The Folkestone Lighthouse EP is one of the best releases of the year. We don’t say such things often, or lightly, because tastes differ; but this one crosses genres and is much more than a simple release. We’re fortunate to be able to print this review while copies are still available, but please don’t wait, because if you miss out, you’ll cry, and we won’t be able to dry your tears with “I told you so”s.
Wist Records is a relatively new label; their bread and butter to date has been their Book Report Series, a pairing of Penguin Classic paperbacks with matching original recordings. But the Folkestone Lighthouse EP is over the top. It comes in a sturdy packet envelope, along with cardboard mini-posters and a batch of recreated vintage postcards. Included among the ephemera: lighthouse information, a map, and of course, the CD3″. This isn’t something that can be downloaded, embedded, or otherwise digitally shared without losing its essence; it’s a physical reflection of a physical object in a physical space. The only thing missing is salt water taffy.
As the liner notes indicate, the project is closely related to a cymatic installation created by Russell Burden for the finale of the International Lighthouse Relay. The Folkestone Lighthouse, located above the Straits of Dover, was one of 20 that participated in the event. As many lighthouses have become mechanized in recent years, the human touch is a reminder of a lifestyle that is passing away: the lonely lighthouse keeper, often exiled from land and humanity, at the constant mercy of God and the elements. We can only imagine such hardship and stoic resolve; but the disc helps us to feel it.
Musically, this is the best lighthouse release since Plinth’s Music for Smalls Lighthouse, and possibly the best thing recorded in a lighthouse since múm’s Summer Make Good. (Each of these also came in beautiful limited edition packaging, and anyone who has all three is fortunate indeed.) While not every element was recorded in the lighthouse, parts of each track came directly from Folkestone, and the final piece is comprised entirely of location-based sounds.
When attempting to communicate intense sadness and reverence at the same time, one can’t do much better than to turn to Danny Norbury. The opening piece, “By Day”, sets the stage with layers of pure field recordings, most notably the Folkestone fog sounder. But Norbury’s cello carries the weight of the lighthouse keeper’s isolated heart: the yearnings, the responsibilities, the fears. A percussive pulse wanders in and out like a clock, first noticed, then forgotten. An unnamed mechanism lets out steam like collected breath. Mutually sorrowful melodies spill from opposing speakers. And all the while, rain, fog, the threat of unsafe passage.
In the distance, another Boat approaches: Craig Tattersall, contributing the loops of “By Night”. The timbre is darker, the tempo slower, the wind more intense. One imagines him clutching his sailor’s hat, disembarking from a scant wooden vessel, slipping on seaweed-slick boulders, catching the box with the loops while twisting his back in an unnatural way. But the lighthouse keeper is grateful; it’s the first human contact he’s had in weeks.
The next visitor is Jez riley French, whose field recordings were mixed with those of Burden for the last leg of the Folkestone installation. But the purest treatments are held for the closer, unadorned by melody or loop: the rope-through, pulley, lens drive and other parts of the lighthouse, holding down the fort while the others disappear. The signal noises that began the EP are also present at the close, encouraging wrap-around listening.
Why is Folkestone Lighthouse one of the year’s best releases? Oddly enough, because one doesn’t even need to like music to get one’s money’s worth. One simply needs to like lighthouses, history, photographs, or sound. That’s a very wide net. And all this for only 15 euros. I’ve just purchased a second copy for a friend. 118 left. A universal, unqualified recommendation. (Richard Allen)
By Day (excerpt)