Minimal Wave Records first released an Ohama track on The Found Tapes, a 2007 compilation of North American Minimal Wave from ’81-’87. Most recently MWR have released The Potato Farm Tapes which includes early and rare works from Ohama.
Richard Greenan, a music writer and NTS DJ for When I’m Walking/ Kit Records, joined me for Sunday’s Alien Jams radio show to talk about his correspondence with Ohama a few years back. The following piece was written by Richard Greenan for Sick Of The Radio, an online magazine, and published in 2010.
‘Hello. My name is Ohama, and I live on a potato farm in Western Canada.’ It’s hard not to smile during the deadpan opening of Tona Walt Ohama’s ‘The Drum’, but Ohama is deadly serious. Composing entirely from an underground studio beneath his parents’ potato farm in Rainier, Alberta, Ohama formed a one-man synthpop tour de force, putting out a handful of records in the mid 80s that became cult classics. Using then state-of-the-art keyboards, drum machines, vocoders and analogue reel tape, Ohama created complex, evolving songs. Found sounds such as dogs barking, lapping waves, and industrial machinery were blended with audio lifted from news reports and chatshows. Ohama then added his own abstract, cynical lyrics. The result was futuristic, paranoid, ’80s techno.
Lyrically, Ohama expresses themes of paranoia, the mass media, and isolation. Ohama’s technophobia is seemingly at odds with the very techno-centric nature of his music. This conflict is reflected in a dilemma apparently faced by all media-wary, isolated potato farmers in the 80s – television provided the main connection with the outside world, but the image projected by TV was unavoidably biased, or, in Ohama’s words, ‘terribly wonderful’. Ohama offers two solutions for this problem: A) Watch TV with the sound down (not for everyone. Ohama recommends adding your own soundtrack, using large monkey wrenches, kittens, etc.), or B) Put a hockey stick through your TV set (perhaps the more traditional Canadian approach, Ohama has been known to do this on stage).
Ohama’s music is surprisingly catchy and listenable considering he cites one of his key influences as industrial noise-makers Einstürzende Neubauten, a band hardly renowned for their accessibility. ’TV’ is a complete dancefloor destroyer; dense layers of analogue synthesizers and VHS soundbites are skewered by a driving, infectious bassline. A caustic attack on the vegetative gaudiness of television, Ohama sarcastically sings TV’s praises (‘New clip, update, this shit, tastes great, ah ha ha!’). ’The Drum’ is an instrumental techno stomper previously only available on the sought after SNX Box Set. It sounds like an army of terrifyingly self-aware combine harvesters advancing menacingly across an expansive potato field.
Full Text Can be found at sickoftheradio.com
Bruno Spoerri- Hallo World
Sympathy Nervous- Cabaret Voltaire
Ohama- The Drum
Ike Yard- M Kurtz
Der Zyklus- Der Tonimpulstest
Legowelt- Elements of Houz Music
Unit Moebius- Duplovision
I-f- Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass
Bruno Spoerri- Hymn of Taurus
The Science Fiction Corporation- Flirtation on Venus
Dariush Dolat- Shahi- Hur
Pye Corner Audio- Remanence
Felix Kubin- Hissi Hissi
Professor Genius- Assassins (Steve Moore Remix)
Pril Smiley- Kolyosa
Alwin Nikolais- Frail Demons
Alwin Nikolais- Chimera
Toy Planet- The Seven Game
Richard H. Kirk- Never Lose Your Shadow
Add N to (X)- Aphine Repetition
Padded Cell- Konkorde Lafayette
Georges Vert- An Electric Mind
Raymond Scott-The Bass Line Generator
Otto Leuning- Fantasy in Space
Brainticket- Coc’ O Mary
Emeralds- Just to Feel Anything
Oxykitten- Did it Catch On Fire Again
The Emporer Machine- Monkey Overbite
Cherrystones- Seven Thousand Pound Bee
Kona Triangle- Shine Alight
Two Dogs in a House- 5th Floor
Mort Garson- ESP
This rare album from 1968 demonstrates the diversity of Mort Garson’s work. The album really shocked me because it seems worlds apart from Black Mass, which was released three years later. Wozard of Iz is a political satire of the 1939 film, with lyrics by Jacques Wilson. It is said that Nancy Sinatra was the vocalist under another name.
A Canadian master of bizarre electronic music, Mort Garson’s best work can be found in his Moog albums. Although Garson had a background in easy listening and pop music, he paved new ground with his electronic albums from the 60s and 70s. Black Mass (1971) by Garson’s pseudonym, Lucifer, has a major focus on occultism and is often seen as his masterpiece. This album is constantly changing within its theme, but there is an ever-present mood of darkness. Eerily peaceful Moog can soon turn into a storm of hellish hallucination.