Posts Tagged ‘geography’

Herhalen – H#023 – 21st May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The press release for this second album by The Incidental Crack – a collaboration between Justin Watson, Rob Spencer and Simon Proffitt – which follows last year’s Before The Magic describes the trio ‘exchanging field recordings, samples and random noise between Manchester, Wigan and North Wales, culminating in studio sessions focused on detailed processing and sound manipulation. They have yet to meet. Maybe one day when this is all over, in a pub in North Wales, free from this madness’.

As such, it’s a classic lockdown project, a virtual collaboration that proves that when it comes to the making of music, distance doesn’t have to be an object. In fact, it’s probably easier to collaborate without the logistics of brining people together in the same place at the same time. Writing on the project, Justin (one half of The Gated Canal Community and formerly of Front & Follow, a label which will be familiar to regular readers of AA), notes that Municipal Music ‘includes tracks recorded during the same period, using our now foolproof approach of sharing stuff, fiddling with it, sharing some more etc.’, adding, ‘It kept me sane at least during the last year!’

That is something that’s certainly relatable: keeping occupied has, for me, been the only way to keep myself together. I’m not saying it’s healthy, it’s just how it is. And increasingly, I’ve found abstract music easier to manage. Structured music, anything overtly ‘song’ orientated and rhythm driven is, all too often, just so much noise and instead of providing a welcome point of focus, feels just like being smacked from all sides at once. So while there may still be a lot going on in this, it’s not psychologically disruptive, and is suitably absorbing and immersive.

There are three extended-length tracks in all, which exploit the full dynamic range, with a strong focus on texture. The first, ‘The Second Cup of Tea of the Day’ is strong – certainly more English Breakfast or Nambarrie than Earl Grey or anything herbal – and probably inspired by the sound of a boiling kettle that’s been manipulated and fucked around with. However, it sounds at first more like a freight train, an extended continuous roar occupying the first three minutes before it gradually abates in volume and intensity, and gentler, softly-woven ambient drones fade in. there are still rumblings and incidental clatterings, forging a soundscape that never fully reconciles the tensions between the elements of soft and harsh, the light and dark. Bubbling Krautrock with bulbous beats collides with metallic shards of grating noise.

‘Just Passing Through’ is appropriately positioned in the middle, and is altogether gentler, softer, warmer, and pursues a more conventional ambient line. But there are peaks and troughs and ebbs and flows as the sound swells and at times shifts toward more unsettling territory, with some woozy oscillations that tug uncomfortably at the pit of the stomach before receding and allowing calmer vibes to return once more.

The third and final cut, the fourteen-minute ‘Ice Cream at the Pavilion’ starts with what sounds like the crashing of waves against a rocky beach in a storm, which strangely reminds me of a number of occasions we’ve had ice cream at the coast on family outings, because it’s always ice-cream weather for children. Voices chatter and babble and whoop excitedly, while a dolorous church organ begins to while away majestically in the background. Eventually, it’s superseded by a barrelling drone and a throbbing, slow-pulsing sound that swells and surges.

There’s a certain wistfulness and nostalgia to be found in the spaces in and around Municipal Music, although perhaps some of that’s my own reception aesthetic, a response as much to the circumstances of its creation and the allusions of the title, both of which remind me I’ve not left my own municipality in months, haven’t met any of my collaborators or friends in so very long, and yearn for both proximity to (some) people and also the countryside and country pubs. All of these thoughts wash around in my mind as the sounds surround me, and it occurs to me, finally, that Municipal Music is good music to think to.

AA

023 The Incidental Crack - cover

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The Incidental Crack - artist photo

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.

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Kemper Norton – Oxland Cylinder