewise the catastrophic theory of geology, which holds that much of the earth's topography was shaped by a series of natural disasters. So perhaps it's foolish to suggest that without Peter Kember (a.k.a. Sonic Boom) and his band Spacemen 3, the space-rock and shoegaze explosion of the early-to-mid '90s would never have happened.

Then again, the drippy, psychedelic sounds that came out of Spacemen 3 and a select few others, like The Jesus & Mary Chain, in the 1980s, definitely primed the pump for what was to come in the following decade. When Spacemen 3 broke up in 1991, Kember continued to innovate with his two next-best-known projects, Experimental Audio Research (E.A.R.) and Spectrum.

While the aptly named E.A.R. is Kember's vehicle to experiment with more abstract music and sound art, Spectrum gives him a chance to play within the constraints of pop and rock. The result is often like a catchy pop tune sent through a filter of psychedelia: While Spacemen 3 claimed to be "taking drugs to make music to take drugs to," Spectrum's songs feel practically like drugs themselves. (That's never more apparent than in the covers Kember has given the Spectrum treatment over the years, from Daniel Johnston to Beat Happening.)

Thomas Paine said, "That government is best which governs least." Thoreau added: "That government is best which governs not at all." For his part, Sonic Boom has been known to say: "Three chords good, two chords better, one chord best." He's described as both minimalist and maximalist: He strives for simplicity of content but a full, echoing orchestration.

With that philosophy on the table, Spectrum is often repetitive. The songs are swirling, cyclonic; like a sine wave, they stretch to great length but keep returning to a certain center. In the midst of the ethereal vocals, reverby guitar and outer-space synth organ sounds, one might find oneself drifting off, dreaming of the ocean or some other eerie expanse.

After several dormant years, a new Spectrum EP is expected this fall, and a new album early next year. Sonic Boom and his current Spectrum formation arrive at Garfield Artworks on Thu., Aug. 30. Given that the chance of a Spacemen 3 reunion anytime soon is slim, it's an enticing opportunity to see one of the founding fathers of the second generation of space rock.

Sonic Boom's Spectrum with Olympus Mons, Switch & Signal and Josh Tonies Quartet. 8 p.m. Thu., Aug. 30. Garfield Artworks, 4931 Penn Ave., Garfield. $10 ($12 at the door). 412-361-2262 or



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