Neil Rose, sonic artist and lecturer at Plymouth College of Art, has developed a double A side concept album – his first, and something of a departure for him – titled Wilbour Whatley / Psychompomps, inspired by the writings of HP Lovecraft.
Lovecraft, whose writing is liberally descriptive of sound in conveying horror, isn’t interested in poetry. His writing is quick, crude, and hurried – rushing towards something so hideous yet so compelling it wipes out all mind, all sense. He is not escaping from this cosmic horror, he’s escaping to it.
It’s a kind of inverse nirvana, and in the album, this expiry of sense, mind, reason – this point of encounter in the music – is devastating.
The gathering energy of Yog Sothoth hit me hardest, and it was the oncoming need to dance that I found devastating – if Tolkien’s Belroc was a DJ, he’d play this. (In conversation Neil spoke more generally of the internal rhythms of the body being potentially disturbed by music, and the need to harmonize those disturbed rhythms with movement – dancing.)
But not all of the tracks are so obviously or easily danceable. The bell-like tones and resonances of Psychompomps invite more contemplation – a contemplation of those very beings, Psychompomps, who lead souls to the underworld. To me these bell-like tones and resonances are appropriate. After all, has it not been said that the departing soul has the shape of a bell? Here are the guides. Neil described these sounds a N sounds (N for Neil – signature sounds), and spoke with obvious and selfless enthusiasm about the uniqueness of the bell as an instrument.
Dunwich is perhaps the most challenging track. I simply felt like I was being beaten around the head with a bit of two by two – at least in my puny mind that was the threat implied by the fractured percussion – followed by a bit of whipping and a quick strangulation.
By contrast, Whippoorwills’ bird sounds and dub-bass (the whippoorwill is a kind of North American nightjar) is the track which proves Neil as a maker of potentially very popular music in the more conventional sense, appealing to a much wider audience (including potentially birdwatchers). I know people who go out in South Devon and listen to nightjars, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of interdisciplinary art and science nonsense in the name of creativity!
Listening to Wilbour Whatley / Psychompomps I don’t feel the apocalypse is coming just yet, and I’m glad. Let’s face it, Neil is just too clever and nice for that, unless he hits a prolonged mood of unimaginably profound pathos. I hope not. In the meantime what you get is simply an original and compelling yet faithful organosonic exposition of Lovecraft’s storytelling, to which the notes on the beautifully designed sleeve (John Baron), cleverly give the nod.
Neil’s next concept album is likely to focus on the Russian dogs of the cold war space race. This is a project which is potentially completely suited to the Leitmotif of all of Neil’s work, which is to create “the organic from the mechanical”. What this means, and what I meant by “organosonic” above, is that the waveforms and shifting air present in the room where the sounds are perceived, are to be thought of as fundamentally organic entities.
In Wilbour Whatley / Psychompomps the implication is that the energies of the Psychompomps, Goat Boy, and Yog Sothoth are actually present for the listener in all reality.
If Neil manages to achieve the same with the forthcoming Soviet Space Dogs concept, I’ll leave the Earth altogether, and going barking in space.
• Neil Rose conceives: Wilbur Whateley / Psychopomps 12” LP 180gm vinyl gatefold sleeve, limited 250 only, Cat# onec003LP released, 26/10/2009 on onec records, available directly from onec. Also available from Really Good Records and online at Klangware, Dronerecords and linked to itunes through Genepool.