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Phil Mouldycliff, "Written on Water"

cover image This is a mixed bag; there are sections that are incredible and beautiful but unfortunately there is an equal amount of music that is difficult to digest. It sounds like something I should be into, however there is something missing or that I am not getting that is preventing me from fully appreciating this album. Maybe it is the fact that many of these pieces were written and recorded for exhibitions and installations that leaves the music feeling a little empty.

 

ICR

"The Stillness of Chinese Jars" and "Kettleblack" both reflect Mouldycliff's best musical sides. The chiming calm of "The Stillness of Chinese Jars" makes for an exceptionally pretty piece of music. Taking this prettiness and warping it, "Kettleblack" makes for an unsettling and disorientating five minutes. There is a strong sniff of David Lynch-style atmospherics throughout the piece and the sounds conjure up very lucid images; in my mind's eye I can see a very slow shot panning across an empty, rather ordinary but slightly askew room.

The longest piece on Written on Water breaks the spell that Mouldycliff initially casts on the listener. It is hard to pick out what it is exactly that makes "A Speculative Atlas (for David Mitchell)" so hard to listen to. It all sounds a bit clichéd, the sustained notes on the wind instruments and the flurries of piano noodlings bursting in every now and then. One element that I felt did work is the sound of children pushed way back in the mix. The first time I listened to it I did not know whether kids were causing havoc outside or whether it was on the CD.

On the final piece, "Spirit of Place," there are elements both of The Hafler Trio and Nurse With Wound which is not surprising considering the involvement of Colin Potter as producer. This is where Mouldycliff actually shines, even if it is heavily indebted to what other artists have done before. Mouldycliff never reaches the same psychedelic heights as these other artists but it is hard not to slip into a daydream listening to the heady drones of this piece.

Aside from those few pieces where Mouldycliff loses his footing, Writing on Water is an enjoyable but a bit of a journeyman selection of experimentations. When he is at his weakest, he is still at least worth a listen to try and figure out what is not sitting right with me. I feel his music is something I should appreciate but cannot pinpoint the cause of my discomfort while listening. Every year I read Conrad's Heart of Darkness because I do not enjoy it and feel I must. One day it surely will fall into place. I get the same feeling from this album. There is something worth investigating here but there is also some invisible barrier in my way.

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ILLUMINATI, "CDEP2"
Planetsounds
You'd be hard pushed to realise that samples from classical music form the core of the second Illuminati EP, as they've mostly been utterly distorted and pulverised beyond recognition. A middle aged electrician commented that this reminded him of Soft Machine which is odd because Dave Clarkson of Illuminati and Planetsounds is a big fan of theirs, but I'd never have thought it was something that sounded similar. When I mentioned the comparison to Dave he asked if it was the third track, "Glass Box Trap" which chucks a melodic keyboard jitter over thrumming double drone backbone, and a nasal voice muttering disgruntled and nebulous. If I was going to fling comparisons at Illuminati though I'd have to mention Throbbing Gristle, particularly "DOA," but I think I did that with the first EP. This one has the same picture on the cover, but inverted to negative and in some ways this a darker and more menacing trip. A deep singular pulse beat opens the strange door onto a microscope resolution for "Midget Germs" which vibrate ominously in hell spawned misery. Feedback screams and muffled moans punctuate this tortured cancerous eyeball injection. The poor germs don't stand a chance when "Argenteum Atavism" squirts beatnoise bleach all over them. Crunching along in hectic overloaded abandon, this is what it might sound like if Aphex Twin tried to put one over on Non. Just as the melody creeps in one final crash collapses into semi-ambient bleepscape gurgling. The fourth and final track swings "The Strange Door" shut and desperate knocking can be heard from outside as the germs shut outside slowly fizzle to their demise, and a new dawn of lush angelic keyboard bursts across the blackened sky. Distant thunder rumbles.

 

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