Folklore Tapes’ first release of the new season is another marvel, a flexi-disc accompanied by a 24-page pamphlet and keepsake coin. For many, this will be the first introduction to a tiny island in Loch Maree (Scotland), whose most memorable features include a wish tree, a magic well, an unkept graveyard and a crumbling chapel, all of which may or may not be protected by a mythic sea creature.
The prose is of particular note here, as the writing is exquisite, co-credited to Ian Humberstone and Jordan Ogg. Without the history, one would never guess that the cover’s blue-tinged fungi are in fact coins. Here is a representative sample: We scrutinized the dates and denomination; hundreds of coins in as many shades, like walking into the cobalt dream of a deranged numismatist … Some have been driven in with such conviction they are bent and misshapen, and seem to flop about the trunk like Dali’s melted pocket watches.
As tempting as it may have been to remove a coin from the island, such retrieval is said to bear a curse ~ even if the coin has fallen, rejected by the tree. Humberstone and Ogg balance this inconvenience with the keepsakes. One wonders if even one of the 250 people who will eventually own this release will make the ultimate collector’s sacrifice, traveling to Isle Maree to hammer one of these coins into the wish tree, sending things full circle.
The coins also find reflection in the music ~ copper rubbed together to present an aura of authenticity. Field recordings taken from the graveyard (surely we can remove sound?) and submerged recordings are also present in the tracks that occupy the flexi-disc – itself a vulnerable format, prone to sonic disarray. The aural portion is short, but forms a vital part of the overall presentation. The opening waves imitate the approach to the island, as well as the sands of time. The synths provide a sense of sorrow, backed by medieval majesty. There is nobility in a pilgrimage, regardless of the outcome, and in faith, especially that in a nearly-forgotten saint.
Now we hear the echoed introduction to the mystery: the tree is a withered oak, shriveled and dry as dust. Innumerable copper coins are plated across its legs, marking the rough surface with smooth riches. At this point, the music becomes muted, as unsettling as the unknown. The wails sound like deserted cats.
The closing piece inhabits the graveyard, eulogized by a sombre voice. A place of absolute tranquility; with only sounds of birds carousing, of the wind swooning in the trees. Suddenly the sound field is rife with birdsong, flowing water and theremin-like tones. Where there is death, there is life. Once again, the team at Folklore Tapes has underscored the vibrancy of history, rescuing local lore before it oxidizes like copper. (Richard Allen)