Monday, November 18, 2013

The Curfew Recordings

The Curfew Recordings
Harbinger Sound. Harbinger 110 CD

In 1984 two people under a police curfew entered a bitumen storage tank measuring 26 meters wide and 10 meters tall with various musical instruments. These instruments included whistles, a human thigh bone trumpet, chimes, gongs, flutes, bowls, bits of wood, metal, bone and glass. The entire event took place by candlelight and was captured for posterity on a battery operated cassette recorder.  Four months later the original trespassers plus one other person re-entered the same bitumen tank and recorded another near 30 minute long piece.

The bitumen tank lay on an industrial site in the North East of England and the people in question were John Smith [then publisher of Interchange Magazine], Sean Dower [ex Death Magazine 52, Bow Gamelan Ensemble] and John Mylotte [Metgumbnerbone].

Having worked on a similar site for a number of years and having entered vessels of a similar size I feel a great deal of empathy for these courageous artists not only for the personal risks involved but for the sheer madness in carting all that instrumentation about under cover of darkness and ruining forever their footwear thanks to the still sticky bitumen that lay underfoot.

The star if the show is the bitumen tank itself. The very first note you hear is that of the walls of the tank being struck, just the once, producing a resonant ‘bong’ that through headphones, at loud volumes, creates a wave of sound that mimics that of a bomb being dropped in the dead of night on a flat plain in the middle of nowhere. But before that and as prelude, there’s the sound of those sticky footsteps making their way into the middle of this massive and daunting structure.

Its a haunting listen, a sad one too. ‘Cruor Recens’ is a lonesome, mournful dirge with the thigh bone trumpet looming large. A sparse and bleak outing where Dower and Smith move from the walls of the tank to thigh bone trumpet to finger cymbals to pieces of wood being struck together in a spasmodic arhythmic style. When John Mylotte joins the fray [‘Ensnared Spirit’] bull roarers are introduced as are moaning vocals, you’d be forgiven for thinking that an elephant lay dying amid the clanging of bits of metal. The echo, as you would imagine, is nothing short of magnificent and unlike anything I've heard before.

According to the sleeve notes the recordings were cut short due to ‘external factors’. I imagine their exist was a slow sticky one but with an all important cassette recorder tucked under one arm.

What remains unclear is why this should remain hidden for 30 years. No matter, this hour long release finally leaves behind a series of dodgy cassette bootlegs to fill in another important piece in the English industrial culture jigsaw.



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