By now it’s fair to say that The Humble Bee has racked up more than a few fans who are nothing short of devout. If you’re willing to take the time and let the sounds engulf you, it’s hard to deny that there is something just plain “special” about the music. And that word special is indeed the one frequently used. It’s no copout either. It’s an almost deliberate attempt to acknowledge the beauty and the mystery of the music in one fell swoop.
The newly released vinyl edition of “Henrietta” marks the sixth release for The Boats own Other Ideas imprint. It’s the first release on the label from The Humble Bee and is the label’s most minimal release to date in terms of its sound. Thus far the label has primarily celebrated Andrew’s and Craig’s dubbier, more techno inspired leanings – and knowing the depth of influence the two bring to their music, it’s not a strategic choice so much as a genuine reflection of current interests. But “Henrietta” is a different sort of entry for the label and an outlier amongst the other releases. All of this is to say that for one or both of these restless explorers of sound, there must be something quite special about “Henrietta” that it found them returning to it almost two years after it was recorded.
“Henrietta” first came into being in 2012 as apart of Fluid Radio’s Underexposed series. It was a quiet entry into the world for such an ambitions piece, but Underexposed served as an appropriate home for a composition that proposed itself as a sort of audio/visual travelogue.
And to further put the music in context, this was issued during a period when much of Craig Tattersall’s work seemed to celebrate longer compositions. This was around the time of The Boats “Ballads of the Research Department”, E+I’s “The Indescribable Brightness Shone”, and The Humble Bee’s entry for Wist Records, “The Royal Game”. But in all of those cases, the songs were maxing out at the 20 minute mark. So, the leap to an uninterrupted 50 minutes was still large one.
As with The Humble Bee’s previous full length, the multi-disc “Morning Music”, Tatersall makes plain the nature of his experiments. With “Morning Music”, it was all about carving out a space at the same time each day for a number of consecutive days to create one composition per day. “Henrietta” is about a week long vacation being documented through sound and pictures.
As for the ebb and flow of “Henrietta”, the longer format works and gives the whole experience an immersive quality. To put it in more visual terms: think of it as the slideshow rather than a bunch of disjointed photographs strategically strung together and deliberately edited to create an artificial representation of the experience. But of course, since this is The Humble Bee, even the grainiest photo, lens flare and all, has a home in the rotation.
And that seems to inform part of how the whole piece was rendered. “Henrietta” contains some of The Humble Bee’s least processed and disambiguated moments. There are many melodies that seem relatively unprocessed compared to previous releases. However, it uses some highly deteriorated moments to string these more clearly rendered moments together.
Writing about the recordings back in 2012, Craig stated of the week long trip to Cornwall that formed the basis for this particular experiment:
“The plan for the week was to spend time making and collecting things, responding to what the area had to offer. This, for me turned out to be light and sound…
I suppose it was the fact that although these two things were the essence of the place, they were at the same time constantly in a state of flux, changing from one moment to the next. I found this duality intriguing, I think it was the fact that it was at once permanent and yet ephemeral that stimulated and directed the work.”
And that idea of the dichotomy between the static and the changing becoming collapsed into a single meaning is an appropriate one for The Humble Bee’s music in general. The music never fails to evoke a paradoxical balance between stillness and movement. It’s equally interesting to note that Tatersall states that as he worked the various sound pieces he had collected, he reviewed them and put them together as faithfully to the chronology as possible. And even though that place and that lived chronology of travelling Cornwall is not knowable to the listener in its fullest rendering (aka its actual existence at that exact time), there is still something incredibly vivid about the sense of experience the music conveys. Think of it as subjective audio archaeology.
As “Henrietta” opens, it’s comprised mainly of the sound of tape loops sounding at their most disintegrated and hissy – the sound of something submerged fighting its way to the surface. Appropriately, there is a rhythm provided by what sounds like a repeated fragment of a train moving along the tracks. But it is a clearly audible piano melody that hovers over all of this that sets the mood for what it is to come. And it is so clearly audible that it seems one of the most overt melodies in The Humble Bee library to date. This is true of much of how “Henrietta” keeps its momentum: a melody emerges to carry the composition for a short interval, things disintegrate, and a new melody is then born as it emerges from the decay of what came before. It’s almost like a pop record of ten of twelve key melodies woven together.
But of course, knowing The Humble Bee’s oeuvre, the seams that link those unprocessed melodies are never just an afterthought. Often they are where the message of the music lives. That almost implicit reminder that small details are not necessarily irrelevant details, not in music and not in life. That seems to be part of what drives a person to take a week long vacation and take the minutiae as the most meaningful detail in replaying its story. When Tatersall speaks of experiencing “light and sound” it’s as fundamental as fundamental gets. The purest essence. It seems almost crass that the best most people can do is leave a vacation with a new t-shirt .
It’s hard to say a lot about “Henrietta”. It’s beautiful, moving, never dull and listening to it is about as cathartically moving as listening to music gets. Again, I come back to that message that the music contains: It’s music that forces us, the listener, to find the beauty in the minutiae – and then re-discover that beauty all over even as the decay sets in. If anything, it finds even more beauty in that decay. The point is that it demands the listener to actively listen, and was very evidently made by an artist who is clearly a very good listener himself. Anyone who experienced “Henrietta” when it was first released as part of the Underexposed series knows that it is something special. To be able to experience it for the first time all over again thanks to a vinyl release is something to be grateful for.