Machenalia
(The Newsletter of The Friends of Arthur Machen),
Review of The Willows and Ouroborindra
Summer 2006


Record label Ghost Box prides itself on releasing curious electronica in the tradition of BBC's Radiophonic Workshop and beyond. Ghost Box's releases have been described as "evocation machines", aiming to transport the listener into a different reality . There are obvious echos here of Machen's aims in literature to explore the secrets which underlie the normal world. The founders of the label are Jim Jupp and Julian House and there is a variety of material available on their website. Julian House's impressive cover art for the CDs is an important part of the feel of this distinctive label. An interview qith Simon Reynolds on their website reveals that: "One key zone of obsession involves the tales of cosmic horror and pastoral uncanny penned by gentleman occultists such as Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen. Inspired by a Blackwood story, the title track of Belbury Poly's debut album, The Willows marvellously conjures the weird energy that sometimes emanates from certain flooded meadows and deserted heaths in the English countryside."

The Ghoxt Box website states: "The music of Belbury Poly is, by turns joyous, bucolic and naive; and at times shot through with panic terror. Imagine soundtracks to televised versions of Arthur Machen tales, beautifully filmed in grainy day for night lighting, yet too disturbing and explicit ever to be broadcast." Belbury was the place run by the unpleasant organization NICE in C.S. Lewis' That Hiddeous Strength. The album as a whole seems to be based on the following quote from Blackwood's story: "It's the sound of their world, the humming in their region. The division here is so thin that it leaks through somehow." It features intriguing and atmospheric music which uses a range of electronica, instruments and found sounds to create curious melodic combinations. The track called "Caermaen" has a haunting medieval sounding refrain and includes a selection of echoing voices. Apparently the vocal comes from a 1908 cylinder recording of a Lincolnshire folk singer, Joseph Taylor, which has been extensively altered so the dead sing anew. The sound on it comes as if filtered through a great distance. Like Machen himself said of Caermaen: "Thin and strange, mingled together the voices came up to him on the hill; it was as if an outland race inhabited the ruined city and talked in a strange language and terrible things." Another stand out track is "A Thin Place" which is really rather evocative of a lingering sense of mystery. Comes strongly recommended if you enjoy any form of ambient or moody atmospheric music.

Eric Zann is named after one of Lovecraft's most haunting stories, "The Music of Eric Zann" in which music manages to open a door to another dimension. Ouroborindra provides electronic soundscapes, with half heard voices, distant echoes, animal cries and distorted sounds which are atmospheric and disturbing in exactly the same way as Lovecraft. The website states: "Eric Zann's radios, oscialltors and recordings conjure eldritch echoing spaces and invoke the voices of the dead that whisper within them." The inside cover quotes the influential Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape (BBC 1972), "Don't you get it yet ? It must work like ... a recording. Fixed in the floor and the walls, right in the substance of them. A trace... of what heppened there. And we pick it up. We act as detectors - decoders - amplifiers." One track is called "Obsidian Pyramid." While it could be a reference to Machen's tale "The Burning Pyramid" it sounds more like a soundtrack to William Hope Hodgson's end of the world epic, The Night Land, where the Last Redoubt is the great Pyramid in which the distant future tattered remnants of mankind hide from things that have inherited the Earth. A mighty sound in the midst of the track signals the approach of something unspeakable, well to me at least. Best of all for a Machenphile is that two tracks "Dols" and "Voolas" finally give us a deeper glimpse into the secrets mentioned in "The White People": "And I must not say who the Nymphs are or the Dols, or Jeelo, or what Voolas mean." I recommend both albums as providing fascinating soundsacpes with which to create weird tales within your own mind.