Seven hours on a sea of sound. That’s what The Seaman & the Tattered Sail has to offer: an amazing seven hours of music on 2 CDs, 2 DVDs and 2 slabs of vinyl. The question is never one of quality when it comes to Craig Tattersall, whose work with The Boats, The Humble Bee, and the Cotton Goods label (among others) is consistently worth seeking out. Now add Bill Seaman (SEA, Attsea) to the mix – literally – and it’s not hard to see where the duo got its name, or what the two artists have in common. What started as a simple exchange of files ended up as a massive collaboration of sight and sound that is Facture’s most ambitious release to date. Again, a trusted name adds to the confidence of the prospective purchaser.
If it’s not a question of quality – and we’ll get to the music in a moment – it’s a question of time. The amount of leisure time available to most people seems to be in inverse relationship to the amount of leisure time they were expected to have at this point, given technological innovations and a shorter work week. And yet, not only do people seem to have less time than ever, they try to pack more into that limited amount of time through multitasking, and end up with less quality time than ever before. And so it would not be unexpected to hear the question, “Who has time to listen to seven hours of music?” Ironically, this is the sort of question that would likely be asked by a person who has already stopped reading these words! This sort of question also exposes the entire dilemma of the modern age: leisure should not be a chore, for as soon as it becomes a chore, it ceases to be leisure. The same question is applied to various pursuits: “Who has time to read a book? Who has time to go to the beach?” Anyone who has seen a person taking a “leisurely” walk on the beach while yelling into a cellphone has seen this principle in action.
You may be listening to samples of the music right now. That’s okay. That’s not the point. The point is that seven hours of music is neither a chore nor a challenge. It’s a gift.
While many sea-themed releases seek to imitate the experience of a sea voyage (or even a long sail), few people (outside of tourists) ever get on a boat for the length of a single CD. A calm ocean teaches lessons about patience, vastness, and the passage of time. Hours flow into each other like waves. Clocks and watches give way to the passage of stars, the shifts of swells, the angle of the sun. The clouds shift above, morphing into elegant shapes, exuding remarkable hues of white and grey. After a while, one starts to gain a sense of the sea that transfers itself from the external to the internal. This is exactly the sense that is gained as one listens to Light Folds, which seems at first like an album of tracks, but slowly becomes an album of perceptions.
The sea is represented in literal references: surf, rain, and the rocking of the hull. The songs are tempoed, although not always percussed. Occasionally a squall surfaces, causing the metal to knock and the sail to abrade. Such moments remind the listener that the ocean can also be dangerous; as many a venturer has been told, “never turn your back on the sea”. These moments provide the dynamic contrast that allows one to listen for such a long time; the music is nuanced, even in its placidity. And just as one might perceive a small shift in the wind, presaging a major front, one can perceive the differences between the alternate takes on this album. One never steps into the same river twice, nor does one record the same song twice. The listener may choose favorites, or allow the album to wash over the senses like a changing ocean. “Oh, but that’s just water”, one might say during a second sail. “I saw that water yesterday”. But this is far from the truth: one saw water.
The glitches, pops, and static detritus that one has come to expect from Tattersall are present throughout the set like debris on the waves. Each artist contributes his fair share of crackle and loop. Each plays piano. Seaman adds lovely touches of trumpet, clarinet, violin, viola, and cello from a host of guest musicians. But just as the lines are blurred between tides and timbres, so are they blurred between musicians. After so many file exchanges, who’s to say which artist is responsible for what? It might be accurate to say that a light industrial influence comes from Seaman (because we’ve never heard it in Tattersall), but perhaps the latter artist was influenced by the former and decided to go in that direction as well. The only thing that one can say for certain is that the trumpet, whenever it appears, is played by Robert Ellis-Geiger, and that its presence is invaluable to the languid mood of the recording. Even when the trumpet is absent – even when a beat emerges, sublimating all like a rogue wave – brass echoes remain in the head, phantom notes on a driftwood raft.
Light is as important to this collection as sea. If one listens in order on any of the formats, one travels from filtered light to crisp, like a morning of clearing fog. Beats poke through the ether like beams through stratocumulus clouds. The notes grow brighter, and in one case, beepier. The distant song of sirens becomes a sailor’s tender hymn. Then a soft, gentle return to shore. But these tracks are not necessarily intended to be played in a particular order; in fact, this is the perfect release for the Random Play button. As much as meteorologists may wish to argue the point, light and clouds and sea are never quite predictable. Only afterwards can one find a pattern in what was once perceived as random. Light folds like memory, refracts, diffuses, illuminates. This album does the same. Seven hours won’t be enough; listeners will want to drop anchor. (Richard Allen)