Boards of Canada

From Academic Kids

Boards of Canada is a Scottish electronic music duo comprised of Michael Sandison (b. 10 June 1969) and Marcus Eoin (b. 21 September 1970).1 Described by many as enigmatic, they have released a number of works with little advertising and few interviews, such as their well-known albums Music Has the Right to Children and Geogaddi. Their sound has frequently been described as curiously nostalgic. It recalls, amongst other things, the warm, scratchy, artificial sounds of 1970s television, and indeed, band members Eoin and Sandison admit to being inspired by the documentary films of their namesake, the National Film Board of Canada. The duo has recorded a few minor works as Hell Interface.


Early Boards of Canada (1970s-1995)

Sandison and Eoin were childhood friends who experimented with creating music together through their teens. They began playing instruments at a young age, and experimenting with music at around 10-years-old. Using tape machines they experimented with laying cut-up samples of found sounds over compositions of their own. Although they had made music together as friends, "Boards of Canada" did not exist until much later.

The band would have a nebulous roster throughout its history, encompassing at least fourteen different core members and an unknown number of collaborators.

Boards of Canada have said they "began writing and playing music in a more serious way at some point around 1987". They go on to say, "At first, we experimented without setting ourselves any questions, with whatever means were available to us, then we worked a lot with other musicians and with real instruments, which brought more complexity into our music. Five years ago [1993], we sounded a lot more Gothic, much closer to experimental rock, with the occasional vocal. Though it was heading for electronic music; already we were sampling our own instruments. Then we went back to something closer to our original spirit: simple and instinctive, the only difference being that from then on, we could use all the wonders of digital technology, and so it was a lot easier to experiment and to get what we wanted" [VM].

By 1989, the band had been reduced to Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin. In the early 1990s, a number of collaborations took place and the band was putting on small, fairly regular shows among the "Hexagon Sun" collective.

Boards of Canada from Twoism (1995-present)

Twoism was released 1995 on their own Music70 label. It was a self-financed cassette and LP distributed privately. Though not a widespread commercial release, it was considered of quality to be subsequently re-pressed in 2002 and serves as a demarcation point into more professional releases. Also in that year, their Edinburgh studio was christened Hexagon Sun.

The precursor to Music Has the Right to Children was released in 1996. Titled Boc Maxima, it was a semi-private release that is notable for being a full-length album. Boc Maxima's work was later used for Music, with which it shares many songs, though there were also a number of additions and subtractions. Boards of Canada's first commercial release occurred after attracting the attention of Autechre's Sean Booth of the English label Skam Records, one of many people sent a demo EP. Skam released what was considered their first "findable" work, Hi Scores, in 1996. Prior to that, their distribution had been limited to a small number of releases (mostly cassette-only) passed among friends and family.

Another collection of prior and new songs was released as the seminal full-length album that many consider to be their real debut, Music Has The Right To Children, in 1998. Many consider this record to be a masterpiece, while others point out that much of its tone has been obviously inspired from other Warp Records luminaries, such as Autechre. Nevertheless, the popularity of the record within the IDM community was substantial enough to start a wave of "sound-alikes," a few of which went on to find their own sound and become established in their own right.

John Peel featured Boards of Canada on his BBC Radio 1 program in January of 1999. Four songs were played. From Music Has the Right to Children came two remixes, "Aquarius (Version 3)" and "Olson (Version 3)". Two new songs were also played, "Happy Cycling" and "XYZ". "Happy Cycling" was later edited and appended to the United States release of Music Has the Right To Children (1999, Matador), and to the subsequent worldwide re-release in 2004 on Warp. Excluding "XYZ", the set was released on a Warp Records CD titled Peel Session. Boards of Canada also performed live a few times, once at the Warp Records 10th Anniversary Party (Nov 1999) and again at the Warp Lighthouse Party (Oct 2000).

Boards of Canada released a four-track EP In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country in November 2000, their first original release in two years. The title had come from a recruiting video made by the Branch Davidians. The song "In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country" features the repeated vocals "Come out, and live in a religious community in a beautiful place out in the country." Another, "Amo Bishop Roden", is named after the Branch Davidian person of the same name. The full-length album Geogaddi was released in 2002. It was described by Sandison as "a record for some sort of trial-by-fire, a claustrophobic, twisting journey that takes you into some pretty dark experiences before you reach the open air again." The album has a darker, more complex, and fuller sound than Music Has the Right to Children.

Michael Sandison's first child, a girl, was born in July of 2004. Boards of Canada members Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin currently live a few miles outside Edinburgh, Scotland.

Sound and methods

Boards of Canada's unique sound is a product of their strong use of analogue equipment, mix of instrumental and synthetic sounds, use of often unrecognizably distorted samples, use of live and radio or film lyrics, and their layering and blending of these elements.

"A lot of the synthetic-sounding things you hear are actually recordings of us playing other instruments, pianos, flutes or twanging guitar strings or field sounds we get from walking around with portable tape recorders, like electronic beeps in shops, or vehicles, then they are mangled beyond recognition. We have an arsenal of old hi-fi tricks up our sleeves and we basically destroy the sounds until they're really lovely and fucked up. So we're using sounds that are totally our own thing," Sandison said [HMV].

"The voices are sometimes from old TV shows or tapes we've made. We have a lot of stuff we've collected, going back to the early '80s. But half of the time, it's things we've had friends record especially for us. We create tapes all the time. Practically everyone we know has been roped into recording something for us at some point," said Sandison [1] (

Brief songs or "vignettes" feature prominently in their music. Such songs are often weaving melodies or speech accompanied by atmospherics to capture a specific moment or mood. They often last less than two minutes, but, as Sandison says, "those short tracks you mention, we write far more of those than the so-called 'full on' tracks, and in a way, they are our own favorites" [OOR].

Boards of Canada have written an enormous number of song fragments and songs, most of which will never be released. It does not appear that music is made exclusively for commercial release. Rather, albums seem to be the result of selecting complementary songs from current work. Geogaddi's development involved the creation of 400 song fragments and 64 complete songs, of which 23 were selected, one of which is silence.

Subliminal messages, symbology, and religion

The band have developed some enigma and controversy. They have only participated in a few tours, and infrequently do interviews or public appearances. Sandison and Eoin enjoy their privacy and the quiet life rural Scotland affords them, but do instigate on some occasion (unknowingly or not) the perception of themselves as an enigma. They have both expressed a strong interest in the power of subliminal messaging and their work seems rife with cryptic messages. No doubt the sheer amount that can be found in their catalog (not just the scattered and reversed vocal samples, but the mathematical timing of beat structures, song titles, colours, cover art, and track lengths) does much to propagate this enigma.

Some critics refuse to listen to their music on account that they are positive the band is trying to brainwash their listeners for unknown motivations, citing references to David Koresh and occult symbols as proof. Others approach these facts from the skeptical angle, saying it is nothing but a bunch of "cute tricks" and an ironic gesture towards people who take such things seriously (and some would say, as a bit of a similar gesture towards their own body of work in later releases, such as Geogaddi).

Michael Sandison sought to dispel their occasionally cultish image in an interview, saying: "We're not Satanists, or Christians, or Pagans. We're not religious at all. We just put symbols into our music sometimes, depending on what we're interested in at the time. We do care about people and the state of the world, and if we're spiritual at all it's purely in the sense of caring about art and inspiring people with ideas."

Lyrics and references

Main article: Lyrics of Boards of Canada

There are a multitude of masked, backwards, or otherwise obscured messages in Boards of Canada songs- however there is no official word on the validity of these quotes, which may be incorrect.


  • Catalog 3 - Summer 1987 (Music70). Limited cassette release. Limited CD re-release in 1997.
  • Acid Memories - 1989 (Music70). Limited cassette release.
  • Closes Vol. 1 - 1992 (Music70). Limited cassette release. Limited CD repress in 1997.
  • Play By Numbers - 1994 (Music70). Limited CD & cassette release.
  • Hooper Bay - 1994 (Music70). Limited 12" release.
  • Twoism - 1995 (Music70). Limited cassette and LP release. 2002 general re-release on LP and CD (Music70/Warp).
  • Boc Maxima - 1996 (Music70). Limited CD & cassette release.
  • Hi Scores - 1996 (Skam). 12" release. Re-pressed on 12" and CD in 1998 and 2002.
  • Aquarius - Jan 05 1998 (Skam). 7" EP.
  • Music Has the Right to Children - Aug 1998 (Warp/Skam). CD, 2xLP.
  • Peel Session - Jan 1999 (Warp). 12", CD.
  • In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country - Nov 2000 (Warp/Music70). Sky-blue 12", CD.
  • Geogaddi - Feb 2002 (Warp/Music70). 3xLP, CD, Limited Edition CD.

Live and radio appearances

  • Peel Session - January 1999, BBC Radio 1 (Released on Warp)
  • Warp 10th Anniversary Party - November 1999
  • Warp Lighthouse Party - October 2000
  • All Tomorrow's Parties at Sussex - April 2001
  • Helterskelter FM Radio Broadcast - 2002

Collaborations and covers/remixes

Boards of Canada have remixed a number of artists' songs. The work of these artists is generally described as electronic, ambient, experimental, or hip-hop. Most artists come from the United Kingdom or United States. Boards of Canada has additionally remixed two older, popular songs under the alias Hell Interface, detailed below.

Remixes of Boards of Canada

Remixes by Boards of Canada

Remixes by Boards of Canada as Hell Interface


Boards of Canada has also recorded as Hell Interface.

End notes

1 Dates of birth from EHX (, a defunct website from around 1998 that appears to have been written by someone with personal and local knowledge of Boards of Canada. These are the only dates of birth available.



See also

External links


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