A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Lancaster’s Field Line Cartographer revives 70s progressive electronics for a concept album about giant ants on his first outing for the essential Woodford Halse cassette label.
Ah, the 70s – was there ever an era more idealistic, more utopian in their assessment of technology? Sure, cyberpunk was beginning to hum into glowing life and famous curmudgeon Harlan Ellison was already warning about being digested by malevolent AI in the late ’60s, but Pink Floyd’s “Welcome To The Machine” seems the more relevant take on technological assimilation. The immersion in an artificial reality might seem terrifying but they sure make it sound sublime.
These soothing, nearly amniotic waves and warbles serve as the sonic template for Formic Kingdom, which derives its subject matter from other speculative fiction from around that era – Saul Bass’ foray into feature filmmaking, Phase IV, and the 1983 computer game Ant Attack. While both seem to adhere to the admonitions of the Giant Insect movies of the 1950s, most pertinently the weirdly wonderful Them, Field Lines Cartographer’s tone seems far more morally ambiguous. Mark Burford‘s – the mastermind behind Field Lines Cartographer – modular synths sound blissed out, nearly transcendent, with its open-ended harmonies giving a sense of vast, cosmic mystery.
Formic Kingdom is arranged more as a sonic flow than an album comprised of “songs.” Things ebb and flow so gradually, almost imperceptibly, that it makes more sense to think of it as a work of sound art or a soundtrack to an imaginary film, which seems to be its intent. This is actually to its benefit, especially considering the cassette tape format. It’s perfect for throwing on your portable cassette player and just letting it carry you away. That is not to say Formic Kingdom does not function as music alone – it does, and admirably at that. Field Lines Cartographer plays to the strength of his gear, creating tones and pulses and textures rather than hackneyed chord changes that were probably old in the 1600s. He’s expanding musicality, incorporating repetition and interesting harmonic content in a way that modular synths excel at.
Field Lines Cartographer plays to the strength of his gear, creating tones and pulses and textures rather than hackneyed chord changes
It also sounds like heaven, with bright, glowing high ends and deep, powerful lows, all captured to perfection in glorious analog hi-fi. It makes you want to take the trip over and over and over again.
Formic Kingdom is sold out at the source, unfortunately, as there were only 100 copies made. You’re still advised to hear the music, which sounds almost as amazing in a digital format, and as a reminder that you MUST. NOT. SLEEP on Woodford Halse releases! Their work is consistently stunning, making them one of the most essential cassette labels around, especially in the fields of hauntology and retro electronics.WF 14 – Formic Kingdom by Field Lines Cartographer