Below Sea Level
REVIEW: THE MILK FACTORY (UK)
With releases on Miasmah, Sonic Pieces, Immune, Slaapwel, Low Point and Secret Furry Hole, it seems a pretty logical step for Cambridge-based multi-instrumentist and sound artist Simon Scott to release an album on Taylor Deupree’s excellent 12K, but Below Sea Level
, Scott’s third solo full length in four years is much more than a simple collection of tracks. Everything about it, from the music itself and the numerous field recordings used to the cover image and the journal that accompanies it, was inspired by or sourced from the Fens, a low-lying marshland region spreading from Boston and King’s Lynn to the North, Peterborough to the West to Cambridge to the South and the North Sea to the East.
Scott spent two years criss-crossing this vast flat area, which at times spreads below sea level, hence the album title, with a wealth of recording equipments to capture some of its sounds and atmospheres, then added treated guitars and drones to create a stark, yet rich, collection of airy soundscapes and dreamy sequences. Due to its utterly flat, wet and windy nature, this area is by definition an impressionist landscape, rich in tones and textures, and this is very much the approach Scott has adopted for this record. His music naturally develops at a very slow pace, but this is taken to a very different level here, to the point where it seems that it at times simply responds to the slight changes in environmental sounds to which it is associated.
Most of the pieces progress almost imperceptibly, their drone-like forms slowly gathering components through their whole course, whether it is additional guitar motifs and loops, tiny cracklings or statics or processed field recordings. Scott builds particularly striking soundscapes here, only slightly altering the scope for each one of these compositions, yet creating vastly contrasted and unique pieces. "_Sealevel 2" for instance has a slightly abrasive appearance, but behind the dense mesh of statics and noises shimmers a repetitive guitar motif to give the piece a wonderfully warm kaleidoscopic feel. This is repeated later on with "_Sealevel 4," but here the emphasis is on the layers of natural sounds rather than on any musical fragments. By contrast "_Sealevel 3" is a more restrained composition, which, as it progressively grains momentum as it fades in, builds from a rather arid drone into a warmer one in its latter phase. "_Sealevel 7" follows a similar path, its sweeping soundscapes moving from one end of the piece to the other with great fluidity." _Sealevel 6" is a much more monolithic piece, based around one single drone which gathers strength until it reaches its climax at the half way point, then slowly fades out until it dies down entirely.
To some extend, "_Sealevel 1" is something of an oddity, its more defined melodic components setting it on a beautiful pastoral path. The symbiosis between field recordings and instruments is extremely solid and balanced here, yet somehow the musical aspect appears particularly potent for most of the piece.
The record is however only part of the project. The deluxe version, strictly limited to a thousand copies, comes with an 80-page hard cover journal which collects an essay written by Scott, An Exploration Of The Subterranean Fenland Environment, together with sketches, handwritten notes and photographs, providing an additional documents on an area close to Scott’s heart. Completing the set is a download-only thirty minutes of live material, making this a particularly beautiful package in which Simon Scott not only showcases his music, but also an area of natural beauty which was the backdrop to his childhood.
Below Sea Level