ExpoZoom documents one of Geesin’s most prestigious assignments.
Ron Geesin is a footnote in rock history, best-known as the man Pink Floyd called in to finish Atom Heart Mother—a record already seen by many as a footnote to its creators’ career. But it’s hard to imagine him complaining given how in-demand his commissions are. The 75-year-old has been one of Britain’s go-to sound designers for most of his life, and ExpoZoom documents one of his most prestigious assignments: composing music for a series of technical films screened at the British pavilion at the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, each one celebrating an aspect of British industry.
Like most Ron Geesin albums, it doesn’t have much interest in hanging together the way rock’s cult of the album—codified in part by his buddies Pink Floyd—demands. ExpoZoom is alternately beguiling and frustrating, and it’s hard to imagine an environment in which you’d want to put this on. But upon reviewing the old tapes half a century later, Geesin found a “crude vitality” to these recordings that merited its release. I understand what he means. (I’m reminded a little bit of Springsteen’s defense of his inferior late-‘80s/early ‘90s albums like Human Touch, which he admitted were stopgap, but that he also “liked” them whenever he listened to them.) There’s something liberating about listening to music this incidental outside of its environment. How it held up at the World’s Fair is known to only Geesin and those aging few who live with those memories, but the lack of context makes it a tricky challenge to encounter it purely as music.
If you like music to have melody and harmony and rhythm—to sound like what most people would imagine as music—ExpoZoom is not for you. Mostly, these are simulations of technological processes. They whir and zoom like cars speeding down the autobahn. The sound palette is metallic when it’s not bursting into whoops and yibbles inspired by Karlheinz Stockhausen, the German avant-gardist in vogue in the Swinging Sixties. When Geesin gets into a rhythm, we’re reminded of the intrinsic link between the forward motion of vehicles and the repetition of techno, which links the Germans in Kraftwerk with the Detroiters in Cybotron. Some of these tracks, especially “End Wall 3” and “Float Glass A,” sound uncannily like some of the more austere and extreme music to descend from the clubs; Pan Sonic comes to mind.
ExpoZoom is also interesting in the way it thinks about technology. Though a frightening burble of synthesized muck here is titled “Pollution,” ExpoZoom is otherwise a relic of a more optimistic way of thinking, when the horrors of human progress weren’t as clear and the now-vilified vehicle captured the public’s imagination as to the future of human innovation. (The year before saw the moon landing, still the extreme of the possibilities of human travel). In the 21st century, we’re a little more distrustful of technology, but when we fetishize it it’s usually in terms of software—intangible information, not the fires of industry. The hissing steam and clanging steel of ExpoZoom seems touchingly out of time given the fate our future threatens.