In Liminal Space

Sleepwalking got a really nice write up courtesy of Matt Poacher over at the always awesome The Liminal last week, even when they aren’t writing nice things about me, the quality of writing and the things they cover make it a daily read for me, go suck up their rss feed:

“Traditionally, a sigil was a unique symbol created for a specific magical purpose. It tended to be made up of several discrete elements, each charged with meaning and intent, each working toward the larger effect of the whole. It might be used as a hexing medium, or a way of summoning or conjuring a spirit or demon. I wasn‚Äôt aware of the notion of a hypersigil before listening to Erstlaub‚Äôs latest record, Sleepwalking Into The Underworld but it was an idea popularised by Grant Morrison with his epic comic series, The Invisibles, the idea being that the work was an ongoing rite of sigilization, formed with the express intent of actually augmenting or even altering reality.

Hokum aside, this idea of a sustained meditative process, built or performed with the express purpose of causing a shift in behaviour or consciousness, is peculiarly suited to music, and is to some extent already implicit in the creative process – and even more so with something created from disparate systems and ‘let go’ such as the method Erstlaub has used over various releases. As the artist has put it himself, this method involves “ taking an idea, feeling or element of will or intent and translating into sound by means of taking individual modular elements and focusing, refining and condensing them into self contained, autonomous systems, usually with an inbuilt “fail” system removing the technical purity and adding a more organic edge.” These autonomous systems are gradually worked into a whole – the sigil or hypersigil – with the entropic ‘fail’ device ensuring an element of uncertainty. In the case of Sleepwalking into the Underworld the result is a 45-minute single take experiment (alongside a feature length video accompaniment – see below) that results in a glorious unspooling and interlocking series of humming drones, the disparate elements working with and against one another to form a single shimmering thread.

Sonically, a comparison I keep returning to is Keith Fullerton Whitman, especially the Whitman of Lisbon and Playthroughs. There is both a similar technical aesthetic at work here, and a similar sense of elemental warmth about the extended drones – the sense of a magmatic liquid hum beneath the surface of things. Yet Erstlaub’s method has a stronger environmental feel to it, as befits the subject matter, with each ‘section’ of the hypersigil based around the ancient idea that bodies of water are portals to the underworld. The accompanying video piece makes this link explicit, with sections of the whole playing out across black and white images of different, distant watery landscapes. At times it’s easy to forget that these are all synthetic sounds, as often the inner ear scans the dense clamour and picks out what could be field recordings – rainfall, storm surges, solar wind. There are periods where the effect is so total, so immersive it’s as if you’re inside the fabric of the recording.

You could argue that the added theoretical bulk Erstlaub has brought to Sleepwalking into the Underworld gives it something of a literary weight, something that both adds and detracts from the experience of actually absorbing it as a whole; it also puts the whole piece under fairly intense pressure in terms of scrutiny, and widens the field of scope to include mystics such as Austin Osman Spare and David Tibet, and the darker magick of bands such as Coil. All of which asks the question of whether or not Sleepwalking into the Underworld can cope with this weight of expectation. And the truth is, it can. As a stand-alone piece of music it’s huge, dense and affecting; and as an installation, complete with the film and the wider occult speculations, it has real resonance and enough ambition that it should hopefully reach a wide audience.

As an aside, Sleepwalking into the Underworld is also something of a requiem for the Highpoint Lowlife label, which after 10 years of trading is to ease into retirement. You can still purchase the SITU DVD at the label‚Äôs website.”

You can still pick up copies from the usual channels but I’d recommend getting it straight from the label here if you so desire.

In other areas, this week has been spent in sanity entropic repetition continuously bouncing 45 minutes of audio between 2 cassettes 45 times for a project I’m about to wind up titled “The Decline of Physical Memory” and making a scrying mirror for ‘The Magnificent Psychomanteum” busy busy busy (but at least I guess it keeps the scary thoughts from creeping in). More on both these projects soon. In the meantime I have an asston of reading to do seeing as I foolishly decided to write my dissertation on the evolution of Psychogeography. WTF!

The Magnificent Psychomanteum

I ought really to also just mention a few cultural ley lines that have recently occurred. First of all, after years of vaguely being aware of the name, I finally got around to checking out the films of Bela Tarr. The Werckmeister Harmonies and Damnation immediately had me clearing shelf space next to Tarkovsky for them due to the utterly awe inspiring combination of pure cinematic beauty, non specific narrative and shear metaphysical weight. I really can’t recommend them both highly enough.

Last week I also saw Patrick Keiller’s Robinson In Ruins. With London and Robinson In Space already being massively significant pieces of work in terms of my general psyche, I’ve been excited about its existence since reading about it being shown at the BFI Festival in London back in October and our gemlike DCA made my year (well January anyway) by screening one showing of it. All Keiller’s trademarks are there, it’s a slow, mystifying, beautiful piece of cinema. I was really aware of the lack of Schofield, ‘The Narrator’ and travelling companion of Robinson in the previous two and just didn’t feel the same connection to his replacement Vanessa Redgrave as had existed before but the whole piece still endures, a week later, there are still scenes I’m picking apart and narrative strains that keep echoing around.

Finally, a short comics series by the behemoth that is Warren Ellis titled Supergods. It’s just amazing and reminds you why he is one of the best writers in the world today, regardless of medium. Rustle up a copy, you shouldn’t be disappointed.

Take care.


You Can Fall

It’s always with a weird reticence that I commit to these sorts of posts put when giri comes into play so strongly, it feels that anything less would be disrespectful.

It’s a massive loss to music world that Trish Keenan left us on Friday 14th January. A voice that has been right by my side since 2000 when I first heard “The Noise Made By People”, Broadcast’s first outing on Warp and stayed with me ever since: A weird and consistently beautiful album constantly straddling the line between 60’s Twee girlband chic and the type of pure radiophonic delight that I’m pretty sure Delia Derbyshire would have loved.

In honesty though, it wasn’t until some of the harder times in life that Keenan’s delivery and writing brought the vague beauty of hope into play, and for that I will be ever indebted. There are so many songs from the amazing Broadcast canon that I could quote as pieces which have transcended simple song and become maxim, but it somehow seems most fitting that I choose the song that almost always brought me close to tears, even before this dreadful, terrible loss.

“If you think nothing is yours
If I think everything belongs to me
How wrong Ill be
None of us have anything
Theres a place I have never explored
Another world we have yet to conquer
And untill then none of us have anything”

Goodbye Trish, thank you so much for the beauty and humanity you brought in such a sparse and wonderful way. I hope you are out playing in the fields with Rowan Morrison, the march hares and the rest of the witch cult.


Automatic Writing

Here’s what some people have had to say about Sleepwalking Into The Underworld:

The Milk Factory:

Scottish musician and sound artist Dave Fyans, who has been officiating as Erstlaub for over five years, returns to Highpoint Lowlife, this time with a full audio-visual project which combines a forty minute film and its accompanying soundtrack, available as a very limited DVD release. Built as one long evolutive piece, where various segments seamlessly slip into one another, their boundaries blurred beyond recognition, and ultimately resulting in one fluid narrative. Similarly, the video takes various black and white footage of bodies of water (rivers, ponds, puddles) and wooded areas, each one roughly corresponding to a defined sound set.

Fyans has worked with similarly monolithic forms in the past, carving deep introspective soundscapes from stark and arid sources, shaping them into beautiful textural pieces. Very much like was the case on Broadcasting On Ghost Frequencies (Moving Furniture, 2009) orOn Becoming An Island (Highpoint Lowlife, 2007), space is intrinsically part of the overall sound contingency of the piece, but there is here an impressive density which, while already present on Broadcasting, reaches here an entirely different level. The piece opens with a simple and smooth drone, lightly polished, with a hint of white noise at the back, but this is rapidly disturbed by a bubbling form which appears to relate to running water in the video, but which could as well be the crackle of an empty radio signal or a swathe of grinding noises smoothened by layers of fog. In the next few minutes, this is submitted to an intense process of leveling and pressurization, bringing the overall piece back toward more hospitable grounds.

Whilst applied with various strength, this process very much continues throughout, at times revealing moments of deep emotional intensity as elements of almost orchestral grandeur are layered in the foreground, at others diving into rather dark and threatening territories, where corroded sounds slowly decay and contaminate healthier structures, or centred around deeply fragmented components. Although created as a unit, the music can work independently from the video, its extreme variations and continuous flow contributing to its strong evocative character. Indeed, there is enough triggers throughout to generate self-induced dream sequences, yet the added imagery is as hypnotic and enigmatic as the music itself, bringing another layer of introspection to the work.

One of the last scheduled outputs to come out of the excellent Highpoint Lowlife, which is due to shut down later on in the year, Sleepwalking Into The Underworld is yet another might fine demonstration of strong sonic processing from Erstlaub. The impressive cinematic form which has become Dave Fyans’s mode of expression, shaped into one long evolutive piece, reaches its most intense stage yet. Highly recommended.


Always Everything:

Another new release from Highpoint Lowlife that locks directly into the Always Everything axis, this time from Broken20 co-conspirator Dave Fyans, who records ambient drone asErstlaub:

Sleepwalking Into The Underworld was sent to me billed as a full audio/visual piece, exploring the malleability of time and chaos theory. If that all sounds a little arch and conceptual, the piece itself – and the film that accompanies it – can just as easily be taken apart from the thoughts that drove its creation. Appropriately, given its watery theme, it’s a surprisingly immersive forty minutes, passing through curtains of static and strange ripples generated when different elements play off against one another. Shot in monochrome, the film itself leaves its imprint on the music – when absorbed by itself afterwards, it’s hard not to visualize unmoving columns of evergreens stretching into the distance.

You can watch the whole film here.

In Fyans’ own words:

“The piece is based around the concept of being drawn to places of resonance where the separation between different time periods are thin, specifically areas of historic spiritual importance, the title refers to the theme of ancestor worship and the idea of bodies of water being portals to the underworld. Visually the piece calls back the recurring themes of isolation within the vastness of the universe and stillness as a measure of time.

The piece is an expanded hypersigil created as a response to real world ideas and emotions but the space that exists between this inspiration and the final output is more than just a straight “musical” process. Elements of music theory, physics, maths play a part, as do the deeper concepts of chaos/pop magic, dimensionality within the universe and non-linear time.”

I watched for the first time it at about three in the morning, on the cusp of sleep, and it seems charged, primed with that hour of darkness: those moments immediately before the brain slips into unconsciousness, where time begins to flow freely and the mind begins to free associate. There’s obviously a level at which music like this – especially when based around this sort of concept – is psychedelic, as it plays havoc with perceptions of space and time in much the same way as a hallucinogen. Still, in this case, Fyans avoids typical contrived trappings of psychedelia in favour of something entirely subtler, and in doing so ends up being far more effective in conveying mood and idea. By the time I actually fell asleep I’d struggle to tell you whether I’d watched it for four or forty minutes.

Further transmissions from one of our favourite labels, one that’s sadly soon to be no more. For more Highpoint Lowlife info (and a link to buy the piece as standalone or on DVD), it’s well worth checking out their website, or the AE-pennedpair of features (including an excellent mix from label boss Thorsten) on DiS.


Following a split with TVO earlier this year, Scotland’s Erstlaub delivers a 40 minute blanket of occluded drones for Highpoint Lowlife. ‘Sleeping In The Underworld’ masterfully drifts through darkened zones of bleak, rustic ambience to wide-open symphonic flushes nodding to Gas through blustery, tempered passages of noise and placid but unnerving atmospheres, with changing pressure systems of subbass drone and uniquely textured electronics covering his trail. Apparently there are some pretty heady concepts behind the music itself, something to do with chaos, dimensionality and time, but that almost all grinds to a halt as you get lost in the calming drones and nautical white noise. Wind and rain wash against the harmonic tones as occasional beats and digital malfunctions knock up into the soundscape like pebbles washed up on the shore. ‚ÄòSleepwalking into the Underworld‚Äô is a beautiful, measured and subtle piece of music that should lull you into stasis with the greatest of ease. Recommended.

And possibly my favourite published review ever courtesy of Brett over at Norman Records:

Reviewing press releases? I love this shit! Since we’ve got no means of watching this forty-minute DVD job that’s all I’ve got to go on here but luckily it’s a beauty! It ranges from the conceptual (‘self contained, autonomous systems, usually with an inbuilt ‚Äúfail‚Äù system removing the technical purity and adding a more organic edge’) to the sorta scientific (‘music theory, physics, maths play a part, as do the deeper concepts of chaos/pop magic, dimensionality within the universe and non-linear time’.. Actually that’s still conceptual really, isn’t it?) to the purely practical (‘the sound is pure synthesis with no samples or field recordings used and was recorded in one take with no post editing or overdubs using a Nord Modular G2, Behringer BCR2000 Controller along with boss re201 and dd20 delay units. The video was shot on a Nikon D90 and edited in Final Cut’). So that’s all bases covered. Does anyone know what ‘hypersigil’ means?

The piece has also featured in both Que Belle Epoque and Lend Me Your  Ears end of year honours lists

Thanks so much to everyone that’s taken the time out to support my endeavours, put up with my not infequent meltdowns, book me to play, write things and buy my work, there are still some hardcopies of the limited DVD available from Highpoint Lowlife.

All the best for 2011, there’s another release right around the corner on Broken20, more news to follow imminently.