FRACTURED AIR

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Chosen One: Directorsound

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Interview with Nicholas Palmer, Directorsound.

I very quickly heard how beautifully constructed it was, and what unusual arrangements they had – they ached of a lost England, beautiful and evocative pastoral landscapes – I soon became hooked.”

Mark Fry

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Directorsound is the alias for Dorset-based multi-instrumentalist and composer, Nicholas Palmer. The latest release from Directorsound – the follow-up to 2010’s ‘Two Years Today’ – is a record that showcases the album as an artform in itself. The name of this gorgeous album is ‘I Hunt Alone’ where Palmer’s distinctive blend of transcendent instrumental folk music wanders into the pools of your mind, and lingers there like the scent of a flower during spring. The instrumentation of guitars, piano, accordion, drums, cello, flute conjures up the sound of an English countryside – Dorset perhaps – but more so, a world in itself, alive with vivid imagination and artistry in full-flow. ‘I Hunt Alone’ is the latest chapter in Palmer’s treasured songbook.

The warm tapestry of sound contained on ‘I Hunt Alone’ derives from an all-acoustic lineup, including guitar, piano, accordion, harmonium, clarinet, trumpet, recorders, bouzouki, balalaika, banjo, ukulele, autoharp, bass, percussion/drums, and a vast collection of bells collected from around the world. The result is a musical feast of many styles – Eastern European, Balkan, English folk, traditional – gorgeously fused together, mapping a glorious travelogue of the places and paths ventured down by the artist. Interestingly, the place that became the source of inspiration for Palmer, was in fact, Transylvania. The record was recorded in the summer of 2011, as an attempt to produce “a cohesive, narrative-driven folk horror symphony”, inspired by a holiday in Transylvania the previous year.

To term the record a symphony serves justice to the breathtaking music on display throughout ‘I Hunt Alone’. Guest musicians include Chris Cole of Third Eye Foundation, Matt Elliot’s ensemble, and Many Fingers, on cello, Ian Holford (Nectarine No. 9) on drums, and Jess Sweetman on flute. A wonderful addition to the sonic tapestry is the myriad of field recordings that find their way in the music. The sounds of the locality – bells of church towers, rattling train journeys – are dotted across the album’s narrative. ‘I Hunt Alone’ was recorded in Palmer’s native Dorset and partly in Mark Fry’s rural Normandy home. Most of the music was written before the recording process took place.

My first introduction to the music of Nicholas Palmer was under another guise, namely The A. Lords – a wonderful collaboration between Palmer and Michael Tanner (he of Plinth, Cloisters, Taskerlands fame) – and the record was a beautiful collaborative venture between like-minded artists, English songwriter Mark Fry, and the A. Lords. The album ‘I Lived In Trees’ was released on London-based Second Language – also home to Directorsound’s ‘I Hunt Alone’ – that forms an indispensable part to any invaluable music collection. The musical telepathy between the A. Lords and Fry is a joy to behold, where the poetic lyrics of Fry and mesmerizing passages of music meanders, like a river-flow, into the sea of your heart and mind. One song in particular, ‘All Day Long’ epitomizes the masterful artistry of Palmer. A musical interlude arrives as the song fades out, containing achingly beautiful tapestries of nylon guitar, flute, and many other sources of acoustic sounds. The sonic palette – just like that of Palmer’s other projects – is forever immersed in a divine sound of impossible beauty.

The title-track ‘I Hunt Alone’ begins with church bells, before delicate notes of nylon guitar ascends into the atmosphere. This solo piece of music is reminiscent of The A. Lords and takes me back to Mark Fry’s gorgeous ‘I Lived In Trees’. The chord progression is gradual and the lovely diminished chords float peacefully by. ‘Serpents In The Jaws Of October’ – as the title itself suggests – is one of the album’s milestones. The opening sounds of music boxes conjures up the sound of label-mate Colleen. The sound of a passing train is placed in the background of the mix. A haunting soundscape of bouzouki and collection of many instruments moves at a slow tempo for the first half. Soon, the tempo is increased, and drums/percussion and a guitar groove comes to the foreground, sharing the spirit of 70’s folk of The Strawbs and Fairport Convention. An utterly timeless sound is formed.

‘Pan In Paradise’ is a mini-folk orchestra containing nylon guitars, woodwind instruments, drums, piano, and accordion. The windswept sound provides yet another special moment. The gradual layering of sounds and pristine arrangements by Palmer, is wonderfully showcased here. The accordion blends effortlessly with the soft chords of piano and gentle drum beat. The perfect prologue to the fulfilling journey of ‘I Hunt Alone’. ‘Sun Dazed & Dancing’ conjures up the sound of Eastern Europe and Balkan sounds, reminiscent of A Hawk And A Hacksaw. The feel to the piece is immaculate, as the dynamic changes from frantic polka rhythms to mournful embellishes of accordion waltz. Palmer can do no wrong. ‘Nocturne For Grace’ is a tour de force, encompassing many worlds of sound, from film score and gothic worlds to Eastern European traditional forms. The enchanting piece of music contains several glorious movements. The romantic bliss of the piano-led melody could be ‘As Time Goes By’ from the 1942 drama, ‘Casablanca’, where scenes of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman comes to mind. ‘I Hunt Alone’ is a musical world, belonging in its own separate realm, where you are invited to wander and get lost in its endless wonder and marvel.

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‘I Hunt Alone’ is out now on Second Language.

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Interview with Nicholas Palmer, Directorsound.

Congratulations on the newest Directorsound album, ‘I Hunt Alone’. It is a truly gorgeous and breathtaking tour de force. The instrumentation and arrangements, as ever, are things of pure beauty. Please tell me about the new album and the inspiration of a holiday in Transylvania that led to the inception of ‘I Hunt Alone’?

Why, thank you Mark! I’d had the seedlings of the general idea of an album that would then later become ‘I Hunt Alone’. Then a trip with my partner to Transylvania helped to shape the mood and direction of it. I love the idea of the album as an artform in itself. So not as not just a bunch of songs but a cohesive, narrative driven whole. This is probably more so important with instrumental music, where the lyricism must come only from the instruments.

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Please tell me about the stages involved in recording ‘I Hunt Alone’? The found sounds of church bell towers, trains and a myriad of other sources find their way, wonderfully in the music. The wide array of instrumentation is something to truly behold, where a whole spectrum of emotion and texture is etched across the sonic canvas.

So I used the field recordings I made in Transylvania as the starting point. Unusually for a Directorsound record, most of the music was written before I started to record with many of the pieces having been refined and practiced while on tour as part of my one-man-band stage show promoting the previous album ‘Two Years Today’. The bulk was then recorded over a few months during summer 2011. Arranging pieces for various instruments is probably my favourite part of the process.

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The piece I’ve been obsessed with lately is ‘Nocturne For Grace’. This piece of music is hauntingly beautiful. The lead piano melody is steeped in mesmerizing beauty. There are worlds of sound created, from Balkan and Eastern European, to gothic and film score works. I would love to gain an insight into this composition, and your memories of writing/composing ‘Nocturne For Grace’?

Thanks again Mark for your very kind words! I believe I wrote the first section years ago and then the remainder building up to the start of recording. Essentially I see it as a piano work. It took a lot of practising, especially as I write nothing down! I then recorded it over one weekend while I was house-sitting/watering the greenhouses for my folks where my main piano is still housed. I seem to remember it being fairly nerve-wracking. Being 10 minutes in length, so many times I got so close to the end of a take only to bottle it and fluff the ending. As an Irishman you may recognise that the translation of Grace into Irish is Grainne, the name of my now wife who I met while on an Irish Directorsound tour nigh on 5 years ago. I’m not sure how she feels about its dark undertones but in fairness, not every gal gets a ramshackle gothic opus written for her!

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Tell me please about the instrumentation used on ‘I Hunt Alone’. What were the first instruments you learned to play?

I had lessons on an old 2-tier furniture organ from about the age of 9. And before that, I’m guessing much like for you guys and the penny whistle, we all had to learn the recorder at school. I was awful. I never did and still don’t get on with reading music and those formal introductions into playing music put me right off for many years. And then as I got to the age where you start forming a counter-cultural identity and developing a ‘taste’ in music I began to teach myself guitar. Still got loads of bad habits from self-teaching I reckon.
On this record it’s entirely acoustic, essentially as part of an attempt to create a sound without a temporal context. I’ve been lucky over the years, people have kindly off-loaded lots of archaic instruments on me. Consequently along with picking up a few bits of my own I seem to have amassed a small folk-orchestra’s worth of instruments most of which were employed on ‘I Hunt Alone’. Then I was joined by Jess Sweetman on flute who also played on the Mark Fry and the Alords record, friend and old work colleague Ian Holford from Nectarine no.9 and the Sexual Objects who plays drums on one track and old chum Chris Cole from Many fingers and Third eye foundation/ Matt Elliott’s band on cello.

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As a multi-instrumentalist and gifted composer, I would love to gain an insight into your creative process? In your music, do you normally begin with a guitar or piano and work from there, or is there no real conscious method involved?

The writing method varies but the base instruments I write with mostly are piano, accordion and guitar. If I’m working purely from music in my head I’ll write on the piano as it’s the most logical and easily visualised instrument. Accordion tracks come mostly from messing around. The guitar’s pretty much a combination of these techniques but aided these days (including the Mark Fry record) from experimenting with the possibilities of various altered tunings.

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Discuss for me please the influence that your native Dorset has on your music?

For Directorsound its main impact was the isolation, quietness and hence space for thought that it allowed. Virtually without a musical scene so to speak, other than some admirable work from a handful of promoters and musicians, it helps facilitate the creation of a little musical world of your own. I guess the “Dorset sound” if you will is most overt in my work with Michael Tanner and the Alords. The pastoral thing was definitely in mind for us albeit an idealised notion of Dorset. Michael and I have never really discussed it in detail and obviously I can’t speak for him but I guess, idealised or not it nonetheless impacted on the music we made and our sound palette. I worked in the country for years so its bound to have an influence. I mean it’s a stunning part of the country. Cider country too, so that’s almost certainly had an influence for good or worse on my music…

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Please take me back to your collaboration with Mark Fry on the stunning album ‘I Lived In Trees’? Between you and Michael Tanner, as The A. Lords, your beautifully constructed music serves the perfect canvas for Mark Fry’s endearing folk songs. Mark Fry described The A. Lords music to me in wonderful detail: “I very quickly heard how beautifully constructed it was, and what unusual arrangements they had – they ached of a lost England, beautiful and evocative pastoral landscapes – I soon became hooked.” I would love for you to share some of your memories of this dream-collaboration?

Personally it was pleasingly odd and novel-writing in mind of knowing the music would eventually become a ‘song’. And Mark has the most beautifully poignant voice. It has all the comfort of a happy memory from long ago, remembered with pathos and a hint of sorrow for a time passed. It was extraordinary getting tracks we sent to him back with that voice added. Not to mention, Mark and his wife Roxy are about the two nicest people you’re likely to meet and their house in Normandy is sublime. In fact, it’s where I proposed to my wife!

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What albums are you listening to most lately?

Marion Brown’s ‘Geechee Recollections’ and ‘Sweet Earth Flying’ a lot. And I’m still ploughing through the complete works of Mahler that I picked up last Autumn. I’m still after years obsessed with the unfinished Symphony no.10. I picked up Morricone’s ‘Moses’ soundtrack on vinyl a while back and an LP of London Barrel Organ music in a charity shop. You’ve kinda got to be in the right mood for that one though. And spring has finally appeared which tends to mean the 60’s folk comes out this time of year for me. I’ve not much money for records these days (like many) so I’ve been digging out some old favourite’s like Bridget St John’s ‘Songs for a gentle man’. Likewise another favourite for this time of year, Sam Prekop’s eponymous debut’s begun to have some airings again. My friends at Swedish label Tona Serenad who released my ‘Two Years Today’ record sent me and are about to release the debut album from the new band formed by Musette’s mastermind Joel Danell, ‘Joe Davolas’ spread over a series of 7″s which is smile-inducingly awesome. They’re like every charity shop record I own squeezed into a handful of songs. Oh and I’m re-watching a load of Argento films, so plenty of Goblin.

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‘I Hunt Alone’ is out now on Second Language.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Directorsound/148924375122494
http://www.secondlanguagemusic.com

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Written by admin

August 8, 2013 at 10:44 am

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