Through a musical lens: Reservoir 13 (Music for the Novel by Jon McGregor) by Richard J. Birkin ft. Haiku Salut


Richard J. Birkin divides his time between making music as a recording artist, composing for TV & film, and being the lead creative technologist for Time Travel Opps where his artistic and technical acumen come together to produce digital projects for the arts as well as consultation in the commercial sector. The common thread in all these aspects of his work is a focus on creating emotionally compelling interactive experiences that people can connect to in a meaningful way. This makes him perhaps the ideal person to have collaborated with author Jon McGregor in the promotion of his award-winning novel Reservoir 13, which examines life in a village in England’s Peak District in the days, months, & years following the mysterious disappearance of a teenage girl.

McGregor was looking for a way to promote the book on tour that would be more engaging than the de rigueur format of simply reading passages and answering questions for an audience. Enter Birkin, who keyed off the novel’s atmospheric nature and repetitive themes to create a soundtrack that would help bring it uniquely to life in live, interactive, and recorded performances. The music was based on a local Derbyshire folk song called “Tip O’Derwent” which, serendipitously echoing the novel itself, is also about someone who goes missing in the wilds in that part of the country.
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Through a Musical Lens: Touch Dissolves by Aaron Martin [IIKKI]


Even with a thesaurus ever just a mouse-click away, one begins to run out of superlatives to describe the music of Aaron Martin. Perhaps it is the unpretentious, organic beauty. Perhaps it is sublime balance between the earthly and the empyrean. Perhaps it is simply that truth resonates in each handmade note, of which not one is ever wasted. If you have heard Aaron’s work, you know exactly what I mean.  If you have not, then a wonderful starting point would be his contribution to Touch Dissolves, the album portion of sixth edition of IIKKI Books in which volume is presented as a dialog between two artists, one visual and one musical (the visuals in this edition are provided by Turkish photographer Yusuf Sevinçli).

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Through a musical lens: Memory Sketches by Tim Linghaus [Schole/1631 Recordings]


What is a memory? It is not such a silly question. Just stop and think about it for a moment. Try to put it into words. What IS a memory? How do they accrue such significance to our sense of self?  Musician Tim Linghaus wrestles with this in a beautiful and touching way on his latest album called Memory Sketches. Tim’s experiences with making music began when he discovered his father’s Yamaha drum machine and guitars when he was a young boy in the GDR. During his university years he played guitar in a couple of bands ranging from metal to singer/songwriter, but of late his music is mainly based on piano, synthesizers and noise. If you have had the joy of listening to his debut Vhoir, then you know it is of an exceptionally thoughtful and delicate nature and the new album continues very much in the same vein but with a very particular purpose as Tim explains.

“What is a memory? Is it a residue of our past conjured into being by pictures in our minds? Is it our former self communicating with our present one or the other way around? Is it a recurring emotion or smell we notice in a déjà vu or a daydream? Is it an individual sum of those aspects? What I know is that memories help me to define who I am. They establish connection between me and everything that is not present or future – sometimes sharp and palpable, more often soft and frail. Unfortunately, some memories fade away irrevocably. Hence, I am quite afraid of losing them.” Tim Linghaus

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Through a Musical Lens: Loving Vincent OST by Clint Mansell [Milan Records]

Oddly enough, I don’t remember which painting it was, but I will never forget the way it felt to stand for the first time in front of an original Van Gogh at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. In some ways it was a disorienting experience. I recall becoming light-headed as if the colors & textures on canvas were alive and in perpetual motion. This phenomenon proved to be no fluke as I found in subsequent opportunities to view his work in person again years later at the VMFA’s Art of the Flower exhibition and again during a first visit to the Art Institute of Chicago.

I am sure I am far from being  alone in being so viscerally affected by the vibrancy of Van Gogh’s work. In fact, there is now a stunning new film that goes so far as to literally bring many of the his paintings to life even as it purports to tell the story of the events leading to his tragic early death. Written & directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, their animated film Loving Vincent was meticulously hand-painted by a team of 115 artists.

“Loving Vincent is the upcoming biographical animated film from newcomer directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman about Vincent van Gogh’s final days and the attempt by an acquaintance of his son (played by Douglas Booth) to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. A film unlike any other, it is entirely hand painted – each of the movie’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting on a canvas created using the same techniques as Vincent van Gogh.”

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Through a Musical Lens: Lowlands – Ester Vonplon / Taylor Deupree & Marcus Fischer [IIKKI]

Lowlands is the third edition of the recently launched IIKKI project, a unique concept in which each entry in the series is the outcome of a creative dialog between a visual artist and a music artist which results in parallel imprints – a fine art book and a vinyl record. This one began when Ester Vonplon traveled last year to Spitsbergen, an island in the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago, where she captured impressions of the calving glaciers and melting ice of the Arctic Ocean aboard a three-masted sailing vessel. The musicians chosen for this edition are Taylor Deupree and Marcus Fischer, frequent collaborators and potent alchemists in the art of electroacoustic minimalism, who fashioned an audio narrative from recordings made over a 3-year period in locations as far-flung as Iceland, Oregon, Florida, and New York. 

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Through a musical lens: øjeRum – He remembers there were gardens [KrysaliSound]

Originally released on cassette in 2013, Italian label KrysaliSound has remastered and reissued a mesmerizing long form composition by Danish collage artist & musician Paw Grabowski under his artistic pseudonym of øjeRum. An undulating, hypnagogic organ-based drone, He remembers there were gardens was conceived as an alternate soundtrack to the 1962 “photo-roman” (photo-novel) La Jetée by Chris Marker which is still recognized as a unique and highly influential experimental cinematic work

The film, presented in a series of stills, paints a dystopian vision of post-apocalyptic Paris where survivors live underground below the galleries of the Palais de Chaillot. Its protagonist is a man who is held captive and forced to travel time in a quest to find a source of energy to regenerate a decimated society. The man is chosen because of the power of his obsession with the past, specifically the allure of a fragmented, pre-war memory of a woman on the observation platform (“the jetty”) at Orly Airport and a tragic incident that occurs there which becomes the focal point of the story’s haunting denouement.

“Those familiar with the film with have no difficulty in recalling the flashes of a destroyed world, the status of the museum, and the moment on the platform. Even if you haven’t seen the film, the breathing of Grabowski’s organ will conjure similar images and moments. It fluctuates between the drifts and falls and the throb and hum of a person lost in time and place.” – KrysaliSound

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Through A Musical Lens: CEEYS – Concrete Fields [1631 Recordings]


After giving us a taste last year of their new modern classical project with The Grunewald Church Session, brothers Sebastian and Daniel Selke are about to release their full-length studio debut album entitled Concrete Fields as CEEYS. The moniker they chose is a neologism forged from references  to their respective instruments – a combination of the French spelling for cello (‘violoncelle’) played by Sebastian and ‘keys’, of which Daniel uses a wide variety in constructing their distinctive narratives including a 1912 Steinway and some intriguing vintage gear. But sound is only part of the story the Selke’s have to tell. Concrete Fields is in fact the first installment of a triptych and incorporates images & videos to resonate their experience growing up in a prefab estate in East Germany and navigating dramatic personal, political,. and cultural change.

“It is our remembrance of a childhood growing up in Europe’s largest prefab estate Marzahn-Hellersdorf, Berlin, East Germany…After the ‘quiet’ revolution in 1989 and the fall of the wall, and throughout the 90s, the region always kept a blend of an edgy feeling of departure and a vague melancholy. We like that the politics tried lots of things to bring more colour and life into the post-revolutionary landscape, but the strange feeling never fully left us. To carefully handle all the different facets of this time period we decided to release our musical version of what the Germans call ‘Betonfelder’ in the form of a trilogy spread across the next few years.” – CEEYS

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Through a Musical Lens: Spheruleus – Obsolarium [Whitelabrecs]

The old Sleaford Bass Maltings brewery complex in Lincolnshire stopped being used for its originally intended purpose in the 1950’s and has been derelict for nearly a quarter century, its imposing brick malthouses, water towers, and kilns now no more than a mute echo of the bustling hub of local industry it once was. Its Grade II listing status is evidence of the interest taken in its distinctive historical and architectural characteristics while it has also shown allure to enthusiasts of abandoned places as well as those with an eye towards future redevelopment (which has yet to come to fruition).

Harry Towell, aka Spheruleus, on the other hand, found musical inspiration here. Using a plethora of analog and electronic sound sources (acoustic instruments, samples, drone loops, an out of tune piano at a local pub, a de-tuned piano belonging to a  friend, a violin, classical guitar, voice, harmonica, zither, a warped music box, a cello iPad app, and vinyl samples), he brings that inspiration to life in a unique sonic portrait called Obsolarium.

“Obsolarium tells a story starting with the commercial success of a powerful brewery, the rail links used to distribute the produce before descending into a melancholy reflection of what once was, accompanied all the while with a crumbling disintegration. Whilst everything unravels and fragments, the series of structures remain.”

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Through a Musical Lens: Danny Clay and Katrien De Blauwer – Stills [IIKKI]


A little over 2 years ago, Mathias Van Eecloo launched Eilean Rec. The label already has over 40 albums in its catalog, nearly halfway to the 100 releases planned as part of its unique concept, and has garnered a well-deserved and devoted following thanks to its imaginative premise, overarching design motifs by Rémi Verdier, and a consistent musical aesthetic which seems to inspire something special every artist that contributes. With that project running now at a steady hum, Van Eecloo & Verdier have opted to embark on something new with a different scheme but a kindred spirit to Eilean. IIKKI is an “edition project” in which each release is the result of a collaborative dialog between a visual and musical artist beginning with Stills featuring the work of Katrien De Blauwer and Danny Clay.

Katrien De Blauwer calls herself a “photographer without a camera.” The Belgian artist collects and recycles pictures and photos from old magazines and newspapers to create stunning collages of distant mood and place. These fragmentary images evoke faded memories that are quickly brought to the fore. In turn, the viewer becomes a character in De Blauwer’s stories. Danny Clay is a composer and sound artist from Ohio, currently based in San Francisco. His works frequently utilize open forms, archival media, found objects, toy instruments, analogue and digital errata, family history, graphic notation, and the everything-in-between. Stills is their dialog. – IIKKI

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Through a Musical Lens: North Atlantic Explorers


In 2005, Glenn D’Cruze stepped out from behind the drum kit where he supported of a variety of Vancouver based bands and launched his own called North Atlantic Explorers along with Jonathan AndersonAfter the debut record (Skylines), the project remained quiet until 2014 when they returned with the first of an ambitious brace of conceptually related albums called My Father Was a Sailor.. Now, with release of the purely instrumental All the Ships At Sea, the musical diptych is completeThe albums are bound by their source of inspiration – D’Cruze’s late father’s life at sea with the British Merchant Navy:

As a young man, my father left his parents and eight siblings in a faraway country and set out to see the world. He arrived in Glasgow, Scotland circa 1952 to begin a life as an engineer with the British Merchant Navy and he spent the better part of a decade on the steamer ships. Upon returning from the sea, he fell in love with and married a stenographer and began a new life in Canada. But that was a lifetime ago…I can only wonder, and I often do, what life was like for him as a young man sailing out to distant seas and being out at sea for endless days” – Glenn D’Cruze

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Through a musical lens: Francesco Giannico – Metrophony [Time Released Sound]

“Through a musical lens” is a short series of reviews focusing on albums that present and explore human experience through music. Each album incorporates field recordings, ephemera, or motifs that revolve around everyday life and memory thus creating an especially intimate connection between their transportive sounds and the listener. 

Metrophony by Francesco Giannico

In August of 2013, electroacoustic musician and video artist Francesco Giannico recorded the entire route of the “B” line of the subway in the city of Rome, that connects the Rebibbia station with the Laurentina station, and the “B1″ line that connects the Bologna station with the Conca D ‘Oro station.  He then transformed those samples electronically and enriched them with additional instrumentation to produce an utterly absorbing cinematic musical journey for an album and art installation called Metrophony.

The album is presented as a single long form piece which lasts about 40 minutes. It begins exactly as one might expect, with a chattering voices and mechanical sounds that instantly place the listener inside a bustling subway station.  What the first time listener may not expect, however, is just how absorbing and engaging the narrative is about to become as the first musical coda arrives.  As the doors to the train hiss open, strings of reverberating guitar are patiently plucked and suddenly everything slows down.  The cacophony of the crowd recedes into the background and, gradually, synth tones begin to flower. The listener is no longer a passenger, but a transcendent and melancholic observer.

To be compelling, a narrative requires a certain amount of conflict, however subtle it may be. Giannico explains the duality that drives the narrative of Metrophony.  “The metro trip represents a dynamic soundscape in conflict with a static soundscape boxed in itself with a lot of samples already listened in a circular way like the mechanical sounds, doors of the train, train brakes and so on.”

It certainly helps that the dynamic musical elements are so gorgeous. Lovely guitar textures, lush swells of synthesizer, and doleful strings dovetail with sounds of the journey.  Between stations, the hypnotic rhythm of the tracks becomes a part of the music. For the most part, the stillness of reverie prevails, but periodically we awaken from the daydream to the sound of braking cars, opening doors, station announcements, new passengers shuffling on board, and the occasional laugh or loud talker. What Giannico has created here is so spellbinding that 40 minutes goes by surprisingly quickly.  In fact, Metrophony has turned out to be one of the most satisfying ambient records this listener has enjoyed all year.

Metrophony is available through Time Released Sound who specialize in artfully bespoke hand made releases. The deluxe limited version (only 75 copies) comes in a vintage, hand stamped, 7” 45rpm sleeve from a 60 year old vinyl binder with the outer envelope tied up with a string from which hangs a used ticket from the Rome metro system. Inside is a set of hand silk-screened 6” square prints each printed on a different sort of paper (ancient ledger papers, music sheets, rice papers, antique vellum, cardboard etc.) as well scraps of paper and ephemeral detritus found on the Rome metro station platforms and trains and the factory pressed CD in a hand stamped cotton sleeve.  A standard digipack version is also available.

Francesco Giannico web site:



Excerpts from Metrophony:


Through a musical lens: Celer – Sky Limits [Two Acorns]

“Through a musical lens” is a short series of reviews focusing on albums that present and explore human experience through music. Each album incorporates field recordings, ephemera, or motifs that revolve around everyday life and memory thus creating an especially intimate connection between their transportive sounds and the listener

 Sky Limits by Celer

A sense of place. Sights and sounds. Memories made and invoked. The juxtaposition of the mundane and the profound as we move through the arc of a day. All these aspects of life are all captured eloquently in Sky Limits, the latest full length work by American musician, writer, & photographer Will Long recording as Celer. The place the album is rooted in is Japan, which has been home now to Long for the past 10 years.  The artist himself frames the mindset behind the album for the listener:

“Hill towns and empty mountains pass by, but the smoothness of the train blurs the view, and it’s easier than ever to fall asleep in the low morning sunlight coming in through the train’s windows. We’re sleeping, or staring out at the cities and landscapes; it’s easy to imagine the sound, and connect it with these events. There’s a contrast and connection between this reality and imagination. They’re separate, but happening simultaneously. On a walk through the crowded streets of Kyoto, or a half-asleep morning, what was it like? Later, what do you remember? “

How does one capture the essence of this in a musical recording? Celer does so beautifully by interleaving recordings of the most mundane aspects of daily life with elegant, billowy ambient drones that tap the deep wells of memory and emotion that silently accompany even the most banal moments of our daily routines.

The concept works to perfection. The listener is immediately taken to a place of stillness with the airy reflections of the opening track, ‘Circle Routes’.  We emerge from the reverie to the sounds of making a cup of tea with a TV broadcast in the background.  Then, seamlessly, we drift back into reverie mode with the elegant tones of ‘In plum and magenta’.

This motif becomes a pattern throughout the record.  Celer immerses us in the sounds of the commute – boarding the Shinkhansen or walking the busy streets of Kyoto – as well the sounds of home – feet across the floor, opening and closing of doors, the jangling of car keys. Each time we drift into another shimmering reflection with appropriately poignant titles such as ‘Equal to moments of completion’, ‘Wishes to prolong’, and ‘Attempts to make time pass differently’. Each of these could easily stand alone as fine pieces of music, but they become so much more compelling when integrated into the whole.

By inviting us into his life and his reflections, Celer brings us in closer touch with our own. This is a truly lovely album and one that is affecting as it is atmospheric. Sky Limits is available from Long’s own Two Acorns label on black vinyl or as a digital download.  See links below for ordering and to sample the music.  You can also read an interview with the artist recently published as part of the “in the studio” series on Headphone Commute here:

Order black vinyl edition:

Order MP3/FLAC:

Video by Will Long

Listen to an excerpt: