On Orthodox Tapes, London-based artist Andrew Sherwell dives into the dusty vortex of the past, using the style of hauntology to pursue a place of personal recollection and warm remembrance. Hauntology doesn’t usually highlight warmth. The Caretaker uses it to examine the horrifying decline of the mind while Pye Corner Audio uses it as a kind of ghost-box through which spirits and cool, VHS-recorded synths enter; it’s a style reeking of decay. Orthodox Tapes runs close to the latter because it broadcasts not only the music of the past but a life of the past. In this instance, nocturnal tape loops and creased-up field recordings summon up the many experiences of Andrew’s grandfather, who once travelled back and forth through the Balkans, Central Europe and Southern Russia during the inter-war period.
Andrew would spend school holidays at his grandfather’s house, where, as an old man, he would recount his many adventures over a bedtime story. The evening light fused with deep recollections and fantastical tales of bygone days: encounters with local people and their folk tales, stories of Orthodox bishops and beautiful princesses, of demons lurking in pure daylight and angels in human form, of days spent in endless forests and nights camped out on the grasslands, staring up at the bright silver moon and the sequined stars. Needless to say, these stories had a powerful impact on Andrew as a child, and the music is equally mysterious, sprinkled in memory-dust, bewitching the listener with its world of ambient sighs, dim crackles and dusty echoes.
The projector starts up, whirring away in the background as a ghostly chorus appears, slowly drawing the listener deeper and deeper into its past life. Church bells clank in an old town, and vapours rise out of the slumbering world. Orthodox Tapes slinks away from reality, descending into the deep pools of sleep. Mermaids are masqueraded in a curdled pool of unclear water and fantastical things swim underneath. This isn’t the real world – it’s something better. It’s a place of tranquil escape.
These voices lie on the pillow-soft clouds of a beautiful (if strange) dream. Because of his personal connection, love seeps out of the music, giving the airy atmosphere a romanticized vibe: it’s the scent of old times and of unbreakable ties, of comfort and deep familiarity…and of ultimate rest. But this was a tumultuous time – some believed it to be the end of days – and the drones slip into foggy voids, too. ‘Beware Koschei’s Visit’ is one example of the mood’s relegation, and that’s how the record ends, expressing both sides of the story: the narrator and the listener, the artist and the audience…the magic of childhood, oblivious to a frightening world on the other side of that bedroom door and the untold horrors across the sea.