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

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 Corn Mother

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The latest release from A Year In The Country is the first to arrive as a manufactured compact disc rather than a hand-made artefact. Following the example set by The Shildam House Tapes, The Corn Mother is another soundtrack for a lost film (or a reflection of the same), suggesting that this is now an ongoing series within the body of AYITC releases. The film in question is, like its predecessor, a legended horror feature from the past, with a difficult production, few screenings, and a long train of rumour and mystery:

In the early 1970s a folk horror-esque screenplay made the rounds of the film industry but remained unmade until 1982.

The story is set in the late 19th century in a rural British village and revolves around the folklore of the “corn mother” – where the last row of the corn harvest is beaten to the ground by the reapers as they shout “There she is! Knock her into the ground, don’t let her get away!”, in an attempt to drive the spirit of the corn mother back into the earth for next year’s sowing. […] Through related second, third and more-hand reports and interpretations of the different versions of the screenplay, it has been suggested on the one hand that The Corn Mother was a typical direct-to-video piece of exploitation fare designed to take advantage of a rapidly-expanding home video market, and on the other that while the film does indeed contain elements of such things, it is actually nearer to a folkloric fever dream and closer in spirit to arthouse experimentalism than B-movie schlock.

Track list:
1) Gavino Morretti—Ritual and Unearthly Fire
2) Pulselovers—Beat Her Down
3) The Heartwood Institute—Corn Dolly
4) United Bible Studies—From The Last Sheaf On The Braes
5) A Year In The Country—The Night Harvest
6) Depatterning—The Keeper’s Dilemma
7) Widow’s Weeds—The Corn Mother
8) Sproatly Smith—Caught In The Coppice
9) Field Lines Cartographer—Procession At Dusk

Reading the description reminds me of the similarly elusive and sinister films that are the subject of Theodore Roszak’s novel, Flicker (1991). Roszak’s novel is flawed but the scenario is a fascinating one, especially his description of the films made by enigmatic Hollywood director Max Castle. These recent soundtrack collections by A Year In The Country suggest an equally occluded (and possibly occult) history for British cinema of the 1970s and 80s, a proposal which was explored from a different angle by Emily Jones and The Rowan Amber Mill in The Book Of The Lost (2013). The Corn Mother is more overtly sinister than The Book Of The Lost, the music (and some songs) being suitably guitar-led folk pieces interleaved with passages of doom-laden electronics. I haven’t been as enthused by The Corn Mother as I was with The Shildham Hall Tapes but this is more down to my feeling somewhat exhausted by the folk-horror trend than with the individual contributions (I also like haunted houses). Gavino Moretti who provided such a marvellous opening to The Shildham Hall Tapes returns here with another opening theme that sets the mood before dissolving into a fog of mutated cries and shrieks. Halloween may be over but its spell for me always lingers through November, and albums such as this are especially suited to chill days, early twilights and long, dark nights.

The Corn Mother will be available for pre-order from 12th November.

Previously on { feuilleton }
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

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