Wherein PW takes a look back at great Philly bands.
If you’ve ever had the good fortune to get an earful of Auralgraphic Entertainment —the record Bill Holt recorded in a Delaware County basement circa 1973 under the moniker Dreamies—you’d imagine the guy was born in a perpetual lotus position, drinking mushroom tea and talking to the cosmos like it was his Auntie Mable. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Prior to making his homespun psychedelic classic, Holt was a slicked-back Center City sales executive with a corner office primed to take over the world. “The executive job was pretty much how that era is portrayed on the TV show Mad Men,” says Holt today from his home in Wilmington, Del. “The man in the gray flannel suit. It was all men. All white. Chain smoking in the office. Martinis at lunch. A black guy parked the cars. A shapely young woman typed the letters. Corporate life mirrored America at the time.”
As Holt slugged it out in the corporate trenches, major world events such as the Kennedy assassinations to Vietnam occurred around him. He was already starting to grow queasy on the so-called American Dream, but when he found himself in an intervention-style meeting over his hair length, the facade of corporate life definitely fell. “I was just turning 30, watching the world turn inside out,” Holt remembers. “I wanted to be a part of it. I had this incredible urge to try to capture what I was experiencing on a record. That’s when I bought my Moog, my recorders, set up my studio, and decided to make the leap from the man in the gray flannel suit to Dreamies.”
Holt soon bid farewell to his Fedora-sporting buddies and holed himself up in his basement for 15 months to record Auralgraphic Entertainment . He split the album between two long pieces titled “Program Ten” and “Program Eleven,” both exquisite examples of handcrafted beauty rife with squiggling synths, simple acoustic riffs and whisper-light vocals. The snippets of JFK and Mohammed Ali monologues were thrown in to give the album, in the words of Holt, “the feel of a time capsule inside of a psychedelic trip.”
On paper, this might sound like the work of a raving lunatic, but both pieces have a very focused and meticulous—though extremely stoned—flow. Holt cites John Cage and the studio experimentations of the Beatles as inspirations, but feels the album has more to it than that. “The principle influence is not musical; it was the Cold War, the assassinations, more things like that. The music was just a way of expressing all that the best I could.”
When Holt discovered sometime in the ’90s that the LP had a cult following and read online that he was considered a pioneer in the art of sampling, it got the creative juices pumping again. He re-issued Auralgraphic Entertainment on CD through his own Wilmington Studios label and started maintaining a website (dreamies.com) showcasing his audio/visual collages, which touch on the issues of today, much like the time capsule motif of his debut LP. “The times we’re living through right now are worthy of a Dreamies time capsule,” says Holt. “Economic upheaval that’s all tangled up in war; the rise of capitalist extremism; the first black president has to produce a birth certificate. Crazy times. I love it.’
In Memoriam: Lou Reed