Mind Caviar
"He would dream / of his piano as if it were flesh."
-- Lola Haskins (1991)

Mind Caviar, Vol. 3 Anniversary Issue, 2002

Man... or Astroman?
The Best Future The Past Ever Imagined

Welcome to my twelve-step program of Cultural and Media Whoredom. 

I'm A. Lark, and I'm a Culture and Media Whore.

(Hi, Lark.)

Band I'm going to admit a few things to you people here today, and I hope they can elucidate and grant the understanding necessary to appreciate the state I'm in.

I admit it. I'm a nerd. I like computers way too much, sci-fi is my dinner, and I kept every toy I've ever owned just because they're cool, not for thinking I can resell them as collectibles. I mean, they're already collectibles! I got 'em, right? The point is, I have certain--hungers that can't be satiated by normal means. Sure, Trek and Bab5 help, but it's rare to find something that satisfies on a deeper mind-blanketing level.

I'll be the first to admit also that I was never into surf rock much. I didn't know there was a surf "scene" except for some beach movies my parents watched way back when. But about 1984 or so I bought a 33 cent LP at some basement or salvage store, The Ventures in Space. I knew The Ventures from Hawaii 5-0 only at that point. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but this album delivered 32 minutes of spooky dirges with plenty of floor toms, and tight two-minute twangs. Later I heard one of their "Best of" albums and was disappointed that it didn't quite match up to the delicious sinister overtones of my first venture... ahem. Sorry.

Anyway, if there's one thing I can admire, it's people who instead of talking about the weather do something about it. That's right, the cloud seeders, rain makers, and bombardiers are my own personal best heroes.

No, sorry, I must admit as well that I'm sarcastic. Weather was metaphorical, in that I admire the ones who can fill a chasm, the edge of which others can only point to and say, "More of that, but better."

Man... or Astroman? did more and better. I came in at about their midpoint, at the album Experiment Zero. About four albums came before, and, well, there's about six after, plus many singles and EPs. Not bad for about eight years' work.

Here's what I know so far:

  • The official story of the band is that they crashed on this planet in 1993, and make music for the purpose of collecting money to fix their ship. Meanwhile, they conduct experiments in aural control at their base, Astro Laboratories, and studio, Zero Return. These experiments will allow them to dominate this planet, to break the monotony, I suppose. What else is there to do, really? 
  • They went to college at Auburn. CoCo the Electronic [Monkey Wizard] (bass, sample triggers, misc) and Birdstuff (drums, more misc) were architecture or design students according to an anecdote CoCo spurted out on stage at their last show in New Orleans.
  • They're heavily into 50s science fiction and fact. Many of their songs use samples from movies that can only be found late at night on independent struggling television stations in remote parts of the South. Their live shows are usually done with a backdrop of film clips and loops of NASA, various labs, test patterns, and many shots of space.
Back to Experiment Zero. All the songs grabbed me with their hooks, wit, and sheer force, and I inadvertently memorized every speaking part, much to the chagrin of my friends in the area at the wrong time who hear me shout in their faces, "I'm a cyborg!" right on cue. "Big Trak Attack" is a paean to the toy of the same name from the early 80s which was a programmable tank that would roll in a set direction and distance, complete with bleeps and bloops, all included in the song. I lusted after the Big Trak toy back then, and it's good to hear it now, aurally immortalized in a plastic disc. There's a fantastic cover of the Talking Heads' "Television Man," and of course, "Cyborg Control."

I went backwards and forward through the albums, and found a definite evolution. The earlier stuff sticks close to hard surf, mostly instrumental, with less samples and weirdness. It quickly moved to more space themes, and greater experimentation with instruments and noise. EEVIAC was probably their most unusual album. A few tracks weren't songs as such, but rhythm tracks of fuzzed drum samples layered with quotes, some warning not to distrust the computer and that all personnel should report for decontamination. There's a fantastic lo-fi song, "Psychology of a.i. (numbers follow answers)," which is fast, punky and too short. And it closes with a six-minute dirge that builds to a fantastic crescendo.

Quickly: Picture Edward G. Robinson saying, "Where's your surf now, Moses?" Thank you.

Yet it's still them. They started as homage to the greats, and in the process took a genred sound to a present sculpted by a vision of the future created in a past of the 1950's, before the originating style of surf was even created. Some of the songs are larger than the confines of my house or car and grant me the same sense of wonder that people fifty years ago had, of exploration, space, and infinite possiblilities.

They pull some funny stunts on the albums, as well as live:

  • Made from Technetium introduces itself on the first track, using the warm mechanized voice of a speech synthesizer.
  • The liner notes for EEVIAC are actually the last track, again with a speech synthesizer.
  • "A Simple Text File" on A Spectrum of Infinite Scale is music made with only a dot-matrix printer-- actually an Apple Imagewriter II. Clicks, buzzes, taps and growls all the way to Joy Street. And it's hummable, too. This was also done live in their last show, with CoCo dancing, pointing and cajoling the printer in center stage.
  • One of their preshow movies was an independent film of Star Wars reenacted using only the action figures and toys.
  • Their grand finale is a Tesla coil that shoots electric bolts for a great distance. Audiences tend to back up for the finale.
For one tour they trained substitute musicians and sent them out as the Astroman Clone Tour Alpha. There was supposed to be an Astroman Clone Tour Gamma, made up of all females, but I don't believe it came to pass. You can see the lengthy explanation here. A Spectrum of Finite Scale is probably their most interesting work, with songs done separately or in pairs by people in and surrounding the band. It's abstract stuff, but not inaccessible if you've heard the band up to this point. Oh, one catch: it's only available at the live shows or through your local indie store. Not that they don't pack houses with the show anyway...

So, thanks for coming. I know some of you are only on your second or third step to Whoredom, but keep studying and sucking every bit of worthwhile media and experience from your culture, and you can be well on your way towards Step 9: Rabid Selective Absorber. See you next meeting.


While doing research for this article and finding a discography, I was shocked-- shocked! to find that I was missing a few LPs. Oh, and EPs as well, but those and the singles are mostly out of print, so if you have them, love them.

Man... or Astroman? Resources

Man... or Astroman? Home Page

To purchase music or to learn more about the band visit Allmusic

Read lyrics and sound clips.

Quicktime video of "Sferic Waves" from Project Infinity (1995) 

A Lark is a media slut with a preference for animation and subtitles. Lark lives in a perpetual delusion but not one of grandeur. He believes it's much better to disturb than to entertain, but if you're really good, you can pull off both at once. He is also a musician, having played in bands in Baton Rouge and New Orleans for years. He mostly uses keyboards, but considers anything that makes an interesting noise worthwhile. Lark still has a dream band to put together. Unfortunately, however, 1971 is gone, Peter Gabriel has left Genesis, and R. Fripp won't return his calls. 

Email A. Lark. Abuse is welcome as long as it's funny. 

Copyright © 2002 A Lark. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy or post in whole or in part. 

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