The Green Kingdom: Incidental Music
Posted In: Incidental Music, James Catchpole, Michael Cottone, Tench Records, The Green Kingdom, The Green Kingdom - Incidental Music
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Touching the destined cusp of finality, inevitably awaiting us all, is one step we must reluctantly take. At this point, flashbacks spark off like catherine wheels in front of our eyes, flicking through a rollercoaster reel of emotional memories. In this spectacle of pyrotechnic imagery, highs and lows explode clearly, as the images reverse back to our childhood, further back to our birth and eventually even further to our origins; to a muffled beating of a mother’s heart in the womb. An out-of-body experience may occur, looking down upon a body recently departed, and, as testified by people who have undergone the experience, usually hovering either eight or nine feet above the body. As we reach this moment, due to either a chemical reaction in the physical body, or a type of spiritual deliverance depending on perspective, a light is often seen glowing faintly, far away but still shining a brilliant beacon of light that cannot be blocked out, beckoning to the spirit in a silent voice.
The parallels between an out-of-body experience, and the emotional links entrenched deeply inside ambient music, are not too dissimilar; both radiate an inner bliss, a new optimism and the offer of a portal to pure peace. Feelings surrounding music can edge over the precipice into an enlightened state, so it may come as no wonder that music is often referred to as medicine for the soul. A distant pinpoint of white light is a popularly held belief said to greet us. It defies explanation, and the light which shines around The Green Kingdom’s Incidental Music is a similarly wondrous one. Atmospheric drones, too, are often referred to as shades, or as points of light. The light radiating out of Incidental Music is an inscrutable, impenetrable one detailing the miniscule moments in life that fade all too quickly, special flashbacks of cherished moments in our retrospective camera-eye.
It is often the way that, when looked back upon, the tiny events in life that have remained with us were the ones of the highest value. One second is all it takes to capture something beautiful and heart-wrenching, and each one of these moments may only last for a couple of sustained seconds at any given point. This second is quickly appreciated beyond all others, and may become a source of sustenance as the years pass. Appreciation is a feeling that hits like a deluge after the special moment has forever departed, but there is also a longing and an affection that sticks to the memory, and it is an emotional attachment which cannot be cleaned. If only we would look around at the extraordinary beauty which surrounds us, instead of being subconsciously blinded by a weary, day-to-day indifference. The moments frozen on Incidental Music are the sleep-induced extra five minutes of sleep at the weekend, the melodic birdsong in the trees, the vague, subconscious recollection of listening to a muffled heartbeat lying in utero, looking down at the stunning scenery, or a broken kiss cut short between lovers. They are often understated moments, and Incidental Music relies on this understatement. In fact, it bathes in it, taking courage from the pure humility of a much wished for second. Incidental Music is such a score for the moments we long to last, but ones which desert us just as temptingly as they were born. The instant can only be a sweet delay, and The Green Kingdom has attempted to freeze-frame that moment for as long as possible, before it too must move on. The moment must end as soon as the music fades out, in an unavoidable outcome.
The Green Kingdom is the alias of Michigan artist Michael Cottone, and as seen in his previous release earlier this year, Egress, his music is very much elemental; the soft soil of earth is found in his field recordings, and the refreshing air is provided by his electronics, drones and an acoustic guitar. It’s fair to say that the instrument stays largely in focus, but the tones do not overtake the music. Instead, they reach out with an aiming, kindly hand towards the pure drones and help to form the atmosphere instead of forsake it.
The music – and the moment – drifts along like a slowly panning camera, rotating three hundred and sixty degrees and highlighting finite details in the distance that were previously unseen, and can now be fully touched upon. The music constantly changes and develops, like a photograph revealing an infinite amount of hidden images which lay in the background upon a closer look. The image was there all along; we just needed to focus in with a complete clarity, amongst the still.
The Green Kingdom’s music, likewise, needs this attentive eye, or ear, to fully appreciate. The unassuming ambience lies there waiting, ready to hypnotise with Cottone’s glacial, tonal movement and airy field recordings, interspersed at different intervals throughout the nine pieces. Hesitantly, but gracefully, the clarity of the plucked notes rise out above an organic, translucent drone, one that is clear in vision as it overlooks a lush landscape and creating a varied sound. Emphatically flowing along, each piece eventually develops and unites, like one moment revealing a thousand points of light.
This green kingdom may not be the garden of Eden, but it is close to it, and as we enter it is clear the land has become resplendent in a fragile beauty, left behind by an era faded with time; a paradise lost, but one which has now left the plentiful greenery a deeper shade. In losing this clean, pristine nature, the ambience has developed new strands of DNA, one which doesn’t need to turn feebly towards the light for its energy. This seperates Incidental Music from the kind of ambience that sends you away without a parachute, and while free-falling is a lovely feeling, the half visible structure that the guitar provides crucially gives The Green Kingdom a land to call his own.
As ‘Backyard Epiphany’ progresses, a soft thumper of a beat is the only real rhythmical impression left on the cool ambience. Intricately descending notes originate on an acoustic guitar amidst experimental flutterings, revolving like a mobile above an infant’s crib. Seconds lay suspended in a stasis of tempus fugit, like seeing a smile slowly dawn upon a lover’s lips after a broken kiss.
In ‘Over Treetops’, the feeling of gliding is a very real sensation, a place where the air is at its quietest, shushing the surroundings in a thin breeze. It’s wonderfully evocative in its view looking down, perhaps as an out-of-body experience eight or nine feet above, and cleans the air free of a recent thunderstorm. The deep drone ensures our flight is a low-level one, as the lower pitch helps to pull us closer to the ground, tying us to the earth lower than one may wish for; like the unflinching laws of gravity mocking our inability to escape. This is part of why Incidental Music works to such an effect, though. It doesn’t aim for a cliched ambience. It is level headed and restrained, for the most part. It remains lovely, just seen from a different perspective, as a ruined but still beautifully constructed cathedral still naturally captivates the midst of our vision. It can also be quite a shy record, displaying an introverted side like a timid moment that one waits patiently to arrive, before it is finally coaxed out of its shell with a gentle encouragement.
With Cottone’s notes falling down like a cherry blossom, the ‘Cherry Theme’s guitar is sweetly rejuvenating, dropping to the ground in utter surrender. Fluidly, the trickling of a stream runs somewhere close to our location, a watery current of calm field recordings flowing through the kingdom. Although minute, the heart-tugging melody on ‘Green Theme’ has the capability to whisk whoever may listen away and back to your special moment; the two minute length is music set to that special moment, in real time.
Another beautiful high, if one may rise above all others, is ‘Flotation Theme’, a drone which, when it enters, sends shivers down the spine. Breathing a haunting fragment of a vocal on the wind, the piece is the process of reinvigoration in the present moment. As the drone sails past, destination unclear through the hazy distance, we can only imagine it will be arriving somewhere beautiful. As the notes echo, fading with each increase in distance, the feeling of letting go overtakes any emotion. Ethereal and slightly spiritual, the chant is a divine incantation.
Cottone remains attentive towards all of his musical elements, tending to each singular source with an equal care and merging them all together to ensure the music remains ripe. The vinyl hiss remains light and static sucks away at the drones like soil absorbing some much needed water. The whole album flows together much like a course down a river or a stream, taking in new sights with an ambience that changes course smoothly and delicately, something which William Basinski achieved to such an effect on The River. Boats clank bells softly against a harbour’s wall in slightly choppy waters, and ‘Slow Bloom’ fills the air with tranquility amid a decaying, stormy scene, docked upon the entrance to the green passage.
During the final seconds of Incidental Music, the moment loosens, ready to let go and vanish into the present, as melodies spin off like shards and hang in the air, perhaps trying to reverse the inevitable outcome and desperate for the joy to last. A glistening melody keeps the music afloat and suspended, before it too is burst. The coda sleepwalks to an end with a tinkling lullaby, an innocence regained as it whispers through pines. As we fall past the cusp, maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel, as the sound of what could be a quietly beating heart thumps against our delicate ears. It’s a new second to appreciate, much like the kiss previously broken. Your smile has left. As we enter a new land, we look upon a wish fulfilled magic kingdom with new eyes, bathed in a fresh fantasia.
- James Catchpole for Fluid Radio