Fovea Hex, "Bloom"
Contributed by John Kealy (brainwashed.com)
Saturday, 10 December 2005
Bloom is the first in a series of three releases by the collective known as Fovea Hex. Quiet and moving, this is a very promising first chapter by a group that contains some of ambient and experimental music’s most golden children backing up some equally golden voices.
Fovea Hex sees the likes of Brain and Roger Eno team up with Cloadagh Simonds (most famous for her work with Thin Lizzy and Mike Oldfield) and Carter Burwell (famous for soundtracking pretty much all of the Coen brothers’ works) to make some beautiful songs that touch on traditional, ambient and experimental music. As well as playing on one of the tracks, The Hafler Trio’s Andrew McKenzie has performed his production magic on each of the tracks. His influence is apparent but not overpowering. Simonds is the focus of the group, these are her songs.
Simonds’ lyrics are powerful, especially because of her delivery. On “That River” she conjures up images of a house that morphs all of a sudden into this beautiful description of a river: “She swerves a sapphire soul over the land.” Her singing is wrought with emotion, her voice blends a few traditional styles of singing, most prominently Ireland’s sean nos singing. I found that the other vocalists and musicians were all sympathetic to this style (half of the members of Fovea Hex have a solid traditional Irish music background) which means that the songs don’t end up sounding like a hodgepodge of new age commercial rubbish like the demon queen Enya.
As expected by the line up, the music is all soundscapes and ambience. Despite the mention of fretless bass and zither in the liner notes, the opening track “Don’t these windows open?” seems to consist entirely of disembodied voices with Simonds dancing lyrically over them. The entire record makes great use of sound as a three dimensional phenomenon. By walking around the room the sounds take on different characters. This is the subtle McKenzie effect I referred to above, it’s a trademark Hafler Trio technique but Fovea Hex does not sound like the Hafler Trio. Fovea Hex is more reminiscent of Coil’s work in their Solstice and Equinox series.
With some editions of the EP there is a bonus disc of reworkings by Andrew McKenzie. “The Explanation” is a single track of abstracted drones and utterances from Bloom. It gels together well, I wasn’t sure (considering how strong I thought the original songs were) that such a CD would work but McKenzie dissolved any doubts I had. This disc along with the main EP makes for a very fine piece of work. Bloom marks the beginning of the Neither Speak nor Remain Silent trilogy but if the quality keeps up I hope Fovea Hex keep going beyond this.
FOVEA HEX Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent : One (Die Stadt / Janet)
Fovea Hex is the brainchild of Clodagh Simonds, the Irish singer whose work in the early '70s with Mellow Candle earned her a solid reputation amongst avid fans of British folk music. Her recent work as Fovea Hex has found her collaborating with some serious heavyhitters in the electronic composition world including Brian Eno, Roger Eno, and Andrew M. McKenzie (aka The Hafler Trio) as well as film composer Carter Burwell. Simonds' voice is at the center of this shortened program, with many of her contributing cast singing spectral chorales around her emotionally charged siren songs which emerge as Irish folk hybrids of Marble Index period Nico. These are haunted, ancient sounding songs, with almost all of their arrangements stripped away, leaving behind spare fragments of desaturated piano, bass, and harmonium. It's no surprise that in very small type in the liner notes, there's a text that reads "all material lit from within by A.M. McKenzie," as the music itself has McKenzie's fingerprints all over it. Even the fact that this is this first part of trilogy and is an expensive short form ep of about 17 minutes is evidence of McKenzie's meddling. Nevertheless, Simonds remains steadfast in her control over the project, not allowing McKenzie to interfere with the beauty of her own voice.
The opera prima by Fovea Hex is structured like many 70s progressive albums three tracks on the first side, and a suite on the second except that this is a limited edition double CD, not a vinyl. This project by Hafler Trio's Andrew McKenzie and singer Clodagh Simonds (remember Mike Oldfield's Hergest Ridge?) is based upon rarefied superimpositions of voices and acoustic instruments (viola, harmonium, piano) plus "organic matter" by McKenzie himself. Bloom is the most "vocal" half, as Simonds' transparent (glacial?) voice sings the marrow of three diaphanous songs whose harmonic content is all dim light and near-undetectable movements of the tectonic plates beneath the musicians' feet (Brian and Roger Eno are "special surprise guests", even if their presence is rather discreet, if you'll forgive the pun). The Explanation starts from rigorous silence, gathers impalpable sounds, seemingly from an underwater out-of-tune radio, and finally stabilizes in a harmonious invocation recalling Pink Floyd ca. Obscured By Clouds before being interrupted by Simonds' processed voice, and then silence. Finely conceived and unobtrusively brilliant. MR
Bloom (Janet Records / Die Stadt / Import)
Attention, “super-groupe”: derrière Fovea Hex se cachent quelques pointures, dont, entre autres, Brian Eno, aux côtés de son frère Roger Eno, Andrew McKenzie (aka Hafler Trio) et Carter Burwell (compositeur pour les frères Cohen ou Spike Jonze). Tous sont au service des talents de compositrice et interprète de Clodagh Simonds connue pour avoir collaboré avec Thin Lizzy et Mike Oldfield, et plus récemment avec Russel Mills au sein de Unda rk. Avec Fovea Hex, entre voix traditionnelles et textures expérimentales, la chanteuse irlandaise fait le lien entre deux univers distincts, mais qui n’ont rien d’incompatible.
Des fragments de voix éthérées, abordant des thèmes sombres et énigmatiques, glissent et s’écoulent lentement, sous-tendus par de délicates nappes d’une fluidité telle qu’elles habitent et envahissent chaque parcelle de l’espace sonore. Le monde idiosyncrasique de Fovea Hex semble sorti d’un univers parallèle où règne l’anti-matière : chaque élément qui le constitue étant d’une finesse immatérielle, se définissant plus par son absence que sa présence. L’addition de ces particules impalpables parvient néanmoins à aboutir à un ensemble d’une consistance et d’une densité bien réelle, mais toujours insaisissable. De cette faille spatio-temporelle en marge des lois de la physique générale s’échappent d’immenses courants glacés, vents polaires séculaires laminant un sol instable, mouvant. Dans une atmosphère en microgravité, un violon lancinant, fort de ses racines celtes, dérive insensiblement dans la dissonance pour tendre vers un drone en apesanteur, évoquant le jeu de William Breeze. Allié aux voix du trio de chanteuses présentes sur We Sleep You Bloom, dont certaines intonations rappellent celles de Rose McDowall, tout concourt à rapprocher Bloom de la série des eps de Coil Soltice / Equinox. Premier volet d’une série de trois eps (le second volume étant à paraître au printemps), Bloom, ou pour rependre le titre complet Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent : one peut voir son impact décuplé par l’adjonction d’un second disque disponible uniquement sur commande auprès de Die Stadt. The Explanation, remix par Andrew McKenzie, permet de compléter et d’approfondir l’expérience et les sensations préalablement générées. Si la patte caractéristique d’Hafler Trio est déjà présente sur les versions originales, elle reste fine et épurée, au service des titres composés par Simonds, mais prend toute son ampleur le long de ces vingt minutes additionnelles. Lors de cette descente au coeur du son, ne voyageant pas sur un drone unique mais sur une multitude de niveaux en coexistence pacifique, l’expérience se veut unique, plongée abyssale dans un abîme qui n’est autre qu’un trou noir.
Attention, Great Band Alert: the Fovea Hex project involves some big names, including Brian Eno, his brother Roger Eno, Andrew McKenzie (aka Hafler Trio) and Carter Burwell (composer for the Coen Brothers and Spike Jonze). They all serve the talents of composer and interpreter Clodagh Simonds, known for her work with Thin Lizzy and Mike Oldfield, and more recently with Russell Mills’s Undark. With Fovea Hex, blending traditional voices and experimental textures, the Irish singer bridges two worlds that, different as they may be, are far from incompatible.
Fragments of ethereal voices, touching on dark and enigmatic themes, slowly glide and flow, underpinned by delicate layers so fluid they inhabit and invade every particle of the acoustic space. The idiosyncratic world of Fovea Hex seems to arise from a parallel universe where anti-matter reigns: all its elements are so fine they become immaterial, defining themselves more through their absence than their presence. The sum total of these intangible particles creates nonetheless a whole with a consistency and density that are quite real, albeit elusive. This fault in the space-time continuum, on the fringes of the laws of general physics, releases immense frozen currents, secular polar winds laminating an unstable and moving ground. In an atmosphere of microgravity, a haunting violin, drawing on its Celtic roots, drifts imperceptibly in dissonance, tending towards a weightless drone, reminiscent of the sound of William Breeze. Blend in the voices of the trio of singers heard on We Sleep You Bloom, of which some intonations recall those of Rose McDowall, and Bloom begs comparison with Coil’s series of EPs, Solstice / Equinox. First in a series of three EPs (the second is to be released in the spring), Bloom (full title: Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent: one) can have its impact increased tenfold by the adjunction of a second disc available only by special order from Die Stadt. The Explanation, a remix by Andrew McKenzie, completes and deepens the experience and the sensations previously generated. Though the Hafler Trio’s characteristic input is already present in the original versions, it remains refined and restrained, serving Simonds' compositions; in these additional twenty minutes, it reveals itself fully. This descent into the heart of sound, traveling not on a single drone but on a multitude of pacifically coexisting levels, is a unique experience, a plunge into an abyss that is nothing other than a black hole.
BLOOM was OCTOPUS EN LIGNE CD of the week December 27th to January 2nd 2006.
[Die Stadt/Janet; 2006]
In the early 1970s, Irish singer/songwriter Clodagh Simonds was a founding member of the progressive-folk cult favorites Mellow Candle, and later went on to perform with Thin Lizzy and Mike Oldham. As with many of her folk-rock contemporaries, Simonds has been long absent from the recording scene but has seen a recent surge of interest in her earlier work, as exemplified by Stephen Malkmus' 2003 cover of Mellow Candle's "Poet & the Witch".
Intriguing though it's been, however, there's nothing in Simonds' past history that could've adequately foretold the remarkable appearance of her new project, Fovea Hex. Featuring contributions from such heavyweights as Brian and Roger Eno, the Hafler Trio's Andrew McKenzie, and film composer Carter Burwell, Fovea Hex represents a startling confluence of talents and styles, and the group's first release is uniquely possessed of an icy, sapphire-like radiance. This three-song EP is the first installment of a proposed trilogy entitled Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent and brief though it is, the record exhibits a sterling assortment of ambient, high-density drones, all of which are subtly bound by Simonds' songcraft and crystalline, folk-derived vocals.
Assembled and mixed by McKenzie via a ghostly construction of harmonium, viola, zither, and "disappeared piano," the deceptively active arrangements achieve a frosty mood somewhere relative to Nico's The Marble Index, Current 93's apocalyptic folk-drones, and the unflinching winterscapes of Burwell's Fargo soundtrack. But despite Fovea Hex's assembled instrumental firepower, Simonds unquestionably emerges as the central figure on these performancesparticularly on the near-acappella opening track "Don't These Windows Open". Conducted by McKenzie's invisible hand, here Simonds' multi-tracked chorale is as gracefully split and clarified as sunlight mirrored off the polar icecaps.
Yet though all appears tranquil on the surface, on Bloom there are unseen forces at constant work to undercut Simonds' lyrics with ripples of doubt and anxiety. "Cry for your father/ Don't these windows open?/ How could he hear us?" she fervently sings on this first track, sounding determined not to lose her cool in a crisis. Later on, amid the gorgeous dunes of "We Sleep You Bloom", she again conjures indistinct external spirits, "Way down beneath the battlefield/ Down there beside the fire...as we sleep you bloom," leaving ambiguous the nature of these unnamed forces that "bloom in a petrol rainbow dark." And throughout these performances, Simonds tempers her passions with an elegant measure of stoic restraint, aided by the exceptional vocal harmonies of Brian Eno, Laura Sheeran, and Lydia Sasse.
So potent, in fact, are Fovea Hex's joint creations that the album's brevity becomes its primary drawback. Simonds has a voice that one could happily drown in for hours, and obviously guys like McKenzie, Burwell, and the Enos would benefit from further opportunity to stretch their collaborative limits. So it's good news to learn that the next chapter in the Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent series is due later this spring, and a minor impatience to anticipate the day when the entire work is available to be absorbed as a whole.
[Pitchforkmedia, Matthew Murphy, March 24, 2006]
Fovea Hex, Bloom (Die Stadt)
The result of the inspired wedding of the voice of Irish singer Clodagh Simonds, not much heard from since the seventies (aside from a lovely track on Russell Mills? Pearl and Umbra) and multiple skills of Iceland-based sound missionary Andrew McKenzie, aka The Hafler Trio.
Simonds has written or co-written all three songs, which are genuinely poetic. They also have a Celtic/Nordic feel, while simultaneously seeming to emanate from no previously known place. "All things lit from within by A. M. McKenzie", the album credits state, and that, I suppose, explains that elusive quality.
Adding further weight to this project are the impressive session musicians Simonds and McKenzie have gathered, including Brian Eno on fretless bass and as part of an angelic choir on the first track, and brother Roger playing a harmonium duet with Simonds on the third track.
A mere 17 minutes...sometimes you say much more with so much less.
First in the 'Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent' series of three CD EPs, which puts it in line to be the first of three of the most beautiful mini-albums you?ll hear.
Posted by Stephen Fruitman at 09:37, 03 Apr 2006