Central And Remote: Fallow Records
Fallow Records is the new cassette label set up by Ian Maleney (Quarter Inch Collective). First to be issued is Maleney’s own Be Honest project (‘Tea, Sugar, Soda, Soap’); an ambitious and truly captivating listening experience based on Maleney’s field recordings from a river basin in the heart of the Irish midlands (collated over a twelve-month period) and layered with beautifully textured improvised guitar.
The second Fallow release is by the duo of James Grimes and Brian Coniffe (under the recording title of JG/BC) and is titled ‘Samekh’, another stunning collection of patient, intricate compositions based upon abstract guitar work and manipulated field recordings.
Words & Illustration: Craig Carry
“The structure of landscape is infinitesimal,
Like the structure of music,
Even the rain has larger sutures.
What holds the landscape together, and what holds music together,
Is faith, it appears–faith of the eye, faith of the ear.”
—Charles Wright, ‘Body and Soul II’
The first record to be released on Fallow Records was Ian Maleney’s own Be Honest project. Released at the end of last month, ‘Tea, Sugar, Soda, Soap’ consists of two ambitious and lengthy pieces (‘Tea, Sugar’ on side A, ‘Soda, Soap’ on side B). The title, as Maleney says, “comes from the list of things my Grandfather would be sent to the shop to get when he was kid during World War Two”.
The record is a wonderfully ambient affair, full of richly evocative textures and nuances. The pieces are layered with an extensive array of field recordings (recorded at the Brosna river basin, County Offaly, in the heart of the Irish midlands) and were collated over a twelve-month period by Maleney. The particular location is where Maleney grew up so the field recordings echo the rural bogland landscape that he spent his childhood. Crucially though, this serves not only to simply create a mood of nostalgia but, rather, it imbues the compositions with a complex canvas on which Be Honest can create his own distinctive drone and guitar-based pieces; featuring extended guitar techniques, randomised synthesiser processes and full on analogue noise. According to Maleney, the pieces are “not elegiac or nostalgic, it comes from a place where life goes on, long after the lights go out.”
Both compositions ‘Tea, Sugar’ and ‘Soda, Soap’ are infused with these location recordings from the fields, bogs and rivers of County Offaly. There is a wonderful sense of dynamics at play throughout. At times the compositions become intensely drone-laden, elsewhere the pieces reveal the more softly ambient nuances in Be Honest’s sonic palette (for example ‘Tea, Sugar’s outro contains a sample of dialogue and dinner table sound recordings). The very singular ‘landscape’ created by Be Honest proves an utterly compelling listening experience. The music could find its home on the Touch label, alongside the likes of Christian Fennesz.
Of course, with lengthly compositions such as these it’s imperative to ‘build’ the track, to let the sonic layers unfold at their own accord. Patience is a virtue. ‘Tea, Sugar’ opens with a texture-heavy drone intro, combining wonderfully with abstract electric guitar notes. At the four-minute mark a recording of birds singing hangs in the air; later the guitar playing becomes more pronounced while the intricate layers seem in dialogue with each other. The structure of Be Honest’s music recalls the depths of the bogland underground landscape. The sounds echo the mysterious – almost David Lynch-like – atmosphere of the rural midlands.
Ian Maleney, in his description of the record on his Soundcloud page says it all when he describes the inspiration for ‘Tea, Sugar, Soda, Soap’ as being “inspired by the battered earth of the Irish midlands and the palpable stillness of the life there which is fast disappearing back into the bog and bracken.”
“And so I like it out here,
Late spring, off-colors but firming up, at ease among half things.
At ease because there’s no overwhelming design
I’m sad heir to,
At ease because the dark music of what surrounds me
Plays to my misconceptions, and pricks me, and plays on.”
—Charles Wright, ‘Why, It’s Pretty as a Picture’
The collaboration of Jamie Grimes and Brian Coniffe (under the recording moniker JG/BC) provides the stunning second release on the Fallow label. Across its six tracks, ‘Samekh’s canvas is primed with evocative field recordings (like Be Honest’s ‘Tea, Sugar, Soda, Soap’) but more guitar-orientated. In fact, the six tracks are improvised, one track-recordings, and its this very natural and organic nature of the music that so beautifully combines with the ‘found sounds’ provided by the field recordings. If the record was a painting depicting the Irish ‘landscape’ it would be in the fluid forms and abstract patterns by Sean McSweeney or Barrie Cooke, rather than the meticulous realist works of Martin Gale or Robert Ballagh. Debates between what constitutes “better” art – the “planned” or the “improvised” (for example, the painstakingly staged large format photography by Jeff Wall resembling cinematic stills or the off-kilter “from the hip” street photography by the likes of Frank or Winogrand in all their 35mm grainy glory) will forever rage. Of course, leaving the artist “open” to possibilities is of the most paramount importance, leaving yourself open to change, to “new” avenues and challenges – to mistakes even. As Ian Maleney has said of the recordings: “they’re messy in places but have a real spirit and depth which kept me coming back to them when I first heard them.”
‘Samekh’ opens with the wonderfully titled “The Vision of the Machinery of the Universe”. The track opens with the sounds of chirping birds on a drone-backdrop, building with a subtle layer of short guitar strums after some lovely electronically manipulated sounds (akin to a radio transmitter trying to tune into its frequency, this “tuning” in turn sounds like the breeze especially as the birds are still happily singing). Guitar notes become more pronounced, the sounds come into sharper focus as the track unfolds. Layers combine patiently to its visceral, densely layered conclusion before ebbing into a soft, textured finale (It feels like Benoît Pioulard’s voice will enter at any moment). A stunning introduction. Welcome to ‘Samekh’.
‘Lake risen up to Heaven’ is a guitar-picked piece backed this time by the sounds of a receding tide. As the tides ebb and flow, so does the music. Art and nature become one. ‘Hausos Awakes’ is a more ‘traditional’ guitar-based composition, reverbed notes are left to hang in the air with subtlety manipulated sounds. The piece is as much about the space “between” notes as it is about what is in fact being played. The guitar’s outro is finally matched – and then exceeded – by what sounds like a landscape at dusk. The next track, ‘Black Dwarf’ is more representative of nature as a force; the sounds are more prominent (crashing waves) while the guitar (coming in halfway through) creates a mood of tension and a sense of foreboding.
The penultimate track on ‘Samekh’ is the records centerpiece. Entitled ‘Sorath’, the piece is over 13 minutes in duration, building gradually – layer upon glorious layer – until its close. ‘Sorath’ is reminiscent of such luminaries as Stars Of The Lid or the wonderful Brooklyn-based duo of Mountains on the Thrill Jockey label, and is testament to the talents – and ambitions – of both Grimes and Coniffe. The record’s closer is the (fittingly) titled ‘The Last Embers’, where the listener can once again immerse oneself in the mysterious and visceral landscape of ‘Samekh.’
What makes both ‘Samekh’ and ‘Tea, Sugar, Soda, Soap’ such endearing beauties is how Be Honest and JG/BC have both made something so beautiful directly from the landscape. We’re used to being presented with a pristine selection of songs (neatly sequenced and polished), any faults or “off” moments are (presumably) left on the cutting room floor. This we take for granted (unless we’re talking 50th anniversary box-set editions of course). Here, the journey entails moments of drifting beauty amidst moments of real depth crafted from a complex sonic palette.
‘Tea, Sugar, Soda, Soap’ and ‘Samekh’ are more representative of a “journey” than a destination; not a simple or an easily navigable end-point but a series of beautiful meandering points along the way. Anyone who decides to take the road-less-travelled on ‘Tea, Sugar, Soda, Soap’ or ‘Samekh’ will soon find it’s all about the journey in the first place – and what an intriguing, spirited journey Be Honest and JG/BC have created for us. Welcome to Fallow country.
Both albums by Be Honest and JG/BC are available now from Fallow Records.