Review: Spaceship ‘Ravines’
Let’s get the practicalities out of the way first. Spaceship is musician, sound artist and educator Mark S. Williamson. His work is often a response to, and influenced by, his environment. Mark’s work often combines field recordings with electronic and acoustic instrumentation, usually recorded outside, amid the landscape and weather. More than occasionally, Mark’s account on Instagram bears witness to his time outside in the West Yorkshire landscape of his home.
This is beautiful work.
I first listened to this whilst in the throes of Covid, battling with insomnia. I was desperate for something to listen to, something soothing but not bland, something that would hold my attention whilst maintaining the possibility that sleep might eventually come; something new, that would move me.
I didn’t fall asleep, but four out of five ain’t bad.
Ravines is a sequel to 2019s Outcrops. Whereas Outcrops was focused on the uplands above Mark’s hometown of Todmorden, the environment shaping this album’s sinuous sound is the narrow, steep sided ravines, known as cloughs, that contain the streams flowing down the valley sides to feed the River Calder.
Like a fickle deity, the cloughs can be peaceful sanctuaries, a shelter from the windswept moors, or they can, in times of heavy rainfall, cause the floods which remain a part of valley life. What Mr Williamson has managed to do in four beautifully interconnected, yet individual tracks, is to capture this duality in masterfully layered synth and drones.
Each of the four pieces begin and end with what I assume is a field recording of the burbling water of the track’s namesake (each being named after a different clough). In all four cases it’s a gentle, naturally musical sound that I’d be prepared to listen to for the length of whole albums. Interestingly (for me at any rate), the field recording that opens and closes Colden Clough sounds to these battered ears like it was recorded underwater.
Each piece of music on this album builds from the wellspring of gurgling water, adding layer upon layer of synth, string, drone…
The pieces form a coherent whole, conjuring the landscape with admirable efficacy. Although they are similar (in the way that many albums have an overarching sound that encapsulates the artist’s vision at that point in time), the tracks are also individual, each a sonic entity in its own right.
Whilst Pudsey Clough conjures with sound that could have come from Mark Snow’s X Files theme, and Gorpley Clough channels some gently discordant airs played over an insistently discordant drone, Jumble Hole Clough is easily the most sinister track here. Its low rumble follows a toll-like drone that plays across the noise of the water, as though heard through a discombobulating fog that we become increasingly panicky about finding our way through, as well as what it might contain.
Each piece of music on this album builds from the wellspring of gurgling water, adding layer upon layer of synth, string, drone, always with a sense of holding the listener firmly in place as the landscape reveals itself, showing us things of its choosing. Then stripping those layers away again, back down to the essence of the piece; water, and its inherent, capricious power.
Aside from the aural splendour of Ravines, it is available in a range of fine and desirable physical entities. I wrote in my Top Ten of 2021 about my love for artists whose vision extends to the physical embodiment of their work, in the format and packaging and it pleases me to see vinyl and accompanying handmade bags as options here. I sense that the vinyl listening experience would pay dividends for this exquisite work, revealing granular detail throughout the strata, and inciting unease and resolution through its sub-bass drones.
I’m going to order mine now. This is a beautiful piece of work.
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Scribed by: George Green