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

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

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

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