“I need five minutes of your time, have you got five minutes?” implores the writer and editor John Doran at the start of ‘Exercise Number One’. He is lying: the piece is about half an hour long, though Doran won’t be talking for a lot of it. He launches into a guided meditation about a candle surrounded by a void that swallows the whole universe, then recounts a tale about coming across a pool of dog’s blood just as a summer heatwave begins to break. On ‘Area Forecast For The Borough of Camden’, Doran delivers a sardonic weather forecast, declaring the chances of masala dhosa around Euston to be “excellent”; he then describes his experiences of alcoholism, and tells the story of how, after watching aerobatics team the Red Arrows, he used to imagine plumes of smoke emitting from the tips of his fingers and trailing behind him wherever he went, leading to a surprising physics-inspired existential crisis.
Doran’s monologues are accompanied by music from the duo of Emily Mary Barnett and Bobby Barry, otherwise known as Far Rainbow. There’s often a pleasing overlap between the content of the monologues and the music, such as when Doran’s account of the numbing effects of alcohol is bathed in gleaming synth chords and frenetic but airy drumming that create a drunken sensation of floating, or when the story about a summer heatwave wilts under drowsy oscillating ringing and shuffling snare. For long stretches Doran falls silent and the music takes over: tones whoop like a chorus of alarms and fog horns, waves of rough noise scatter splattering snare drum and cymbals, and warm synths are driven by a bass pedal heartbeat. At one point, a popping and scrunching is heard, like the amplified sound of gaffer tape being peeled away; a wet downpour and crashing waves suggest field recordings, but could just as easily be filtered noise.
Barnett and Barry show great control and sensitivity in their playing to create the required energy and tension without overdoing things and blowing away either each other or Doran’s voice; the drums in particular steer clear of full-on power rolls for a more skittering, snare-driven sound. Doran’s words tread a thin line between disarming honesty and clichéd glorification of squalor, particularly with the area forecast that opens the album, yet his guided meditations, delivered in a down-to-earth vernacular, are genuinely effective in leading the listener to some startling conclusions. Far Rainbow present a refreshingly nuanced and engaging take on noise-led improvisation, forming the perfect backdrop for Doran’s incisive spoken word.