Originally composed by Simon Fisher Turner to accompany an architectural installation by Edmund de Waal, A Quiet Corner in Time has since metamorphised into a fully-fledged collaborative album, released on Mute. Luke Turner reviews.
Simon Fisher Turner has had one of the most colourful and diverse careers of anyone working in music today. A child actor whose dashing looks could have made him a superstar, the gift of a tape recorder from his submariner father set him off on a lifelong fascination with sound and music. Since the early 70s (when an attempt to market him as a teen heartthrob didn’t quite pan out) the perennially youthful Turner has created a faux French pop group called Les Deux Filles, collaborated with Derek Jarman on the soundtracks to films including The Garden and Blue, and written the scores for the BFI’s sumptuous restorations of The Epic Of Everest and The Great White Silence. Anyone who was present when I interviewed Turner on the CBTR stage at the late lamented Port Eliot Festival a few years ago won’t have failed to have been won over by his Tiggerlike enthusiasm for sound and life.
The latest destination for this limitless curiosity is this album of new work created as the sonic compliment to ceramicist and writer Edmund de Waal’s installation One Way Or Another, which was situated at the modernist Schindler House in Los Angeles. Built in 1922 by the Austrian-born architect Rudolf Schindler, the dwelling still looks radical today. Schindler’s concept was that two families could share communal areas, returning to studio spaces to carry out creative work, and sleep in bedrooms made of canvas and redwood on the roof. It’s the sort of building that the uptight and upwardly mobile see in their mind’s eye not long before their Grand Designs dream home disappears into building site mud, debt and divorce.
These are no mere hymnal ditties to de Waal’s vessels, tiles and blocks (in aluminium vitrines suspended from the house’s ceiling) however, but the fruits of a deeply interwoven creative experience. A Quiet Corner In Time is therefore a rich listen, one of those excellent collaborations between artists working in different media in which you don’t need to engage with one to appreciate the other. De Waal’s intent with his intervention into the house was to explore Schindler’s immigrant journey from the grandiosity of 1920s post-Hapsburg Vienna to this blending of concrete and wood on a Californian hilltop. The artist’s own family had been banished from the city by the Nazis, and along with Turner he travelled to the city to explore the spaces – the Opera, the university – that his ancestors and Schindler would have known.
Turner has an ongoing project with the Touch label called Guerrilla, based on snatched recordings that exist in downloadable form only for a short moment in time, and the same instinctive, instantaneous process was used here. I’ve heard Turner play live sets where suddenly the sound of David Bowie appears through the speakers, from a recording that he nabbed from a soundcheck back in the 1970s, and you get a sense of the same cheeky adventure here, reverse graffiti tagging if you will, the recordist absorbing the essence of a place for later creation.
The resulting album is a collage of Vienna and California, sounds inside and out, synthetic and natural, harsh and warm. The record opens with the crash of an opening door, footsteps walking down a long corridor. Is this the Schindler house, or an echo of a Viennese memory? This feeling of temporal and physical displacement continues throughout – that opening track, ‘The Museum With Long Halls’, has a rhythm and melody distant, as if you were trying to find a performance at a electronic music festival held in some grandiose European theatre. Other moments are hollow melodic washes like an eddy of the breeze trapped in some old corner, burbling fussy digital notes. The title track is entirely simple, a call and response between a resinous drone, rattles that might be pot on concrete, an aircraft flying over. Eventually, there’s a clopping sound, as if a horse were trotting past. It takes you somewhere, but it doesn’t necessarily take you there.
Without the constraints imposed by soundtracking the moving images of a documentary made nearly a century ago, this is Turner’s most freeform and expansive work in years. There are certainly echoes of his finest moments with Jarman here too. A Quiet Corner In Time doesn’t try to capture de Waal’s installation, or the Schindler House itself, but is a reflective and diverse meditation on how we imbue physical spaces with meaning, their impact on our imaginations, and the reward we get from them.
A Quiet Corner in Time is out now and available to buy here from the Mute shop.