Prog Lives! Part 1: The Lost Masters: Eloy

It’s one of those moments where you realize: Oh, my God. I completely missed a phenomenon. Or maybe it wasn’t a phenomenon—that’s why I missed it. I take pride in my knowledge of rock music since the 1960s and the Golden Age of Rock ’n Roll I was blessed to grow up in, the 1970s. But to have missed an entire, brilliant, genius band? I can only hang my head in shame. And blame it on having only so many hours in a day…

I speak of course of German Prog Rock band Eloy, the brainchild of one Frank Bornemann, who formed the group in 1969. Unlike the Stones, whose line-up has remained stable at its core (Mick, Keith, Charlie) since the beginning despite changes, Bornemann is the sole core of Eloy. Of course, being brilliant himself, he attracted brilliant—if unknown to the rest of the world—musicians to work with him. I’m embarrassed to say I can’t name any of them except by cribbing their names from Eloy’s website. It’s a measure of the prejudice German bands in general were up against in an English and American dominated pop music market in the 1960s and ’70s. A hangover from the war, no doubt—a Berlin Wall of music. Not many were able to get over it, even though most German rock or pop bands wrote their lyrics in English. Occasionally a lucky German band would break into the world market—Kraftwerk, incredibly and of course heavy metal band the Scorpions.

An early incarnation of Eloy. Bornemann at lower centre; Jurgen Rosenthal, bassist and lyricist starting with Dawn, at left. Courtesy Wikimedia

This goes directly to the heart of the name Eloy itself. Bornemann took the name from the H.G. Wells classic The Time Machine, for the futuristic race of people he dubbed the “eloi.” “I considered the story of (The) Time Machine as a perfect symbol which reflects the situation of a German band in those days who did dare to play its own compositions with English lyrics,” recalls Bornemann. (See interview links.) “How these people, the Eloi, had to build everything up from scratch and created a new culture reminded me of what we were trying to do as a band. It was an enormous and courageous step. No one here was interested to listen to music from a German rockband. The fans of rock and pop music wanted only the successful songs from famous groups and artists, nothing else.”

Shame. Hell, Eloy should be on the tongue at the same moment the words “Pink Floyd” are uttered. It’s one of those tragic, totally unjust whims of history, like Edison being better known than Tesla, without whom the inventor’s light bulbs would have remained mere expensive curiosities for the rich. Though Floyd’s place as Prog Rock gods is forever secure, it’s sad that Eloy has been so nearly eclipsed. Like Floyd, Eloy realized the potentialities inherent in the new musical forms blossoming in the Seventies at the same time as the technology in musical instruments was making leaps and bounds. The Sixties had done their liberating work and the walls within music itself (if not in the music industry) were down, even on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. Anything could and would be done in rock. And like Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour, Bornemann and Company realized that each member of the band is equivalent to a range of colours on a palette. Unlike the more showy, look-at-me guitar gods and Robert Plant wannabes, who demand that music opens up to accommodate them, the Prog ethos works more like a symphony. Musical instruments in Prog are brushes for painting swaths of light and colour as part of a tonal totality, not for making a sex god of someone. Not that I object to that either, of course. But bands like Floyd and Eloy show us music’s potential as a total mood transformer, an instrument of waking dreams. In the end what may separate the two bands is not their musicality but the fact that Eloy never had a stellar vocalist.

Eloy’s ‘Dawn’ album was the first in a string of ’70s Prog Rock classics for the band. Courtesy Wikimedia

Speaking of audio dreams, it’s interesting to note that all of Eloy’s Seventies albums are inscribed as being in “A=432 Hz” (hertz). This refers to the so-called “God note” favoured by Verdi and even Mozart, by some reports. Musicians know it simply as A4, which is about where they lose me where music theory is concerned. Though I’ve yet to find anything in interviews with Frank Bornemann (which are rare as Beatles’ first pressings) about the use of this tuning on all these records, one wonders if there was a spiritual motive at work, or just a personal preference. Some report a kind of brain candy chemical bliss ride listening to music attuned to this frequency. With some musicians it has become a crusade. “In November 2013, along with Alexandros Geralis,” reports Motherboard, “(Ivan) Yanakiev cofounded the 432 Orchestra. The group is comprised of 12 string players, some borrowed from the best professional ensembles in the country, and is led by the two conductors, all of whom work for no more than goodwill to explore and profess the power of that particular frequency.” Most music theorists are deeply skeptical of its spiritual qualities, but remain interested in the possibilities. Some want to change standard concert pitch to 432 Hz instead of 440. Well, Bornemann has already been there, guys. A long time ago. I know I feel damn good listening to just about anything by Eloy but I’m sure this has as much to do with the brilliant composition and performance as it does the frequency. What is it, exactly, that reaches inside us to move us deeply? It’s hard to pin down this elusive quality in art—in poetry the term that continually comes to my mind is transcendence.

A recent shot of Frank Bornemann performing.

As with many great bands in the Seventies, it took Eloy a few albums to crystallize their latent genius and technical prowess. We can be thankful that the corporate regime was loose enough in those days that a band could be given the luxury of doing that without having a hit single on every album. Of course it helped that the music industry was in its heyday—one of the richest businesses on Earth at the time. So they could afford to look the other way for a few ‘loss leaders’ whose albums mostly sold to devoted cult followings. Even superstar David Bowie had quite a few stumbles along the road between Space Oddity and Ziggy Stardust and was mostly a cult figure ’til his breakthrough with Ziggy. This tolerance allowed bands the time to push their ideas to the limit without some jerk in a suit breathing down their necks, though there was plenty of that too. Touring gave these bands the musical chops and the newly sophisticated studio technology gave them the canvas. And like Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh before them, they took raw pigment/sound and turned it into magic.

Given that I’m new to Eloy, I can’t pretend to be an expert on their music or career. But I can make a few suggestions you’ll thank me for—trust me, these albums will turn on a few endorphins. And when you’ve sampled them on YouTube (God bless YouTube for that), please, support this artist and buy their work. You could start with these albums:

Or just about anything else by Eloy, for that matter.

Okay—close your eyes now. You are seated in your favourite chair. Close your eyes and listen to the sound of my voice. You are calm. You are comfortable. Your eyelids are getting heavy. You are dreaming, yes, dreaming, but awake. Let yourself drift away with Eloy…

LINKS:

The ‘God’ Note: https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/columns/music_theory/432hz_crazy_theory_or_crazy_fact.html

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-fringe-audiophiles-who-want-to-topple-standard-tuning

The Frank Bornemann interview with It’s Psychedelic, Baby!:

http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.ca/2011/10/eloy-interview-with-frank-bornemann.html

Interview with Eloy’s Frank Bornemann by Menno von Brucken Fock:

http://www.dprp.net/wp/interviews/?page_id=443

Eloy Legacy band website:

http://www.eloy-legacy.com/eloy.php?Area=music&Sub=welcome&

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About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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2 Responses to Prog Lives! Part 1: The Lost Masters: Eloy

  1. Lulu says:

    Dear Sean, what an amazing article about one of my very favorite bands, I bought most of their music in the late 70 / 80ties. I was always wondering why they managed to touch my soul in a peculiar way and still do. I am new to this site and after checking your articles was surprised that there is someone out there who so accurately reflects my feelings about this band. It draws me into a different reality that encourages emotions of yearning for change. Since I am German and living in South Africa I have never met anyone here who has even heard of them. Born in 1964 and not the shy type I make sure people know real music that comes from the heart, written by real people with genuine intentions of expression, unique to their style. Colours and Silent Cries and Mighty Echos are my favorites.

  2. Well I’m a bit embarrassed frankly because I consider myself a reasonable authority on classic rock and progressive rock but I’d never heard of Eloy until less than a year ago. But what a great discovery!

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