SYLVIA HALLETT

WHITE FOG

EMANEM 4057

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WHEELSONGS: - 35:59
1 - A WHEELWRIGHT USED TO LIVE HERE - 11:53
2 - VIOLET - 4:56
3 - WOMAN WITH DUSTPAN AND BRUSH - 7:25
4 - WHITE FOG - 4:34
5 - PRIVATE WAR - 5:02
6 - WALNUT - 2:09

7 - THE ONYX ROOK - 12:46

8 - SNAIL AND CURLEW - 15:07

1 - 6: WHEELSONGS use bowed bicycle wheel and voice and digital delays, and could be performed live as an improvisation. The words are the only precomposed material.
Digital studio recording at LMC Sound by Mick Ritchie - 1999 December 1 - with further editing by SH.

7: A violin and voice improvisation (without overdubbing).
Digital studio recording at Summerhill Studio by SH - 2001 April 17

8: A re-working of a tape collage soundtrack for BODY OF LAND, a dance film framed within a Cumbrian landscape. It grew out of a collaboration between dancer/choreographer Miranda Tufnell, visual artist Caroline Lee and myself.
Digital studio recording at Summerhill Studio by SH - 1998 & 2001

All tracks composed, performed and produced in London by Sylvia Hallett
Total time 64:03

All previously unissued

 

Excerpts from sleeve notes:

There are two interwoven strands to my music: improvisation and composition.

Since the mid 70's I have been involved in the London Musicians Collective, and have toured internationally with Lol Coxhill, Phil Minton, British Summer Time Ends and others. The early LMC served as a spawning ground of experimentation. Alongside simultaneous voice and violin improvisation (see THE ONYX ROOK), I started working with found objects.

This foray into other sound worlds continued as I worked with theatre, dance and puppet companies, and now BBC Radio plays. These commissions encouraged the unusual and evocative use of sound-as-music, and I quickly progressed from splicing quarter-inch tape to sampling the sound of pouring lentils into a jar, or scraping roof-tiles (see SNAIL AND CURLEW).

I have also been studying several instruments which generate sound by bowing strings or metal: the Indian sarangi (featured at the end of SNAIL AND CURLEW), the Greek/Turkish klassikkemance, the hurdy-gurdy and the musical saw. The bicycle wheel seemed an obvious extension of this sequence.

In a theatre or dance performance I would often be the only musician, and so began to work with digital delay boxes as a way of thickening, transforming textures and pitch shifting. I started playing the bowed bicycle wheel for a puppet show, and developed it further, incorporating song fragments during a solo tour of Italy.

The unpredictability of other musicians' input is one of the things I like about group improvisation. The bowed bicycle wheel is also somewhat unpredictable. The spokes are not tuned so each one gives a different set of eerie harmonics. Rather like bowing a cymbal, you can never be quite sure which harmonic will sound; it will often skip to the one above or below the one you are trying to play! Similarly the rotary knobs on an old digital delay box are refreshingly imprecise. Some might call this lack of precision infuriating, but I find it stimulating.

SYLVIA HALLETT (2001)

 

Excerpts from reviews:

Voted one of the 50 records of the year, as well as Improv record No 3 of 2001 in THE WIRE

"Right now I'm listening to the Sylvia Hallett record, and am awe struck by the beauty and brilliance of it!"

ED BLAKE - CJSF Radio 93.9 FM Cable 2001

"WHITE FOG is a beautiful album but it may have difficulties finding its public. The CD contains three works. First is Wheelsongs, a gripping cycle of improvised songs (with written lyrics), accompanied by bowed bicycle wheel. You read right: these captivating plaintive sounds that form a rich shroud emanate from wheel spokes. Digital delay boxes are used to create soundscapes - their manipulation is not seamless, but the crude use of the technology enhances the fragility of Hallett's voice, often bringing to mind Anna Homler. Violet and White Fog are two highlights. The Onyx Rook is a ritualistic-like improvisation on violin and voice, a very fine example of the woman¹s performing abilities. The set closes with Snail and Curlew, a sound collage piece. Made of water, bird and vocal sounds for the most part, it also includes electroacoustic sounds, synthesised sounds and even fragments of tunes. Gradually moving from one dreamy state of conscience to another, the piece offers an interesting aural journey, but fails to strike the imagination as strongly as the opening cycle. For Wheelsongs alone this CD is worth hearing, especially for fans of Homler or other delicate feminine voices of the avant-garde."

FRANÇOIS COUTURE - ALL-MUSIC GUIDE 2001

"The bulk of Sylvia Hallett's excellent WHITE FOG is given over to Wheelsongs a suite for bowed bicycle wheel, voice and digital delays. Written texts form the hub of the piece, poetic statements intoned in understated, quietly dramatic fashion. Around them Hallett builds patterned atmospheres that evoke spaces vaster than you could cycle in a lifetime. The wheel turns mimic, approximating whale song, sirens, creaking swings, steel pans, fireworks, an Oriental fiddle. Orchestral sonorities are scrambled over a deep pulse. Hallett steers into the domain of cosmic rock, then back-pedals to a soundworld adjacent to the one mapped by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in its pioneering phase. Delay produces layers and shifting textures that thicken and thin as if they were carefully calculated arrangements. But apart from the words, the piece is improvised, with Hallett drawing deep and imaginatively upon improvising skills.

On The Onyx Brook she returns to basics - improvising simply with violin and voice. Following the often dense Wheelsongs, this unadorned piece sounds sparse and clean, although Hallett's intermittent vocal harmonising discloses the base from which the imaginative treatments of the longer piece have grown. Linear shaping skills are foregrounded, but her sensitive textural variations remain in evidence.

Snail and Curlew rounds off the album perfectly. It's a 15 minute montage of found and evolved sounds, reworked from the soundtrack to a dance film alluding to the Cumbrian landscape. The melancholy saltmarsh call of the curlew is an element, along with ducks quacking and other birds fluttering their wings. But other sampled and concocted elements complicate the picture. Lentils are poured into a jar; synthetic waves break and crash and water gurgles. Human rhythms; environmental rhythms; instrumental sounds. Towards the end bowed sarangi and electronic keyboard patterns are woven around concrete samples. The result recalls American composer Carl Stone's post-minimalist work. A surprising conclusion to a record packed with surprises and special music."

JULIAN COWLEY - THE WIRE 2001

"The bulk of this new album is taken up with a suite of pieces performed on bowed bicycle wheel, voice and electronic processing. The opening cries of a softly bowed spoke bathed in cavernous echo delimit a haunting, magical space and a soundworld that lies somewhere between those of :zoviet*france: and Pauline Oliveros. Grotesque phantasms appear with the introduction of live electronic processing, though some of the undisguised use of pitch-shifting elsewhere suggests this device is rather a crude one. The lyrical themes are bleak. The title piece depicts psychological withdrawal, an unreachable retreat from the world, while Private War deals with the petty behavioural patterns that can threaten to bring down relationships. It feels like Hallett has let us into a very private space and it's not always a comfortable place to be.

Hallett moves to her first instrument, the violin, for the album's centrepiece, an acoustic improvisation recorded at home. While the violin is a much more precise instrument than the bowed spoke, it's the intervals and ambiguities that Hallett remains concerned with, and the piece has a convincing arch and complexity.

The album ends on a welcome upbeat with a tape collage of field recordings and original music played on electronic keyboards - a sophisticated production, particularly when compared to the simple means employed on the previous tracks. This piece, Snail and Curlew, resolves this challengingly direct album by evoking the potential for redemption and reconciliation which nature affords."

PHIL ENGLAND - RESONANCE 2002

"Many roads have been crossed by Hallett since I first listened to her (I remember it was a British Summer Time Ends LP); could I have ever imagined then I'd be in total love with her solo work in the 2000's? WHITE FOG strikes hard with its grieving depth manifested through a stream of delayed and superimposed fragments; only bicycle wheel, violin, voice and tapes are used throughout. Every track is just fascinating, hypnotic and completely desirable, a wonderful collection of time capsules that can be listened alone (Woman with Dustpan and Brush and White Fog on top of everything else) even if they're all part of a continuum. There's more: the voice/violin improvisation named The Onyx Rook is one of the most stunningly beautiful things I have heard in my whole life and the same can be told about most digital loops used by Sylvia: something like the slowing of a wheel spike rubbed with the bow resembles a faraway moan by an unidentified ghost. This music contains childhood memories and adult nightmares: all together they depict the multi-faceted soul of this gentle, 'unpigeonholeable' woman."

MASSIMO RICCI - TOUCHING EXTREMES 2003

"Wheelsongs is improvised on the spokes of a bicycle wheel with a bow, and guitar slide is used to alter pitch. It's an unlikely instrument which she employs to mesmerising ends, thanks to a keen ear for shaping the sounds into engaging tones. An electronic echo allows for subtle percussive and rhythmic loops and ghostly ambience. The music is evolutionary, a half hour cycle of songs with Hallett's voice like an incantation bringing vivid recollections of lost people and the eerie white fog of the disc's title.

On The Onyx Rook, for violin and voice, Hallett roams over makeshift themes. She bows long lines slowly and sometimes very fast, mixing folk music into sounds more like natural phenomena, wind and water, without a trace of new age overtones. The occasional vocals here provide a human presence that seems suitably fleeting.

The final track Snail and Curlew is a tape collage. It's composed with similarly organic sounds including environmental recordings (weather, bird-life, household objects) and so compliments well the other pieces. Hallett's is a music less obvious and all the more powerful and attractive for being so."

JOHN KENNEDY - WELLINGTON DOMINION 2001

"Multi-instrumentalist, Sylvia Hallett turns to the bicycle wheel as a means of musical expressionism on this recording also featuring the artist's utilisation of digital delays, voice improvisation, and violin. Ms. Hallett pursues shifting and at times, haunting pastiches of sound via her unorthodox implementations. With A Wheelwright Used To Live Here, Ms. Hallett's use of bowed bicycle wheel produces multidimensional ambient soundscapes atop fluctuating backwashes of digital EFX, as allusions to partaking in a séance might be in order.

On Woman With Dustpan And Brush and White Fog, Ms. Hallett's hypnotic and altogether ethereal musings conjure up notions of a hazy dream resulting in melodramatic aftershocks amid her warm toned yet slightly foreboding inventions. However, there are passages that may imply the sounds of neurons or brain cells at work, whereas The Onyx Rook is a piece for violin and voice improvisation sans overdubs. Simply put, Ms. Hallett's rather eccentric journey into previously unexplored terrain yields curiously interesting results, or as the producers amusingly indicate on the CD jewel case insert, this music should be filed as 'unpigeonholeable'."

GLENN ASTARITA - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 2001

"No matter what colour 'fog' you live in, this experiment with bicycle spokes (bowed), digital delays & vox will make clear that the sonic cycle around us is often unknown and deeper than we anticipated. VERY intricate improvisations that should be listened to with the phones on! Lots of 'metal' here, vocals intertwined in a fashion that will either wrap you up in the seance or drive you back to the arms of your favorite troll. This particular CD is a musical experience you won't soon forget, I can tell you. Elements of trance, histories you never read about in school peeping through on Violet. Moments of beauty in some of the (almost) dirge-like wanderings, but don't get the wrong impression... this is (all) carefully crafted & well thought out. WHITE FOG gets more than a 'thumbs up' from us, it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for those with adventure in their aural appendages."

ROTCOD ZZAJ aka DICK METCALF - ZZAJ PRODUCTIONS 2001

"This is a total experimental recording by Sylvia Hallett. This woman uses here a lot of objects to produce her music in a really interesting way. In fact the six first tracks here are played using a bowed bicycle wheel, vocals and a lot of digital delay effects. It is interesting to listen to this type of ambient music because it opens new boundaries to the realm of experimental music. Sometimes the music here is like a soundtrack of madness with all the effects and eerie feelings that this music brings to the mind. There is also one track of an amazing violin and voice improvisation without overdubs. And also a tape collage soundtrack for a dance film called Body of Land. This is really interesting but you have to be open minded and expect the unexpected. Favourite tracks: Violet, Private War and Snail and Curlew."

FEDERICO MARONGIU - MUSIC EXTREME 2001

"Sylvia Hallet has been involved with the LMC since the mid-70s, and has more recently become involved with creating soundtracks for theatre, dance, puppet companies, and even BBC Radio. Primarily a violinist, Sylvia is not afraid to take her bow to other objects, and also, unlike many improvisors, has not been afraid to introduce electronics into her work. This CD is a fine example of her approach. Half of it is made up of tracks that use a bowed bicycle wheel as their basis. The sound is eerie and rather reminiscent of old Radiophonic Workshop recordings or maybe Nurse With Wound. Sylvia is stimulated by the Cageian unpredictability of her chosen instrument. Although this is similar in some ways to the work of Kaffe Matthews (who uses violin and electronics), Hallett's work is more mournful than bombastic, and often the electronic aspects are restricted to a cavernous reverb. Subterranean echoes counjure up a murky, frozen world, vibrating with ugly undercurrents. For a visual context, imagine the water-logged, grey landscapes of Andrei Tarkovsky's movie, STALKER. This disc has its poetry, but sadly it sits on top of the sound, rather than becoming part of it. The vocals on one track work for me though. Private War has a lilting, doomladen, almost folksy feel, which is very similar to that of bands of the 'Apocalypse Folk' genre: Sol Invictus, Current 93, et al. The other tracks on the album include a violin and voice improv, and an excellent tape collage which uses natural sounds to build a pleasingly fatalistic texture. Sadly this is marred slightly by the introduction of a rather bland electronic melody which undercuts the simple sadness of the birds, water and wind."

JIM BARKER - RUBBERNECK 2002

 

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