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Colin Potter, "Ancient History"

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cover imageCollecting a number of cassette only releases from the '80s, this CD box set charts Colin Potter’s development over the course of about ten years. While the styles he employed are drastically different to his current mode of working, this collection covers everything from Kosmische soundscapes to quirky BBC Radiophonic Workshop style tunes. However, it is possible to hear the embryonic forms of what he is now doing; this may be ancient history but it is a narrative with some meaning today.

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The first disc covers the A-Gain cassette where Potter is found traversing some of the same sort of sounds that Kraftwerk were doing not too long before him. However, this is music for cups of tea in the grey and green of northern England rather than themes for radioactivity and motorways. Potter ties his music to the landscape around him with pieces like "Rooftops" and "On Entering York Minster," evoking his hometown of York. The latter is a magisterial piece, deceptively simple but overwhelming in its overall effect (even if Potter laments in the liner notes that it does not do the cathedral it is named after justice). A bonus track is included in the form of "Forest of Galtres," another piece of music related to Potter’s surroundings at the time. Compared to the grandeur and brightness of the rest of this disc, "Forest of Galtres" is a dark, claustrophobic work.

My favorite material features on the second disc, originally released as Two Nights. This is the closest work to Potter’s later sound worlds: a pair of sprawling solo jams that constantly change and evolve as Potter introduces and removes various elements live in the studio. Both pieces were recorded on similar set ups one night after the other but despite a common ground between them, they expand out in vastly different directions. Supplementing the original Two Nights material is "One Million Blades of Grass," which follows a similar structure to the other two pieces and is just as engaging.

The third and fourth discs are given over to the two volumes of Recent History. These recordings are less thematically coherent than the first two discs in Ancient History but they represent a period of experimentation and exploration in Potter’s methodology. The best pieces are amongst the finest works in the box. "Nine Months" (dedicated to Potter’s daughters) is a tremendous piece, reminiscent of the type of works included on the first disc but here Potter sounds more confident and adventurous than he did on those earlier recordings. "Sunderland" brims with warmth, bringing to mind Cluster at their most tender moments.

The final disc (only available in the limited edition version) is a compilation of largely unreleased material and compilation tracks from the mid ‘80s through to the ‘90s. It is a bit of a mixed bag (some of the pieces are exercises with new equipment) but there are some gems here. "Drone for JC" (Jonathan Coleclough rather than the Messiah) is particularly effective, an intense wall of guitars and didgeridoo which ticks all the boxes for me. "Shark Music" finishes off the disc, leaving me with a sense of dread (the idea of sharks is usually enough to send a shiver down my spine…). Potter does something that John Williams could never do: create a suspenseful, apt piece of music without ripping off Stravinsky.

While this box set covers a huge amount of material, there are still a few of Colin Potter’s older releases that could do with reissuing. Some parts of the older cassettes are included in 2006’s vinyl only compilation A Skeleton/Cupboard Situation but it would be nice to see a companion CD set for Ancient History.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 18 March 2012 22:08  


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