Svalbard is a three-hour album inspired by the Archipelago of the same name. It’s separated into three sections – “Land”, “Sky” and “Sea” – with the most noticeable constant being the giddying panorama of each of them. These are incredibly vast soundscapes, stretching off into the horizon and leaving the listener stranded in absolute desolation on all sides. Everything from bagpipes to old 78 records can be heard on Svalbard, and while processing causes these sounds take on drastically different forms, they always carry the vague timbral outlines of their original source – they’re like haunting memories, warped by time and fading into the distant echoes of the forgotten.
At times I’m reminded of Steve Roach, particularly during the orbital whirlpool of “Kvitøya” – soft colours meld fluidly into murky combinations, swirling around the piece’s unwavering drone core. It’s one of the album’s more dynamic movements, yet still moves in a tectonic slow motion that blurs the perception of time. It all means that Svalbard’s daunting length actually passes surprisingly quickly, unfurling at a pace that gradually blots out any reference points to reality.
The use of bagpipes (at least, what I presume to be bagpipes) often produces the album’s most compelling and beautiful movements. Melody is entirely absent – instead, tones slides along eachother in harmonic parallels, veering gently in and out of tune as if contorted by gentle winds. As with all of the pieces on Svalbard, Alan Morse Davies seems to have played the role of “medium” rather than “composer”, enhancing existing music rather than constructing it afresh – the album takes small, seemingly insignificant snatches of history, using them as the basis of towering monuments of astounding beauty.
Svalbard is available for free download here – http://www.archive.org/details/Svalbard-2011