Nostalgia has a crunchy bite to it and a bittersweet after-taste. At least, that’s the impression one gets from listening to SCKE// Sierra Liora (1981), a cassette release from SCKE//, that’s also available as a download for those of us who foolishly binned their Walkmans the minute the
iPod Minidisc arrived.
As the title suggests, this is music aimed at capturing a specific moment in time and geography, although it is a classic case of misdirection as I’m pretty sure that Benjamin Hallatt, the composer responsible, wasn’t alive back in 1981 so can’t pull on first-hand experience. In addition, either Sierra Liora doesn’t exist or it is keeping a very low profile on Google, in which case I suggest we all move there. So this is a world placed very much solely in one person’s imagination and he is inviting the listeners to explore the area with him.
In keeping with the idea of this album encapsulating the nostalgic recollections of a time and place, it opens with “Airplane 1981”; an apt choice because the first airport and flight that one experiences is often a very vivid moment. Often, one has never seen a building quite like an airport before, or the wide open spaces of the departure lounge, and it is very closely tied in with travelling vast distances; just think of the distance travelled on a moving walkway. In fact there’s a definite sense of displacement and it is possible to feel as if one has left the familiar environment of home without actually leaving the country – this was certainly more the case 30 years ago. SCKE// captures this through rumbles, drones, mis-tuned radios and a general sense of unease and once the suggestion from the title has infected the mind’s eye, as it were, it becomes impossible to imagine anything else.
Things become calmer, at least on the surface, from thereon, with the chimes of “Hotel 2 (Musique Concret)” and the crackly ambience and off-kilter field recordings of “Sand and the Sea (Version 1)”. The mood is still spooky, though, with sounds off in the distance providing the unsettling moments; if, for a moment, one thinks back to the hotel, it feels more like the one in The Shining than a building in Spain. The second side of the tape maintains this claustrophobic feel, with SCKE// providing just enough moments of light to make the darker tracks even more troubling. The closing “O+V+T” provides a sense of both release and closure, it’s long synth notes sounding like they should accompany a long tracking shot as the helicopter-cam lifts off the ground and into clear air.
The album’s great strength is the way that the music is tied in so seamlessly with the titles; from airport to hotel to the beach, it’s possible to conjure up experiences that are similar, although the feeling of dread and unease gives a much darker feeling than mere nostalgia for an earlier time. The lift of the closing track emphasises that it’s almost like being in a movie for the ears and as a listener the album is surprisingly tense at times. We’re not looking back through rose-tinted spectacles but an altogether bloodier shade of red. (Jeremy Bye)