Scorpion Bowl (Hans Felten and Otto VonPandelay) split up in 1990, but their lively music, and their lively history, lives on. In truth, little is really known about the German ambient band, and searching the net yields little in the way of information, or indeed anything about their very existence. Scorpion Bowl border on the untraceable – and that just adds to the mystery. Like a blank-faced video nasty, we are left with the uncensored music and nothing but. Decades have passed, and now we are left with their last known recording – ‘b sides: 1978-1983’.
Believe it or not, Scorpion Bowl’s history spans several decades. Their biography cites an “altercation with Kraftwerk” at a German music festival and VonPandelay himself playing in rather bizarre locations such as the Egyptian pyramids and the wreckage of the Titanic. Scorpion Bowl aren’t strangers to drama and controversy, either. Drug-addled arrests, car accidents and even earthquakes are all a part of their backstory and have all been in the news. One of their instruments, the “Earth Hammer”, supposedly caused the Northridge earthquake in Southern California by provoking the San Andreas fault with its subsonic frequencies. Be that as it may, what you’re listening to is not fiction. These B sides are ambient tragedies, high quality outings from the past that have sent their own shockwaves coursing through what we call modern music. Strange happenings permeate Scorpion Bowl’s history, and it’s easy to be skeptical when reading their biography. While they may have a playful exterior, they take the music seriously.
The death stalker is the most venomous scorpion known to man. Sting symptoms include shock, irregularities with the pulse, high temperature and respiratory paralysis that leads to heart failure. Welcome to their world. The arid desert of drone invites you in, a humid, sticky atmosphere that instantly oozes with sweat. The death rattle hides itself in the brush, somewhere in the scorched earth of the drone. The drone swells rapidly, like the point of infection. And this is just the opening track.
‘Death of the Kursk’ – 118 sailors lost their lives when a defective torpedo exploded inside the soviet submarine. Many suffocated in the depths, scribbled their final words in the dark. The splashing of water, the inquisitive, creature cries of the deep and the empty clanking of broken machinery bring you eerily close to the wreckage. We as listeners are swallowed whole, joining them in this sunken tomb. ‘Castles of Misery’ is a still, suffocating track that takes place in St George’s Castle, Ghana, a harbour port for the American slave trade. Its walls crawl with flies, buzzing around with a nonsensical static in the background. Deeper echoes seem to come from the sewer system, distorted and more than a little disturbing.
‘Footsteps’ clanks sullenly with its death toll, rolling in on the approaching fog. Chains seem to clink against the concrete, and the watery sound of the surf returns. Swishing against the low tide, a spooky drone comes ashore to claim its next victim. It is unforgiving music, but it’s all the more potent for it. Disembodied voices are lost in the murk, armored soldiers take the prisoner by force. Sunken footsteps walk over the sodden ground, stony faces draped in seaweed. It sounds like something out of a Lovecraftian horror story. It never brightens. ‘We Watched The Cities Die’, the final track, ushers in a strange, dust-blind world, where monolithic creatures lay hidden. Only their cries, jutting out of the void with a horn-like blast, are clues to their presence, and they fill the listener with something close to dread. They lay unnoticed, just as invisible as the musicians themselves.
Scorpion Bowl have an intelligent approach to ambient sound design, and whatever you make of their backstory the music itself is exceptional. Sometimes, truth really is stranger than fiction.