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

The Quietened Mechanisms

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The latest themed collection from A Year In The Country is a surprise for being a dramatic departure from the previous installment, the very musical Shildam House Tapes. The Quietened Mechanisms follows similar the label’s other Quietened releases—Bunker, Cosmologists and Village—in seeking to represent in sound or music a sense of absence or ending. The theme of the new collection is the end of Britain’s industrial revolution, a period of social and geological turmoil whose ruins still litter the landscape, especially in the Midlands and North of England. Consequently, the entries this time are sparse to the point of abstraction, tending to the soundscape end of the musical spectrum.

The album is an exploration of abandoned and derelict industry, infrastructure, technology and equipment that once upon a time helped to create, connect and sustain society.

It wanders amongst deserted factories, discarded machinery, closed mines, mills and kilns and their echoes and remains; taking a moment or two to reflect on these once busy, functioning centres of activity and the sometimes sheer scale or amount of effort and human endeavour that was required to create and operate such structures and machines, many of which are now just left to fade away.

Track list:
1) The Heartwood Institute—Birkby and Allbright Mine
2) Quaker’s Stang—The Hoffman Kiln
3) Depatterning—Of Looms in the Housen
4) Embertides—Ash, Oak & Sulphur
5) Dom Cooper—Metallurgy
6) Field Lines Cartographer—The Mill in the Forest
7) Grey Frequency—Nottingham Canal
8) Howlround—A Closed Circuit
9) The Soulless Party—Rattler to the Tower
10) Keith Seatman—Rural Flight
11) Listening Center—Clarion of the Collapsed Complex
12) Spaceship—The Stones Speak of Short Lives
13) Sproatly Smith—Canary Babies
14) Pulselovers—Fuggles
15) Time Attendant—Hidden Parameters
16) Vic Mars—Watchtower and Engine
17) A Year In The Country—The Structure/Respite

This is post-industrial music in the multiple senses of the term although Dom Cooper’s Metallurgy harks back to the Industrial metal-bashing sub-genre of the 1980s. The pieces that seek to conjure pictures of abandoned places do so in ways that aren’t always so obvious: The Mill In The Forest by Field Lines Cartographer is closer to Gil Mellé’s Andromeda Strain soundtrack than Shirley Collins. Not all the contributions have immediately obvious titles so the accompanying notes are essential: Sproatly Smith’s solemn Canary Babies is a memorial to the women who worked in the Rother Ordnance Factory making bombs and shells, and whose skins were turned yellow by the chemicals they used. This isn’t industrial nostalgia, in other words, but an often poignant commemoration. Another impressive installment in this ongoing series. The Quietened Mechanisms will be released on 2nd October 2018, and is available for order here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
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

Audio Albion

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Last year saw a series of themed compilation albums from A Year In The Country, each of which was released a few months at a time. This year follows suit with Audio Albion, a collection of 15 new pieces of music from regular contributors such as David Colohan, Howlround, Keith Seatman, Sproatly Smith and others. The theme this time is “the sounds found and heard when wandering down pathways, over fields, through marshes, alongside rivers, down into caves and caverns, climbing hills, along coastlands, through remote mountain forestland, amongst the signs of industry and infrastructure and its discarded debris.”

Track list:
1) Bare Bones—Marshland Improvisation
2) David Colohan—On Stormy Point
3) Grey Frequency—Stapleford Hill
4) Field Lines Cartographer—Coldbarrow
5) Howlround—Cold Kissing
6) A Year In The Country—The Fields of Tumbling Ideas
7) Keith Seatman—Winter Sands
8) Magpahi—Shepsters in the Yessins
9) Sproatly Smith—Ethelbert & Mary
10) Widow’s Weeds—The Unquiet Grave
11) Time Attendant—Holloway
12) Spaceship—The Roding in Spate
13) Pulselovers—Thieves’ Cant
14) The Heartwood Institute—Hvin-lettir
15) Vic Mars—Dinedor Hill

As with previous A Year In The Country collections, the approaches are diverse, ranging here from the banjo-plus-location-recordings of Bare Bones to abstract electronic treatments by Howlround and Time Attendant. The accompanying texts are useful for contextualising the recordings; so David Colohan informs us that his piece, On Stormy Point, contains a whistle recording made in one of the caves at Alderley Edge in Cheshire, an important location in the Rural Wyrd via the popularisation of its myths in the novels of Alan Garner. Not everything here aims for a sinister atmosphere but the The Unquiet Grave by Widow’s Weeds certainly achieves this, a marvellous interpretation of one of the spookiest English folk songs, and the standout piece in an excellent collection.

Audio Albion will be released on 29th May but is available for pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
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
Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies