Folklore of the Moon Part 1
An extended look at the first four volumes (and two bonus CD-Rs) on Hand/Eye's impressive and sprawling new Folklore of the Moon series of CD-Rs, dedicated to the old names of the full moons. The idea originated with Hand/Eye figurehead, Timothy Renner (aka Timothy, Revelator) and has proven to be one of the most exciting series of releases of 2005.
Stone Breath constant and Hand/Eye proprietor Timothy Renner kicks off his “Folklore of the Moon” 3” CD subscription series with this 20-minute performance piece, half of which was originally recorded in a church in Cambridge, MA and then supplemented with a studio-imposed music box wind-down. Renner’s droning harmonium forms a hallucinatory backbone for vocal assistance from old friends, Prydwyn, B’Eirth and Michael (Drekka) Anderson, as his primal scream vocals gradually rise to a frenzied, throat-shredding pitch that rivals Lennon’s agonized screams on his solo debut. The glitch musicbox is the star of the last half of the track, as it slowly winds down to allow the listener to recover from the opening emotional onslaught. It’s a fine line between 10-minute filler and sad, haunting recovery-room chill-out, but I’ll err on the side of the artist. An intriguing introduction to what promises to be a collector’s wet dream, with future moons scheduled from Martyn Bates, Fit & Limo, In Gowan Ring and Acid Mother’s Temple.
The first volume also includes a 4-song bonus CD from Rabbit Eyes, which sounds like it might be yet another pseudonym for Mr. Renner, aka, Timothy the Revelator to enjoy his fascination with hillbilly banjo music. Recorded, perhaps intentionally, to sound like a scratchy old record discovered at the bottom of some abandoned old mineshaft in the backwoods of Kentucky, “The Cuckoo Bird” indeed sounds like the home recordings of the crazed families from either Wes Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes” or Toby Hooper’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The ultra lo-fi, distorted recording techniques continue on “The Rolling Mills Are Burning,” but sadly detract from what appears to be a rather pleasant, toe-tapping ditty if it wasn’t recorded with nails on a tin can and then assembled with spit and chewing gum. “Listen Here” sounds like our participants passed out from too much moonshine and forgot to lift the needle off the end of the electronically-altered, locked-groove record.
An unfortunate mess that appears to suggest that hillbillies make just as good music as those city slickers – they just don’t have the means to replicate their intentions in plush, air-conditioned, 24-track studios with high-priced recording equipment at their stubby little fingertips. Unfortunately, it attempts to make its point by shoving our face and ears into 15-minutes of barely listenable, over-distorted, over-modulated noises that probably would be quite enjoyable if someone would rescue the master tapes and subject them to a good, long hot sonic bath down by the old mill stream. As a free, bonus CD it just proves the old adage that you get what you pay for.
The second volume in the series honours the “Full Pink Moon” and bears the unenviable task of co-existing in a musical universe whose definitive statement on the subject was St. Nick Drake’s final airing of his emotional laundry, “Pink Moon,” most recently heard hawking airtop Volkswagens. The North Sea’s Brad Rose, the dynamic wunderkind behind the Tulsa, OK-based Foxy Digitalis online music zine and the Foxglove and Digitalis imprints offers six tracks, self-described as “dark and full of ghosts.” “Rose Colored Shades” adorn the listener strolling through the zombie birdhouse of the local zoo, dragging all sorts of electronics and field recordings along for the ride, like tin cans accompanying Marley’s ghost. The pleasantly-titled “Turquoise Skies, My Mistress” belies more nails-on-a-blackboard shards of razor-sharp electronics, which continue unabated on the more accurately-titled “Rot & Chime.” The ebb and flow of Rose’s challenging expression is a frightening, sci-fi journey through a distorted house of mirrors with your headphones throbbing the collected works of extreme metallurgists, Faust and Einstürzende Neubauten.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think “Jefferson” was a bootleg recording of a Tom Waits’ soundcheck, surreptitiously recorded by a couple of fans who stuck a microphone into the club’s bathroom window. With its lost, faraway sound, the listener is encouraged, nay required, to draw nearer the speakers to absorb the lyrical message of this sad tale. “These Are The Trees Where We Were Born” owes more than its title to the work of Renner’s Stone Breath project, as its sparse, across-the-meadow field recording vibe can’t escape its rolling, lilting melody, despite attempts from those damn birds to drown out Rose’s vocals. But this is the people’s music, and these folky pop ballads brim with the vitality of the fields, meadows and woods where (it sounds like) they were recorded…away from the antiseptically fake acoustics of a professional recording studio. Of course, that doesn’t stop us from enjoying the nostalgic, thousand-yard-stare quality of the gorgeous closing instrumental, “Cradle Me In Your Arms,” its warmth and glowing aura as protective as its title suggests. Perhaps the best entry in this promising series so far.
Jon B’eirth (aka In Gowan Ring)’s pastoral folk is a perfect candidate for this series of wyrdfolk releases and his five tracks here (three of which are expanded from “The Lunar Songs” demos previously available on the marvelous wyrdfolk site, The Unbroken Circle) don’t disappoint. “[Bank of the] Limpid Brook” opens with gentle acoustic guitars and gongs surrounding a flute-driven melody deeply indebted to Donovan’s “Legend of A Young Girl Linda” and Kaleidoscope’s eerily similar, “The Sky Children.” “Clover” is a short, flute-driven, oriental-flavored, mystical instrumental somewhat reminiscent of Six Organs of Admittance. B’eirth’s hushed vocals on the swaying lullabye “Moon Over [the] Ocean” are as delicate as they are tentative – as if he was recording this in his living room and didn’t want to disturb a slumbering child in the room next door.
“Marigold” is another delicately nostalgic instrumental, wafting through the room like a soft breeze on a warm, summer’s eve or the ripples on a pond from a casually skimmed stone. The “Full Flower Moon” finally descends upon “Aurora,” a tragic love song with B’eirth’s vocals heavily weighed under an aching longing for an unattainable, perhaps Platonic love. It once again recalls the quiet ballads of early King Crimson, such as “Moonchild,” “I Talk To The Wind,” “Cadence & Cascade” and “Lady of the Dancing Water.” Delicate, wistful, romantic and unforgettable, this is a fine addition to an already impressive discography and another early highlight of this series.
Volume 4 in this increasingly exciting series is actually the Acid Mothers Temple frontman’s second attempt at harnessing the moon’s “cosmic magic” through song (following 2000’s “You Are The Moonshine” on Elsie & Jack). Here, Kawabata combines electric guitar, bouzouki, and hurdy-gurdy to create one long, 17-minute, hallucinatory haze, reminiscent of his band’s “La Novia” recording, as well as earlier solo guitar releases, such as “Infinite Love.” Kawabata’s disembodied, wordless vocals hover over the piece like the icy breeze of a ghost scurrying past you in a cold, dark, abandoned room. An earthy, folky, krautrock vibe (present, but not always acknowledged in much of AMTs more sedate compositions) also permeates the track, which is particularly recommended to fans of Sergius Golowin’s “Lord Krishna Von Goloka” (Kosmische, 1973) and Witthuser & Westrupp’s “Trips Und Traüme” (Ohr, 1971).
A repetitive leitmotif, as from some long lost medieval jig enters midway through the track and drags it merrily along to its conclusion, while the pungent aroma of Sweden’s psychedelic space cowboys The Spacious Mind and their myriad offshoots also weighs heavily on the mind. A rare instance of an AMT side project that will be of interest to more than just the band’s completist fanatics.
And speaking of “Leitmotif”s, former Eyeless In Gaza star Marty Bates checks in with the second bonus disk in the series, engineered and co-produced by his ex-EIG partner, Peter Becker. Bates writes “it seems the moon is forever bound in allusion with the feminine,” and states that the three-part centerpiece of his EP, “The Twa Sisters/Minorie (Child #10)” (from Francis J. Child’s five-volume “The English and Scottish Popular Ballads”) “can be seen as obliquely addressing both malevolent and benign characteristics of this allusion.” Bates also suggests that Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” “deals to a lesser or greater extent with these self-same themes” and suggests the listener reacquaint themselves with the novel prior to (or while) listening to the EP. And in what must surely be the most esoteric and scholarly liner notes ever written, the EP is accompanied by a three-page pamphlet entitled “I Pursued Nature To Her Hiding Place: On Manifestations of the Moon & Other Matters in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein,’” which contains Bates’ analytical dissection of the novel and reads more like a doctoral dissertation than liner notes! They do, however, explain the source of the titles of Bates’ instrumental interludes, as noted in the pamphlet excerpts quoted below.
Now all of this would be superfluous baggage if the music Bates created was tossaway barrel scrapings, but it’s obvious that he has invested a lot of time and energy in his creation (as did Dr. Frankenstein!) and the results are, for the most part, worthy of the extra attention they demand. The classical strains of the string-driven opener, “The Dim and The Yellow Light…” [from a quote on page 58 of the novel, “by the dim and yellow light (my emphasis) of the moon as it forced its way through the window shutters…I beheld the wretch, the miserable monster….”] announce the rising moon (“as female personification of Nature”) and introduce part 1 of Bates’ banjo-accompanied, emotional rendering of the tale of “Menorie.” “The Lovely Moon” [“The lovely moon (p 131) continues to supply a benign nurturing presence to the monster….”] offers a sorbet of electronic atmospherics, with occasionally disassociated voices akin to Ligetti’s choir in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
To be honest, part 2 of “Menorie” suffers a bit from Bates’ overly theatrical recitation, like some Shakespearean ham overextending his range. The downside is that the listener gets caught up with Bates’ “overacting” and begins to lose the thread of the story, which is somewhat difficult to follow as it is, particularly without the assistance of a lyric sheet.
“Midnight Labours” [“the moon gazed on my midnight labours, while with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding places….”] is a frightening, shrieking, violin interlude, reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s “Shower Scene” cue for Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” and perfectly encapsulates the paranoid fear of someone looking over your shoulder or pursuing you – as the moon overlooks Frankenstein’s work in his lab.
Following the conclusion of the tale of “Menorie,” “The Bright Moon” wraps up the EP with soaring electronics and shrieking whistles, perhaps symbolizing the dead sister’s ascent heavenward, with attention called to her murder by the beacon of “The Bright Moon.” Alternately, using the “Frankenstein” analogy, Bates’ quotes page 103 and suggests this rising musical passage represents the moon’s benign and nurturing presence for the Monster, “…a gentle light stole over the heavens, and gave me a sensation of pleasure. I…beheld a radiant form rise among the trees…the only object I could distinguish was the bright moon, and I fixed my eyes on that with pleasure.”
As can be gleamed from my cursory analysis, this is a challenging work that demands the listener’s attention, and those willing to offer it will be richly rewarded.
-- Jeff Penczak (18 July, 2005)