Is this a Halloween recording or a Christmas recording? Both and neither; it’s as mournful as a procession and melancholic as falling leaves. Each side-long piece was composed to accompany a ghost story, and the title track was read at Christmas on BBC Radio. Bronwyn Price’s voice and Muriel Spark’s words are absent here, which makes “The Girl I Left Behind” the ghost of a ghost: Cotton plays her viola as if channeling a cautious spirit. The protagonist of the story is haunted by the thought that she has left something behind at the office. Can you guess what it is? The story is only two pages long, allowing the score to sink in, as slow to register as an unpleasant truth. An eight-note melody repeats with only minor alterations, accompanied by a growing drone and a series of background harmonies. Halfway through, Cotton begins to sing an elegy, then relents. Toward the end, chimes begin to twinkle ~ or should we say tingle? The twist is more subtle in the music than in the prose, but the sense of inevitability is perfectly preserved.
What’s in the box? The question runs rampant throughout horror literature and film. In the case of Muriel Sparks’ “The House of the Famous Poet,” the box contains an “Abstract Funeral,” a phrase that is itself a mystery. Inspired by the challenge, Cotton recorded her score in a single take, her wordless vocals breaking the silence before the music sets in. Shall we call it an elegy? Two people die in the original story, one a soldier; Cotton replicates the role of “Taps” at the beginning of a funeral. This time the drone is upfront, setting a base like mist. The piece is slow ~ not scary, but resigned. The cymbals heighten the tension gently, without nudging it over the top. When the music ends, the listener feels a sense of loss, mirroring the sadness of spectres. (Richard Allen)