Electronic Easter: David Borden and Mother Mallard

AN Electronic Easter from Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co.

Written by John Diliberto on April 14, 2017

Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Co. circa 1975

Since we’ve been in kind of a retro-electronic mood these days with Morton Subotnick, Suzanne Ciani, Jean-Michel Jarre and The Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society, I thought I’d take this Easter weekend to celebrate another electronic landmark, the song “Easter” by Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Co.

Mother Mallard was a trio put together in Ithaca, New York with David Borden, Steve Drews and Linda Fisher, playing a combination of Moog modular synthesizers, Mini-Moog and electric piano. Their debut album came out in 1973, and it predated the sequencer sounds of Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Klaus Schulze by a year. In fact, I first heard of the group in a 1973 review in Crawdaddy Magazine that combined Mother Mallard’s debut with Tangerine Dream’s Electronic Meditation and another pre-Phaedra, pre-sequencer album. But they were even more ahead of the curve than that. The sequencer driven song, “Easter” was actually written in 1970, right in Robert Moog’s Trumansburg, New York studio. You don’t get any closer to the source than that.

Mother Mallard’s April 1970 concerts at Cornell may have been the first time that any synthesizer was used for a live concert. They used a prototype of the Mini-Moog, long before it became de riquer in progressive rock and fusion music,

“Easter” was written on Easter, but don’t look for any Christian references beyond that, unless you see God in a sequencer pattern. It’s a work that makes a connection between Morton Subotnick’s abstract patterns on Silver Apples of the Moon, and the beginnings of minimalism as couple of layered sequencer patterns run through timbral shifts that sound like R2-D2 having an orgasm. On top, Borden taps his jazz roots in free-form synth-improvisations. Although I always favored the more lyrical “Cere’s Motion from this era, “Easter” was a powerful composition that builds relentlessly across its 19 minutes.

MMPMCo never got the acclaim of those who came after. They were based in Ithaca, not exactly a hotbed of new music. Their original recording was released on their own Earthquack Records label and then, just look at that cover.  It doesn’t quite capture the music like the Silver Apples, Phaedra, Timewind or Oxygene covers did.  But once you dropped the needle into those grooves, new worlds opened before your eyes and ears.

The debut MMPMCo album was reissued several years ago by Cuneiform Records as Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company, 1970-1973. It’s resequenced with two additional tracks from that era. David Borden wasn’t composing a religious ode when he recorded “Easter”, but he was touched by the spirit.

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