…the sun’s of an end /
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin /
Engines stop running but I have no fear…
Will Montgomery is an obsessive diarist where the Elephant/Castle area of London is concerned. With some five years of documentation of the South London neighborhood’s blight and concomitant gentrification, the inexorable urban cycle endemic to our cities, Montgomery’s encoded narrative work, heygate, is an abstract chronicle of place, a housing project scheduled for demolition. Released in early 2012 on a split album with Robert Curgenven (on the unfailingly lovely winds measure imprint), Montgomery has achieved a fine paradox of sound – grounding his painstaking documentation of place in the aether.
Non-linear and episodic, heygate owns a distinct compositional shape, a sound-diary of a living and dying environment, without a terminal line. Repeated listens enable your memory to engage in heygate’s growing specific, its flow of inchoate, organic sounds gradually revealed to be conversation, treated crowd buzz, demolition and reconstruction. The encoding of place in an active listener’s memory is a fine experience, and Montgomery offers this possibility here.
Montgomery has been documenting the Elephant/Castle verities for a number of years in journal, lecture and sound formats. Wielding contact mics and receiver, Montgomery presents the flow of things in a specific place, energies, not images. The result is a composition that resists easy access, and so resists the easy exhaustion of its plies, folds and waves, in which real lives are heard.
I thank Ben Owen, musician, master word press artist, and honcho behind winds measure, for introducing me to the work of Robert Curgenven, whose looking for narratives on small islands, another exquisite offering of abstract evocation of place(s), can be found on the flip side of this shared L.P.
Curgenven’s itinerant sounds were sourced from Australia, Germany and Japan, and serve as striations and sound ribbons, mixed with the liquid-y crackle and pop of vinyl on Curgenven’s transparence dub plate (pictured above), resulting in a sonic environment at times reminiscent of Michael Pisaro’s superb Transparent Cities. Music recites itself, is its own context, narrates without narrative, Adorno wrote; in Curgenven’s micro-world of hiss, sine waves and billowy pressure build-up, we provide our own narrative skein, as is the case with the Montgomery piece.
This is a fantastic pairing of two musicians who may or may not be intentionally manifesting this idea – .. not in the music, but in the plot imagined by the listener (Jean-Jacques Nattiez) – this idea that we are all looking for narratives in our endless sifting and shaping from the overwhelm of people, places and things. The best such works hold a space within their whorls of sound, for the listener to imagine their plot, to return the call.
Lyrics from London Calling, Strummer/Jones
Top photo: a detail from the Heygate housing complex
Adorno and Nattiez quotes from Musicology (Beard and Gloag)