Recently we got a chance to revisit Bishops House for a gig. Bishops House is a venue close to heart as this where I got married last year. This was not the Bishops House I remembered though. True the building is still intact, the old wood looking regal under the dark sky, but on entering to a three-part gig we have been invited to, we notice a pure ocean of electronics, be it loop peddles, samplers and many many forms and functions we had no idea about. The lights all blink their own rhythm in their own space and time like peddlers shouting out their wares and overlapping each others voices in the dark.
As part of Sensoria (the festival) and Sonido Polifonico (the micro label), we look forward to an evening of sounds and visuals with the intention of escapism, inner thought and at times mild terror.
The night starts with Aeourth. The floor is surrounded by his instruments, the mood is set as he kneels down to start the music. There is something about the start of the session that sounds cellular, quiet at times with a biological hum. The sounds transition into the feeling of tiny pricks of legs, the skittering of spiders as everything shuffles as if navigating in the micro-world.
Throughout there is a sense of awe, the soundscape is growing from small to large. Flashes of a powerful figure appear on the screen, and we move to a tunnel and the sea as it fades in and out of view. . You feel water Aeourth brings out a fiddle bow and bows on a guitar. Later he plucks what looks like a dulcimer, and as the electronic soundscape seems full of bells, we see reeds and the sound becomes all so oppressive. It comes full circle and feels small, microsopic but the visuals and sound combine and it sounds like tiny invisible robots swinging limbs, maybe nanobots; the piece hints at something dark to come later in human society (maybe).
A good introduction to the rest of the evening. Whilst we are sure no harm came to the violin bow or guitar strings, the sound it produced was rather hair-raising (to a fiddle player myself) and traumatic in all the best ways.
Next up was Carusias Arise! Starting in a dark wood, you see a silhoutte of a Male figure, and the set takes off from there. The artist has a number of switches and buttons, and as the sounds emerge he chants over the top, we are not sure for certain but it seems at one point there is reference to a cradle, (we might have misheard this). Like a trance, the visuals back up the looping performance, severe splashes and dashes of colour combine and explode to form an eye that watches, and the lines spiral around and around in an electronic terror. The performance hints at the horror at the fringes of knowledge and experience while sometimes showing glimmers of hopefulness. The artist chants over the top reaching inward, like a commanding inner voice or conscience. The whole sessions ends with an anxiety, a feeling of dread even, but all-in-all this slightly trippy experience has been a good one.
The last segment of the night is Burd Ellen, the acclaimed electro-folk duo of Debbie Armour and Gayle Brogan. There is much anticipation, and we have been keen to see them for a while. We were treated to their project of “Neither Witch Nor Will Warlock” a commissioned piece for the WITCH // HAG Festival (how good does that sound?).
Burd Ellen are recognised by the BBC, the Guardian and Songlines, and frankly, can see what the fuss about. When the music is combined with Kieran Milne’s evocative landscapes and visualisations, something special happens indeed. A sense of brightness and optimistic starts with the efflorescent light, the musical well that we begin by peering into. The video starts with a walk over the fields and of the whipping grass as the woods approach.
When we get there, we hear the affecting, cutting words and the atmospheric chimes of “The Lovers”; Burd Ellen’s take on a version of “Maiden Hind” [Roud 205]. The song’s tragedy around personally discovered incest between siblings and tragedy has the soundings of doom. You do not see the act, but the track grinds like a heavy metal tool on an anvil. It feels like the weight of society’s disapproval crushing the joy of a carefree, fun act with a misery. The worlds of the brother’s life at sea and that of the woods of the sister collide in the display, the sun ends somewhat blindingly implying a malady of the mind yet to come.
When it moves to the sea, we get some fiddle strings, swirly clouds and the drone of more misfortune to come with a rendition of “The Lass of Lochroyan”. The earthy, ill-fortunes of the people in these stories resonate against the power of the Witch at the centre. She pulls the strands of fate as the Tarot flashes up in a sequence and the esoteric takes over.
Well worth the wait, this magickal exhibition of forms is a collision of occult art, folk music and storytelling in all the best possible ways.