New Musik’s orchestrators of synth-pop blazed several short circuits on their debut album From A To B. Its computer-generated components were assembled from the bright sparks and random brainwaves of frontman, songwriter and producer Tony Mansfield, who was as much a sound architect as a music processor. In 1979, two years after the band’s creation, Mansfield brought keyboardist Clive Gates into the mainframe. The pair had previously rippled the airwaves as the T. Rex and King Crimson-influenced Reeman Zeegus.
The robotic mannerisms of Straight Lines and Living By Numbers foreshadow an Orwellian world, and when in the latter song Mansfield asks, ‘Does it all add up to you?’ he may be alluding to life, the universe or a record label balance sheet for all the listener knows. Although Living By Numbers sounds like a prophetic strapline for a mobile phone company, it was electronics manufacturer Casio who retained the literal sense of the Top 20 single and used it in a TV advertising campaign for pocket calculators.
While one might hesitate to suggest that climate change or planetary pollution in any way inspired This World Of Water or Dead Fish (Don’t Swim Home), they seem remarkably prescient now and could so easily have been the soundtrack to Blue Planet II. And if the seesaw shanty On Islands lends lyrical comparison to King Crimson’s own Islands, then Science offers the antiseptic alienation of Kraftwerk and the nervous tic of Tubeway Army.
‘Turning forever/ I never could tell/ If this was a heaven/ Or this was a hell,’ laments Mansfield on Sanctuary, which was their last charting single. The lyrics spoke volumes about his own gathering fears and insecurities at the time, and these were further echoed on the closing number, The Safe Side.
Working at a hit factory soon began to take its toll. One of the album’s highlights, A Map Of You, hints at Mansfield’s growing disorientation in both an emotional and physical sense. His ‘where in the world am I?’ viewpoint suggests it was often better to travel in expectation than arrive at further indecision. This was a trait that constantly dogged the band’s advancement and as commercial success began to elude them, Mansfield became more reclusive. New Musik released two more studio albums before disbanding in 1982, leaving the frontman to become a full-time producer.
The shortest distance between two points is the line described by that academic crow. Archimedes would have realised that the mathematics of New Musik was more than the sum of its parts. After all, From A To B is more about art than science anyway.