Record Release: Outcrops, by Spaceship

Listened to by Paul Scraton:

Spaceship is Mark Williamson, a musician and sound artist based in West Yorkshire, and today marks the release of ‘Outcrops’, a site-specific, haunting and melodic album that is not only inspired by the landscapes of northern England but was recorded there. The sandstone outcrops can be found above the town of Todmorden, and the album was recorded in place, with Williamson taking his synth up into the rocks to create the pieces encased in small caves. Each of the tracks on the album is named for its location and incorporates field recordings and found sounds, and was also created to evoke a particular phase in the geological history of the outcrops – Orchan Rocks evokes the Ocean, Bride Stones the Glacier and so on. This story is also lyrically told in the sleeve notes, describing the rivers as they “surged from the uplands,” the “peaceful, aquatic interlude between the ever-shifting chaos,” and the ice as it “plucked and scraped and tore at the land…”  

Crossing the Pennine hills a few weeks ago it came to me once again that how we interpret a landscape, how it makes us feel, is tied to what we know about it – the stories we have heard and what we bring with us as we approach it. The same can be true of works of art. What we know of the author or the painter, the musician or the photographer can shape our interpretation of a work, whether we want it to or not. The knowledge of how it was created feeds into our experience. I sit at my desk in Berlin and listen to the Spaceship album and I can picture the sandstone outcrops and the fields beneath the moors as behind the melodies I’m sure I can hear the wind blow and the birds call. Are they there? I’m not sure. But I know one thing: the next time I cross the Pennine hills the tracks from this album will echo. I have added to my collection, the one that helps me understand a place. The hills will be different somehow. That’s the power of art, the power of music. The power of storytelling, in all its forms.

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‘Outcrops’ by Spaceship is available on 12” and download, and is released on 24 May 2019 by wiaiwya.


Mark Williamson on twitter
Spaceship on soundcloud



Sound of the times: Chalk Hill Blue by Will Burns & Hannah Peel

By Paul Scraton:

The final track reaches an end and the record stops. I pick it up and turn it over. Start again from the beginning. The music comes in waves, a fragmented, crackling, sweeping electronica that brings first to mind a desire path close to my mum’s in Yorkshire, where it passes beneath a huge, humming electricity pylon in the grounds of an old asylum transformed into a whole new village on the edge of the moors. But then I am taken, via a gentle voice, to the chalk landscapes of the south, and the stories to be found if we only “look beyond the intensive agriculture, the lookalike market towns, the wealth, the gold course and the four-wheel drive cars…”

Chalk Hill Blue is the name of a butterfly that can be found in those chalk landscapes around Wendover in Buckinghamshire, where the poet Will Burns lives and writes. It is also the name of the album Burns has created with the artist, producer and composer Hannah Peel, with his words and her music coming together to create a haunting, unsettling and strangely beautiful portrait of a place and its stories. Burns and Peel met in 2016 and two years later began working on the album. Sometimes the music came first, with Burns then selecting the poem that fit best with the sounds Peel was composing. Sometimes it was the poem that inspired the composition. The result was this album, released by Rivertones label of Caught by the River.

In a way this album is specific, telling as it does the stories of a particular place and of particular moments in time. The track titles themselves are rooted in location (Ridgeway), season (Spring Dawn On Mad Mile, Summer Blues), date (May 9th, February) and, of course, the local wildlife (Chalk Hill Blue). It is an attempt, as has already been mentioned, to look beyond the identikit everywhere of the 21st century world and find the real place that lies within or beneath. And it is a recognition that there are elements that have been lost. This might be true of the stories, which are now half-remembered, or the routines, work lives and traditions of the people. This loss it is most definitely felt when the album considers those other lives, the non-human lives, with which a place is shared. There is, Burns writes in the sleeve notes, “not as much as there should be, no, we must admit that.”

If stories, of people and other living things, of places and what they contain, exist only in memory then they become by nature fragmented and infused with loss. This atmosphere of change, melancholy and absence permeates Chalk Hill Blue and is perhaps why, on the second and third listen, I am taken away from Wendover once more and back to my mum’s Yorkshire village and then on, to the flat landscapes around Berlin or an empty square in a crumbling French market town. For while the album tells the fragmented stories of a particular place, it resonates because of the questions it poses for places far beyond:

What role does place play in our identity?
What does belonging mean?
How do we find our feet in an ever-shifting world?
How do we make sense of what has been lost?

There is a danger in these questions, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be asked. Questions of home and belonging, of the lost stories of place and an impending environmental catastrophe are key questions of our time. It is not possible to observe the movements that gave us Brexit, the rise of the AfD in Germany or the Gilets Jaunes of the French periphery without understanding how these questions link in. As we mop out our flooded towns and we try to protect our villages from raging forest fires, as we wonder where the bees have gone or why the cranes are staying through the winter, these questions return to us time and again.

These are uncomfortable questions, and it is to Will Burns’ and Hannah Peel’s credit that Chalk Hill Blue provokes us to ask them. We cannot ignore them. We have to find the answers to these questions and find the answers that are not rooted in nostalgia or the exclusion of others. There is no going back. However we find a answer, and one which rejects the dead ends of nationalism and nativism, the first step is to tell the stories. The first step is to know what is happening. How did we get here? It can be the role of music, of poetry and of art, to bring those stories to light. Through its thoughtful, thought-provoking poetry and beautiful, atmospheric music, Chalk Hill Blue does just that.

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Will Burns & Hannah Peel will be performing Chalk Hill Blue live at dates around the UK. More info on Caught by the River here. The album is released by Rivertones and is available on CD or 12” Vinyl here.

Paul Scraton is the editor in chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. His debut novel Built on Sand is published by Influx Press in April 2019.

New Music: Nadine Khouri

By Paul Scraton:

One of the joys of being involved with a project such as Elsewhere has been to discover many different artists, writers, musicians and other creative folk who we have connected to through via the journal, our events or our online activities. In the case of Nadine Khouri it was something of a re-connection, as I met Nadine in 2008 in Beirut where she was recording an interview for a radio show. I was staying with the presenter of that show, and after the recording we went for something to eat together.

Nadine was born in Beirut, although was forced to leave at the age of seven during the conflict in Lebanon. She is now based in London, and at some point over the past couple of years since Elsewhere was launched we got back in touch. I was especially excited to hear, and then receive, Nadine’s new album The Salted Air, which was released in January. It has been playing on heavy rotation ever since, a haunting and atmospheric collection of songs that contain a sense of loss, displacement and yearning for someplace or something else that certainly resonated with me as I was thinking about the theme of transition that is at the heart of the upcoming issue of the journal. 

Drowned in Sound describes The Salted Air as “a pocket-sized book of lullabies, and gothic shanties, whose sounds and lyrics evoke a series of wondrous daydreams and sorrowful, mood-filled, late-night tales,” which should be more than enough to get you to go and check the album out. Below are the answers to the Elsewhere five questions, that I fired over to Nadine by email in the last couple of days, and a live performance of 'Broken Star' from the album. For more on Nadine, her music and upcoming live shows, take a look at her website.

Five Questions for... Nadine Khouri

What does home mean to you?

For a person who was displaced from a young age and had to navigate between various cultures, you can end up feeling a bit fragmented, or at least unable to point to a single place.  "Home" is probably more of a state of mind for me, of total presence.  

Where is your favourite place?

Oh, it’s hard to say!  I love my room at my parents' place in Beirut as it’s inspired many a song…  And anywhere on the Mediterranean.

What is beyond your front door?

Some withered trees and a Turkish corner shop.

What place would you most like to visit?

I just got back from playing some dates in Portugal and I’ve always felt I'd like to spend some more time in Lisbon.  Honestly though… the list is long! 

What are you reading right now? 

Carlos Drummond de Andrade 'Multitudinous Heart' (Selected Poems)