This record – a project involving Andrew Chalk, Vikki Jackman, Brendan Walls and Robin Barnes – features music recorded in 2005, slightly different from what a superficial listener could expect from this label which traditionally releases works trademarked by temperate nebulosity. Still, if one’s ears are open as required, lots of familiar factors that establish the belonging of The Towering Sky in the same area of sonic investigation are unearthed.
The album is divided in two tracks, a total of circa 37 minutes. The first – “Marsfield Cathedral” – is a wonderful improvisation whose reverberant qualities possess an innate influence that furnishes a suitable environment with a soul of its own. The predominant timbres seem to derive from bowed metals – glass, too? – and resonating bowls, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if processed strings (guitar and piano’s lowest regions, perhaps) had been put in the recipe somewhere. The immediate reaction deceivingly sets us in “expected comparison” mode: one immediately thinks Organum and Mirror, since the room’s corners help those incredibly booming frequencies to morph, ricochet and affirm as it happens with those marvelous entities. There’s a section in which you may be tempted to bet some money on the existence of voices: ghostly undulations, almost disquieting if you will, that make their presence heard for a while and then just disappear. It might be a trick of the mind, though. Better remaining with an attractive doubt, sometimes.
As dramatic as the previous episode is, the group’s unique personality is established by “Marsfield Common”, which is centered around a tentative exploration of a large ambience through the use of regular instruments; we guess a harmonium or an accordion (both?) are in there, and maybe a plucked cello, or a viola. What gives the piece strength is not the affirmation of those sparse pitches and stabs amidst a blur of indeterminate details, but that very intangible background going on continuously. Possibly they are tapes reproducing remixed snippets of priorly emitted sounds, or treated field recordings. Whatever it is, this creates a bed for the stream to flow, so to speak. And flow the river does with occasional surges, repeated bumps and, in general, a certain degree of irregularity that, curiously, push the sound towards lands that are usually inhabited by Chalk’s former partner in Ora, Darren Tate. Fairly inexplicable and engrossing, including the splendid conclusion: decreasing intensity and progressive instrumental rarefaction, accompanied by thunder and rain. And, once again, we feel deeply grateful at the end of the experience, not the least for the stunning poetry of the cover artwork: the photo of an ancient bucolic setting with children and sheep that literally defies description.