Laura Cannell & Kate Ellis ~ These Feral Lands: A Year Documented in Sound and Art

Little darling, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.  Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here.  Violinist and cellist Laura Cannell and Kate Ellis have sought to “document a year in sound and art,” releasing an EP on the final Friday of each month.  They start by providing a real-time soundtrack of the world’s longest, coldest, loneliest winter, from New Year’s to Easter.

Perhaps the sweetest part of the project is the optimism injected at every stage, beginning with the idea of “life growing from dormancy” in the opening “Wastelands.”  Back in January (which seems like three years ago), we were in the first stages of the worst surge, the joy of holiday celebrations about to be followed by the sorrow of loss and the anger and inaction.  Yet Cannell and Ellis were already firing an opening salvo of musical hope, a reminder that life continues to move, albeit slowly, beneath the snow and ice.  “Sea Tower” is the lead video from January Sounds, reinforcing the simple concept of tide as parable: the ebb and flow, the cycle of our lives.  The interplay of strings grows nearly joyous as the track progresses, like that of fish knowing the ice is about to thaw.  The more intimate “Hart’s Blood” is inspired by the world just outside our doors: an area that has become as familiar to us over the course of the last year as the back of our hands.

And then it was February (which seems like two years ago).  Few folks were thinking of Valentine’s Day; the lead story was loss.  From a shed and a cottage in their separate homes, Cannell and Ellis recorded improvisational love letters to a broken planet.  A walk by the “Riverbank” brings the inspiration of eelgrass, used for “bedding and sound deadening,” a physical totem to dampen the voices in our heads, the tumble of obsessive thoughts, the fears and anxieties of a locked-in world.  A chorus develops through improvisation.  Harmony bursts from surrender to the divine, even before the hint of Hildegard in the next piece.  Polly Wright’s video for “Follow Me to the Lantern Marsh” is meant to be viewed in the dark, recalling the light as she dances in snow and fire.

And then it was March, which seems like only one year ago.  “The light is coming closer,” the artists write.  In the video for “Shadow Disrupted,” the snow has turned to rain.  These musicians are still socially distant, but for the first time play “together live … over the phone.”  The opening tendrils of “Earthly Unearthly” are like sunrise bordering on spring, bringing long-lost warmth along with the light.  A slow rhythm begins to develop; there’s no stopping it now.  Creatures from the outside are investigating the inside; creatures from the inside are investigating the outside.  In “Foxglove and Heather,” a list of plants becomes a litany.  The shadows are disrupted.

And then it is now.  (Richard Allen)

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