Observatories ~ Flowers Bloom, Butterflies Come

a1204501156_10Iikki Books specialise in creating dialogues between musicians and visual artists, a project which began in 2016 – this is the 14th edition. You can listen to the music, you can study the book of artworks; either together as a single entity, or separately. As this latest work has a print-run of 750 books (which include a digital download) as against 300 stand-alone vinyl copies, with a variety of other options including CD also available, it’s reasonable to conclude that they anticipate some people will just want to focus on the music. That’s the area we are interested in, too, but it is worth taking the time to appreciate the visuals as well. The photographs by Miho Kajioka that we have seen are beautiful: monochrome-tinted glimpses of the fragility of nature, brief moments captured for an eternity. Her work touches upon both the force of the wave on the shoreline and the delicacy of dandelion seeds or a butterfly landing on a wrist.

These images are soundtracked by the ever-busy Ian Hawgood and Craig Tattersall, who team-up in the duo Observatories. You are probably familiar with their work already: Tattersall was a member of Hood, The Boats and Remote Viewer (among many others) and now records as The Humble Bee. Hawgood runs the excellent Home Normal label, and has a string of credits as long as your arm (even if you have very long arms). Flowers Bloom, Butterflies Come is, as far as we can tell, the first instance of the pair collaborating in a duo, but it has been worth waiting for.

There’s a perceptible dusty atmosphere on this record, which suits the photographs perfectly: even without the actual images as a guide, there is a sense of sepia-tinged memories, maybe with added grain and weathering that occur with old photos and postcards. Dust motes caught in sunlight, in an attic space, is an image that reappears in my mind’s eye when listening to the album. Given the project’s title and its release date close to the vernal equinox, you might expect compositions that bustle with the sound of nature bursting forth to celebrate spring, but although there is an airiness to the work, the overall feel is more tranquil and introspective.

The opening track, “Magnetic Heart” drifts in on a bed of dust and crackles, with a rise-and-fall that feels more like the lungs swelling than a heartbeat – conversely, it’s that beat that anchors “The Longest Blue”. A battered old piano provides brief, plaintive melodies on these pieces, while the textures underneath gradually develop and evolve. As Miho Kajioka’s images run from the gentle to the wild, it’s understandable that the music echoes these extremes, although staying within an atmospheric framework. “Saying And Doing Are Two Different Things” is a moment when both worlds overlap; a lilting guitar pattern underpins a distant, indistinct voice as a rapidly cycling tone gradually fades in; not to dominate by volume but to cover the arrangement in an overwhelming hum.

Birdsong makes an appearance on the closing track; nature finally making its presence felt among the ambience elsewhere on the record. This was, perhaps, inevitable given the period this music was created, and the subjects of the photography. The project was begun in August 2019 but would have continued throughout 2020, as people locked down and nature began to tentatively reclaim its own. The industrial drones that eventually obliterate the birdsong towards the end of the album are despairingly indicative of where we are bound once again. Still, despite the continued attempts of man to overpower nature, life finds a way: the flowers bloom and the butterflies come. This pairing of music and image is a reminder of what we have, and what we stand to lose. (Jeremy Bye)

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