Posts Tagged ‘Conflux Coldwell’

Christopher Nosnibor

Coldwell’s own notes which accompany this – truly epic – album explains and articulates it best, when he writes ‘This new retrospective is certainly not your typical album. Each track is almost an album in its own right! The material sees CC at his most experimental, stripped back, noisy and immersive. Following on from last year’s Music for Documentary Film, this collection gathers together some of Michael C Coldwell’s sound art work and music written for exhibition and gallery contexts.’

This is very much one of the benefits of the digital format: there is no restriction of duration on account of data capacity. Time was when physical formats restricted the running time of a release, with a vinyl LP optimally running for around forty-five minutes but having the capacity to squeeze in about an hour, with CDs being able to hold seventy-two minutes and while a cassette could – precariously – take two hours, no-one released a two-hour single cassette.

Conflux Coldwell’s collection of installation works is immense, and with a running time of around two-and-a-quarter hours, it’s in the realms of recent Swans albums. While it’s by no means a brag, I’ve endured longer, notably Frank Rothkamm’s twenty-four-disc, twenty-four-hour Werner Process, and am also aware of Throbbing Gristle’s legendary 24 Hours cassette box set, but the point is, Coldwell has really made the most of the space available to him here.

I sometimes differentiate albums as being foreground or background, and Music for Installation is very much background, the very definition of ambient. That isn’t to say it’s uninteresting or unengaging. It’s simply a vast set of field recordings and sound collages that make you feel as if you’re in a certain environment. Unlike the aforementioned Swans albums, which I find are difficult to listen to because they require a commitment of time to sit with them and focus, to actively listen, Music for Installation is a very different beast which works while rumbling on while you’re doing other things. And as an experience, this very much works.

The fifty-five minutes excerpt (!) of Remote Viewer is exemplary. Passing cars, scrapes, drones, the sound of metal on metal, clanking, indistinguishable muttered dialogue, and extraneous sounds that range from – possibly – the rush of wind to the sound of feet gently passing on creaking timbers, all sit side by side and overlap in various shapes to create a latticework of real-life founds the likes of which you probably would ignore if you even noticed them at all under normal circumstances. Of course, if this is an excerpt, where’s the rest? It’s the kind of immersive soundwork that could run for hours and that would be perfectly fine.

The live performance of ‘Dead Air’, which runs for an album-length headline performance is superb. It’s testing, but it’s also magnificently executed. The sounds and textures are balanced, but the overall sound is gloopy. The result is a piece that’s creepy, evocative, and dissonant, and built around wailing whistles and pulsating drones that coalesce intro their own organic rhythms, drawing together elements of Kraftwerk and Throbbing Gristle to conjure a dark, dingy soundscape.

‘Dismantle the Sun’, running for fourteen minutes feels concise in comparison. It’s barely there for the most part, the most ambient of field recordings. It’s hard to identify any of the individual sources, but again, there are rhythms that emerge from the rumble off passing cars and the whisper of the wind, and the piece transitions both sonically and spatially as it progresses, at times evolving from a whisper to a howl. One feels a sense of movement, which in turn creates a sense of disorientation, although the voiceover detailing ‘solar oscillations’ in the closing minutes provides a certain grounding.

The final brace of compositions, ‘Alternating Current’ and ‘The Specious Present (How Long is Now?), which have a combined time of around ten minutes feel like barely snippets or sketches in comparison to the other three immense pieces, but what they lack in duration, they compensate in depth, being richly textured and showcasing some interesting beats and conjuring some dark, confined spaces. And for all its vastness, Music for Installation is quite a dense, claustrophobic experience at times – and it’s a quite remarkable experience, too.



23rd September 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s a uniquely human failing that for all of our self-awareness, and our attenuation to the passage of time – in many respects, a human construct – we simply have no grasp on its passage, or its finiteness. The other day, it was February. It was cold and wet for an eternity. Spring was late. Suddenly, there was a heatwave and I was incapable of thinking or moving for a week or two. And now it’s October. How? Back in February, I had planned to pen some reflections on Michael C Coldwell’s immense Music for Documentary Film album, which collected pieces of music recorded – as the title suggests – for various film projects between 2011 and 2021, which was designed as something of a primer for the release of the soundtrack to his film, Views from Sunk Island (2021). The fact the album covered a ten-year span was significant in itself: we mark our lives out in decade segments, and reflect on those landmarks, celebrating their arrival as if this alone is an achievement – but to take a retrospective view… what have you actually done?

For every gain there are losses, and Coldwell’s ten-year compilation plays against the film it precedes, and in doing so highlights this fact. Over the ten years he’s been busy with various projects, the world has changed, and so has the coastline on the east of England.

The film – from the segments I’ve seen – is a quite remarkable work based on an exploration of the shifting – and vanishing – east coast of England with a narrative that focuses on both geography and social history, against a shifting sequence of black-and-white still images of the region. Coldwell’s images, often posted on FaceBook – are often both mundane and striking, presenting scenes where nature and human occupation sit awkwardly with one another – abandoned buildings in various states of disrepair, abandoned RAF bases and factories, crumbling concrete on sand dunes and the like.

Based in Leeds, Michael ‘Conflux’ Coldwell’s explorations are largely centred around the Yorkshire coast, and takes in numerous locations that are familiar to me, some of which hold a deep fascination. But familiarity creates its own twists when a scene is viewed from another perspective. Plus, the subject itself is one which gives rise to a nervous tension. As Coldwell writes, ‘The East Coast of the country is a land living on borrowed time. Time we borrowed from the sea, reclaimed from marshland a thousand years ago. But now it seems the sea has come to claim it all back.’

While now living in York – which has experienced flooding with greater frequency and severity over the last decade – I spent the first nineteen years of my life in Lincolnshire, a county where the local economy is dependent on fenland agriculture (and crop pickers from eastern Europe, but that’s more of a metaphorical sinking than the literal one which threatens swathes of the county). Reclamation was seemingly initiated by The Romans, and extended in the middle ages, before becoming a major project in the 17th century. But now, most of the fens lie below sea level, meaning that projections for rising sea levels as a result of climate place large parts of Lincolnshire under water by 2050, with Boston and Spalding submerged, along with Kings Lynn, Ely and Peterborough. Looking at these maps, it’s hard not to feel an unsettling sense of apocalypse. And yet, despite the accelerated pace of climate change and its impact, this is not a new story: numerous medieval towns, like Ravenser Odd, billed as the ’Yorkshire Atlantis’ , have been lost to the waves, and as Coldwell writers, ‘More than just a film score, The Phantomatic Coast stretches beyond the original aims of the documentary, to evoke something deeper about our troubled relationship with the sea – the many towns and ships lost beneath the waves, and ancient forgotten lands lying out beyond the windfarms like some Yorkshire Atlantis’.

Coldwell’s soundtrack, released as The Phantomatic Coast echoes his hauntological perspective on things, and his assimilation of found sounds and slow, quavering drones forges a layered soundtrack to an evocative journey through time and various geographical locations. Each composition is connected to a specific location, but the sounds stand alone – dissonant, difficult, haunting, constructed with layers of snippets of sound, like a newspaper collage in audio form.

As a soundwork, The Phantomatic Coast very much lives up to its title, as seagulls and crashing waves wash around. Muffled voices echo distantly on ‘On (Reclaimed) Land’ and the wind roars through ‘Scapa Flow Picnic’ like a freight train. ‘Northwest Reef Light’ is a mess of crackling distortion, fizzy returning and snippets off voices over radio against a slow, wav erring organ drone.

There is simply so much to take in, not just sonically and visually. It looks, and sounds, like the soundtrack to another life. But distance and the passage of time create a strange sense of separation from the events and a life lived. Were you even there?

Sonically, The Phantomatic Coast is an easy, soporific album, despite the five-minute ‘Diana in the Ice’ closing with a new road.