“Ten Days The Shook The World!” – it’s a cliché, but it’s true; and it all kicked off exactly 100 years ago today.
Enjoy Kirbykat’s video of “1917 Revolution”…
Simfonica - Letters In Time (TM Studios TMS001)
Just released is a fascinating new audio DVD by Trevor Midgley, known to John Peel and Dandelion record fans as Beau and before that on the BBC as one of The Raiders. This new release of electronic music as Simfonica follows last year’s Song Of The Volcanoes on Cathedral Transmissions, which soon sold out though still available in download format.
It is rare in music for a follow-up to go further than the last release, but here it does regarding concept and artistry. For music shops (if they still exist) and libraries (ditto), it can be conveniently filed under the categories of Ambient, Electronic and/or Experimental, but also Modern Classical because every note is played by him—nothing is sampled—recorded in Mr. Midgley’s own TM studio in Norfolk, England. This project combines various forms of aesthetics in a rare audio-visual work of art.
Letters In Time might also be extended to include….And Space. Each of the four pieces is inspired by momentous moments in fairly recent history that shaped the age we live in. The erudite Trevor Midgley’s albums as Beau regularly feature historical events, especially those touching the human condition rather than the syllabus spoon-fed to us at schools. The locations are France, America and England twice, but that’s less relevant because these subjects involve universal themes and transcend mere location.
J’Accuse (I Accuse) starts visually with the text from Émile Zola’s open letter, on a newspaper’s front page, to the President of the French Republic in January 1898. He is speaking out for justice and truth regarding a scandal that tore France apart in the 1890s and beyond, as the backdrop was the lost war with Germany in 1871 reverberating into the First World War in 1914. Just about every family in France was split by the state’s accusation that Jewish career-officer Captain Dreyfus was a German spy. The case of framing him started in 1894 before he was sent to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island. After publication, Zola had to flee France and lived in Wimbledon and Surrey incognito (his helper and English translator, Vizetelly, had also been imprisoned earlier for publishing Zola).
Dreyfus wasn’t pardoned until 1906, after the real culprits in the military had finally been arrested. The anti-Semitic affair didn’t end there. A Parisian left-wing newspaper in the 1950s published a statement by a chemist who claimed a chimney-sweep told him he’d been paid to block Zola’s chimney at his Paris flat after returning from his country residence at Meudon. Zola died of smoke inhalation that was originally presumed to be accidental in 1902. The DVD artistically plays with images such as contemporary press cartoons and court scenes swirling into abstract, sometimes psychedelic images suggesting the chaos that the scandal caused in society at the time along with far-reaching consequences fifty years later and since.
A pointing finger suggests it could happen to any of us: the mechanisms of the powerful used against others is as relevant today as then. A state can do (and does) whatever it wants to its inhabitants irrespective of rights, truth or justice. Look at modern-day whistle-blowers, the descendants so to speak of Zola or William Cobbett. Simfonica also accuses! The drones have swashes of musical colour perfectly fitted to both imagery and meaning. Not feeling like 17 minutes, occasional subtle sounds like a period funfair add to the atmosphere in what is a haunting, fugue-like embrace of symbol, time and ultimately universality engendered by one place and moment.
The concept of significant letters symbolic of then and relevant now is continued with From A Birmingham Jail, reflecting on a 1963 letter by the civil rights activist Martin Luther King. Lake and swamp scenes move into the forest where trees stand like sentinels reflected in the water, then replicate prison bars with King inside looking out. A sound reminiscent of Pan pipes is joined to subtle percussion, as if Nature too has its menaces. A rally crowd appears, ethereal as ghosts among sigh-like voices, a moving element even more pronounced on A Soldier’s Declaration, an anti-war letter from a serving officer among the carnage. Written in 1917, it was afterwards printed in The Times.
This is the First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon’s letter to the generals and government criticising them for not ending that “evil and unjust” industrial slaughter of 18 million during its 1,568 days, the screen reminds us. They had the power to end “the continuance of agonies” which they do not share and cannot realise, wrote Sassoon there, so why was it continued? The white silhouettes on the battlefield are like a painting or photograph appropriately in negative. The music ‘phases’ like out of life into death or back again if wounded, colours are as if smoke spread over the scene. The bleak music wouldn’t be out of place as accompaniment to looking across the battlefields now, those scarred ghost-filled landscapes that once shook with the horror.
The final piece reflects on Oscar Wilde’s letter known as De Profundis to Lord Alfred Douglas in 1897. Douglas’ father, the Marquis of Queensberry who couldn’t spell very well, was instrumental in getting the poet imprisoned for two years hard labour. The vicious sentence wasn’t cut by even an hour, breaking the Irish-English poet who died not long after in Paris, where he’s buried. The electronics sound like a slow choral lament but also stellar wind among the images of the moon and universe with its Hubble-recorded light swirls. It might be a trope nodding to Wilde’s court retort that the stars are for everyone even though one might be seeing them while standing in the gutter, where Wilde’s bourgeois accusers placed him.
Lonely but also awe-inspiring, it’s as if time has been slowed when experienced by a voyager jettisoned out in the cosmos. Its hypnotic pulse can be felt in the soundscape; a glimpse of Reading Jail is projected with starlight in a cell. A military or judicial drum-beat towards the end is as if recalling the first track’s subject, returning full-circle like history itself sometimes uncannily reminds us.
The near hour-long ambient tripping combined with clear messages, the interplay of sound and image within contextual ideas, provide a very moving total experience. In fact this is a surprisingly rare concept in music, at least in non-classical orchestral music. The marriage of haunting sounds and thought-provoking visuals is here actually more a ménage à trois, an experience broadened by textual history. The modern idioms of sound and image create a most interesting (and poignant) fusion that encourages repeat plays, as well as being a catalyst for further exploration by the sharing experiencer of what is a unique artistic project.
Every DVD also comes with an audio download code for a variety of formats at https://simfonica.bandcamp.com/releases as well as Amazon and eBay. Further information at http://www.trevormidgley.com/Simfonica.html.
- Brian R. Banks
¤ Simfonica - Song of the Volcanoes ¤
Cathedral Transmissions 2016
1. Hekla, 2. Mayon, 3. Mother Russia, 4. Cumulo Nimbus
Z tych czterech kompozycji dwie poświęcone są wulkanom, jedna chmurom, a jedna, o dziwo, Matce Rosji. Tytuł całości odnosi się jednak tylko do wulkanów, okładka natomiast przedstawia je na tle zachmurzonego nieba.
Takie więc są czy też powinny być nasze skojarzenia. A jak to wszystko brzmi? Cóż, jest to całkiem poczciwy ambient, niespecjalnie może oryginalny, ale na swój sposób sympatyczny. Każda kompozycja zbudowana jest z grubsza w taki sam sposób. Jeden plan to ambientalne plamy quasi-melodyczne, przeciągłe, nieco rozmyte i sunące sobie w oddali po niebie. Plan drugi, który pojawia się dość często, choć nie przez cały czas, to struktury rytmiczne. To po prostu pewnego rodzaju zapętlone sekwencje perkusyjne, niespecjalnie skomplikowane, pasujące czy to do rocka, czy do techno, gdyby wyjąć je z ambientowego kontekstu.
I to właściwie wszystko. Rytm odpowiada za ogólną strukturę, trzyma muzykę w ryzach. Ambientalne melodie, czasem łagodne i nostalgiczne, kiedy indziej trochę drapieżne, pozwalają się rozmarzyć. Plamy te zresztą zachodzą na siebie w swego rodzaju porywach, jak pochłaniające się na przemian i wyłaniające ponownie zza siebie chmury. No właśnie...
Niby nic szczególnego - i w dodatku rzecz jest bliska różnym relaksacyjnym chill-outom. Ale nie ma tu tej komercyjnej słodyczy i sztampowości. Sam koncept oryginalny nie jest, ale wykonanie ma w sobie przynajmniej trochę odrębności.
-- Adam T. Witczak [23 kwietnia 2017]
Following on from last year’s immaculate outing on Cathedral Transmissions (‘song of the Volcanoes’), Trevor Midgley better recognised as folk troubadour Beau dons his Simfonica alter ego to return for the happening that is the celestial occurrence entitled ‘letters in time’. A mammoth four track kosmische odyssey, a concept album that builds a modern-day conversation to ‘a significant letter from modern history’. These four individual suites find inspiration and give pause for reflection to events that changed the course of understanding, beliefs, tolerance and the political machine, in turn these symphonic salutes nod to Emile Zola, Martin Luther King, Siegfried Sassoon and Oscar Wilde. Conceived as both an audio and visual experience, ‘letters in time’ has already run into marketing issues with one label passing up the option on the basis of ‘political content’ contained in two of the tracks. How very enlightening in an age where some of us stand up for the freedoms of fairness, equality and truth. As a result, the album finds itself released and self-financed by Mr Midgley himself. To the sounds themselves, one suggests that full appreciation be taken by the listening through headphones, at nearly 50 minutes in duration, ‘letters in time’ provides for a dream like immersive experience that’s shivered in gathering shadows whilst beguiled in celestial euphoria for this ghostly quartet of shimmering visitations are lushly expressed in classically toned symphonics the most telling being the spectral swells and swathes of choral corteges that swirl with ethereal resonance amid the bleakly beautiful ghost light that is ‘a soldier’s declaration’ it’s haunting overturing casting a head bowed solemn reverence to the proceedings as though like spirit voices from the trenches, the movement momentarily chilling to the brief echo of a regimental drum roll. Elsewhere, amid the trance toned mesmerics, Simfonica takes flight utilising a vintage wash of meditative mosaics schooled in 70’s electronic drift scapes notably Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh with additional colouring lending reference to both the vivid beauty of Debussy and the gravitas of John Tavener, a point nowhere else better exemplified than on the radiant rapture that is ‘de profundis’. ‘j’accuse’ – incidentally the longest suite featured here, is aglow in a contemplative Church like majesty, its whisper toning vapour trails serenely spooled in ecliptical formations that orbit and shimmer between lulling hymnal haloes and sun scorched grace falls. Perhaps the most harrowing and hollowing of the quartet is the doomed fate sealing ‘from a Birmingham jail’, for here a foreboding chill prevails throughout, its ethereal cascades retreating in a conspiring foretelling with the harmonies petrified and pierced with a disquieting bleakening.