Silence, please: drone meisters at work. Not the most unknown, or
maybe even the superstars of the lot. Jonathan Coleclough has built
a fine oeuvre of work, in which the collaborations with others plays
an important role. Andrew Liles is these days a member of Nurse
With Wound and travels around now that the Nurses are a live act.
Still he finds time to create many, many solo works, such as a twelve
CD series for Beta Lactam-ring. And to work with Jonathan Coleclough.
The cover suggests that the works were recorded in concert, but
perhaps not. Liles' characteristic synthesizer and reverb are present,
and Coleclough brings in the use of contact microphones, field recordings
and computer manipulation. Careful drone material, that doesn't
just swell on a bunch of deep end bass drones (listening to the
sea again, as a friend of mine once called this), but there is more
happening than just that. Water sounds, clay pots and such like
are being used, which especially on side D gives a surprising piece.
It was perhaps only last week when I wrote: "drone, where to
now?" and perhaps as such this is not the way out, but it's
surely a great work. And like with so many of Die Stadt releases,
the first few copies come with a CD, here a solo one by Coleclough.
It starts out not unlike the collaboration with a few isolated sounds,
which feed of eventually through some sounds effects or computer
programming. A bit more austere and less dense than the 2LP set,
but certainly a great concert. Clocking at twenty-six minutes, this
also has the perfect length for a good concert.
Artists usually placed in the “Torch Song” tradition
include Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Edith Piaf and – if you’re
looking for some slighly more contemporary examples - Morrissey
and Elvis Costello. This must be the first time, then, that two
artist from the drone sector have decided to add their compositions
about unrequited love and the desire to possess what can never be
one’s own to the long list of standards. What seems like a
contradiction in terms at the outset has turned into an almost sacral
collection of – well not songs, but something of the sort
While some not too obvious collaborations yield interesting results
despite their inner tensions, this one works because the styles
of Jonathan Coleclough and Andrew Liles, regardless of how different
and idiosyncratic in their own right they may be, virtually screamed
for a symbiosis. On the one hand you have Coleclough, who has only
last year celebrated his tenth aniversary as a recording artist
with a total of 15 releases and created a niche of his own with
a music which originates in the quotidian and subliminates into
something alltogether out of the ordinary: The bonus disc to this
double LP of two heavy 180g Vinyl records sees him in live action
at the “Intergration 3” festival, a concert which incidentally
also forms the backbone to some of the tracks to be found here,
and documents how he starts with the sounds of various outwardly
unspectacular objects and slowly changes their timbre and functionality
in a process which takes them into a mysterious yet never depressive
space. Liles, on the other hand, has been one of those artists who
have allowed multiple influences to penetrate the texture of his
highly atmospheric pieces, making him almost unpredictable and lending
his work an air of excitment. For “Torch Songs”, he
concentrates on the deep sonorities, the physical frequencies and
the parts of the spectrum where everything becomes opaque, blurry
and intellectually intangible. His drones are either subliminally
massive or so evanescent as to appear almost weightless and disturbingly
fog-like: They will give way if you walk through them, but there
are dangers lurking with each step. Coleclough’s very direct
object treatments contrast with these meditative fields in a hypnotic
fashion, focussing the listener’s attention while the impending
pulsations do their job in feverishly massaging the unconscious.
The element of water appears again and again as a sort of guideline,
seperating segments of almost absolute vacuum from each other and
mellowing the atmosphere, when the intensity reaches its climax.
But at the end it is only incomprehendible whispers that remain,
rowing the boat across the Styx into the night.
There are no lyrics on any of these songs and even the poem by Geoff
Sawers printed on the front, back and inner sleeve of this luxurious
gateway cover offers no direct link to the aforementioned tradition.
So what makes these pieces qualify as love songs nevertheless? By
their very obsession with the unattainable, with places one can
not inhabit and material things one can not touch, they, too, are
filled with an insatiable longing, which knows no hope for fulfillment.
It is dark, it is cold and no one is going to carry that torch for
you. That is what this record is about and that is something Billy
Holiday could have related to in her most desperate hours. By Tobias
The highly anticipated pairing of Coleclough and Liles, two among
the most bright-minded dispensers of unusual sounds from England,
had already caused my mental bells to ring out joyously in advance.
Geoff Sawers' poem "I dreamt I was a river" is painted
on the white cover of a double LP that, in its special 250-copy
limited edition, also contains a CD EP featuring about 25 minutes
of Coleclough's original set at Preston's Intergration 3, where
the two protagonists first met in 2004. Liles (a prolific musician
if ever there was one, with an average of an album per month these
days, not including his collaborations with the likes of Nurse With
Wound and Darren Tate) took the recording of Coleclough's performance
home and proceeded to "add, subtract, multiply and divide"
additional source sounds provided by his latest collaborator. Each
of the eight soundscapes on Torch Songs finds the perfect spot for
every sound to exist and be accepted in that grey area where uneven
energies try to work our knowledge into forgetting conventional
codes and meanings. Elements of pulse are not totally absent in
the manipulation of sound objects, location recordings and drones,
each "torch song" analyzing them exhaustively, combining
manifestations of real activity (including the wonderful voices
of Nature) with a cathartic, profane consciousness of something
that no religion or philosophy will ever be able to explain. The
overall sense is one of solitary awareness, and it feels great.
Torch Songs is a minor classic, and I look forward to a swift CD
reissue (it often happens with Die Stadt) to save us from having
to get up and change sides, and dispense with occasional distortions
that appear during the most charged surges.–MR
Based on live and studio
pieces produced by drone alchemist Coleclough, Torch Songs features
long stretches of music that are as exquisitely tactile as you would
expect, but with subtly roughed up snags and edges that one presumes
result from the input of current Nurse With Wound member Liles.
Her [!] micro-gestures serve to ground Coleclough's gauzy textures
and save the whole thing from becoming just too perfect. The springy
beats that materialise on side four have that same delightful incongruity
that Liles's Nurse With Wound boss Steven Stapleton is such a master
of, albeit it with a tad less slapstick involved. By
Much like the entire back catalogue of John Duncan, British avant-drone
artist Jonathan Coleclough has often buttressed his work through
an ongoing set of collaborations, each of which push his work into
interesting territories while maintaining that essence of Coleclough
that makes all of his albums so enthralling. His 2006 collaboration
with Murmer was easily one of the best drone albums of that year,
twisting field recordings and quiet sessions with electric objects
into a gauzy, crepuscular blur that even made those at Artforum
perk up their ears and listen.
Torch Songs came to fruition when both Coleclough and Liles performed
in Preston (probably at the request of the ever-charming Colin Potter)
in 2005. In fact, much of the source material for Torch Songs originated
from Coleclough’s performance to which Liles went on to ‘add,
subtract, multiply, and divide’ further.
The fundamentals of Torch Songs are primarily Coleclough’s
signature moves: swelling, resonant drones manipulated from acoustic
sources and distilled into tonally vibrant beams of pure sound.
Yet, Liles (who in and of himself is a fine technician of sonic
alchemy to the point where he has often graced the stage alongside
Steve Stapleton, Colin Potter, and Matt Waldron in Nurse With Wound)
interjects his own sidereal gestures with wooden creaks, digital
time stretching, radiant eruptions of dissonant couplings with Coleclough’s
drones, and occasional jaunts of heavily filtered tin-can and rubber-band
rhythms that parallel much of the output from Liles’ recent
12 part Vortex series. Yet for all of Liles’ baroque flares
for the sonically surreal, it is Coleclough who authors the strongest
material on Torch Songs through his sublime use of the drone. Jim
Haynes, Aquarius Records, March 2007.
Written by Lucas Schleicher
Sunday, 27 May 2007
There may not be a more satisfying album than this released all
year. Wound tight around the spine of a clear idea is a simple and
elegant network of art, music, and performance cemented in wonder.
Torch Songs is firm and tangible: a mass of skin, muscle, and bone
that strikes and, in striking, cuts a path from earth to the stars.
Jonathan Coleclough, Andrew Liles, and artists Geoff Sawers and
Iwanaga Keiko have done more than offer up an album for consumption.
It is impossible to pick up this release from Die Stadt and ignore
the work binding the songs together: a full-color, painted poem
(its contents spanning three languages) dresses this beautiful gatefold
"One night I find / myself wandering / through a dark and tangled
wood / The air is damp / the trees are dripping / hung with mosses
and / ferns..." Abstract music exhibits a tendency to reach
for the stars too quickly, to remove itself from the confines of
the body and the mud and lilt ever upwards towards the vast, black,
and less exacting firmament. For those of us still riddled by gravity
and the laws of the sciences, such music is a kind of escapism:
whether haunting or illuminating, such music is the space where
tired heads can go to rejuvenate. Over time this sort of idealism
has rendered a laziness. Many artists and aspiring musicians forget
why the space exists and its beauty is slowly effaced in the name
of interesting sounds and a vulgar modernism that abhors any romance
and every principled conviction. Coleclough and Liles, however,
know better: Torch Songs is given a context and framed within a
night of strange wandering. As the poem continues, stars become
visible through the thick network of branches over our nameless
narrator's head, but they are as of yet unrecognizable. Coleclough
and Liles begin with their feet on the ground and their music opens
from within the earth as it were: it is a weird conglomeration of
foggy hums and metallic clattering stretching out as a flower bed.
From it a further development will emerge: the stars and that space
of comfort are visible, but we cannot begin there or make our journey
there easily, and our artists know it.
I won't spoil the rest of the package but this release functions
as a whole and it is useless talking about the music without mentioning
what it is housed in. The gatefold packaging isn't merely artwork,
it's art conceptualized within the performance that is this project's
genesis. Torch Songs began in 2004 when Liles remixed Coleclough's
live performance at the Intergration 3 festival in the UK. Subsequent
recordings were sent to Liles and yielded eight distinct, but unified
songs made from spectral moans, glass bowls, metallic knick-knacks,
wooden toys, marbles, bows, perverted bagpipes, and perhaps many
other instruments of various shapes and sizes. In 2005 Geoff Sawers
painted what would become the cover to Torch Songs during one of
Coleclough's performances. Sawers painting not only binds this project
together, it is featured as part of the music on the record: his
brush strokes can be heard on side B. Torch Songs is carefully considered,
a well-developed collaboration that pulls out all of the stops and
convenes on a meaning or on a concrete thought and moves from there.
Further art artifacts are included as images on either side of the
LP sleeves and they all seem to refer to one another, each one fleshing
out the strange narrative that begins in the poem.
The music itself is not entirely characteristic of either performer,
though what I love most about both Coleclough and Liles is evident
throughout. On a basic level the music runs a gamut of moods, acknowledging
fear, uncertainty, meditative calm, and a lingering playfulness
throughout each of the eight tracks. Despite keeping the entire
project sensible and understandable from beginning to end, Liles'
work on Coleclough's source material is diverse. Each side suggests
the next naturally, but each side also surprises and gives birth
to new elements. These elements aren't arbitrary, either: as aforementioned
there's a tendency in abstract music to move too far outside the
realms of the human and to create in a way that ignores the importance
of structure, melody, and narrative. Liles' reconstruction may be
abstract, but it has identifiable parts and works as a guide, using
sound to travel from one place to the next in a natural progression.
This puts each of the eight songs right at my finger tips and gives
my brain some room to interact with them. I had the good luck to
engage this album with good company on a dark night with the windows
closed and candles lit. The music shaped the room and made the candles
glow brighter, the darkness outside closed into a denser mask, and
the individual I was with began to fill the room with me, as though
we were the only two people left in the world. It was a singular
moment when the music merged with the space and the time I occupied:
that memory has been fixed in my mind ever since and will stay there
Torch Songs will not likely be surpassed by any other release this
year: I say this without hesitation. It is unapologetically a sumptuous
work of art that goes well beyond being just another record or project
between two outstanding musicians. That alone would've been enough:
had this come housed in nothing more than a simple sleeve with minimal
artwork, I would still be impressed by it and it would still be
played quite often. But Torch Songs should be taken as an example
of what a little extra time and thought can do for a record; all
of the "extras" (the artwork, the weight of the vinyl,
the presentation of the music, everything in short) renders this
release far more substantial and enjoyable. I've heard individuals
complain that abstract music is all form and little content, the
sputtering catharsis of an air conditioner gone awry: Liles and
Coleclough prove it doesn't have to be so. This album has set the
bar unbelievably high for me and it's unlikely that I will look
at any abstract music the same way now that I've heard it.
Written by Lucas Schleicher
Sunday, 17 January 2010
Burn is superior in every way to Coleclough's other collaboration
from 2008. Andrew Liles' sometimes campy, often spooky penchant
for drafting other-worldly drones pairs perfectly with Jonathan's
texture-rich audio and their flirtation with musique concrète
is both entrancing and fun. With some of the samples apparently
being drawn from Coleclough and Liles' 2008 Brainwaves set, Burn
has the added bonus of featuring sounds from one of the most entertaining
experimental shows I have ever seen.
Coleclough's performance at
Brainwaves 2008 sticks out in my mind more than almost any other
show from that year. In fact, his use of the now infamous "torch
pen" is one of the most ingenious and entertaining things I've
ever seen from any performer, avant-garde or otherwise. The apparatus
was simple: a couple of contact mics were affixed to a plate of
glass, which was suspended from a coat hanger. With Liles controlling
sound and generating waves of drone, Coleclough proceeded to take
a small blow-torch pen to the glass, creating cracks that were then
picked up by the mics and transformed into crystalline shards of
noise. It was a transfixing and beautiful thing to see and hear,
and it made musique concrète more immediate and fun for me
than it had ever been before. Whether or not someone was there to
witness that show might affect how much they enjoy certain parts
of Burn, but this album stands on its own for many other reasons.
Jonathan's clever use of fire, glass, and microphones only shows
up on one song ("Blackburn") and it sounds excellent even
without the opportunity to watch it happen live. And Liles' input
shouldn't go ignored. His signature is pretty obvious through the
record, whether he's editing or inserting some ghostly audio into
the mix. If it weren't for his subtle hand, Burn would be a flatter
and far less engaging disc.
The album gets off to a slow
start, though, with "Sunburn" dragging a little bit before
"Blackburn" kicks the record into high gear. Like Bad
Light, Burn features a good deal of unprocessed audio. But, it is
done to much better effect this time around, in part because Liles
provides an anchor for Coleclough's wandering. Bells, chimes, pianos,
strings, guitar, prepared piano, and other sundry instruments all
show up on various songs, but this time they're integrated into
the flow of sound more completely. In fact, "Heartburn"
features a brief, but powerful guitar interlude that melts perfectly
into the surrounding boil of clunking metal and detuned violins.
This success probably has a lot to do with Liles' penchant for combining
and arranging odd sounds: he finds absolutely no difficulty in blending
toys, electronic gizmos, seriously demented noise, and a good bit
of humor into his music. Coleclough's expanded musical palette obviously
benefits from this ability. It keeps the record from being too haphazard
and it lends a lot of diversity to a kind of music that can become
stale and uninteresting pretty easily. The length of each track
on Burn contributes to its enjoy-ability, too: only two songs exceed
the 12-minute mark, and only one ventures off into 20-minute territory.
By keeping things brief in some places, Coleclough and Liles make
Burn sharper and harder-hitting, which means a lot for a record
that features three and four-minute fade-ins, lots of slowly developing
themes, and other sonic minutiae.
Fans looking for a document
of the Coleclough and Liles Braiwaves performance will be happy
to have Burn, but the album offers up a lot more than memories of
their live collaboration. Every song is like an extention of that
performance, each of which borrows from and expands upon the original
conceit. With the added benefit of some studio trickery and a little
refinement, their combined effort sounds even better.