Their early sound was ostensibly synthetic, mixing analog synths and primitive drum machines with snippets of found speech in place of vocals.
Their first release, the 1982 cassette “Cal’s Ranch” was recorded almost entirely without singing at their home studio ‘The Center for Advanced Studies’. That year, Tone Set contributed the track “Out, Out” to Placebo Record’s “Amuck” compilation which featured the Meat Puppets and other new Phoenix bands. Under the guise of “Happy People”, they also contributed the song “Happy People” to the release.
Vocals started to become a more prominent part of their sound by the time they recorded their 1983 EP, “Calibrate”. The first side featured three synth pop songs. The only other vocals on the record consisting of the line “wiggling around in Middletown” on the second side of the EP, culled from the “Cal’s Ranch” sessions. “Calibrate” was released in February 1983 on their own label, Pegna Records.
The duo also performed as “Life Is Busy”, “The Art Farmers” and “The Special Eds” as outlets for their different types of songwriting styles, from ambient to no wave art funk. The “Life is Busy” repertoire became the later, poppier songs of Tone Set.
A video for “Life is Busy” was produced using found footage, just like the vocals of most of their songs (search YouTube). It aired on MTV’s “Basement Tapes,” where, despite the presence of Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo) as one of the judges, it didn’t get enough votes for rotation. Foolish humans. However, Cinemax licensed it for in-between movie entertainment.
In 1983, Galen and Greg began releasing solo cassettes, leaving many previously unreleased recordings behind (62 of them!) which now finally find their well deserved release on Vinyl-on-Demand. (VOD 141)
A must-have for serious fans and collectors of 80’s minimal/synth cold/wave.
Promo-Trailers can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgRXndkebGc (or just search for “Tone Set Promo”, there are several)
Also available is a 4 LP set of Galen’s pre Tone Set solo works, all minimal homemade synth wanderings (VOD 139). Look for an upcoming VOD releases of Greg Horn’s post Tone Set solo recordings.