REVIEW -The Heartwood Institute `Witchcraft ’70′

witchcraft-70

The Heartwood Institute – `Witchcraft ’70′

 

There are witches in today’s society… intones the voice with which The Heartwood Institute’s offering “Witchcraft ’70” opens. Allow us, if you will, to show you one of the most shocking realities of the ’70s.

These words are sampled from the trailer for Witchcraft ’70, one of the dime-a-dozen “Witchsploitation” documentaries that were popular in the 1960s and 1970s (although probably more for their lurid presentation of naked flesh than factual information about the dangers of the mid-century occult scene).

That’s not to say the newest release from the “hauntronica” outfit, hailing from the Lake District, is confined to the decade of disco. The synth work accompanying the titillating narration is rooted in the ’80s. On the title track in particular, I’m reminded of the analog work by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth for Halloween III: Season of the Witch, as well as the more beat-heavy cuts from the post-industrial scene (think Bites-era Skinny Puppy).

Following “Witchcraft ’70” is “Diana,” an exploration of the relationship between the Classical moon goddess and Lucifer. Again, behind the sampled narration The Heartwood Institute builds a pulsing wall of electronic sound, this time with clicks in all the right places, sleazier beats, recorded birdsong, and a throwback synth bass. “Witchdrone” closes out the release, two minutes of what can best be summed up by its title.

The Heartwood Institute released “Witchcraft ’70” as a Hallowe’en special, but that doesn’t mean you should wait until next October to have a listen. A must for everyone who enjoys the combination of kitschy samples and seriously good electronica, its biggest negative is that there isn’t enough of it. From beginning to end, it’s about 12 minutes and just got this listener revved up when it ended. Fortunately, the Heartwood Institute has other issues in their catalogue to explore.

Reviewed by Katherine Beem (The Stone Tapes)

REVIEW -Klaus Morlock `Bethany’s Cradle’

bethanys-cradle

Klaus Morlock – `Bethany’s Cradle’

Unearthed at last, one of the true “holy grail” soundtracks of seventies folk horror: Bethany’s Cradle. The film that never was.


For those unfamiliar with the background, Bethany’s Cradle is one of Italian director Angelo Ascerbi’s great, lost works. Shot in the English Lake district and based on a script by Antonio Baresi and made mainly using English actors. The film was financed by the equally shadowy Lupus Pictures, known for cult Euro Horror’s  like  “Blood Of The Limping” and the “Seduction Of The Beast”. Bethany’s Cradle tells the story of a young woman, Bethany, an apparent virgin who nevertheless becomes pregnant, and her involvement with a strange cult who carry out their rituals on the banks of Lake Windermere in the very heart of the Lake District. As a teenager growing up in Cumbria, I have a very clear memory of a feature in the Cumberland News at the time of the filming. As I recall, local extras were being sought for scenes to be shot in the Cumbrian market town of Penrith. Accompanying the piece were some shots of director Ascerbi posing with Eleanor “Ray” Bone, the witch of Blindcrake, who was apparently “advising” Ascerbi on certain key scenes within the film.

For reasons that are still unclear, production on the film was halted after an altercation between Ascerbi and Lupus pictures boss, Billy Wolf.

Undeterred Morlock continued with the score, which finally saw the light of day later in 1979 with a very limited vinyl release through Lambent Records. Copies of this being so rare, that five figure sums are now expected on the occasions that a copy comes onto the market. Fortunately for us Mr. Morlock’s curator has managed to acquire a serviceable copy of this super rare vinyl and effected a very high quality digital transfer, which I am delighted to report captures all the warmth and crackle of the original recording.

So, onto the content:

We begin with an opening title theme in the classic seventies euro horror style that makes some clear nods to both the maestro Morricone and the workhorse sounds of Fabio Frizzi. Eventually the piece mutates into a throbbing synth driven chase scene in the classic Tangerine Dream, sequencer epic style style. It’s here that Morlock deploys both the ARP Odyssey as well as the mighty CS80, later made famous by Vangelis in the score to Blade Runner. Next up is a total change of style, with a wistful solo piano piece; Bethany’s Solitude. Here we find a strange mixture of lounge jazz and almost Satie like dreaminess. An unexpectedly beautiful little piece. Bethany’s Dream finds us back in familiar Morlock territory, fusing spiraling guitars and Melotron that eventually fade into a wall of analog delay. This then leads us into Cumbrian Twilight, starting with ominous synths, this slowly builds around a driving drum machine pattern as more and more elements are added, the piece lightens before suddenly grinding to an ominous halt.

Farewell Letter, is a short piece for guitars that is in turn charming and hypnotic. Next up we have the hard synth piece, Cloudburst. Once again this has the feel of Frizzi or Carpenter, though the disco like beats date this quite firmly in the late seventies. Not even Klaus Morlock could avoid the need for disco in a soundtrack in 1979. However, Morlock is unafraid to pull the rug from under us and abruptly this synth piece dissolves into something else altogether, a beautiful lullaby recalling the opening theme. What follows next seems to predate the kind of music that Richard James would peddle under the name Aphex Twin so successfully on his selected Ambient works albums. Here, in The Draughty Church, the full might of the CS 80 is deployed in a majestic piece of what I can only describe as “proto-electronica”. This is prime Morlock, with drifting glacial synthesisers overlaying a driving bass line, all of which slowly morphs a wall of deeply unsettling synth textures and ambient winds. Next up is Village Messenger, and it’s here that the album moves from synth and prog territory into full on chiming folk horror. A simple guitar motif and hand drums conjure up images of pagan rituals being practiced on the shore of Lake Windermere in the early morning light of mid summer. Then, almost immediately, the mood changes again and birdsong and synthesisers lead us into the The Shadow Garden. No-one else conveys innocence and threat quite so effectively. Bethany’s Departure builds on this, opening with melancholy keyboards this too becomes gradually more sinister, the unease palpable as the synthesisers build upon each other, emphasizing the growing horror of the film’s resolution. We can only assume this was a film with no happy ending.

And finally we come to the closing theme, the most experimental piece of the album. Synths and reversed guitars intertwine in an oddly musical chaos, achieved no doubt by the use of multiple Studer multi-track tape machines, inexpertly synced together by Morlock himself.

So, where does this stand in the Morlock canon? Stylistically it’s a progression from earlier soundtracks: The Bridmore Lodge Tapes and the Child Garden, while taking in some of the more prog, psych and folk rock elements of the longer form releases Penumbra and Virgin Spring. Simply put, if like me you are Morlock obsessive, you have to have this release. Even in this digital format it is pure sonic wonderment. This is music that deserves to be heard, not hoarded in a private record collection. One can only hope that Klaus Morlock’s curator continues to unearth more releases for the benefit of his many fans.

Review by Jonathan Sharp.

REVIEW – Hermione Harvestman `A Harvest of Souls: Requiem for Dancers (Unseen)’

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    Hermione Harvestman – `A Harvest of Souls: Requiem for Dancers (Unseen)’

     

     

    The story of Hermione Harvestman is a fascinating one, a woman who felt haunted by music and saw her creative process as one, not of creation, but exorcism of sonic spirits. She was born in 1930, a classically trained pianist who went on to play church organ in rural County Durham. She was a prolific musician working in many genres composing for her own need, the local church and even amateur theatrical productions. Abandoning the piano at the age of 26 when she was introduced to the Clavivox, an early sequencer-cum-synthesiser. On discovering the Clavivox Hermione said ‘This was my epiphany – it one stroke it solved all my problems with regard to Western Tonality. Increasingly, I was drawn to monophonic music and modality, but I was ill prepared to join the elite who called themselves Folk Musicians or Early Musicians; bourgeois sub-sects striving for an authenticity so enamoured of a certain mind-set which I’d never been able to relate to. Neither was I too enamoured of Atonal Experimentalism. The music I heard in my heard was far richer than that, somehow – at least it was to me. I dreamed of hurdy-gurdies – of drones and monophonic keyboards playing parallel 3rds, 4ths and 5ths. In reality, hurdy-gurdies sounded ghastly (with significant exception). On hearing the Clavivox I heard the music that dreamed of astrological continuities between ancient music and future possibilities; it touched the essence of what music was at its most primal – that of both the planets of the Pyramids; that of the stars and Stonehenge.’ Hermione lived and worked in the county in which I grew up, it is both wonderful and sorrowful to discover that such a fascinating character who created such a vast library, lived so near and yet I only become aware of her years after her death.

    “A harvest of Souls: Requiem for Dancers (Unseen)” is one of 12 albums of her work she selected prior to her death in May of 2012 and collected together by Sedayne. The album is a suite of 8 improvised pieces, comprised of blissful yet haunting synth works performed live and recorded in the chapel house of York Minster in 1973. In the accompanying text on the bandcamp page Hermione describe her remit as “Being simple enough, to provide a sequence of improvisations prescribed in terms of duration and “mood” each relating to particular ideas in the programme and arrived at by intuitively reacting to the movements of the shadowy dancers”. The album begins with notes which sound almost plucked, gorgeous synth tones allowed breath and flow leaving space between each as the melodies become ever more intricate. As the album progresses the sound becomes fuller never overbearing and conjure thoughts both ancient and futuristic. The melodies at times sound almost medieval however the tone palette is pure monophonic electronica of the most beautiful order. The pieces switch between the melodic tonal and slightly droney with emphasis on harmoincs, all allow the sonic richness of the instrument to be expressed in a wonderful reverby sonic backdrop. As I listened I found myself thinking of ancients contemplating the heavens and the future, how alien yet familiar such music would sound to them. The entire album is a joy to behold however my favourite pieces are parts 7 and 8 (the closing two) which contain the most beautiful melodies and at times pre-figure Board of Canada’s woozy tape delayed sound. The album is available at hermioneharvestman.bandcamp.com and I cannot recommend it enough a sublime piece of synth improvisation.

    (http://hermioneharvestman.bandcamp.com/album/a-harvest-of-souls-1973)

    (Reviewed by Antony Wealls – Equestrian Vortex and The Mortlake Bookclub

REVIEW – Look To The North `You’re A Séance, Old North’

youre-a-seance-old-north

Look To The North – `You’re A Séance, Old North’

 

 

In a sect of Japanese Buddhism called Shingon Buddhism, there was a small group of monks in the Northern Japanese Yamagata prefecture on Honshu Island that attempted self-mummification. They called those who succeeded sokushinbutsu 即身仏.

With the devotional, ambient gem that is “You’re A Séance, Old North“, David Colohan and Zachary Corsa (the duo that constitute “Look to the North”) knowledgeably execute a process of reverential and gentle archaeology. Layers are slowly peeled away, overlapping washes are carefully and slowly resolved, care is taken throughout and the tools of the trade (the autoharp, the field recordings, the shortwave and the confessional sound fragments) are employed with deftness and expertise to reveal a truth.

There is a balance to things.

There are two tracks here, each of 20 minutes length; the two musicians present these tracks to us with complementary structures and parallel instrumentation. Corresponding curating snippets of voice in each track (male in the first, female in the second) guide us through a journey of reflective discovery that is in the best traditions of the broad church of drone music.

In the wonderfully titled first track “Where You Vanished Off The Edges Of A Cul-De-Sac, Like Falling Off A Map”; a thick, undulating landscape of ambient swell dotted with a surface layer of soft field recordings unfolds before us. This is eventually and tentatively penetrated by distant but insistent voices, and through those first few cracks in the outer mantle of this album come the plaintive notes of a parlour piano escaping out to us, providing those first glimpses of evidence that something is waiting for us, something is to be found on this record. But not yet, with easy drama Colohan and Corsa re-bury those fragments, protecting them from the atmosphere like the dutiful guardians they are.

It is with the second track “‘Harriet Was Here’, Less So Now” that revelations come more readily. As if to prepare us for the fact that these revelations will be challenging, a warning note is sounded, and then we are through. Through at first to the realm of spectral drones and ghostly backward echoes such as one might expect to find under the surface layer of things, a last attempt by arcane sentries to stay our progress perhaps. But “Look to the North” beckon us deeper, we are brave in their capable hands and things soon become more resolved. The first lone bleached notes of acoustic guitar begin to poke through, melody follows. We are glimpsing the ribs of a long-hidden sokushinbutsu, and we begin to appreciate the value of the find as it is unearthed before us.

“You’re A Séance, Old North” uncovers things, it reveals ancient truths, it awakens dormant memories and it provides a mirrored surface that allows us to reflect and view our feelings of mortality more objectively. It leads us to a discovery, gently and kindly, but the interpretation of what we find must be our own and ours alone.

Jim Griffin, Limerick, November 19th, 2016

(https://davidcolohan.bandcamp.com/album/youre-a-s-ance-old-north)

(store.aosmosis.net/products/571977-look-to-the-north-youre-a-seance-old-north)

REVIEW – The Stone Tapes `Avebury’

avebury

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)

https://thestonetapes.bandcamp.com/album/the-stone-tapes-avebury http://www.wanderingeldar.com/the-stone-tapes/

REVIEW – Rusalnaia `Time Takes Away ‘

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Rusalnaia – `Time Takes Away’

 

 

Rusalnaia combines the significant talents of both Sharron Kraus (who has already had a prolific run of essential albums in the last year with the gorgeous ‘Friends And Enemies; Lovers And Strangers’, its sister album ‘Hen Llan Recordings’ and most recently the poetry/music of ‘If You Put Out Your Hand’) and Ex Reverie’s Gillian Chadwick (if you haven’t encountered 2008’s ‘The Door Into Summer’ then I recommend you do so immediately). The previous Rusalnaia outing, their self-titled début, was a psych folk gem recorded with various members of Espers that left the listener spellbound, eagerly awaiting its follow up. ‘Time Takes Away’ may be eight years in the making but it is well worth any wait, indeed it surpasses the already high expectations held by those who follow the music of both Kraus, Chadwick and their work together.

The album begins with the creeping dread of ‘Cast A Spell’, a looping acoustic motif merging with hand drums and ever increasing chants to conjure a truly sacrificial Summerisle mood before scattering into a full blown psych guitar and violin dervish. At once both hugely powerful and hypnotic it is a shiver inducing opening to an album that then maintains its spellbinding hold upon the listener until the final fade out. ‘Take Me Back’ follows, Chadwick and Kraus’s vocals mingling and weaving in and out of the others amidst the most unsettling array of analogue synths and pounding, ritualistic drums. Equal parts acid folk and full blown gothic psych (in the sense of such forerunners as Mellow Candle and Stone Angel) Rusalnaia display an (un)easy mastery of the wyrder angles and corners of folk; this music is in their blood, these incantations come from their very beings and are all the more affecting and alluring for this. ‘Driving’ is a case in point, its deceptively simple rhythmic pace is both beautiful and unsettling, a minor key entering and tilting the song into the darker shadows and more hidden, unusual places. Aficionados of Faun Fables, Espers and UK psych folkers Sproatly Smith and The Rowan Amber Mill will find much to love here.

The Pentangle-esque ‘The Love I Want’ introduces woodwind to its call and response folk majesty and is breathtaking in its steady but dramatic building and layering towards a bucolic and Bacchanalian finale. Next, ‘The Beast’ is transported on an intense and fiery flow of fuzz guitar and organ, both vocalist’s lines intertwining as if recounting some twisted, unearthly nursery rhyme. Rusalnaia are no fey, rustic folk act, these songs scream, howl and haunt with intent; think early PJ Harvey meets the black hearted acid folk stylings of Comus. And when they quieten, they do so in a manner that gets under your skin to just the same extent, if not more so. ‘The Honeymoon Is Over’ is by turn a spectral and ghostly lament, solitary drumbeats punctuating a delicate but driven slice of melancholy perfection. ‘Bright Things’ casts its (book of) shadows gently but with a circling and cackling sense of expertly pitched melodrama. ‘Lullaby (For A Future Generation)’ meanwhile allows some sunlight in, organ and vocal harmonies combining to create a work of genuine emotive impact and beauty. All too soon the album reaches its finale with the title track, a recorder and organ filled wonder that stays with the listener long after the song has finished.

In short, ‘Time Takes Away’ is a triumph. It is no leap of the imagination to picture this album being played and revered in twenty years’ time in the same manner that we do with our copies of ‘Basket Of Light’, ‘Swaddling Songs’ or ‘Commoners Crown’. This is a hugely accomplished and truly special recording; trust me, you need this album.

Available now on download from the band’s Bandcamp page and as a digipack CD from Cambrian Records.

(Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon) – With thanks to The Active Listener blog at which this review was first published)

https://rusalnaia.bandcamp.com/album/time-takes-away

 

 

REVIEW – The Mortlake Bookclub `Exquisite Corpse’

The Mortlake Bookclub – `Exquisite Corpse’

The Mortlake Bookclub are a shadowy collective whose first release on the brilliant Reverb Worship label is “inspired and directed by the surrealist parlour game Exquisite Corpse” wherein each collaborator adds to the previous person’s output. One of these members is Melmoth the Wanderer. Add to the mix a reading group centred around Dr. Dee’s library and surrealism, and you won’t be surprised to hear I was hooked immediately.

Opener, ‘The Sexton’s Dream’ sets the phantasmagoric tone beautifully: hazed and throbbed electrics, distanciated plucking and a spoken sample that is as threatening as it is cautionary. And it’s this sample that places the Exquisite Corpse squarely in a spectral rurality, where half-glimpsed simulacrums spook and uncanny survivals pervade.

‘Live Deliciously’ has ritual purpose. And I say this in a the same way an archaeologist digs into the land, finds something that can only be surmised as significant, and deems it a ritual object. Here this translates into a vague sense and aural awareness of a ceremonial performance whose importance and meaning is both enlivened and obscured by a resonant dissonance and distant chants. Only a tolling bell gives some clarity that a ritual is happening or has happened here. And no amount of polishing your obsidian stone will allow a clearer view.

With its swirling strings and baritone spoken word, ‘Exquisite Corpse’ could not be more haunting. The reversed voices, the shards of whispered narration, the funereal atmosphere – it’s definitively one of the heart-rending and poignant pieces of music I’ve heard in years. In short, it’s incredible.

With samples from this documentary the final piece ‘The Trial of Margaret Brown’, tells of witchcraft and cunning folk, and brilliantly envelopes and haunts like its predecessors.

Exquisite Corpse is available here in a limited and desirable edition. It’s on its second run so be quick.

`This review was originally posted on the `Both Bars On’ blog in November 2016 and is reposted with their kind permisssion (https://bothbarson.wordpress.com)’