Album review: Andrew C. Kidd



Toby Marks & Andrew Heath ‘Motion’

(Disco Gecko) 10th May 2019


The search for the gesamtkunstwerk led to Toby Marks and Andrew Heath embarking on a tour in the four cardinal directions of England and Wales to record more than one hundred hours of audio. The conjoint and condensed output is Motion.

I am first drawn to Marks and Heath’s metric structure. After the introductory and rather magnificent antiphonal chanting on the opening track For Stone (West) Parts 1-3, the reverberated guitar notes surge and swell like rolling waves. Multiple progressive rhythms surface from this repetitive phrase and others that emerge as the album advances. I am equally impressed by their capabilities as sound engineers. The stereo width is as broad as anything I have heard on Loscil’s Submers (Kranky, 2002) and is best illustrated by the breadth of frequencies played on For Stone (West) Parts 1-3: crisp piano notes immediately contrast the low rumble of background synths, the vibrations of which filter into ears nestled in headphones.

An iron horse slowly gathers pace in the second part of For Stone (West) Parts 1-3; the sound is heavy as it weighs against sleepers and tracks. Trains in ambient music always bring me back to Elvis On The Radio, Steel Guitar In My Soul from The KLF’s Chill Out album (Wax Trax!, 1991). Motion’s finale, By Fire (East) Parts 1-4, commences abruptly with the clamorous din of a whistling steam locomotive. The guitar notes that follow are water droplets falling from the boiler of an engine. The meditative modulations of the deep bass mirror the oscillations of a piston firing back and forth inside a cylinder. The screeches of wheels on the curve of a railroad are the drawn-out distortions of amplified strings.

Marks and Heath’s idea of kinesis is not just confined to the automatic. They also turn to the sounds of nature, or rather, natural phenomena. The merging of natural and man-made sounds is done so seamlessly that I am often left wondering as to which is which. Non-mechanical examples include waves lapping against a sandy shoreline on With Iron (South) Parts 1-3 and the familiar sound of buzzing bees in flight on In Air On Water (North) Parts 1-3, the latter contrasting against the hum and rattle of a single-engine aircraft.

This is a very human album. The distorted train announcer and youthful calls on By Fire (East) Parts 1-4 and the muffled laughs heard through the wall of water on For Stone (West) Parts 1-3 invoke many feelings. Small cracks appear in the field recordings which create a sense of vulnerability. The mostly major keys employed by the duo are uplifting and there are moments of blinding brightness; exempli gratia, the synth sequences and guitar tremolos on By Fire (East) Parts 1-4.

Near-perfect equilibrium is achieved on In Air On Water (North) Parts 1-3. Clear bell chimes ring around birdsong. Human voices chatter beneath the warmth of a bright ‘duet’ of piano and guitar as storm clouds gather. The most memorable moment of the album follows: pulses start to race with the deafening roar of a plane and the claps of thunder that crash around the granular and delayed decay of the background synths; the relief of rain after the storm serves as a calming coda.

It was the Greek philosopher Empedocles who first described the four ‘roots’ of earth, water, air and fire alluded to in Marks and Heath’s track titles. He considered each of the four roots to have their own nature and that diversity could be created by combining them. Science has obviously moved forward some two thousand years and rationalists like Lavoisier have helped place Empedocles’s theories in the basket of archaic curiosities. Nevertheless, Empedocles made an early attempt to explain the inner workings of a world that, at times, simply cannot be explained. Marks and Heath have also sought to explore the same inner workings and every time I listen to Motion new emergent properties arise from its natural, mechanistic and human components. In my opinion, that is their biggest triumph.


Andrew C. Kidd

 

 

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