The Layering

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In Alan Moore’s recent novel, Jerusalem, the ghosts of Northampton travel to different ages of the town by pulling up the concentrated layers of time which they peel back like the pages of a book. The passage of time as an accumulation of layers was materially evident in 18th-century Rome even before geology became an established science. Piranesi’s most popular series of prints, the Vedute di Roma, show how centuries of wind-blown dust and soil had raised the level of the city several feet above its ancient ruins. Before antiquarians began to remove the soil the city was a place of curious juxtapositions, with truncated Corinthian columns growing from the earth, surrounded by—or even forming part of the structure of—the rougher buildings where contemporary Roman citizens were living or sheltering their livestock.

Layers of time and history are the subject of the new compilation from A Year In The Country:

The album explores the way that places are literally layered with history, and is an audio slicing through the layers of time. It journeys amongst the stories and characters of these layers, including, amongst other aspects, the structures built, events which took place and different era’s technologies and belief systems.

Such layering can go far back into pre-recorded history. Much of the earth is thought to have once been underwater, and it is likely that the majority of cities, towns and villages are built in former ocean areas. Current land masses have come to be formed, in part, through a layering of past marine, other life and plants, which in turn are then quarried or mined, subsequently being used to create the infrastructure of contemporary civilisation, and creating something of a cyclical, time-out-of-joint nature to the layers of time.

Track list:
1) A Year In The Country — Cross Sections Of Time
2) Circle/Temple — The Hollow Stream Buried
3) The Heartwood Institute — Beneath The City Streets
4) Sproatly Smith — Chapel Still Stands
5) Field Lines Cartographer — Layers Of Belief
6) Howlround — A Heart Shaped Forest
7) Folclore Impressionista — The Problem Of Symmetry
8) Handspan — At The End Of The Aerial Flight
9) Widow’s Weeds — Gilmerton Cove
10) Listening Center — Wattle And Daub Office Blocks
11) Vic Mars — Once There Were Houses
12) Pulselovers — Brodsworth
13) Grey Frequency — Tigguo Cobauc

As with some of the earlier releases in this series, the accompanying notes are essential to flesh out the substance of the instrumentals; so The Hollow Stream Buried follows Coil in charting the lost rivers of London, Tigguo Cobauc deals with the labyrinth of caves under the city of Nottingham, Chapel Still Stands concerns a place of worship marooned inside an industrial estate, and so on. Without a description, Howlround’s evocation of a Cumbrian landmark might be another example of stone-tape clairaudience. The tape distortions, however, turn out to be the tape feedback playing itself; if there are any ghosts here their origin is presumably rural, not mineral. Handspan combine a traditional tune from the North-East of England with outdoor percussion, a piece whose jauntiness is undermined (somewhat literally) by thoughts of the collieries of Northumberland and the “aerial flight” itself, the cable conveyor at Blackhall Rocks that makes such a memorable backdrop to the final scenes of Get Carter (1971). Relying on notes in this manner may seem like a flawed approach but it’s the nature of all programme music to be accompanied by some kind of description. Several of the more ambient pieces aren’t too far removed from Brian Eno’s On Land, an album that also concerns itself with place and memory, and which contains its own lengthy contextualising note. Delve beneath the layers here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Quietened Journey
Echoes And Reverberations
The Watchers
The Corn Mother
The Quietened Mechanisms
The Shildam Hall Tapes
Audio Albion
A Year In The Country: the book
All The Merry Year Round
The Quietened Cosmologists
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

The Quietened Journey

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Britain’s Labour government of the 1960s achieved a great deal with its social reforms, but the shrinking of the nation’s railway network—the so-called Beeching Cuts—was a serious mis-step, and one whose repercussions have lasted to the present day. Bus services intended to replace the rail service were less efficient than the trains they were replacing, or else they failed to materialise at all; commuters forced into cars didn’t divide their journeys as intended but switched to using their cars for the entire journey; and many of the smaller branch lines which were closed after being deemed inefficient left isolated communities without any form of public transport at all. I’m just old enough to remember a train journey in 1967 which ended at one of the branch line stations shortly before it was closed. The line itself continued to be used but only by trains taking goods to and from a chemical works that in later years always seemed irredeemably menacing, like the food production plant in Quatermass II.

The derelict lines and stations that littered the countryside following the Beeching Cuts form the subject of the final themed compilation being released this year by A Year In The Country:

The album is an exploration of abandoned and former railways, railway stations and roads, a reflection on them as locations filled with the history, ghosts and spectres of once busy vibrant times—the journeys taken via them, the stories of the lives of those who travelled, built and worked on them.

Nature is slowly reclaiming, or has already reclaimed, much of this infrastructure, with these testaments to industry and “the age of the train” being often left to quietly crumble and decay.

The Quietened Journey is both a celebration and a lament for these now faded links across the land, of the grand dreams and determination which created them and their layered histories that—as these asphalt ribbons, steel lines and stone built roads once prominently were—are threaded throughout the twentieth century and even back to Roman times.

Track list:
1) Pulselovers—Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton In Five Minutes
2) Sproatly Smith—The 19.48 From Fawley
3) The Séance—Elm Grove Portal
4) Widow’s Weeds—The Ghosts Of Salzcraggie
5) The Heartwood Institute—The Solway Viaduct
6) Depatterning—The Beets At Wellington Bridge
7) Howlround—Thrown Open Wide
8) A Year In The Country—Silent Treasure
9) Field Lines Cartographer—Ghosts Of The Wires
10) Dom Cooper and Zosia Sztykowski—Summonings
11) Keith Seatman—Along The Valley Sidings
12) Grey Frequency—An Empty Platform

The train theme is rendered immediately apparent by the opening piece from Pulselovers, a chugging electronic rhythm which suggests a network still full of life and energy. After this the mood quickly darkens, and we’re left on the platform of a station like the haunted one in Sapphire and Steel, with the sun going down and only the ghosts for company. This is another impressively strong collection, ranging from the wistful memorialising of The Ghosts of Salzcraggie by Widow’s Weeds, and A Year In The Country’s hissing roadway, to Howlaround’s Thrown Open Wide, an eruption of noise prompted, he says, by the rebellion of his machines. The machinery of the railway returns to life on Keith Seatman’s Along The Valley Sidings, another synthesised train journey, before we find ourselves on Grey Frequency’s empty platform. The Quietened Journey is a welcome exploration of a feature of the British landscape which has been given surprisingly little attention, and which is now disappearing altogether. The last train will be departing soon.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Echoes And Reverberations
The Watchers
The Corn Mother
The Quietened Mechanisms
The Shildam Hall Tapes
Audio Albion
A Year In The Country: the book
All The Merry Year Round
The Quietened Cosmologists
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

Echoes And Reverberations

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Echoes And Reverberations, the latest themed collection of music presented by A Year In The Country, has a title that might refer to the Hauntological idiom in general. Not so much nostalgia, more the refashioning of memories, or imagined remembrances of the past, into something new.

Echoes And Reverberations is a field recording-based mapping of real and imaginary film and television locations.

It is in part an exploration of their fictional counterparts’ themes; from apocalyptic tales to never-were documentaries and phantasmagorical government-commissioned instructional films via stories of conflicting mystical forces of the past and present, scientific experiments gone wrong and unleashed on the world, the discovery of buried ancient objects and the reawakening of their malignant alien influence, progressive struggles in a world of hidebound rural tradition and the once optimism of post-war new town modernism.

Track list:
1) Grey Frequency—King Penda
2) Pulselovers—The Edge Of The Cloud
3) Dom Cooper—What Has Been Uncovered Is Evil
4) Listening Center—From Bull Island To Avondale
5) Howlround—Smashing
6) A Year In The Country—Not A Playground
7) Sproatly Smith—Gone Away
8) Field Lines Cartographer—Mr Scarecrow
9) Depatterning—The Ogham Stones
10) The Heartwood Institute—Ribble Head Viaduct

Using field recordings as a basis for music or sound art is as old as musique concrète, but the processes of Pierre Schaeffer and his followers were cumbersome and limited, and the results were invariably placed in the frame of Serious Music. The limitations of the approach can be seen in how quickly this avenue of exploration ran its course. It’s taken the flexibility and widespread use of digital sound tools to revitalise a moribund form to a degree that an acclaimed TV series like Chernobyl can use field recordings for a score (by Hildur Gudnadóttir) that matched the power of the on-screen drama.

The first piece in Echoes And Reverberations, King Penda, immediately caught my attention for the reference to David Rudkin’s Penda’s Fen, another TV drama with notable sound design by Paddy Kingsland of the Radiophonic Workshop. I thought the industrial thuds and clangs summoned by Grey Frequency might be taken from the scene where Stephen and his mother travel into Birmingham, but the release notes reveal that the sound source is the church where Stephen plays the organ, and in a later scene experiences a different kind of summoning. Whatever the source, the suggestion of menace suits a film whose transcendent message has to rise through an atmosphere of oppressive malevolence.

The Radiophonic Workshop is the ghost at this particular feast, unsurprisingly when the majority of the pieces are based on film and TV dramas from the Workshop’s golden decade, the 1970s: Flambards (The Edge Of The Cloud by Pulselovers, a beautiful piece of solo violin and piano with birdsong accompaniment); Survivors (Gone Away, a brittle instrumental by Sproatly Smith); and No Blade of Grass (Ribble Head Viaduct by The Heartwood Institute, a lumbering theme for one of the many angry and violent apocalypse films of the 70s). Of the other pieces Dom Cooper’s What Has Been Uncovered Is Evil takes the Hammer film of Quatermass and the Pit as its focus, creating a soundscape of sinister electronics in a nod to Tristram Carey’s Martian soundtrack, while the equally sinister electronics of Field Lines Cartographer’s Mr Scarecrow follows Stephen Gallagher’s gene-splicing thriller, Chimera, to the rain-drenched Lake District. The shadows of disaster lying over this release feel uncomfortably timely when the past week in Britain saw a heatwave like something from The Day the Earth Caught Fire, while this week we’ve had a village evacuated after torrential rains have threatened a dam with collapse, and an announcement from China about “hybrid chimeras“.

Echoes And Reverberations will be released on 16th August, and is available for pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Watchers
The Corn Mother
The Quietened Mechanisms
The Shildam Hall Tapes
Audio Albion
A Year In The Country: the book
All The Merry Year Round
The Quietened Cosmologists
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

The Watchers

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The latest release from A Year In The Country is The Watchers, a compilation album which takes as its theme the ancient trees of the British Isles. The slow time of a tree’s life becomes centuries in the case of the oldest specimens. Some of Britain’s yew trees are so old you imagine that if trees perceive human beings at all it would be as fleeting blurs, continually changing the landscape (and destroying the trees) before being replaced. It’s fitting that yew trees are often found growing in graveyards.

Some of them have lived through invasions of their island home undertaken by wooden ships, sword and arrow, the final days and passing of the old ways and the times of magic and witchcraft, the coming of the industrial revolution and the dawning of the digital era.

Track list:
1) Grey Frequency—In A Clearing
2) Field Lines Cartographer—A Thousand Autumns
3) Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics—The Brave Old Oak
4) Depatterning—Ook/Dair
5) A Year In The Country—Radicle Ether
6) Phonofiction—Xylem Flow
7) Pulselovers—Circles Within Circles
8) Sproatly Smith—Watching You
9) Vic Mars—The Test Of Time
10) The Heartwood Institute—The Trees That Watch The Stones
11) Howlround—The Winter Dream of Novel’s Oak

The theme may be a pastoral one but, as with earlier compilations, several of the pieces here are very much products of the digital era; many of the pieces are also instrumentals which might pose a problem in illustrating the theme but each artist provides a note describing their intentions: Grey Frequency investigate a rooky wood; Widow’s Weeds provide the folkiest offering with The Brave Old Oak, a song about the ancient Scottish woodland of Dalkeith Oakwood; Depatterning attempt to convey in sound the shared genetic history of English and Irish Oaks.

I’m often resistant to music (or art) that relies on text for support but it’s difficult to avoid with an album like this. It’s also no different to the old “programme” tradition of illustrative instrumental music, a form whose most familiar example is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The listener may ignore the notes, of course, but doing so would mean missing details such as Phonofiction’s referring to their “drumkit of tree hits”. The best piece is Watching You by Sproatly Smith, a group who always seem to stand out on these compilations. Watching You delivers the theme with sympathy and economy, and since this is a song no notes are required. Many of the other pieces are less distinct, and without textual support they risk blurring into an undifferentiated electronic fuzz. Given the theme, this may be appropriate, the artists themselves becoming the fleeting blurs that the ancient trees perceive.

The Watchers will be released on 7th June, and is available for pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Corn Mother
The Quietened Mechanisms
The Shildam Hall Tapes
Audio Albion
A Year In The Country: the book
All The Merry Year Round
The Quietened Cosmologists
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

Weekend links 450

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Orpheus (c. 1903–1910) by Odilon Redon. One of 30,000 public-domain images from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection.

• Network DVD has announced the premiere home release of Orson Welles’ Great Mysteries, a British TV series that ran from 1973 to 74. Welles’ involvement was limited to introducing each episode but the series itself was one I enjoyed a great deal: 26 short adaptations of period mystery stories that featured a wealth of British and American acting talent. The theme by John Barry was an additional bonus.

• The trailer for Apollo 11, a documentary by Todd Douglas Miller which presents for the first time the 70mm footage recording the Earth-bound parts of the Moon mission. Related: Michelle Santiago Cortés on how NASA used art to shape our vision of the future.

• At Dangerous Minds: a preview of Third Noise Principle, the latest in an excellent series of electronic music compilations from Cherry Red, and Cosey Fanni Tutti talks about her first solo album since 1983.

“The way I understood theory, primarily through popular culture, is generally detested in universities,” Mark [Fisher] told me in 2005, when I interviewed him for the Village Voice. “Most dealings with the academy have been literally clinically depressing.” He darkly surmised that his blog, K-Punk, and the surrounding blogosphere, “seemed like the space—the only space—in which to maintain a kind of discourse that had started in the music press and the art schools, but which had all but died out, with appalling cultural and political consequences.” Mark and the Village Voice are both dead now, leaving unfathomable voids in their wake.

Geeta Dayal on Mark Fisher

• At The Witch Wave: Peter Bebergal and Pam Grossman discuss Bebergal’s latest book (also my current reading), Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural.

• At Bandcamp: another release from the retro-synth cosmos of Jenzeits, and Ufology , an investigation of Britain’s flying-saucer landscape by Grey Frequency.

• Surprising collaboration of the week: Beth Gibbons and Krzysztof Penderecki have made a new recording of Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony.

Alchemy (1969) the debut album by the Third Ear Band, receives an expanded reissue next month.

The Burn: a science-fiction story by Peter Tieryas with illustrations by Arik Roper.

• Mix of the week: Self-Titled Needle Exchange 275 by Black To Comm.

Amy Turk plays Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on her harp.

Chrismarker.org is seeking donations.

Mystery Train (1955) by Elvis Presley | Mystery R.P.S. (No 8) (1981) by Holger Czukay, Jah Wobble, Jaki Liebezeit | Mystery Room (1985) by Helios Creed