A ruined dwelling on North Rona
I also wanted to share this - a Radio 3 feature with the Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie on the remote, and now abandoned, Scottish island of North Rona. The stars of the piece are the Leach's petrels that nest on the island and fill the air with their soft bubbling laughter, and Jamie's exact language and warm lilting tone.
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
The site was down for a few days this week so I'm celebrating its return with some immense kosmiche/drone stuff in the shape of Oneohtrix Point Never - a project of one Daniel Lopatin. Posting the video is kind of pointless, I admit, but well, just wanted to share this beautiful noise and to urge you to get hold of Rifts - it's really something.
Artist: Richard Skelton
This is also up at TLOBF.
Thing-poems of the moor…
Landings is Richard Skelton’s second release for Type, after last years Marking Time. He has behind him an array of releases, put out under various pseudonyms: Clouwbeck, A Broken Consort, Carousell, Riftmusic. All of these releases have been on small labels, or on Skelton’s own Sustain/Release imprint, and are invariably in tiny print runs. They are all constructed from comparatively little, and are incredibly hard to describe – field recordings, a bowed string, a violin scrape, the arched wheeze of a concertina – yet they feel at times as grand as someone capturing the sweep of time, and the tiny movements of vibrating molecules. Skelton’s releases worry at similar themes: how we reconcile our self to place; how we track our passing through intimate and strange landscapes; how we cope with the climactic intrusions of grief. Landings follows these themes and with the accompanying text draws everything into sharp focus. It is the culmination of years of the near-obsessive recording of Skelton’s collaboratory relationship with the West Pennine Moors around Anglezarke. It is a conjuring, a chronicle of a disappearance, an insight into the process of healing. It feels like something of a summation. It is extraordinary.
All of Skelton’s work to date has been an explicit response to the death of his then wife Louise in 2004. His body of work – both the recorded medium and the exquisite packaging each release comes in – is a memorial to her passing and an act of remembrance. Landings, and the text that accompanies it (which appeared online as an ongoing diary between 2005-2008) is direct and nakedly open response to this event. In his relationship to the moors around Anglezarke, he has forged a collusion with the land that has allowed him to explore the inner landscape of his own grief. There is a kind of projection at work here, an outward mapping of the traumatic space, in which Skelton has sought to lose himself completely. Instead over time- and without wishing to presume too much – what seems to have occurred in this collaboration with the brows and slacks of the land, is both an intimate knowledge of place, and an intimate knowledge of self. The sparse text of Landings, and the exquisite, gripping nature of the recorded music is our privileged glimpse into this sacred process.
Skelton’s method in exploring and cataloguing his experiences of the landscape around Anglezarke was to attempt to become a kind of conduit – both for his own responses, and in the more complicated space of interaction between place and self. Initially, he would make field recordings of the ambient sounds – the whine of wind through a ruined farm, the grakking calls of rooks – and then augment these with his own instrumentation. This gave way to him actually making recordings in situ, using the moors as an open-air studio. Occasionally he would leave a dicatophone in the trees, returning the recordings to their original source – what he called ‘returning the music back to its birthing chambers’; or he would secrete a diary beneath stones – a votive offering. Over time though, he realised his methods were obscuring and obstructive, as if this method of recording the intimacies were somehow mediating his ‘true’ experience of the landscape. Instead, Skelton trusted to his imaginative recall, and instead used elements of the landscape to aid this collusion at one remove: a bone plectrum, the scrape of tree litter on metal strings.
Anglezarke (image by fleabo)
This gradual exploration and layering of experience, both sonic and actual, is a fundamental aspect of the music on Landings. It is mirrored in the accreted layers of sound, which at times become almost textural, tactile. On a track like ‘Thread Across the River’ (where Skelton comes closest to sounding remotely like anyone else, in this case Set Fire to Flames, another project that was set up as a collaboration with place, this time a derelict mansion in Montreal – though there is something of Eno in ‘Green Withins Brook’s broad chords, and if Landings has an antecedent, then Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land is probably it) there is a simple layering of bowed cello and violin but they are treated in such a way as to sound like natural phenomena. This effect is added to by the way the track gives out to the thin cries of meadow pipits and the haunted, bubbling uprush of curlew calls. The closing track, ‘The Shape Leaves’ – which refers back to a CDR release from 2005 – comes as if from behind a curtain of moorfog, a distant piano figure beneath bowed strings, eventually giving out to an eddying storm of cymbals before returning to the murk. In truth, individual examples are largely useless, as the whole record is so of its own sound world, and so wound into the whole act of its creation, that these qualities are suffused and implicit. If you were to try to figuratively pull up one corner of it, you’d find the rest attached.
With Landings, Richard Skelton has created something vast, resonant and timeless. The work and drive behind it has created a document that requires a new kind of categorisation. It has gravity in the very real sense of that word; indeed, at times it seems to possess its own geography. It is a Romantic document, a record of an intimate relationship with place and a minutely observed mapping of the local – it might come to be put alongside Richard Long, Gilbert White, Alice Oswald, Ted Hughes. It’s also an almost unbearably moving chronicle of a grief observed. Sometimes you just have to stand back and admit a certain privilege at coming into contact with something. This is one of those times.
Artist: Robert A.A. Lowe & Rose Lazar
Label: Thrill Jockey
I saw Robert A.A. Lowe last December, in his role as vibes merchant and general shaman figure for OM who were supporting Sunn O))). He sat to the right of a dimly lit stage and rattled a tambourine in time to Al Cisneros and Emil Amos’s sludgy groove, whilst seemingly in a state of half-trance. His presence had an unsettling air somehow, as if you half expected him to break into incantation, or to summon something from the dusty floors… Lowe’s recent dalliance with OM is yet more evidence of what is fast becoming a broad and eclectic range of output. As part of 90 Day Men he has made intense, uplifting art-rock - something mirrored in his role as keyboard player with TV On The Radio - and he’s also made some pretty singular drone music as Lichens, a project that sees Lowe marrying his strange keening near-falsetto with acoustic instrumentation and huge walls of synths. Now, in tandem with Rose Lazar (who provides the odd, Deerhoof-like artwork), he’s making this quietly meditative hyper-real kosmiche music. And sounding right at home.
I say hyper-real because at times Eclipses sounds almost too-much at home with the kosmiche sound, reaching into a kind of pastiche territory. Yet Lowe is deft enough and smart enough to walk this line successfully and in the end mould these mid-to-late ‘70s Cluster-like ruminations into something bright and airy. These tracks – all recorded in a home studio using semi-modular and polyphonic analogue synthesizers - are full of light and space, and eschew any real bottom-end propulsion, relying instead on a trebly sense of pulse and vibration. A track like ‘Suno Vidis’ is a perfect example. Built around a simple bubbling synth line, it is little more than a light scoring on a sheet of glass, yet it manages to be bright and haunting all at once. ‘Kreintoj’ is similarly haunting in its simplicity, though this track has an intermittent backgrounded ominous bass tone to it. ‘Ŭyndham-a Horloĝo’ has elements of Eno’s limpid spaces, but the track ends with a devolution into tape hiss and a warbling oscillator. ‘Turing Punkto’ may be the signature track for the album – a simple and beautifully conceived track, it revolves around nothing more than a three note synth figure with an occasional fizzing downwash of what sounds like backwards modulated tones.
Hypnotising and meditative in its own gentle fashion, Eclipses is a worthy addition to Lowe’s considerable body of work and yet more proof of the durability and still-relative nature of the kosmiche sound.
Download: Robert A.A. Lowe and Rose Lazar - Fantomoj de la Vitro Domo
I meant to post this last night but got buried under some drones so forgot. Anyway, you'll have to remember for next week: the mighty Mapsadaisical's gLASSsHRIMP radio show returns to Resonance FM on Wednesdays from 9.30-11pm. You can either tune into 104.4FM in London, or listen online (yes, that is a picture of Scott on the Resonance site).
That walking 70 miles in four days isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Not easy in the very real and physical sense of dragging our sorry bodies along when distance seems to lose all meaning and time becomes everything; and not easy in the fact that the body absorbs all those miles and all that space, and it has to come out somehow, somewhere. At times I have felt like I might creak apart, all that trapped light and space breaking out in shafts of moted brilliance. Passing by train through the same countryside in which we walked, I looked for evidence of our passage: a minute deepening of a holloway, hand imprinted bark at a wood margin, the faint acoustic echoes of our passing – the clack of heels, the combined weight of ragged exhalations. Nothing. These non-markings are a kind of loss.
That this, from Don DeLillo’s Mao II, is truer than ever: ‘There's the life and there's the consumer event. Everything around us tends to channel our lives toward some final reality in print or film’. Yes, and online: the lure of ambient intimacy. As we’re all now bards of our little localities, where we will go from here? Maybe here, at last: ‘Rather than fearing alienation, people should embrace it. It may be the doorway to something more interesting. That’s the message of my fiction. We need to explore total alienation and find what lies beyond. The secret module that underpins who we are and our imaginative remaking of ourselves that we all embrace’.
And talking of Ballard: there is something exquisite in the fact that he has been rightly elevated to the godhead, and completely on his own terms.
That Momus’s reworking of Warhol into ‘we will all be famous for 15 people’ is also truer than ever.
That the field is shrinking. By which I mean that all that stuff out there on the peripheries is getting slowly dragged in, or at least appears to be. Peter Wright, kiwi drone maven, who has been making and releasing music for over a decade, gets reviewed twice on The Line Of Best Fit – a now relatively well-known indie portal - and still has copies of a limited-to-300 album to sell at the end of the year. I go to see Mountains in velvet-lined bunker in north London with 143 other bearded stop-ins, and I sense most of us there are probably reviewing in some capacity or other. So maybe the field doesn’t shrink exactly; it just gets more people looking at it through more powerful lenses. Either way, this is a good thing. Isn’t it?
What will we dream of when everything becomes visible? We will dream of being blind. Paul Virilio
That music taste is increasingly being determined by circumstance. I mostly listen now whilst at work. Consequently, I’m tending towards ambient and drone stuff to suit the mood. Aural perfume is a wonderful sop to the bent-backed delights of desk sucking.
That whilst I learn, I know in my marrow that this is the true way of things (and even more so tonight, of all nights, trapped in the snow at work)...
Most people know more as they get older:
I give all that the cold shoulder.
I spent my second quarter-century
Losing what I had learnt at university
And refusing to take in what had happened since.
Now I know none of the names in the public prints,
And am starting to give offence by forgetting faces
And swearing I’ve never been in certain places.
It will be worth it, if in the end I manage
To blank out whatever it is that is doing the damage.
Then there will be nothing I know
My mind will fold into itself, like fields, like snow.
The Winter Palace - Philip Larkin