The Stone Tapes – `Avebury’
Both a genuine curio and a substantial investigation into ‘held’ or ‘contained’ sound, The Stone Tapes début release ‘Avebury’ is an understated yet atmosphere drenched excursion into haunted electronics. Following the dictum of the Stone Tape theory which holds ‘that the impressions of emotional or traumatic events can be recorded into rock and replayed under certain conditions’ the group ‘have been tirelessly investigating this phenomenon’, resulting in this rather beautiful and unique cassette and download.
This recording began with a chance encounter with a box of dusty, electromagnetic tapes that were gifted to the band by one George Albert Wilberforce, an elderly neighbour who had wandered the British Isles with equipment designed to retrieve EMF and sound recordings from the stone and rock of the land itself; indeed, these old spools and reels were found to be filled with a multitude of mysterious and uncanny forms and noises. These howls from deep within the landscape were then converted and constructed into digital audio by The Stone Tapes members K. Beem and M. Peach by feeding the signals from the EMF and atmosphere recordings into a multitude of analogue and studio equipment (witness the extensive description on their Bandcamp page, it’s a veritable synth enthusiast’s wish list). This is a recording that has a connection and likeness to Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape script and film in both theme and masterful control of mood and tension; one suspects many Folk Horror revivalists will immediately have recognised and have been drawn to the project’s name. However this is also an album that stands on its own and tells its singular, engraved and hidden story. There are very particular ghosts in the machine to be found here, impressed upon not just the stone and rock that have held these long lost voices and sounds but also in the resulting playback and transmission; allowing something or someone that has perhaps been released after years of containment to take form and substance once again.
The album begins with ‘Kat Calls The Vicar’, a self-explanatory title that features said conversation about the shadowy Mr Wilberforce and the uncanny and ancient forces that are centred around Avebury. However the voices are slightly distorted and out of step, blurring our sense of reality, with an ominous tone pulsating ever louder before the call rings off with a considered, dire warning to ‘be careful’. ‘A Page From John Britten’ follows, a text excerpt on the standing stones read over a steady drumbeat and a Tangerine Dream-esque wash of hazy synths and reverberated guitar lines. Both hypnotic and utterly captivating, this is a carefully constructed and unsettling work that brings to mind The Legendary Pink Dots at their finest. Next, ‘Red Lion Interlude’ is a delicate and sepia tinged piece of acoustic wyrd-folk, the chatter and din from the patrons of the inn a shimmer of background noise against the Bert Jansch-like refrain of the guitar. A calm before the storm, this merges into the disturbing collage of ‘Faces On 19B’, analogue wails and wraithlike whispers emanating from the massed banks of electronics.This followed by ‘West Kennet Ritual’ which rasps and oscillates into view on waves of growling electronica and flanged guitar, a maelstrom of processed and unhinged sound that evokes a deep sense of diabolic and dangerous forces starting to awaken from a long held slumber. ‘The Owl And The Druid’ chatters synthetically into life with multiple layers of incantations and muttered chants, a solitary processional drumbeat sounding behind the crescendo of deranged voices and echoed howls. This is either musick to play in the dark because of its disquieting power or to always listen to with the lights on, depending on your dispensation and nerve. Next, ‘Petrosomatoglyphs’ follows, vintage electronics creeping stealthily under the crackle and sound of the rock and stone itself, the recorded and trapped voices of the ghosts of the past unleashed in waves of haunting, analogue synth. With a palpable sense of tension rising, ‘Incident On The Herepath’ creates a world of snarling synth lines and a cacophonous and nightmarish choir of twisted chatter and inhuman, forgotten languages until the fate of our protagonists becomes all too clear. The album closes with the dread and drone of ‘Sound 23’, a fitting finale to what is a truly inspired, bone chilling and breathtaking tale.
‘Avebury’ is a haunted house of an album; there is an almost tangible sense of something preternatural or not quite human living and waiting within this tape reel. Aficionados of the hauntological musings of Jon Brooks, The Caretaker and The Heartwood Institute and of the thread of electronica pursued by artists such as Belbury Poly, The Focus Group and other Ghost Box label acts will find much to admire here. Followers of Hawthonn and The Psychogeographical Commission will also doubtless wish to investigate. There are now but a small number of ‘Avebury’ cassettes left though the album is also available for download at The Stone Tapes Bandcamp page.
Highly recommended, as are Wandering Elder, another spectral and ghost filled project by the duo that covers similar ancient ground but adds a veneer of eerie folk for good measure.
(Review by Grey Malkin – The Hare & The Moon)