Laura Cannell and Kate Ellis’s October EP is duskily-lit, and populated by chilling creatures.
Autumn is the time for stories and cosy jumpers. The October Sounds EP features nocturnal tracks which travel from Sweden to Northumberland to New York. They have a dusk-lit hue and are full of creatures and stories to chill us by a warming fire.
The wind is howling outside and I am wearing a warm and cosy funnel-neck jumper. Back in January at the beginning of this monthly project I didn’t really imagine how it would have played out by this point, having never had a job where I would know exactly what was happening in the months or years ahead; being a musician means being reactive or responding to opportunities and situations, and so many of your decisions (aside from the music) lay in the hands of promoters or festivals to define the timetable you build around it. But here we are in October and it has been a revelation to have such a constant project in my life. I am in the swing of the organisational side of releasing an EP every month — working with the people involved, the cover artist, the film-makers, the mastering engineer, the CD plant, the distributers, the press kits etc etc — but the part which is still totally unpredictable is the music we are creating. Working with Kate, having an idea, thinking of who would be an amazing collaborator and then just doing it.
This month we have worked with three very distinct voices who I will introduce in a moment. I think I’ve said before that with a lack of live shows, for me, this feels like a performance every month. Eight of the EPs have been a duo between myself and the brilliant cellist Kate Ellis, while August brought in our first guests Stewart Lee and Rhodri Davies. As we approached October there was a sense that we needed some stories to delve into as the nights draw in. A friend, Daisy Black (director of Gossamer Thread Circus who is coincidently is also undertaking a yearlong project under the name FERAL), recently pointed out that “the veil is thin at this time of year”, and this struck a chord with me; our listening is enhanced in the darkness and it feels like we hear more nocturnal activity around Samhain, when the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds is said to be at its thinnest. Our senses are heightened in the dark and the quiet, so naturally we wanted to bring the outside inside by collaborating with the brilliant sound recordist Chris Watson, who gave us some incredible forest recordings to work with. The intimacy of hearing what Chris has heard in the dead of night, his joy and passion for searching out wild sounds, has been really amazing to respond to.
I was thinking about Halloween and all things witch-related, and I thought back to the director and reporter Milène Larsson’s documentary series about Witchcraft in Romania from 2016 onwards. This was around the time I first met her. Apart from being an amazing researcher and reporter, I loved the actual sound of her voice, the lyricism and rhythm of her speech and we have since become friends and often spoken about folklore and stories, so it seemed a natural progression to ask her to collaborate on this project. Milène wrote her own version of a folktale for us that she heard as a child growing up in Sweden.
Our final guest collaborator for October Sounds is the composer, songwriter and lyricist Adrian Crowley, who wrote and narrated a chilling story set in New York. A previous collaborator of Kate Ellis, Adrian brought us a story that had been building in his mind for sometime, and we created a sparse, almost monochromatic sound-bed for it to sit upon…listen closely.
October Sounds was recorded remotely between Suffolk, London, Dublin and the Northumberland in October 2021.
Sleeve notes for this month’s EP… out on 29th October 2021.
“I first heard the myth of Näcken as a child, we all did in Sweden. He’s a male equivalent of a river mermaid, a beautiful man who plays the violin so enchantingly that he lures people into the water to drown. This old folktale dates back over a thousand years. There are several versions of him in Norse mythology and in Germanic folklore, where he is known as “Nix”. There’s even a related word in old English, “Nicor,” which means water spirit or water goblin.
The stories of Näcken served a good purpose: scaring children away from going near water unsupervised.
There are also many stories of musicians asking Näcken to teach them how to play in exchange for sacrificing a cat or some of their own blood. So if a musician was particularly brilliant, people would think he or she learnt the art from Näcken. Then if you played for too long, played too well or people got too into it, it was believed to be dangerous and that people could end up dancing until they dropped dead. This belief, many people theorise, has to do with protestantism and a warning against sinning and the joys of music being the art of the devil. There are ways of binding Näcken so that he can’t harm you, like throwing a stone into the water without it splashing or saying his name, which makes him lose his magic.” – Milène Larsson, October 2021
2. CLOAKED BY RAVENS WINGS
Ravens over the forest – Blair Atholl
“Arriving from out of the south, like particles of distant smoke, dozens and then hundreds of ravens call and respond on whirring wings before they are cloaked by the coniferous forest.” – Chris Watson, Newcastle upon Tyne, October 2021
3. BLUE IS THE COLOUR
“I like to describe this story as Cerulean Malaise or, on other days, Ultramarine Angoisse. It depends on my mood. Set in New York City, the idea for the story developed in my mind over time, after recalling a protracted incident from many years ago when an acquaintance of mine appeared to be turning blue over the course of several days. And the bluer he got in appearance, the bluer he seemed to get in spirit.
I wrote and recorded this spoken-word piece with Kate and Laura in mind, and while I was preparing to record, I realised that the hushed internal monologue of the protagonist seemed to insist itself on me and I soon realised that the subtexts of the story were revealing themselves. And the tinted lens of the narrator cast a particular tone on his reality and / or perception. I don’t want to give too much away in my description but…if it were a short film, I would say ‘Blue is the Colour’ would be a dark dramadey but with an azure ending.” – Adrian Crowley, Dublin, October 2021
4. WITHIN THE FOREST DARKNESS
Tawny owls and roe deer in the forest at midnight – Thrunton Woods, Northumberland
“From Coe Crags to Castle Hill tawny owls communicate, commute and hunt within the forest darkness. Throughout a difficult night for small mammals, it’s only the roe deer that break the stillness on the forest floor.” – Chris Watson, Newcastle upon Tyne, October 2021
Find the EP here.
This month’s film was created by André Bosman.
These Feral Lands – A Year Documented in Sound and Art is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.