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 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

The Shildam Hall Tapes

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The conceit of a “soundtrack for an imaginary film” dates back at least as far as Gandharva by Beaver & Krause, although only the second half of that album was the imaginary soundtrack, and a rather vague one at that. (A variation on the Gandharva suite did become genuine soundtrack music, however, when Robert Fuest asked Gerry Mulligan to rework his sax improvisation for The Final Programme in 1973.) The imaginary soundtrack idea didn’t really catch on until the late 80s and early 90s, with serious efforts such as Barry Adamson’s excellent Moss Side Story emerging alongside an increasing and often lazy use of the term “imaginary soundtrack” as a descriptor employed by journalists writing about instrumental electronic albums.

The Shildam Hall Tapes is neither lazy nor mis-labelled being the latest in this year’s themed compilation albums from A Year In The Country, and a collection described as “reflections on an imaginary film.”

In the late 1960s a film crew began work on a well-funded feature film in a country mansion, having been granted permission by the young heir of the estate. Amidst rumours of aristocratic decadence, psychedelic use and even possibly dabbling in the occult, the film production collapsed, although it is said that a rough cut of it and the accompanying soundtrack were completed but they are thought to have been filed away and lost amongst storage vaults.

Few of the cast or crew have spoken about the events since and any reports from then seem to contradict one another and vary wildly in terms of what actually happened on the set. A large number of those involved, including a number of industry figures who at the time were considered to have bright futures, simply seemed to disappear or step aside from the film industry following the film’s collapse, their careers seemingly derailed or cast adrift by their experiences.

Little is known of the film’s plot but several unedited sections of the film and its soundtrack have surfaced, found amongst old film stock sold as a job lot at auction—although how they came to be there is unknown. The fragments of footage and audio that have appeared seem to show a film which was attempting to interweave and reflect the heady cultural mix of the times; of experiments and explorations in new ways of living, a burgeoning counter culture, a growing interest in and reinterpretation of folk culture and music, early electronic music experimentation, high fashion, psychedelia and the crossing over of the worlds of the aristocracy with pop/counter culture and elements of the underworld.

The Shildam Hall Tapes takes those fragments as its starting point and imagines what the completed soundtrack may have sounded like; creating a soundtrack for a film that never was.

Track list:
1) Gavino Morretti—Dawn of a New Generation
2) Sproatly Smith—Galloping Backwards
3) Field Lines Cartographer—The Computer
4) Vic Mars—Ext – Day – Overgrown Garden
5) Circle/Temple—Maze Sequence
6) A Year In The Country—Day 12, Scene 2, Take 3; Hoffman’s Fall
7) The Heartwood Institute—Shildam Hall Seance
8) David Colohan—How We’ll Go Out
9) Listening Center—Cultivation I
10) Pulselovers—The Green Leaves of Shildam Hall

I’ve always enjoyed this kind of thing when it’s done well, as in Barry Adamson’s case, so was already predisposed to the new collection even before hearing it. The cumulative effect is much better than anticipated, thanks in part to a few deviations from earlier A Year In The Country compilations. The opening piece is by Gavino Morretti, a newcomer to the AYITC stable, and a musician whose albums to date are all in the imaginary soundtrack sub-genre. Morretti provides a marvellous piece in the Goblin/Fabio Frizzi manner that effortlessly conjures a title sequence of mists, coloured filters and Art Nouveau typefaces.

The following contributions range from the spookily atmospheric (Sproatly Smith, A Year In The Country, The Heartwood Institute) to electronic numbers such as The Computer by Field Lines Cartographer which suggests some kind of paranormal investigation like those in The Stone Tape and The Legend of Hell House. The biggest surprise for me was David Colohan’s How We’ll Go Out which is another electronic work, and very different to his earlier folk-oriented compositions. If, like me, you’ve been missing the “ghost” quotient among the recent releases on the Ghost Box label, then The Shildam Hall Tapes is a very welcome substitute: sinister, perfectly-pitched and leaving enough gaps in the scenario for the imagination to operate. I’m no doubt biased towards the format but for me this is the best A Year In The Country compilation to date so I’m now wondering what the follow-up will be like.

The Shildam Hall Tapes will be available for pre-order at Bandcamp from 10th July, and released on the 31st.

Previously on { feuilleton }
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 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

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