Kemper Norton – Oxland Cylinder

Posted: 27 January 2020 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , ,

24th February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Kemper Norton’s kept a steady trickle of releases coming for some time now, and while the last couple – Hungan (2017) and Brunton Calciner (2019) – had bypassed me until now, the consistency of previous works, from Cam (2013), Loor (2014), and Toll (2016) was more than enough to ensure my immediate interest on the arrival of Oxland Cylinder. His music always has an intrinsic sense of place, however elliptical, and if on the face of it Oxland Cylinder appears to break this trend, the accompanying text is informative:

‘In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century the majority of the world’s arsenic was created in Cornwall and Devon. The “Oxland Cylinder” was one of the methods used and was a revolving iron tube used to process and vapourise arsenic pyrites. None of these devices remain intact.’

Immediately, we’re transported to England’s south coast over a century ago, and not only to a bygone era but a practise essentially lost to history. And in this context, Oxland Cylinder takes on layers of meaning and caries a certain historical weight.

If the first piece, ‘halan 5’, which introduces the album with discontiguous electronic scrapes and buzzes, and a swell of bleeps and bloops, an analogue bubblebath that slowly eddies and swells, feels like so many other post-Tangerine Dream ambient electronic drifts, it’s also an evocation of a process akin to alchemy, only instead of turning lead into gold, it turns minerals into alloys, including lead.

Oxland Cylinder forges temporal spaces through the medium of sound, slow-spun ambience that conjures a certain mental blankness into which the listener is free to project their own sense of alternating coastal countryside and industrial production. Some will likely visualise Poldark, although the ruins that remain today tell little of the intense labour, heavy mining and vast engines involved in the extraction of ores and pyrites and their conversion to various alloys as lined the south coast at this time.

‘Dark as a Dungeon’ finds the first occurrence of vocals: it’s a sparse shanty with ringing electronics building a glistening, metallic backdrop to the lilting vocal melody. Singing about mining against funeral echo-laden rings feels like a sad thing.

Oxland Cylinder is as rich in evocative depth and subtlety as the south coast is in social and industrial history, and an absorbing album irrespective of context or intent.

AA

Kemper Norton – Oxland Cylinder

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