The Mysterious Cypher 7

August 14th, 2009

decoder.jpg

Back when I worked at the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory and shared an office with Mike, I had the privilege of unfettered access to a vast collection of CDs. Mike is part of that disappearing segment of society still buying compact discs rather than downloading digital files. One of the most intriguing CDs Mike ever brought in was Cypher 7’s Decoder, a 1996 release from a supergroup of sorts which may or may not have included Jeff Bova, Alex Haas, Bill Laswell (producer?), and Yellowman(!?!). The CD starts off with a sprawling 17 minute jam titled “Dead Drop”, a reference to the outdoor nooks and crannies Cold War spies used for stashing secret microfilm. The song is perfect at evoking nocturnal scenes of rainy winter avenues and the dull glare of sodium vapor street lamps. The track also still feels fresh, even though it came out at a time when the Dave Matthews Band and Alanis Morrisette dominated the pop charts.

There doesn’t seem to be much information on Cypher 7 out there other than it was formed by Bova and Haas in the early ’90s. I believe both worked at major New York studios during the late ’80s early ’90s, so that might have been the connection. Laswell is probably best known for his work producing Herbie Hancock, who Bova played keyboards for. I’m not sure if Yellowman was actually involved in the recording of the Decoder album since he is not mentioned on the liner notes (Amazon does list him though), but he is a well know Jamaican dub DJ who might have provided some of the beats and might have traveled in the same circles as Laswell, who had a close connection to Chris Blackwell and Island Records. It wouldn’t surprise me if Laswell was the one who provided the bass playing on the album. On the surface, Bova seems like an odd musician to be involved in Cypher 7 since most of his work tends to be more mainstream with performers like Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, and Billy Joel. But then again, he also had a long relationship with Laswell, which probably exposed him to more avant-garde musical forms.

I don’t know if this is true or not, but I’ve also read the primary synth used on Decoder was the Waldorf Wave, a massive keyboard that cost around $8,000 USD circa 1994. Jeff Bova did own a Wave and is reported to have used it on numerous albums from artists as diverse as The Backstreet Boys to Meat Loaf. As an owner of Waldorf’s Microwave II, which came out later in the ‘90s, I can report that many of the atmospherics of Decoder have that Waldorf trademark to them. This is especially true of “Dead Drop”. I don’t know how many Waves are floating around out there, but I bet the numbers are pretty small. And I wonder if Bova still uses his? I would love to hear it on another Cypher 7 album someday. Oh, I almost forgot. Bill Laswell also release a couple of albums called Dark Side of the Moog that are quite good as well. They make a nice complement to Cypher 7.

Listen to “Dead Drop” on last.fm

Entry Filed under: Randomness, Electronic Music

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Dave  |  May 10th, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Bova and Haas. Laswell was essentially Executive Producer on this one as Strata (a sub-label of Subharmonic) was pretty much controlled by Laswell, though not owned outright. Cypher 7 had a second CD called ‘Security’ that came out on Subharmonic proper. Laswell contributed bass to 1 track. Peter Weatherbee released them both as a 2 CD set with bonus tracks entitled “Nothing Lasts”. Great stuff.

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