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James Murray * Michael Begg * Finglebone

Daubigny - Landscape by Moonlight

Eyes to the Height

JAMES MURRAY – EYES TO THE HEIGHT

James Murray is the label owner of Slowcraft RecordsHe is also the one that created the music of Anne Garner’s bewitching album Be Life, one of my personal favourite albums.

As a solo artists, his albums are always a surprise, because you’ll never know what to expect. Murray is always exploring different styles of electro-acoustic and experimental music: “switching things around when the time feels right.”

Eyes to the Height
, his seventh solo album, is “a ten chapter story reflecting the fragile beauty of life and loss, memory and function.”
It’s labeled ‘modern ambient’, but in fact it rises above a genre tag like that.
With the use of rhythms without losing the ‘ambient’ touch, this album manages to create a delicate balance of ‘pop’ and ‘ambient’ where many others have failed.

There’s a great attention to every detail: in sound production as well as in composition. The album is fully instrumental, but each of the ten pieces feels like a complete “song”.
Wouldn’t it be a nice experiment to create a vocal version of this album using these tracks? There are a lot of albums with instrumental versions of previously vocal tracks, but I’ve never seen that done the other way around.
It’s fun to think about where that would lead to. But let’s be clear: I don’t want to suggest that  something is ‘missing’ on this album. On the contrary!

There are only very few people capable of creating ‘quantum ambient’ music: music that is ambient and isn’t ambient at the same time.

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A Moon That Lights Itself

MICHAEL BEGG – A MOON THAT LIGHTS ITSELF

In 2016, Michael Begg was commissioned to compose music based around the 19th century painter Charles François Daubignywho is considered an important precursor of Impressionism.
The music was performed in september at the Scotland National Gallery, by Michael Begg accompanied by cellist Clea Friend. After this performance, Begg completed the work in his studio.

A Moon that Lights Itself is dedicated to the work of Daubigny, who painted his nocturnal scenes from his  boat studio. It is conceptually linked to the invention of the phonautographthe earliest known device for recording sound, by Edouard-Lean Scott de Martinville in the same period (years before Edison’s phonograph!). The first ever recording of a human voice was Au Clair De La Lune.

That is a lot of conceptual background information, I know. But it helps to get the feel of this album, its atmospheres, and explains the reason for the ghostly Au Clair De La Lune theme in the track The Birth Of Modernism. 

You can trust Michael Begg to come up with a haunting album that matches this concept in every detail. Overall, the music is dark, like nocturnal music should be. But it’s not a darkness to be afraid of. It’s a darkness to dwell in… just imagine you’re drifting in a boat on a quiet lake, watching the night sky and the moon, and trying to capture that in painting.
Or in music.


Sunlit Plumes of Dust

FINGLEBONE – SUNLIT PLUMES OF DUST

Whitelabrecs (one of Harry Towell’s outlets of experimental electronic/acoustic music) rounds off its first year with this release by Finglebone, aka Adam VarneyAn album crossing the thin lines between folk/post-rock and electronic ambient. Adam’s finger-picking guitar adds a refreshingly bright sound to the imaginary landscapes, creating an “introspective world inhabited by the gosts of memories, the looming spectre of death and the passing of time.”

But it’s not a ‘dark’ album at all: the guitar strings, soundscapes and found sound mix is expressing “melancholy, reverie and the feeling of alienation.”
It’s a very personal album, “loosely based on Adam’s experience caring for his Grandfather during his final weeks. He witnessed how dementia would render him silent, lost in his own mind, but then release him back into reality.”

All but one of the eight tracks are instrumental pieces around 3-4 minutes in length. The exception to this is the 12 minute track Blazing Golden Sun, which features a poem by James E.M. Smith, “Grovely”, describing the local woods where Adam spent many hours as a child.

As usual for Whitelabrecs releases, the physical CDr edition has only 50 copies which will probably be gone soon.  

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James Murray; Offthesky; Mute Forest; Ugasanie

James Murray - The Sea in the Sky

JAMES MURRAY – THE SEA IN THE SKY
The Sea In The Sky is James Murray‘s sixth solo album (or seventh if you also include his collaboration with Anne Garner on their magnificient Be Life earlier this year).
While often abstract, his music is also very personal: dream-like, immersive drones unhiding a distinct melody (which may sound like a contradiction, but it really isn’t), electronic as much as acoustic never dark but focussing on etheric beauty instead.

All these qualities prove to be a perfect combination for picturing ‘the skies above’:
‘Ever-changing, unpredictable, suffused with esoteric patterns and directed by unseen forces, these oceans are a vast, dreamlike seascape of surreal dimension and spectacular, impossible beauty.’


Offthesky - The Serpent Phase

OFFTHESKY – THE SERPENT PHASE
Jason ‘Offthesky’ Corder’s ‘Serpent Phase’ has been five years in the making. It was originally conceived with the aim to create a series of piano sketches, taking recordings from Chicago, Switzerland, England, Canada, Colorado and Kentucky.
Other instrumentation was added later: vibraphone, guitar, synth, drums, vocals (Pillow Garden), violin (Julie Slater) and – of course – some textural field recordings.
The collection is contemplative and very atmospheric, but it is up to the listener to give it a deeper meaning: they “allow us to explore the religious, spiritual and moral connotations of dark and light periods in life.”


Mute Forest - Deforestation

MUTE FOREST – DEFORESTATION
“Deforestation” is not exactly a positive connotation, and if the very first vocal line is “I lie by your grave…”, you know this isn’t going to be about a happy day experience.
It’s a fundamentally unnerving theme: returning home to find things are not how you remember them to be. To find your childhood forest is slowly dying:
In a seemingly ceaseless acreage near his childhood home in the Rockies of Colorado, Kael Smith takes a deep breath and listens critically to the forest. It is not the same sound he remembers as a youth, when he’d disappear for hours deep into these woods. No, the sound he hears today is unfamiliar and vapid. Muted, really. Since Smith’s departure to the city of Denver, the Mountain Pine Beetle has moved into these woodlands and decimated the trees; devouring their insides and leaving empty husks in its wake.”
Though the instrumentation, with its elements of minimal electronic, ambient and folk, is somewhat different, the overall atmosphere of these songs is not unlike that of Boduf Songs, especially in the use of the hushed whispered vocals.
But there is beauty in depression, there is beauty in decay … and that is the kind of beauty that Mute Forest perfectly captures in these songs of loss.


Eye of Tunguska

UGASANIE – EYE OF TUNGUSKA
But we know destruction does not always come from the inside. In 1908, there was a large explosion near the Tunguska River (Russia), flattening 2000 square kilometers of forest (80 million trees), but causing no casualties. The cause of the explosion is thought to be a meteor, though no impact crater was found: the meteor is thought to have burst in mid-air. For 100 years this has been the source of many scientific studies.
But such an event can also be the source of legends and conspiracy theories.
One of these inspired Pavel Malyshkin (Ugasanie) to created this pitch black and icy cold release based on a ‘strange incident in the late 1990’s:
“A group of students went hiking to to see this legendary site. They lost their way after they decided to spend the night in one of the winter huts built by hunters of the land. Their mutilated bodies were later found near an old abandoned geological base with radiation burns.”

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Anne Garner – Be Life

Anne Garner - Fire #2

Anne Garner - Be Life

With her previous releases, Anne Garner has secured a very special place, right in the middle of the area where indie folk, singer-songwriter and ambient music overlap.

Since 2006 she has partnered with experimental music producer James Murray, who is also the label owner of Slowcraft Records.
Their collaboration resulted in the immensely beautiful set Trusting a Twirled World – released in a vocal as well as an instrumental edition.

Be Life – the successor of that 2011 album set, and again the result of the close collaboraton with James Murray – moves further along the same path … but somehow it feels as if Anne‘s otherworldy vocals are even more intense and intimate.

This is shamelessly romantic music, and also unmistakeably English in nature.
Anne’s soft voice (closely recorded as if whispering directly in your ear), the lyrics, and possibly most of all the arrangements are as reassuring as a new-found love.

“It’s folk when celebrating lives lived, the grass and the dew and the soil. It’s classical when steeped in an ancient hymnal timelessness. She draws on electronica an electroacoustic too, though these are songs in the truest sense; intimate arrangements leaving lasting personal impressions.”

 

James Murray‘s music is a perfect match for this setting. His arrangements fit the songs like a blanket, at times reminiscing some of the best of Brian Eno’s shorter song arrangements – which is especially clear in the instrumental tracks like Soft Eyes.

The songs feel personal, direct, and very touching – though that may be a personal thing of course.
It’s in the chord arrangements, the voice, the lyrics – all of these breathe a kind of naivety – but it’s  a naivety of a very mature kind!

I immediately fell in love with this album upon first listen. Repeated listening left me wondering how it could’ve possibly been that I had not heard of Anne Garner before!
But, with all her work being available still, it’s never too late to catch up, is it?


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