A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Step between the Hawthorn rows;
follow the fox
to a garden of shadows.
See for yourself the fields of summer,
the copper moon.
Follow the wisps through deadening bogs,
dig up the blood, the teeth and bones
Here lies Merlin, Adorno, Baudelaire
the spectres that mock
the daydreams of foot traffic.
Radioactive radiophonic spirit –
A transistor seance.
How is Cecil Sharp like Cabaret Voltaire?
No, this is no Carroll-ian zen mantra. Rather, it’s a commentary on the soil that sucks up sounds and meanings like bloody pools from battlefield carnage, and the wizards and witches who dowse those echoes.
Hawthonn is a collaborative project from two ecstatically excellent English musicians, Phil and Layla Legard, best known for dishing copious drones under the moniker Xenis Emputae Traveling Band. Hawthonn is a meditation on the enduring legacy of Jhonn Balance, one half of the legendary and dearly-missed experimental duo Coil, as well as the psychic landscape of Bassenthwaite, where Sleazy spread Balance’s ashes beneath a Hawthorn tree.
Hawthonn is an audio approximation of Balance’s posthumous journey, from Worlebury Hill in Weston-Super-Mare to a Hawthorn tree at St. Bega’s church, overlooking an inland lake, at Bassenthwaite.
Hawthonn begins with the sound of birds, as “Foxglove” acts as psychopomp, dragging us down into the mire, deep deep into the dreaming. Deep bass drones are like the muddy soil beneath our boots, hiding magickal manuscripts and the corpses of the restless forgotten dead. A fox skull calls the faithful to prayer, as ritualistic shakers frame Layla Legard’s incantations like an ivy trellis. The natural world seems to recede as we fall under the spell, beginning to sway like willow trees, abandoning all inhibitions.
“Locus” is a sonar radiogram from jeweled caverns, inhabited by gnomes and salamanders. Is this Blake’s infernal printing press? We may never know – it’s a blip on the screen and then gone, replaced by the anti-gravity free-fall of “Aura”, with ghostly fiddles and airy echoes scraping against the boundaries of our skulls. Again, Layla diminishes the dread with spooky sweet nursery witchcraft, supported by a box spring of sustained string drones.
The idyll is disrupted by the towering storm clouds of “Epsilon”, which has the strongest sonic resemblance to Coil, particularly their Music To Play In The Dark series, warm and lush but still ageless, deep, and dark. Layla’s vocals sound like Carol Ann’s from the other side of the TV’s looking glass, while antennae electronics descend like flying dishes over stony megaliths.
This juxtaposition of the speculative, futuristic, and sci-fi, along with dark & light, spooky & soothing, sweet & dissonant, lies at the hidden heart of both Hawthonn and Coil. The examination of landscape and local folklore, through the lens of electronic music, had yet to begin in earnest at the time of Balance’s passing. At best, we had a few beardos dropping field recordings into their looper pedals as a half-ditch effort to incorporate some organics into their clinical presentations. Most of the time, it just came off as bad drum ‘n bass.
In recent times, these efforts have been revitalized in revolutionary new forms, thanks to the efforts of underground sound alchemists like Folklore Tapes, as well as more mainstream electronica efforts from Forest Swords, trying to convey the colorful environs of Cornwall in his HD dancefloor transportations.
Coil were particularly adept at transmitting the layers of significance that attach to the landscape (or anything really), calling upon traditional British folk music and folklore, right along side death disco, cyberpunk dystopia, and 20th Century Avant Garde art. These connections may not be obvious on the surface – you’ve got to dig beneath the surface.
When we unearth the occult web of correspondences, we can make huge leaps, from trashy ’60s/’80s Kodachrome British TV, to video nasties, to murder ballads and sea shanties. Linear time dissolves like wet cobwebs beneath our feet. This is liminal time; sidereal time.
This idea of the liminal is one of the central points of investigation of Forestpunk. While it’s not a revelation for a passionate musicologist to jump from madrigals to black metal to forgotten soundtracks and field recordings, this shift is still not reflected in the way we write, talk, and think about music. Too often, music is disregarded as “bad” or “unnecessary” from reviewers who don’t take the time to meet a work on its own turf. This goes for POP as well. I’ve written off tunes, thinking they were banal, hollow, and meaningless, completely ignoring the vast strata of the population that live and breathe for such things. And let’s face it, a 54-minute screaming version of “My Favorite Things” may not be the best thing for getting ready for the club or a heavy make-out session (although we support the latter). There is music for every occasion, each with its attendants, its faithful, its acolytes.
Dig deep enough, and you will find a (un)holy mystery, beneath almost every song, every work of art. We plummet into the atomic cloud of uncertainty, not knowing which way is up, and not caring.
Balance and Sleazy were cartographers of this unknowing, brave spelunkers and pilgrims of the profane. Phil and Layla Legard have achieved something remarkable, heading beneath the hills, far beneath the furrows, looking for fox bones and illuminated manuscripts. They advise us to look, listen, think, and breathe in our surroundings.
These layers and levels of significance have been permeating the Pacific Northwestern airwaves all summer long, as Hawthonn have accompanied me on haunted log cabin exploration, going to ’50s donut shoppes, on the way to buy .50 vinyl of Chopin, Judy Collins, haunted houses, and birdsongs.
Somehow, even that stack of vinyl seems in line with Hawthonn. Antiquated yet modern, rife for appreciation and as raw source material, crackling, looped and hypnotic, personal yet belonging to everybody.
We must never let music become a commodity, some dead thing behind glass in a gallery or laboratory. This is the living record of all our hopes, dreams, fears, passions, hallucinations, and errors. Musick is, quite simply, everything. For some of us, it’s the only thing that matters.
As an added bonus, early adopters of Hawthonn get an additional hour of music in the form of “holophones”, meditative binaural recordings sourced from the landscapes that inspired these sounds. Hawthonn was stunning to begin with. With the extras, it’s fucking essential, and one of the best experimental albums of the year.
Downloads also come with a certificate of authenticity and a 32-page digital booklet.
And to see even more layers and levels of correspondences, read an excellent, thorough, and very thoughtful review/essay from David Metcalfe @ Modern Mythology.