Christmas in July? The timing may be out of place, but there’s a lot to recommend this release. The Castle and the Garden is pressed in a cherished format (2xCD3″), contains magical ephemera, sounds lovely, and like everything on Fluid Audio, smells wonderful. We’ll likely return to the album late in the year, but for now it acts as aural air conditioning.
The experience includes what appear to be author cards (similar to Authors, yet without designation) and a copy of a hundred-year-old miniature book from the Little Leather Library series (designed for soldiers). There are thirteen variations, but the most fitting is John Greenleaf Whittier’s Snow-Bound and Other Poems, thanks to the topical nature of the title poem, as well as the Christian-inspired poems at the end. Whittier begins by quoting Emerson’s “The Snow Storm”: “Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, Arrives the snow,” then describes a real-life event from first chill (“A hard, dull bitterness of cold”) to gratitude (“the benediction of the air”). The reading seems to last as long as the storm and makes a suitable accompaniment to the playing of these discs. But what if you don’t get Snow-Bound? Not to worry, you’ll be well-served with The Tempest, The Man Without a Country or other classics.
The theme of the release is the decline of religious buildings (the castle) and the faith they represent, accompanied by beams of light that illuminate a possible way forward (the garden). As attendees have fallen away (only 4.7% attending church in Britain in 2015, and over half of the U.K. population having “no religion” according to The Guardian), old buildings have fallen into disarray. These once-proud, crumbling structures now display a different sort of beauty, the pride of old age mingled with sadness and fears of irrelevance. Cameron Day translates the friction between the archaic and the elegiac into music, calling into service a vast army of field recordings and loops ranging from choral to orchestral. Vinyl static imitates rust, the loops memory. Winds howl, boards creak, and all the while the weight of the past pushes the mortar down, gravity itself an act of God. The trolley bells sound, and people go about their business, while their forgotten lives remain mute, silently yearning to be rediscovered.
These loops serve as reminders, to be cherished in one’s twilight as one recalls Christmases past, evening worship by candlelight, a shared desire for peace on earth. The sounds are distorted like elusive thoughts, their framework intact but their content smudged. Within them lies beauty not so easily abandoned. Ironically, The Castle and the Garden is modern music, whose genre speaks to new generations. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” may sound quaint, but “Calumet,” into which the track bleeds, sounds mysterious, representing a God who evokes active, enthusiastic curiousity. This is the God of seraphim, dry bones and holy visions, the same God whose Spirit visited upon Bezalel the gift of artistry so that He could be known without words. Ephemeral, elusive beauty is borne on chords and notes. Day digs through sonic wreckage as if it were physical debris, rescuing and repurposing these treasures he unearths.
A recent trend that has come to the aid of architecture is the sharing of worship and artistic space. The two were never meant to be separate. Those who have attended a concert in a church, heard a poetry reading, or attended a dance performance have been privy to this practical alliance. The Castle and the Garden may not be traditional music, but it recalls the opening of the Torah: In the beginning, God created… Who knows what beautiful death may lead to unexpected life? As Whittier writes,