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Monty Adkins – Shadows & Reflections / Usher’s Hill

With his impressive back catalogue, Monty Adkins has become one of my favourite artists (if you’re not familiar with his work, don’t forget checking out Four Shibusa,  Rift Patterns, Borderlands and Unfurling Streams).
So it’s great news when two new albums are released almost simultaneously:

Monty Adkins - Shadows and Reflections

MONTY ADKINS – SHADOWS AND REFLECTIONS

The first of these two is Shadows And Reflections, released on the Crónica label in a cassette and download version.
(No CD version to my regret, since I think this album deserves a ‘proper’ release with a better sound quality than the cassette tapes can offer. But, judging on their latest releases, tape is the medium of choice currently for Crónica.. Of course ordering the tape also includes a high-quality download too).

The album presents two 20 minute tracks (Sounds of the Shadow and Sounds of the Sun), built from organ samples performed and recorded by Monty Adkins. On first listen this could be classified as drone music, but in fact a lot is happening in the layering of the organ sounds, and the pieces build up to a climax in a way that defies the strict definition of ‘drone’. (Not that this matters in any way, though)

“In the two parts of the work Adkins wanted to induce a sense of mediation, contemplation and reflection. He wanted the sound to be constantly, though in some instances imperceptibly, changing so that one remained mindful of the music rather than allowing it to drift in to the periphery of one’s consciousness. For Adkins, the focusing on a single organ timbre over an extended duration encourages a more attentive perception as the ear is drawn in to the micro-fluctuations within each of the extended phrases. One’s sense of time is dilated and there is a sense of envelopment within the soundworld.”

There’s no mention of what organ is used for the recordings, but there’s a strong association with the timbres of a church organ. Which would be appropriate, because these pieces were created for a multimedia exhibition at the Bradford Cathedral to interact with fourteen paintings by Andy Fullalove (as well as with the light from the stained glass windows in the Cathedral). An example of Fullalove’s work can be seen on the album cover.

Listening to this music (with the acoustics of the large cathedral it was played in) while enjoying the interaction of the paintings with the ever changing light must’ve been a moving experience.  When listening to it in your private surroundings, the visual part is missing of course. But it’s still a moving experience anyway.


MONTY ADKINS – A YEAR AT USHER’S HILL

Monty Adkins‘ sixth solo album (since 2009, not counting the earlier releases as Mathew Adkins) is somewhat different from most of his earlier works. It is as quiet and introspective and is created with the same thoughtful sound design, but it feels a bit like it is a selection from two different albums. One part featuring ‘modern classical’ piano compositions, performed by Jonathan Best, the alternating tracks presenting the twinkling electronic soundscapes  (here created using celesta, organ and electronics) we came to know Adkins’ previous albums: the “slow shifting organic textures derived from processed instrumental sounds.” 

At first listen, it seems as if you’re listening to two different albums in a random sequence. But listen carefully and you’ll start to hear the details that connect the tracks: subtle acousmatic backgrounds coloring the piano compositions, or soft piano notes enhancing the charismatic electronic textures.

A Year At Usher’s Hill  is the third part of a trilogy, together with Rift Patterns and Residual FormsThree albums that, according to Adkins, are based on “psychogeography and psychosonology”.
“The album is highly autobiographical, charting events, places, and most importantly the people associated with these experiences… a re-discovery of memories and the connections between them across time.”

Like all Eilean Records releases, the album refers to a map point – a number between 0 and 100 pointing to a map of an imaginary land. This is map point 28. You won’t find Usher’s Hill anywhere except from this location of the Eilean map, or in your own imagination.
But you can be sure it is a very beautiful place to visit.

Note:
For those that can play piano and read scores: there are three scores available from Monty Adkins‘ website:  Shifting Ground, In Memoriam Jacques Hamel, Under A Lunar Sky.

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Monty Adkins – Unfurling Streams

If you check the back catalogue of Monty Adkins (which I definitely think you should), you’ll find that he often chooses a single instrument to work with and then starts exploring its possibilities and manipulating its sounds. And while the starting point and sounds are very different to begin with, he manages to create a ‘sound-field’ that is immediately recognisable. Check, for examples, the cello sounds of Borderlands“, or the clarinet playing on Four Shibusa“.

Unfurling Streams, his recent release on Crónica, is based on recordings of percussion instruments made by Jonny Axelsson (a much praised percussionist with impressive experience in playing contemporary music by composers like Stockhausen, Ligeti and Kevin Volans) and Monty Adkins himself.

The inspiration for Unfurling Streams” comes from the last two lines of maggie and milly and molly  and may” by E.E. Cummings – who (according to the notes on poets.org“abandoned traditional techniques and structures to create a new, highly idioyncratic means of poetic expression”:


maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

 

“In Unfurling Streams, the ‘stream’ reflects life—something continually flowing, evolving, and changing.
Eddies, currents, pools and spray also are suggestive of ways in which the stream makes its way through the landscape and are clearly reflected in the images and sounds created for this project.”

It’s fascinating to hear how the variety of sounds from the percussion instruments – from sub-low rumble to high-pitched metallic – resemble a stream of water finding its way.

With the way he post-processes this material, Monty Adkins creates his characteristic “slow shifting organic textures”. However different the original sound sources are, it is this delicate texture that links the album to its predecessors “Borderlands” and “Four Shibusa” – like a sonic trilogy.


Also on Spotify

For those living in Holland:
Monty Adkins 
will perform live in Utrecht, Holland at Tivoli De Helling on Sunday, May 17, 2015.
The afternoon live set (3 PM!) is part of a double bill with Anne Müller (cello player known for her work with Agnes Obel, Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds, but of course also for her solo work).

For this occasion, Monty Adkins will perform a special set with cello player Seth Parker Woods.
A rare occasion that shouldn’t be missed!!

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Monty Adkins – Borderlands

Borderlands

After “Fragile.Flicker.Fragment” (2011), Four Shibusa” (2012) and Rift Patterns” (2014) (all of which I heartily recommend listening), Borderlands” is Monty Adkins‘ fourth consecutive album on the Audiobulb label.
Before that, there were three earlier releases  – on Crónica, Radio France and Empreïntes Digitales  (as Mathew Adkins on the latter).
And from his website discography we learn that another digital release is to be released in March this year!

Quite an impressive catalogue that is, especially given the exceptional quality of all these recordings. Each has its own style, instrumentation and context and yet all have the distinctive ‘Monty Adkins sound’ – music “characterized by slowly shifting organic instrumental and concrete soundscapes”.
An unparallelled match between electronic and acoustic sounds, between the ‘natural’ and the ‘synthetic’.

Borderlands” presents a single 37 minute piece, commisioned for Totum One“: a 360° audio visual laboratory installation, “exploring virtual worlds using 3D headsets and new ways of hearing sounds.”  The installation is based on a text by Deborah Templeton “that explored liminal states of consciousness”, but this text is not present in this instrumental recording.

IOU - Totum One

The sound that visitors experienced at the installation will probably have been quite different from what you hear here, because  visitors had “tablet computers so that they could send a graphical satellite on a journey between 3-D “planets”, each of which emitted a soundscape – for example, the sound of streams and running water.”
These added sounds and effects are not included in the basic recording presented on this album.

While the music of Borderlands” was created to embark on a sonic space trip, the music has absolutely nothing to do with the usual kind of space music associated!
The heart of the piece is the sensuous multitracked cello playing by William Mace, subtly supported by unobtrusive electronic details and accents that slowly move (somewhat) to the foreground while the piece evolves.

The composition ‘comprises of six interludes and six extended panels, each comprising twenty-eight short melodic fragments. Each panel uses the same fragments to form new melodies and harmonies.” – but for the listener it feels – and can be enjoyed – as one single uninterrupted piece.
A piece in which every single detail has its place, a piece that conveys that everything is as it should be.
A very, very comforting piece.



MONTY ADKINS – BORDERLANDS (fragment: first panel)

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