Torch Songs

Jonathan Coleclough & Andrew Liles

Torch Songs

Year: 2007
Label: Die Stadt (DS93)
Format: Limited Edition Double LP + CD / Double LP

Torch Song One
Torch Song Two

Torch Song Three
Torch Song Four

Torch Song Five
Torch Song Six

Torch Song Seven
Torch Song Eight

Jonathan Coleclough - Live At St. Peters, Preston, 1 October 2004

Recorded 2004-205 in Preston, Geneva and Brighton.

The special edition of 250 copies includes an additional CD of Coleclough’s solo performance at Intergration in Preston, UK on October 1, 2004.


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 anyway.
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 Fischer

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 Keith Moline

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 sleeve.
“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 indefinitely.
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.