Fred Helliwell gets the credit for this unique release, one that delves into a subject everyone knows about, but few truly understand.
This week I was forced to think about springs as a nor’easter blew back my screen door, dislodging the mechanism. But usually we forget to think about such things, despite the fact that springs are everywhere, from our watches to our pens to our cars to our beds. “People think a spring is a spring”, says one worker; but there are many types (“torsion, compression, coiled, extension, flat”), and someone has to make them. For 38 years, much of this work has fallen to B.P.S Springs in Rochdale, Lancashire (down the road from Blackburn’s 4000 holes). This spring, they are set to close.
Helliwell captures the sounds of the factory on the first side of the 10″, accompanied by interviews with retiring spring makers Bud, Pete and Sam. Their pride in their work is obvious, along with respect for the machines. The artists reminisce about apprenticeships, customers, and the nature of their craft. In the background, the work goes on: “lathe cutters, croppers and grinders”. The employees whistle and sing. Yet there’s sadness involved: “there’s certainly not as many people going to work these days, because there’s not the work there”. The imminent closure gives Springs immense historical value, as Helliwell attempts to preserve the craft in words, images and sound. Along with the record and hand-stitched booklet comes a keepsake spring. (Keep it next to the coin from Sacred Island.)
The second side explores the aural properties of springs, with 90 samples arranged in clocklike fashion, plucked and otherwise prompted to reveal their resonances. One recalls the pleasant childhood distraction of snapping springs (*boing!*), or of the most famous spring of all time, the Slinky. The fidelity is much higher here, the sounds emerging from the speakers with great depth and clarity. At times, the tapping, stroking and echoing are reminiscent of Harry Bartoia in his metal-filled barn. Each spring is allowed sonic space, and some in fact sound like gongs. It’s nearly enough to make one want to dissect the old mattress before throwing it out, in search of hidden instruments. The full experience helps the listener to appreciate not only the value of the ordinary, but the dedication of those whose contributions to craft are no less essential for their lack of glamour. (Richard Allen)