Richard Knox & Frédéric D. Oberland – The Rustle of the Stars
Posted In: Frédéric D. Oberland, Gizeh Records, Nathan Thomas, Northwest Passage, Richard Knox, Richard Knox & Frédéric D. Oberland - The Rustle of the Stars, The Rustle of the Stars
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For several centuries arctic exploration was spurred by the dream of finding a new trading route to China and India – the so-called ‘Northwest Passage’. The heroism, greed, folly, tragedy, triumphs and failures of this era, and of polar exploration in general, provide a fertile source of inspiration for this first collaboration between Richard Knox (Glissando) and Frédéric D. Oberland (FareWell Poetry). The pair set themselves the task of imagining “a musical passage through the North Pole explorer diaries”, to navigate “a polar journey to the ends of the earth through the arctic sea.” The desolation of polar landscapes finds expression in the rich strings and electric guitars, but it is the human element of the story — the hopes, despairs, and struggles of the men who flung themselves time and time again into the freezing void – that is communicated most strongly throughout the album.
The opening track “Sleeping Land (pt. I)” is a suitable farewell salute as our noble heroes embark on their journey in search of fame and glory; its more somber reprise at the album’s close is a fitting memorial to the many who never returned. In between we are subject to a whole range of emotions, at times inspired by the daring and faith of the explorers, dazzled by the stark and strange beauty of the polar regions, or sobered by the desperate circumstances to which our protagonists are reduced. “Mist” creaks and groans with the slowness of ice sheets, while in “Le Passage du Nord-Ouest” vision is reduced to nothing by a swirling blizzard of piano notes. The music has an affinity with film soundtracks, though Knox and Oberland are free to drift into dissonance and noise without worrying about overpowering any specific images. Their sound palette is diverse, using instruments such as glockenspiels, dulcimer, chimes, crystal glasses, and fuzzy field recordings alongside the conventional guitar, piano and strings. Adding depth and largeness to the sound are the acoustics of St Margaret of Antioch church in Leeds, which was used for much of the recording.
Although many of the early polar explorers left themselves open to accusations of vanity or foolhardiness, their successes and failures nonetheless greatly expanded our knowledge of some of the world’s most inhospitable places. “The Rustle of the Stars” is a stirring tribute to their achievements – sometimes bleak, sometimes discordant, but always powerful. The album continues Gizeh Records’ habit of producing beautifully packaged releases, with an art print and postcard accompanying the heavyweight vinyl.
- Nathan Thomas for Fluid Radio