DEBUT ALBUM - THE LP IS NOW SOLD OUT.
released March 25, 2013
Sounds: piano, cello, cymbal, gongs, clarinet, and the sea.
By Chris Gowers and Katie English.
Improvised/composed on 6th march 2012 at Soup Studio and Union Chapel, apart from the cello on track 1 which was recorded at home during late March 2012, and the gongs and field recordings which were recorded during February 2012.
Soup Studio, Union Chapel, on Brighton beach (west pier) and at home.
No digital effects were used on this album.
Mastered by Ian Hawgood at the Home Normal Mastering Boutique on 2 inch and ½ inch tape.
Cover photograph by Chris Gowers.
Design and layout by Ian Hazeldine.
Thanks to Jonathan Lees and Ian Hazeldine at Hibernate, Simon Trought at Soup Studio, Pete Stapleton at Union Chapel, and Ian Hawgood at Home Normal.
This is album number one. Copyright by Lowered 2013.
Consensus: Lowered’s debut abandons the trend of digitally-processed classical music by using a stripped-down organic mixture of field recordings, reductive playing processes, and experimentation with microphone placement and naturally reverberant spaces, making this one of the most forward-thinking albums in the genre.
Classical music is something that is often controversial among today’s generation. Without classical music, the theories and harmonies that pervade modern popular music would never exist. The Beatles famously allude to classical music through some of the string arrangements on “Revolver”, and even Zappa composed and conducted his own orchestral compositions alongside his outsider rock and jazz tunes. On the contrary, the theories that are often brought out are so repetitive that they either lose the interest of the listener completely, or so radical that they completely scare the listener out of their mind. Most would never listen casually to Mozart or Bach just as much as they would never listen to Messiaen and Schoenberg; Radiohead and Scott Walker nevertheless are popular and bring to the listener these surreal classical influences upfront. Therefore, when popular music seems to be the biggest thing, it seems as though classical music has nothing left to offer listeners. The ideas they set about hundreds of years ago have been the formula for music ever since, so where would anything new come into place?
The irony is that modern classical music is revealing more artistically and conceptually than what its predecessors brought to the table. Technology has helped to bring classical music out of the concert hall, and into listeners’s bedrooms, while also creating a surge in using technology in composition and performance. There are millions of examples, but perhaps the most distinct is Kyle Bobby Dunn, William Basinski, and Stars of the Lid. At the core of their works is traditional and classical instrumentation, but are processed digitally to create sprawling electroacoustic landscapes. Furthermore, there are even more schools teaching electroacoustic music, which shows that the genre is slowly expanding. However, even with technology, the ideas are what is important here, because without good conceptual justifications, then the music is rendered meaningless .
Lowered is a new project by London-based artists Chris Gowers and Katie English, who individually have gained recognition under various aliases on different labels. Their debut album, “Lost Seas”, which is also the first in a new vinyl series for Hibernate, consists mainly of the same modern classical music mentioned earlier. However, what makes “Lost Seas” stand out is that technology is heavily stripped down on this album. No digital effects processing was used, so therefore, the droning electronic soundscapes of the previously stated composers are not found here. There are drones here, though. Lots of it, but not in the way you would expect.
The opener, “Latitude 33 Degrees North, Longitude 40 Degrees West”, begins with the sound of the shore on Brighton Beach. The howling wind and the rough washes of waves across the sand helps to put the listener into a state of mind. A dissonant wash of sound weaves in and out of the mix before a lone cello sustains haunting notes, slowly revealing the melody over several minutes. The cello harmonizes with itself as well, creating a very melancholic mood before, in the end, it is swept up by the sea. The whole atmosphere surprisingly resembles any of Morton Feldman’s later long-form string pieces, or even one of the albums in Brian Eno’s Ambient series. “Movement of Slowly Dying Waves” is even more dramatic and somber, with a slowly evolving cello drone sustaining underneath like a storm in the distance. A piano then enters, playing soft chords and little melodies overtop, almost like in Arvo Pärt’s tinntabulation compositions. Later on, the waves slowly roll back in, which slowly swallow up the instruments, even as new lines in the piano play. “Low Tide” begins with the same dissonant drone that opened up the first piece, with a piano adding flourishes in the space between the cello and gong drones. The effect is pretty unsettling. “Adrift” begins with a clarinet and cello drone flowing overtop a field recording of crackling and percussive hits. The drones slowly move downward as the piece progresses. “Acceptance” is more or less the same piano-cello drone combo, except that it sounds more like some sort of melancholic church hymnal rather than trying to create an atmosphere. The final title track has another cello drone in it, but the piano plays out chords. The individual notes of these chords are then echoed by other layers of cellos, creating this ethereal reverberation that hasn’t been heard much in classical music before. Gongs silently add to the mix, which overall creates this beautiful ritualistic sound that sounds both ancient and futuristic, as though it is not of this world. What’s also delightfully strange is that the gong’s pitch sounds exactly like a distant buoy swaying in the ocean, which further gives meaning to why the album is called “Lost Seas”. It’s meditative, introspective, and yearns for longing and meaning as humanity is swept up day by day in these lost seas of depressive emotions. There’s furthermore upright bass and distant crash cymbals that further create an oceanic feel. Overall, the ending track is quite a harrowing composition.
Musically, “Lost Seas” sounds like any other droning modern classical album. Where Lowered draws the line, however, is in their decision to abandon digital effects. The album solely relies on compositional techniques, microphone placement, and natural acoustics to achieve similar soundscapes. All of this, however, adds up to an intricately textured album whose compositions delicately evolve. There’s no rush with what is going on musically. The compositions flow patiently and naturally like the waves of the sea. In the end, if listeners are willing to take the time to immerse themselves patiently in such an experience, then “Lost Seas” is certainly worth a listen. This is one of the most unique and forward-thinking albums in the modern classical genre to date, proving that technology cannot always put a gauze over raw compositional beauty. Nature must run its course, and Lowered lets classical music loose on that course.
8.5 out of 10 stars
A visual go-to, for me, whilst listening to certain compositions has always been that of the isolation one must feel inside the Maunsell Sea Forts at night. Constructed as British naval defences, and decommissioned in the 1950s, they now stand miles out to (and above) the sea in a state of abandonment and disrepair. Now only seabirds venture inside, though the forts themselves witness every storm; every sound not heard by human ears.
London-based duo ‘Lowered’ paint with a palette not unlike that of the aforementioned remoteness of the sea. Simple, organic, and dramatically sparse in instrumentation - Lowered’s debut ‘Lost Seas’ in an exercise in texture and environment. A hugely reductive approach presents just the bare bones of each composition: leaving each element naked and open to weathering. ‘Weathered’ is, perhaps, the ideal word to describe these compositions – compositions that wash over the listener like the sea that is so frequently a motif here.
Chris Gowers and Katie English, the practitioners behind Lost Seas, have here taken the increasingly unorthodox step of expelling all digital effects from their work - relying instead on the dynamics of the available environments. Recording cello, piano, and cymbal parts in both a London studio and an empty church, their approach to arrangement is one of absolute sparseness. Coupled with field recordings of a bleak southern English seafront, these rudimentary sounds paint gorgeous images so often lost in recordings of greater ambition. To rely on a hugely tired cliché, less here is, without question, more.
Lost Seas is an album that, from the offset, feels like a self-contained entity. Whilst not fully delving into the dangerous territory of a ‘concept’ release, these recordings absolutely belong with the bleak ocean scene pictured on the artwork. This is poetry for the same waves that birthed many of the composite layers within the six perhaps too-brief tracks. And, whilst austere from the opening, a buried feeling of hope often permeates from within. The welcoming strings and keys found on shorter compositions ‘Adrift’ and ‘Acceptance’ are akin to brief breaks in the clouds – like a ship coming into the clear.
Coasting the hugely visceral instrumentation back into the familiar desolation with which the record began, Gowers and English close this unadorned recording on a strangely forgettable note. It feels, however, like it may be an intentional device - leaving silently, with little trace of having ever been. An uneasy journey, but hugely visual in its delivery, Lost Seas is a masterwork of textural drone and is, perhaps, the perfect soundtrack for darkest nights on the empty sea.
- Review by Jack Cooper, futuresequence.com
There’s something almost akin to watching the end credits of a film noir in the first few minutes of Lost Seas, as if you’ve arrived too late and missed the entire story, left with only the trail of a mournful theme, the music slowly receding away in a mist of dust and ashes. The solitary cello that emerges from the rumble of dark waters is enough to set the tone though, a dark and powerful tone that will prevail throughout the album despite rare moments of lighter moods, something like a sombre and pensive meditation for remote seashores and abandoned lighthouses, their ghostly story somehow told in reverse in subsequent tracks.
There’s a refreshing simplicity in the reduced, almost ascetic, sound palette used in Lost Seas, where cymbals, gongs and field recordings are the only occasional companions to Katie English’s and Chris Gowers’s unprocessed cello and piano, a simplicity that serves the album theme to flourish in clear and define lines and propel its narrative with unhurried momentum. The duo must have spent a lot of time absorbed in their subject matter – just watching the endless ebb and flow of waves painted in gradation of grey – to make music resonating so much with the solitude of the sea. The interplay of cello and piano, when they appear together like in ‘Movements of slowly dying wave’ or ‘Low tide’, is articulated in slow tidal undulations and spacious movements that are perfectly attuned to the loneliness and expansiveness of large and isolated seashores. Often sparse notes and enveloping tones, coalescing into thickening drones, are textured down to their very core and carry with them echoes of isolation refracted in the sound of the sea, both literally and metaphorically.
In closing track ‘Lost seas’, the cello solidifies to the consistency of an opaque syrup whilst diminutive clusters of piano notes ebb and flow on its darken surface in a sort of desolated deambulation. In itself the track condenses the entire album’s intentions in one continuous stream of sounds, whilst the subtle and really effective use of distant gongs and cymbals cyclic echoes deepens and furthers its overarching tension and gives it a welcome sense of transcendental introspection.
Lost Seas will be the first release in Hibernate Recordings new vinyl series and limited to 150 copies.
- Pascal Savy for Fluid Radio
Both the sleeve and title give a good indication of what to expect from this record. Together Chris Gowers and Katie English (aka Karina ESP and Isnaj Dui) conjure up a sonic voyage into a desolate monochrome ocean. You really get the feeling of wandering into the infinite with merely moonlight as a guide and although in an open space the darkness induced claustrophobia. The strings add a very sinister yet quite delicate and beautiful contrast to the swells and nautical ambience, crackle and fuzz, recalling the likes of Aaron Martin’s collaboration with Machinefabriek perhaps.
Somehow the cello seems to really gel exceptionally well with the saddened atmospherics, for it surely is thee instrument to melt the coldest of hearts. It’s a gloomy introspective ride which suits me fine, perhaps not the best tonic during these freezing times yet a perfect soundtrack. A very well executed album of field recordings, piano, cello drones. There’s a lot of this type of stuff around these days but this manages to hold a real narrative throughout and stands out from the crowd. Chilling stuff.
- Norman Records
Astre béni du marin Conduis ma barque au rivage; Garde moi de tout naufrage, Blanche étoile du matin. Lorsque les flots en courroux Viendront menacer ma tête, Calme, calme la tempête, Rends pour moi le ciel plus doux. Combien d'écueils dangereux Sur cette mer inconnue! Découvre-les à ma vue, Phare toujours lumineux. Mais si jamais, ô douleur! Sombrait ma barque légère, Que je puisse, à ta lumière, Saisir un débris sauveur. Fait briller un ciel d'azur, Dissipe tous les nuages, Et que, malgré les orages, Mon cœur reste toujours pur. Quand viendra mon dernier jour, Éclaire, Étoile chérie, Mon départ de cette vie Pour un plus heureux séjour.
Nos lecteurs avisés sont supposés se souvenir de Katie English, qui avait illuminé l'année dernière (sous son projet personnel Isnaj Dui) avec un Abstracts On Solitude de toute beauté (la chronique est ici). Elle rejoint cette fois-ci son compère Chris Gowers (Karina ESP) pour former Lowered, duo qui délaisse temporairement ses appétits de superbe joueuse de dulcimer. Lost Seas est la première réalisation au format vinyle du label britannique pour esthètes Hibernate, dont on fait l'éloge très régulièrement ici.
Capté entre les plages de Brighton et une Union Chapel anormalement vide, Lost Seas brille avant tout par le contraste propre à ses différents lieux et méthodes d'enregistrements. Je ne vais bien sûr pas aborder l'intelligence dans le placement des micros ni faire l'apologie des réverbérations naturelles. L'écoute est suffisante pour constater la complémentarité évidente des différentes couches. Et tout ça, sans le moindre apport digital. Outre la somme forcément importante de field recordings, on retrouve des instruments nobles, mais finalement assez communs à ce genre de compositions (violoncelles, piano). Rafraîchissante est donc l'intégration d'éléments un peu plus surprenants, comme la clarinette, les cymbales ou le gong. Brillante avant tout parce qu'elle est issue de séances semi-improvisées et parce qu'elle est troublante d'humilité et de dépouillement, cette oeuvre entretient en plus un lien étroit avec la mer. Avec l'absence et l'attente aussi. Sans oublier le probable salut à la nostalgie d'une certaine lenteur, dans un monde qui se brûle dans l'âtre de l'immédiateté.
Avant de parvenir sur les grands bancs, les vieux loups de mer et leurs plus jeunes compagnons de misère doivent se frayer un chemin dans la brume, au milieu des icebergs, des lames de fonds et des vieux ferrys qui croisent leur route. Les tapis de violoncelles, la plupart du temps joués en drone, jouent cette petite musique enveloppante et chaleureuse, qui rassure et rappelle un peu la terre ferme : la Cornouaille natale, son clocher non loin du bastringue, le café fraîchement torréfié, les draps propres et les dentelles. Devant son verre de tafia, le marin regarde une pas si vielle photo prise lors d'un été forcément trop court avant le départ en campagne. L'écume l'a déjà pourrie. Dans le creux de la vague, il contemple l'ombre d'une mère qui a voulu le retenir. "Reste à terre, on te trouvera bien une grosse et riche fermière" chuchote-t-elle.
Le piano, le roulis et le ressac frappant la coque, installent encore mieux ces sanglots longs des violoncelles de l'automne, blessant le coeur du marin d'une langueur monotone (wesh Verlaine). Longue, lente et périlleuse est la traversée. Mais rares sont les natifs de la berge à ne pas répondre à l'adultère. L'appel des embruns, celui de la mère bergère. A défaut d'autre chose il pense à l'escale, plus à la moitié du chemin qu'aux femmes à tout le monde. Il rêve à l'été prochain et à son bal, aux jeunes vins qu'on déguste en racontant son périple aux jolies blondes. Il n'entend même pas les frappes discrètes mais sourdes du branle-bas. Il guette dans les vents les parfums du retour, cherche dans la plainte des cordes le timbre de son prochain amour.
Uniquement disponible en vinyle, Lost Seas n'a a mon sens pas grand intérêt en mp3. Proche cette fois-ci de l'esthétique de Fluid Audio et donc de leurs productions, Hibernate transforme brillamment l'essai vers le micro-sillon.
Depuis la sortie en 2012 de l’album Pall de Pan and Me sortie chez Denovali, je n’avais pas écouté une si belle ode aux vastes étendues iodées, à la douceur du fouetté humide des vents violents, exaltant si profondément l’essence de nos rapports au royaume de Poséidon.
Latitude 33 Degrees North, Longitude 40 Degrees West », Brighton Beach, le bruit continue des éléments battants cette plage du sud-est de l’Angleterre, ou les cordes se lient timidement à cette ouverture sauvage, à l’image de la solitude fragile d’un homme tentant vainement de s’immiscer dans cette puissance océanique. Puis le field recording se fond secrètement derrière un piano minimaliste et les nappes drone des cordes graves. Comme si l’homme, peu à peu, tendait vers l’osmose, imitant le va et vient des vagues, et balayant un univers sonore introspectif, imagé, et pur. Mais la relation est délicate, et la sensation de quiétude de « Adrift », ce vague à l’âme chétif, nous renvoie à notre soumission fascinante, celle que l’on essaye par tout les moyens de contrer, alors que les épaves nombreuses jonchant les fonds marins, témoignent du contraire.
Le premier son est pour la mer, le dernier bruit de « Lost Seas » est pour l’homme, ainsi nous est magnifiquement conter les errances maritimes d’un corps perdu.
Fissate per un momento l’artwork di questo disco. Un frammento di mare, non particolarmente quieto che ispira sensazioni contrastanti. Se solitamente fissare il mare, l’enorme e infinita distesa d’acqua, è una sensazione liberatoria e piacevole, l’angolatura con cui è scattata la foto rivela un sentimento contrario: il restringimento della visuale, un accorciamento di prospettiva, un senso di soffocamento accresciuto che riconduce al tema dello smarrimento.
Queste sensazioni sono state trasferite su un livello musicale nel progetto Lowered. Trattatasi di un duo britannico formato da Chris Gowers (Karina ESP, Rome Pays Off, Signals) e Katie English (Isnaj Dui, The Owl Service). Il lavoro è soprattutto frutto dell’istinto del momento, dell’improvvisazione. Infatti le registrazioni sono state fatte in un solo giorno con piano, violoncello e piatto. Successivamente sono stati aggregati i field recording catturati sulla spiaggia di Brighton e i suoni del clarinetto. Non vi sono state manipolazioni o effetti digitali.
Naturalmente prevalgono le strutture ambient che vengono però decisamente rivoltate in prospettiva rumoristica e neoclassica: dall’ascolto emerge un grado di integrazione tale fra strumenti ed elementi naturali che sembra riprodurre quella fluidità frastagliata del mare in movimento (basta sentire la title-track “Lost Seas” per comprendere quanto detto).
“Latitude 33 Degrees North, Longitude 40 Degrees West” è un brano che punta molto sulla spontaneità del suono naturale e infatti il violoncello fa il suo ingresso non subito: lo strumento non ruba la scena ma asseconda i frammenti sonori. Nella successiva “Movement Of Slowly Dying Waves” c’è una costruzione più artificiosa ma pur sempre d’effetto: il violoncello occupa la composizione (così come in “Adrift“) per quasi tutta la durata ma prima del finale viene integrato da delicati field recording e un misurato intervento del pianoforte.
Tra i momenti più cupi dell’album c’è “Low Tide”, brano teso e con le note di pianoforte che incrementano l’effetto del flusso dronico. Al contrario la breve “Acceptance” è quella che fa scemare quel senso di claustrofobia che riempiva le altre composizioni.
La sensibilità artistica che emerge da questo lavoro è la cosa che si apprezza di più. Il trasferimento in note di un momento, della natura, delle sensazioni che provoca non è semplice da realizzare a questi livelli: quella foto associata alle sei composizioni si trasforma in un’opera d’arte esperienziale. Affrettatevi ad acquistarlo. Le copie disponibili sono solo 150.
- Son Of Marketing
Frutto della collaborazione tra Chris Gowers (Karina ESP) e Katie English (Isnaj Dui), Lost Seas vede i due sperimentatori inglesi spogliare completamente da rimaneggiamenti elettronici le loro partiture per pianoforte e violoncello, per restituirle alle rispettive dinamiche corali.
In seguito rifiniti da percussioni, fiati e ventosi field recordings marini, i dialoghi tra i due strumenti sfociano in sgranati piani sequenza in seppia, alternamente incentrati su sparse armonie e avvolgenti elongazioni di note in forma di persistenti drone.
L’immaginario che ne risulta si presta a solitarie meditazioni, senza tuttavia rinunciare (“Movement Of Slowly Dying Waves”) ad abbracci di desolato, rapito romanticismo.
(pubblicato su Rockerilla n. 393, maggio 2013)
- Music Won't Save You