Friday, June 29, 2007

Felix Ookean

When it comes to prominent musical scientists (or scientific musicians) not many names spring to mind. (Doesn’t Brian May have a degree in astrophysics or something like that?) Surprisingly there is one such artist that was active in the late sixties and early seventies right here in Melbourne – a Romanian born multi-instrumentalist named Felix Ookean. Although he’s hardly mentioned today, his nature documentaries and accompanying soundtracks were extremely popular in their day. Ookean was unique in that he not only produced the documentaries but he personally composed and produced the soundtracks as well. Some of Melbourne’s best jazz players can be found on his albums and they are quickly becoming sought after items amongst Melbourne’s obscurantist record collectors. I am lucky enough to have obtained a CD copy of the soundtrack to his 1969 series about Australian birds, Feathered Lives. From what I can ascertain it’s the only one of his albums that was ever reissued on compact disc and even then it’s not exactly easy to find a copy, although they do occasionally show up on eBay Australia. It’s well worth seeking out for it’s very retro-instrumentation and jazz-influenced arrangements. Unfortunately, getting any of Ookean’s album’s on vinyl is likely to set you back a lot of money. The other day I spoke to a guy from Leviathan Records – a Melbourne-based label that reissues obscure vinyl titles – who said that they wanted to reissue Ookean’s catalogue but that they were having trouble obtaining the rights. Which is a damn shame because this musician is one of Melbourne’s unsung heroes. I’ve heard mp3 samples of Ookean’s amazingly ambitious 1977 double LP Australis – Four Sides Of the Other Half and it sounds incredible. If this material received a comprehensive reissue, I’m confident that Ookean would be considered a significant innovator of Australian music and music lovers would get a chance to rediscover a true original talent.

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