When Gong’s pioneering synthesizer player Tim Blake exited the proggy spacerock group in 1975, he began an influential partnership with French lighting designer Patrice Warrener. The art project/band was called Crystal Machine (named after “The Octave Doctors and the Crystal Machine” a song composed by Blake on Gong’s 1973 Flying Teapot album) and was the first live touring rock show to fully incorporate lasers. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd might’ve had a laser or two, too, but Crystal Machine was a full-on mirrored disco ball, smoke machine and Laserium-type experience/installation that was mounted in movie theaters and smaller venues for up to a week at a time. Occasionally Blake was assisted on stage by the young Jean-Philippe Rykiel, the blind-since-birth keyboard prodigy son of French knitwear designer Sonia Rykiel. For several years, Crystal Machine traveled around Europe and to Japan and Blake released two albums of what did not really have a name at the time, but would soon come to be called “New Age” and later “ambient” music.
The first of these albums, 1977’s Crystal Machine and was an odds-n-sods collection of two-track demos and live material that Blake had laid to tape over the previous years, although it has a coherent sound. The second, Blake’s New Jerusalem, had little to do with England’s green and pleasant land and continued on with the cosmic outer-space themes of the first album, and indeed of Gong, which to my mind merely indicates how much Blake contributed to Gong’s overall sound. However the lyrical content of Blake’s solo output was lacking, and of a terribly twee hippie variety, referencing the stars, the pyramids, ley-lines, Stonehenge, and other “heavy” themes as if the Incredible String Band had tried to turn themselves into late 70s Hawkwind, the band Blake opted to join himself in 1979. The words are a bit naive and goofy, making me wish he’d opted to stay instrumental.
Some of Blake’s electronic music sounds like early Kraftwerk, other songs call to mind Chris Carter’s “AB/7A” from Throbbing Gristle’s D.O.A. In one respect Blake’s Crystal Machine solo outings remind me of The Legend Lives On… Jah Wobble in “Betrayal” or Jerry Harrison’s (wildly underrated) The Red and the Black album because it becomes, well, crystal clear exactly what Blake’s unusual talents added to Gong’s cosmic sound in the same respect the aforementioned platters did for PiL’s bassist and the Talking Heads keyboardist. If you’ve heard any of these records, they leave little doubt who contributed what to each of those groups without really sounding all that much like them either.
Both Crystal Machine and Blake’s New Jerusalem have just been digitally remastered and expanded for new CD releases from Cherry Red Records’s Esoterica label
“New Jerusalem” on French TV in 1979. You’ll note that there is no microphone present, meaning that he’s miming this number for about 12 minutes!
“Generator (Laser Beam)” from ‘Blake’s New Jerusalem’ on French television in 1979
A live clip circa 1977-78
Blake demos his synth gear on Swiss TV
“Lighthouse” on French televison in 1979