The Quietened Cosmologists

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It was a coincidence, but the destruction last week of the Cassini probe in the atmosphere of Saturn parallels the theme of the latest music collection from A Year In The Country:

The Quietened Cosmologists is a reflection on space exploration projects that have been abandoned and/or that were never realised, of connected lost or imagined futures and dreams, the intrigue and sometimes melancholia of related derelict sites and technological remnants that lie scattered and forgotten.

It takes as its initial starting points the shape of the future’s past via the discarded British space program of the 1950s to 1970s; the sometimes statuesque and startling derelict artefacts and infrastructure from the Soviet Union’s once far reaching space projects; the way in which manned spaceflight beyond Earth’s orbit/to the moon and the associated sense of a coming space age came to be largely put to one side after the 1969 to 1972 US Apollo flights.

Track list:
1) Field Lines Cartographer — OPS-4
2) Pulselovers — Lonely Puck
3) Magpahi — Chayka
4) Howlround — Night Call, Collect
5) Vic Mars — X-3
6) Unit One — Voyages Of The Moon
7) A Year In The Country — The March Of Progress/Frontier Dreams
8) Keith Seatman — 093A-Prospero
9) Grey Frequency — Phantom Cosmonauts
10) Time Attendant — Adrift
11) Listening Center — Mlécný Perihelion Weekend
12) Polypores — The Amateur Astronomer
13) David Colohan — Landfall At William Creek

The Cassini expedition wasn’t a failed one, of course, but the destruction of the probe (planned from the outset to avoid space-junk wandering the Solar System) is a reminder of the realities of the Space Age, that this is a frontier with the same casualties and ruins as any other. The ruins of Britain’s own contribution to the Space Race—especially those like the abandoned launch-pad at High Down on the Isle of Wight—are all the more poignant for the gulf between their past ambition and present state of decay.

As you might expect, the entries on this collection tend towards the electronic, and there’s even an uptempo synth piece from Keith Seatman whose title—093A-Prospero—is a nod to one of the old British rockets. By way of contrast, David Colohan’s Landfall At William Creek sounds more pastoral unless you know that his title refers to the region of Australia where Britain’s rockets and nuclear missiles were tested during the 1950s and 1960s.

The Quietened Cosmologists will be released on 3rd October, and is available for pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

Undercurrents

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Undercurrent: a word whose meanings offer many worthwhile associations, from submerged currents of air and water to suppressed activities, and anything that moves unseen beneath the surface. Undercurrents is the latest release from A Year In The Country, artist and label, the latter having had a particularly busy year. The country happens to be the focus of the new release:

Undercurrents was partly inspired by living in the countryside for the first time since I was young, where because of the more exposed nature of rural life I found myself in closer contact with, more overtly affected by and able to directly observe the elements and nature than via life in the city.

This coincided with an interest in and exploration of an otherly take on pastoralism and creating the A Year In The Country project; of coming to know the land as a place of beauty, exploration and escape that you may well drift off into but where there is also a sometimes unsettled undercurrent and layering of history and culture.

I found myself drawn to areas of culture that draw from the landscape, the patterns beneath the plough, the pylons and amongst the edgelands and where they meet with the lost progressive futures, spectral histories and parallel worlds of what has come to be known as hauntology.

Undercurrents is an audio exploration and interweaving of these themes – a wandering amongst nature, electronic soundscapes, field recordings, the flow of water through and across the land and the flipside of bucolic dreams.

The electronic nature of these recordings contradicts the usual expectation that anything to do with the country—especially the English countryside—has to be presented in a folk idiom and with acoustic instruments. This adds further resonances to the theme, making me think of electric currents, dowsing maps and John Michell’s eccentric (to say the least) take on Alfred Watkins’ ley lines, which hauled Watkins’ idea of trade routes used by ancient Britons into a New-Age soup of cosmic energy, numerology and UFOs. Michell’s zone is a little more far out than A Year In The Country’s explorations (and already mapped on albums by Tim Blake, Steve Hillage and others), the sounds here being more restrained and allusive, as they ought to be for undercurrents. The atmospheres are closer to Xenis Emputae Travelling Band but without the esoteric pattern, earth mysteries intuited but left unresolved.

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A map produced by dowsers showing alleged underground streams around Stonehenge. From The World Atlas of Mysteries (1978) by Francis Hitching.

Undercurrents will be released on 8th August in a range of monochrome formats, and is available to pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

From The Furthest Signals

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It’s been a busy year so far for A Year In The Country with two themed compilation albums being followed this month by a third, From The Furthest Signals. The latest theme is an intriguing one, taking as its starting point the erasing of broadcast tapes by British TV companies in the 1960s and early 1970s which destroyed hundreds of hours of dramas, concerts and other programmes. This was done as a money-saving measure (tape being expensive and reusable) at a time when the output of the BBC and the independent stations was regarded as mostly ephemeral and of little value. There was also a patronising class aspect to the practice: John Peel used to bitterly remind people that the BBC had saved its tapes of gardening shows while wiping concerts by the likes of Captain Beefheart.

Track list:
1) Circle/Temple – The Séance/Search for Muspel-Light
2) David Colohan – Brass Rubbings Club (Opening Titles)
3) A Year In The Country – A Multitude Of Tumblings
4) Sharron Kraus – Asterope
5) Time Attendant – The Dreaming Green
6) Depatterning – Aurora In Andromeda
7) Sproatly Smith – The Thistle Doll
8) Field Lines Cartographer – The Radio Window
9) Grey Frequency – Ident (IV)
10) Keith Seatman – Curious Noises & Distant Voices
11) Polypores – Signals Caught Off The Coast
12) The Hare And The Moon – Man Of Double Deed
13) Pulselovers – Endless Repeats/Eternal Return
14) Listening Center – Only The Credits Remain

All those wiped broadcasts may be lost down on Earth but they still exist somewhere in the halo of television and radio signals which is expanding into space. From The Furthest Signals is a speculation about the content of these remote signals, a tuning in to decayed transmissions and imagined broadcasts (that word—”broadcast”—being examined here in its widest possible sense). Some of the entries nod to fictional analogues: The Séance/Search For The Muspel Light by Circle/Temple is a reference to A Voyage to Arcturus, David Lindsay’s unique and remarkable science-fiction novel. Other entries like Brass Rubbings Club (Opening Titles) by David Colohan are suggestions for imaginary theme tunes. This is an excellent collection, one of the best to date from A Year In The Country with pieces ranging from the folk-oriented balladry of Sproatly Smith to the deteriorating electronics of Grey Frequency. The album ends with a number by Listening Center, Only The Credits Remain, whose weightless harmonies wouldn’t be out of place on Apollo by Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois.

From The Furthest Signals is out now in the familiar range of hand-crafted monochrome formats.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

The Restless Field

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The advent of Spring brings a new CD release from A Year In The Country. The Restless Field is another themed compilation, and one of their best to date, the theme this time being the British landscape as a site for political resistance:

The Restless Field is a study of the land as a place of conflict and protest as well as beauty and escape; an exploration and acknowledgment of the history and possibility of protest, resistance and struggle in the landscape/rural areas, in contrast with sometimes more often referred to urban events. It takes inspiration from flashpoints in history while also interweaving personal and societal myth, memory, the lost and hidden tales of the land.

References and starting points include: The British Miners Strike of 1984 and the Battle Of Orgreave. Gerrard Winstanley & the Diggers/True Levellers in the 17th century. The first battle of the English Civil War in 1642. The burying of The Rotherwas Ribbon. The Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout in 1932. Graveney Marsh/the last battle fought on English soil. The Congested Districts Board/the 19th century land war in Ireland. The Battle Of The Beanfield in 1985.

Track list:
1) Ghosts Of Blood & Iron — Field Lines Cartographer
2) Mortimer’s Cross — Vic Mars
3) [ fears ] avaunt! upon “the” hill — Bare Bones
4) 3am M5 Field Raid — Assembled Minds
5) Agrarian Lament — Grey Frequency
6) Beneath The Cherry Trees — Endurance
7) Congested District — Listening Center
8) Badby 80 — Pulselovers
9) Ribbons — Sproatly Smith
10) Graveney Marsh — Polypores
11) Last Best West (circ. 1896) — Depatterning
12) Black Slab — Time Attendant
13) A Mutable History Under A Bright June Sky — A Year In The Country
14) Beyond Jack’s Gate — David Colohan

All of the compositions this time are instrumentals so the degree to which the music relates to the theme depends upon the interpretation of the listener; some pieces, such as 3am M5 Field Raid, offer an overt clue in the title. The success of the collection as a whole is also open to question; it may be that the artists are becoming more confident—many of the people here have appeared on previous AYITC releases—or that the theme this time was more stimulating than others have been.

For the past week or so I’ve been listening to Coil almost exclusively so I hear a lot of Coil echoes in these pieces. I doubt that these are intentional—although given shared concerns, some of them may be—but by 2000 Coil’s music had moved away from the urban orientation of the 1980s to a pastoral mysticism that also had a political impetus: “The forest is a college / Each tree a university”. Late Coil also involved the construction of fields of sound, the products of fields of another kind: electrical and (possibly) psychical. I can’t speak for the latter quality but there’s plenty of the former in this collection of restless fields.

The album will be released on 2nd May, and is available for pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

The Marks Upon The Land

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The latest release from A Year In The Country, The Marks Upon The Land, sees the label pushing its roots into a new medium with a 60-page book collecting the monochrome imagery featured on the label’s website and CD packaging. That imagery—described on the website as “explorations of an otherly pastoralism, a wandering amongst subculture that draws from the undergrowth of the land – the patterns beneath the plough, pylons and amongst the edgelands”—converts the bucolically familiar into something more eerie or even sinister, a series of widescreen mutations that create pareidolia spectres through symmetry and layering. Seen in isolation, these images are arresting enough but they gain power by being collected together, fashioning a statement of intent.

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Statement or not, it can be difficult to sell people semi-abstract imagery so it’s probably wise that The Marks Upon The Land comes with a musical accompaniment in the form of two 4-track CDs—Wild Hope Flowers by David Colohan and Richard Moult, and The Dark Chamber EP by A Year In The Country—and a 12-track cassette, Airwaves: Songs From The Sentinels by A Year In The Country (the book will also be available on its own). The Dark Chamber is described as an audio exploration of the imagery in the book although I found that Airwaves: Songs From The Sentinels was just as fitting, if not more so, since the pieces are fluid soundscapes with a sinister edge. The Dark Chamber is a series of electronic instrumentals, one of which, The Dark Chamber, is an uptempo piece of a kind more usually associated with city streets (bleating sheep and a distant rookery notify us that we’re still in the country). After appearing separately on previous A Year In The Country releases, David Colohan and Richard Moult provide a contrast to the electronic processing with four short piano-led songs, a reminder that the folk spirit still lurks in the hedgerows (what’s left of them).

The Marks Upon The Land will be released on 6th March, 2017. Order details and previews may be found here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures