i write this by what’s left of the clyde shipyards on a typically pissing glasgow afternoon. this record resonating on many levels; aurally, but also with a peculiar sense of time and place, to objects and locations, to history and landscape, to myths and scale, to the elements and (failed) attempts at conquering of.
which i s’pose is my way of saying, it’s bloody huge.
petrels is bleeding heart narrative fella oli barrett, haeligeweille his paean to william walker. a conceptual piece of sorts built around the story of walker and winchester cathedral. i won’t cut n paste the whole wikipedia article (the only reason i know anything about walker…) but the gist of it is:
between 1906 and 1912 walker, a diver, worked on the waterlogged foundations on the south and east walls to prevent the collapse of the cathedral. built on unstable ground, it was slowly subsiding. walker, labouring underwater in darkness, day in, day out, for years packed the foundations with 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks, and 900,000 bricks, saving the cathedral. for the time being anyway.
there’d be something of a perverse baron münchausen feel to the tale if it wasn’t so goddam true. and, in this sense of myth and story, recurring themes and references to physical space and architecture and isolation i’m thinking of haeligewielle as a sequel of sorts (or companion piece) to the last bleeding heart narrative album, tongue tangled hair.
i’ll repeat this david foster wallace quote: “fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion – these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.”
because there’s a real sense of of being alone. and a real sense of geography, huge oppressive geography. of floating or falling. of things breaking down. of loss and collapse. maybe. haeligeweille just seems that much more focussed, thematically, musically.
from concrete: alone i work / all around me darkness swirls / of sinking stone / i will not stop ‘til all these walls / have found their cause / to hold / hold.
and if that sounds like a pete seeger verse then i s’pose it could be. just one that sounds like it’s sung through a divers suit with the weight and pressure of 20 feet of water surrounding you.
frighteningly claustrophobic but exultant in a beautifully understated way, it’s easily the loudest record i’ve heard in a while when it gets going (the climax of canute sounding not unlike the roar of the sea). monstrous arvo part-isms and peter wright destructo-drones. and with similar tropes can come across like richard skelton on steroids. all the more remarkable, given it’s dimensions, is that it’s made using only bowed strings, discarded electronics, found percussion and occasional vocals.
this from the rather self-effacing walker himself seems to fit: “it was not difficult. it was straightforward work, but had to be carefully done.”
it’s an attempt (and a successful one) to express the vastness of walker’s task in enormous washes of black drone and choral layers and glitchy postsomethingorother miasma. and – with reference to sea birds, francis danby (see the shipwreck and the deluge), king canute, concrete and silt, holy wells – more generally a representation of the weirdly contradictory (im)mutability of water and stone, and the somewhat delusional relationship / struggle we have with them and the land around us.