In these early stages, my most resonant listening experiences of Raw Silk Uncut Wood have been outside. Ambling through the town centre, with the buzz of summertime muted and replaced. Laying upon a bench by the pond, staring upward at a sky fractured by tree branches. I suspect it’s because of my perception of this music as weather systems – sprawling patterns of movement, temperature, colour and texture – that drape themselves over the horizon line and hang. The title track, for example, depicts a descendent fog. Organs and cellos mingle shapelessly, drifting through chord changes that stoop ever lower, projecting the illusion that they are also slowing down and draining of colour. All the while, an organ harmony tilts back and forth between two notes, like the dulled blues and reds of an ambulance siren smeared across the mist. There is a quiet sense of emergency here, coupled with a sadness that seems to emanate from feeling unheard and ignored. The sky is coming down, and no one is paying attention.
Elsewhere, there is the frenetic rain of “Quietude” and “The Sick Mind”, both of which centre on a downpour of manipulated keys: the former like a piano with its innards tipped out, the latter like insects scuttling across the hammers. Both resemble rainfall observed through the blur of window condensation, the impact muffled by distance, notes scattered across dissonant constellations, forever lurching between different speeds and intensities. To imagine human hands playing either of these pieces is disturbing: each palm sprouting eight fingers apiece, twitching anxiously over the keys. Again, I am drawn to thoughts of abnormal weather and quiet distress (summer showers descending in choppy spurts), which in turns leads me to perceive the album as a reflection of the discreet threat of climate change. Even the closing “Nahbarkeit”, with strings like crepuscular sunlight carving holes in the clouds, seems to shimmer with an ominous potential energy. Impending disaster from above.
And yet what I’ve read about Raw Silk Uncut Wood suggests an album that emanates deep from within, rather than enclosing the listener from the outside. Increasingly I’m connecting with the personal energy within the record, which is starting to bring an atmospheric paradox to the fore: how these sounds, forged from the material intimacy of fingers on keys and bows on strings, can conjure scenes of both emotional and climactic unrest. I suspect this sensation will only grow as my listening continues.
2: 10 August 2018
It feels apt that, as I capture my second set of thoughts while on a night flight home from Spain, condensing roads and cities into scrunches of the lights that stud them, my perspective on this record should shift from the global breadth of climactic events to the inner flickers of emotional document. Raw Silk Uncut Wood is not an overtly sad nor uplifting work. Just as the title points to materials that have not been artificially refined, the record mimics how thoughts and feelings splay in many directions at once; a sincere reflection upon how the stomach can slosh with equal parts optimism and dread, or how many tiny anxieties can bespeckle states of general contentment.
I return to the title track. As the organs and synthesisers turn into gloom, there are two elements that beckon a sense of hope. The first is a prolonged, distant whistle that traces the horizon line, like a firework cutting an arc in the clouds – the glimmer of future change, perhaps, amidst the merciless drudge of the present. And then there’s the cello of Oliver Coates which, when it isn’t wrapped tightly around the cloud of organ harmonics, occasionally finds a way to ascend from the murk, rendering the shape of the bowed notes in crisp detail, briefly, before the edges start to blur again. Within these occasional surges into the air, I hear the prescient acknowledgement that positive growth can be an output of hardship.
The other collaborator on the album is drummer Eli Keszler, whose scurry of cymbal and snare on “Mercury” are an unusually lively accompaniment to Halo’s blunt and monotonous sequence of piano chords, which land upon the beats like discarded polaroid photographs. Again, this conflict rings true to my own inner experiences: a dance between the fluid present tense and the steadfast images of memory, mimicking how recollections can be so blunt in their interruption of life’s onward movement, wedged like sticks into the wheels. The two minutes of “Supine” find yet another way to depict the turbulence of internal narratives by building a maze of metal and electricity – a dizzy crossroads of voltage and rusted sonorous surfaces, seemingly folding in on itself as the energy moves back and forth, uncertain of how precisely to feel, and yet feeling it all so much.
3: 15 August 2018
The other night I sat on the end of the bed and listened to “Nahbarkeit” with my eyes closed. I was particularly struck by the drums this time. The tom drums rumble from beneath, muffled as though concealed beneath the plumes of orchestration. The cymbals chime clearly as though jutting up through the veil, perched precariously on stands that stretch hundreds of metres high. It’s strange to hear a drumkit spliced like this, played with the staggering gravity of onsetting sleep, with cymbals slicing the slicing like the chimes of an alarm clock. A dialogue across the boundary of consciousness.
I’m coming to know each turn and curvature of the title track. There isn’t a moment of repetition throughout the whole 10-minute piece, and each chord resembles a new surge of initiative; a fresh reflection on the current situation. These changes instigate the widening aperture of optimism, or the creeping onset of shadow. I’ve loved the experience of becoming acquainted with this piece. My first listen felt like walking into the fog, unsure as to where the path would lead or how long it would take to emerge out the other side. When I hear the first chord now, I can see the path snaking ahead of me. The journey is now known and a homely intuition carries me around every corner, yet each traversal continues to yield new experiences – secret resonances and glimmers of detail that I managed to overlook on ambles prior.
I feel a lightness of artistic touch. The same way a kite only partly complies to the intentions of its flyer, translating the slight tug of the hand into an elaborate sequence of quivers and loops, Raw Silk Uncut Wood feels like a work in which conscious intervention is only a guide. This thought strikes me most during “Supine”, whose each moment contains the kernel of many possible directions simultaneously – the gaseous emergence of three or four possible chords – in a manner that suggests the haphazard collision of elements rather than lucid compositional forethought. “Nahbarkeit” too has the sense of billowing beyond composer control, its direction dictated by the sudden upsurge of winds or tilts in temperature, leaning into the currents of nature. The text accompanying the album features a quote from Ursula Le Guin’s translation of the Tae Te Ching: “What works reliably is to know the raw silk, hold the uncut wood. Need little. Want less. Forget the rules. Be untroubled.” I suspect that it is this sentiment to which I find myself responding; an artist humbled by the innate beauty of material, for which anything beyond the most modest of human interventions is a blemish.