A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Folk Week: Folklore Tapes – Chthonic Cities

Williamson's_TunnelsFile Under: Underground//Rising

Folk music has always been strongly associated with a sense of place – whether that be the hillbilly music of Appalachia, or the Delta Blues of the deep American south, the music seems tied to the geography, inherently raising images of bayous or savannah or tundra, depending on the origin of that particular ethnographic artifact.

Since the advent of portable recording technology, starting with Alan Lomax, in the States, or Cecil Sharp, in the UK, there has been an added element of site-specificness of folk music. The realest, rawest recordings usually have some sort of sonic artifacts in the periphery, which gives an additional sense of place to the field recordings. These were anomalies, at first, but are becoming increasingly the object of focus, rather than the background.

DevonCountyBoth sides of Chthonic Cities, from the immaculate Folklore Tapes, deal with field recordings, giving voice to specific locations, although going about it in very different ways.

The A Side is ‘The Williamson Tunnels’, by Carl Turney and Brian Campbell, of the Liverpudlian band Clinic. ‘The Williamson Tunnels’ is a sidelong psychogeographical tour of a labyrinth of tunnels in the Edge Hill area of Liverpool, England, which were built under the direction of the eccentric businessman Joseph Williamson between the early 19th century and 1840. Turney and Campbell use field recordings of a guided tour of the tunnels, mixed with original music, as well as specially chosen recordings, which were played back and re-recorded in the tunnels, all of which were carefully mixed, arranged and re-orchestrated into a compelling dream-fugue, that opens up vast tunnels and canyons between yr ears and behind yr eyeballs. It’s hard to tell what is original, what is sampled, where are the lines, which creates a feeling of the geological strata of history floating in front of you – past, present and future colliding and imploding in yr imagination, which is what the best folk music should/can do.

The B-Side features the full version of the critically acclaimed ‘Water Of Life’ project of regular DFT contributor Rob St. John, working with Tommy Perman. ‘The Water Of Life’ also heavily relies on field recordings to evoke a sense of place, but this duo make an instrument out of the landscape, transforming streams, rivers and droplets of water intro crystalline organs, to accompany grainy, academic classroom narration about the origins of the rivers of Edinburgh. Perman & St. John are using music and nature sounds as a way to draw people in, to help them relate and care about a place, to tie them to their environment; experimental music as a kind of activism.

Folklore Tapes are a blueprint of the possibilities of folk music, as well as how to run a successful independent label. They release their tapes in tiny ‘bespoke’ editions of hollowed out library books (as well as a plainer envelope edition), in insidiously low editions of 30 or so. They serve as a reminder to pay very close attention to the labels and the music that you love, as the library book editions vanish in a blink of an eye. I would give a bronzed horseshoe to get my hands on one!

Folklore Tapes have accomplished the nearly-impossible: making heritage, folklore and local libraries cool again, giving legitimacy to off-the-beaten-track roadside attractions, compelling you to get off the highways, to wander, to explore, to talk to people, to investigate.

Folklore Tapes are investigating the heritage and customs of the various counties of England (Devon and Lancaster have been featured so far). For those raging Anglophiles out there, they provide an essential imaginary documentary, that brings to life the dream life of Albion. They compel us to dig into our own heritage, our own geography, our own mythography, to find what is lurking beneath the surface of the cities we live in, whether they’re in England or not.

Folklore Tapes have all of their editions up for streaming on Bandcamp, at the moment, which is an anomaly. Their recordings tend to disappear like Brigadoon, so don’t hesitate. Take this opportunity to discover the exquisite work this label is doing, and maybe you’ll even get one of the library editions next time!!!

folklore+tapes_01Folklore Tapes

Rob St. John


Tommy Perman


Edinburgh Water Of Life



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