Toby Marks & Andrew Heath ~ Motion

Motion is the first album-length collaboration by sound artist Andrew Heath and multi-faceted musician Toby Marks, the result of which is a vast exploration of sounds from places and experiences in England and Wales, each representing the four cardinal points and made analogous with the four classical elements. The concept emphasizes the fluidity between them, the movement that allows travel between each, an overarching unity given not in the static completion of a whole in which everything has a place, but in the transitions that every element potentially develops, constantly reminding the listener of the humors with which they were once associated.

For the first track, “For Stone (West)”, the artists visited the Llechwedd Slate Caverns in Wales, the distant cracks of stone and the resounding echoes of movement amidst seemingly eternal stillness giving the music a peacefulness that is brittle, that creaks along the wood supports of a tramway travelling 800 meters underground. The sound of picks at work upon stone, which detonate a light ambient piano sequence layered upon the noises of an industry diminished, reveal that the uneasy tension running through the entire track is a certain sadness, a sense of loss that is not anathema to peace but complementary to it: melancholy. The earth, after all, is bountiful, but it also cold and dry, its richness narrowly tied to the dissipation and renovation of life over millennia.

Following the classical relations between elements, earth transitions into water, commonly utilized for the extraction of minerals. The first track ends with the sound of flowing water, pouring into “With Iron (South)” – the second track – which articulates a soundscape of Suttle Stone Quarries in the city of Bournemouth, England, a group of quarries that openly sits right in front of the sea. The track begins with the sense of looking at the sweeping horizon of the sea, a tranquility that simmers into the phlegmatic, the sentimentality of a late 1980s wandering guitar solo coming to emphasize the emotional qualities of the found sounds. The self-absorption of the instrument’s lead over the ambience grows, in its ending echoes, into an almost silent drone, the buzzing of an insect suddenly marking the presence of a sound amidst others that seem to be in escape.

The rainy-day, Pink Floyd-like guitar comes back for “In Air on Water (North)”, made with recordings from the artists’ experience with the Yorkshire Gliding Club and a ride down the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, the drone hissing like wind at the back of the track every now and then. An accompanying piano helps to practically push all other sounds to the side for a while, until the crackle of the wind takes over. Only the piano continues with a bright melody, the sanguine elation of a jump away from earth. The atonality of suddenly realizing what that jump implies makes its mark by giving way to a New Age drone; the guitar returns but is no longer looking inward, and it shortly ceases its place to a hopeful melody that ends the piece.

The transition to the last track, “By Fire (East)”, is not directly sound-based, like in the rest of the album, but conceptual: a train’s horn blasts away somewhere in the distance. It slowly builds up with drones, slowly and steadily growing its volume until the guitar blasts away with one of its own. For this piece, the artists rode the Bure Valley Railway in Norfolk; the heart of every locomotive burning with an intense fire that turns into steam, completing that sense of transition that follows closely the classical relations between elements, here moving from fire to air and back again. By the end, the piece moves into more traditional ambient territory, layering its sounds perfectly and introducing instruments not as leads but as guides with which to disperse and divert our attention. It is the most peaceful track in the album, the hiss of steam marking the dissolution of fire right back into air.

In the end, Motion is an interesting collaboration from artists belonging to relatively different worlds, bringing together their creativity and skill to make a conceptual effort that sways with emotion. (David Murrieta Flores)

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