Cathedral Oceans II

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The longest album in the trilogy, and the only one still yet to be awarded an independent release. It also remains the only Cathedral Oceans that has no visual accompaniment – the two commercially available DVDs (both titled ‘Cathedral Oceans’) feature music from Cathedral Oceans (2003 release) and Cathedral Oceans III (first released in 2006).

John Foxx (2003):
This is intended as a slow moving, contemplative piece. The intention is to examine the possibilities of large scale projected work incorporating slowly changing visual surfaces and music. Both Sonic and visual components have evolved from the same conceptual frame. This is concerned with promoting a reflective state of mind in the viewer. It is also concerned literally with echoes, reflection and reverberation, both in memory and in the physical making of the images and music. The music is intended to work within large architectural spaces, using the longest possible delays and echoes to determine its rhythmic and harmonic structure. The images are made from layered and merged photographic material derived from many eras which shifts and dissolves constantly, producing a gently hallucinogenic surface. The piece is intended to operate at an opposite pole to most media, which seem to be accelerating in pace. Its appearance can be described as a digital, secular moving stained glass window…

At the time of its release, in June 2003 as part of a 2-CD set with a re-issue of its predecessor (re-titled Cathedral Oceans I), it would be fair to say that Cathedral Oceans II was ‘significantly overlooked’. Commercially, the package (on Edsel) was completely overtaken by the high-profile awarded to John Foxx third (and most anticipated) collaboration with Louis Gordon, the highly-charged electroclash of Crash and Burn. Further shadows were cast by the eventual appearance of Foxx long-awaited collaboration with Harold Budd six weeks later and all the radio and media interest in the Crash and Burn tour that began in September.

But the long shadows of a summer afternoon, cast by walls, pillars and overgrown statues make a perfect environment for Cathedral Oceans and sitting in the empty places behind the news headlines is the best place to appreciate its textures and subtlety.
And for those, like me, eagerly looking forward to the second chapter in the story of the ‘moving-stained glass window’, the release was warmly welcomed and intensely enjoyed.

How could it possibly be as good as the first?
Where will Foxx’s pastoral Catholicism take us from here?

More abstract perhaps. Significantly darker and, in places, noticeably less harmonious.
More challenging, more intense. Less accessible? The same, but different…

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Cathedral Oceans II
Ten years on, and in the wake of the new vinyl release of The Complete Cathedral Oceans, it felt time to review the second album more closely, analysing its value as a stand alone piece. It remains the least-known of the the three albums and probably the one that no-one plays anymore.

But I am fortunate. I have a cavernous space in which to play the album through a quality sound system designed to fill a Victorian church. I get a chance to sit among the undulating waves of melancholy and absorb the echoes and reverberation. I manage to do this two or three times a year.

I have opportunity to let the music affect me, and that is a uniquely special thing. As a whole, it is of course utterly absorbing, but each track as well has its own nuances and identity that few of us really have had cause or inclination to investigate. Following a similar post last week on the first album, I present below some notes that characterise and identify the individual ten pieces that make up the second chapter of John Foxx career-spanning trilogy…

Revolving Birdsong
An introductory passage that is just that – looped recordings of a dawn chorus, spinning gently around the field recording of a Blackbird. As I understand it, this too is Foxx own composition, not a ‘soundtrack’ extract. Authenticity. A pastoral symphony that is at once quintessentially ‘English’.
Echoing the closure of Invisible Architecture, the subconscious framework our senses build upon which we layer our emotions and experience.

Shimmer Symmetry
The repeated voice of the the thrush segues seamlessly into what is essentially a drone piece, a wash of extended synthesised notes. A rising and falling tide of sounds. No phrasing, no melody. No apparent structure at all. Two vocal channels, laid one over the other and again. Recollecting the visuals, the ever-changing multilayered artwork we cannot see. Two choruses singing to each other from opposite sides of some cavernous amphitheatre. Call and response. A Medieval sing-off.

Far And Wide 2
Is there a Far And Wide (1) hiding on a tape somewhere? The titling teases us, posing another question among those presented by this deepest and darkest of pieces. Sadness prevails, on an immeasurable scale. Filmic and forbidding. We are standing among clouds, or is it dust, or misty vegetation –  bearing witness to the rising of enormous towers.
We gaze upwards. In Awe Of Industry.
Unsettling. Disturbing and provocative. Vocals drift in and out between the channels mysteriously. Slow and residual. Ghostly, spectral harmonics. We feel displaced, alone. Dislocated. There is someone lost here, grieving and incomplete.

Haunted.

A strong, defiant piece. Subversively creative.

Ad Infinitum
Appropriated Latin. Forever undiminished, and coloured in the rich traditionally ancient hues of the Catholic mass in its various forms. There is a sense that somehow this is music of a higher order. Transcendant, and becoming harder to reach. More difficult to fathom and grasp. Less accessible, Mr Foxx?
We feel apart from the events unfolding around us now. Observers. The music behind the chant sounds like a Grand Organ, and we don’t quite know what to do or who to follow.

This is not what we have known.

Our confused state evokes huge bass notes that crash in of a sudden, seemingly uninvited. Interrupting and abrasive. Distracting, as if passing outside. The organ in the background sounds a long way off all off now, as if it has physically receded behind the vocals, allowing a space for these monsters to invade, and at once the sound becomes cacophonous and confusing. Volume, in the very physical sense.

Witness the most difficult and complex piece of the entire suite. Claustrophic and oppressive. We turn our heads around, trying to make sense of the confusion. And there it is. Within the noise and the apparent dischord there is a kind of rhythm.

The layers eventually synchronise and find a spectral harmony.
Or does it just make less sense than ever…?

Quiet Splendour
The music that sweeps up behind the simpler vocal track now has an arboreal quality, and we are in a cathedral of trees. Majestic and splendid yes, but not as oaks. There are darker things here, ancient hardwoods, with vast trucks that reach unfathomably high and breath legends. Heavy and soporific.

Or are we underground? Nothing is clear in this dark mist. Swirling.

Do you here that whirring, buzzing noise? Wake up to the sound of engines.
Listening to the music that the trees make.

Luminous And Gone
Everything now takes even slower passage. Deeper and longer, as if the voices around us are coming from the stone itself. We are lost, and beginning to seek some relief from this claustrophobic situation. Wave upon wave of melancholy and longing, each echo slower and more extended than the one before.

We seek relief. No light falls through the windows, now overgrown and fallen. The air is thick and has a presence of its own.

The slower we travel, the sooner we’ll arrived. But our destination
remains unknown.

Stillness And Wonder
As the next piece unfolds in further layers of sonorous pre-modernism, we become aware of the vaguest silence. Just for a moment. Distant massive, rumbling bass notes approach, each on a significant delay over 30 seconds. Between them, we can dare to breathe again, and there is space for ambient sounds to drift in from the listening environment around us.
There are cracks in the wall of this cavern after all, gaps between the stones. We can hear footsteps down the adjacent corridor to our right. A door slamming and a child’s laughter. Real birdsong. A robin, not a recording.

And there are no singers. But neither are there shorter pieces. No interludes.

The notes keep coming. And going. Let them come, be absorbed. Enveloped by texture and an invisible, un-begotten rhythm. A self existent eternal tide. Endless endless.

It stops. Is this the first track to ‘end’?

Return To A Place Of Remembered Beauty
Pay attention to the titles. The small, discoloured, hand-written labels that are barely legible in the half-light. Through this door is somewhere you have been before. Echoes of Pleasure. A shimmer in the dark when she called your name. Alone in the timeless dance…

We are, at least for seven minutes, recalling to mind those lighter pieces from the first album, where the strings are higher and clear, if they are still stretched over immeasurably vast distances. The singing has returned too, the half-language, the unfamiliar not-quite Latin. Security and hope.

Between the leafs of the canopy, the vaulted ceiling of the chancel is emergent and we scan between them aware of detail in the shadows. The Human Host around us is in full voice.

Unseen, but at least somewhere we feel he is here.

Visible & Invisible
Are we remembering, or not. Is this a memory, or a fantasy.
Never Been Here Before. Perhaps we saw it in a film…?
If it was a film, it would have to be one of those super 8mm tiny colour movies in that dusty American studio. That guy with all those reels. People waving. People we have never met.

The water is green, murky. It is hard to see her, swimming among the rusted automobiles…

For the first time since we stepped through that fallen iron gate, we are longing for this to be over and wish we had never come in. The way back is unclear, and do we have to swim? or fly? It would take years to walk, to retrace our steps, but we may suddenly step through a doorway and be there.

Here though, now there is more tension than tranquility.

Golden Green
A valediction. Affirmational and glorious.
It is significant that we do not quite know how we got here.

The voice has form, shape.
Words, of a kind, sung at the quickest pace we have been aware of for an hour.
Repeated phrases. Recognisable structure.

Missa Cantata

Pater, et Filius, et Spiritu Sanctus.

Every time we meet
There’s a Leaving…

 

 

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