Saturday, 14 September 2019

Harrogat - Sigilium

Album: Sigillum
Artist: Harrogat
Label: Lake Label
Catalogue no: N/A

     1.      I
     2.      II
     3.      III
     4.      IV
     5.      V
     6.      VI

Before you ask, it is entirely coincidental that I happen to have reviewed two releases back-to-back whose pieces of music are titled with Roman numerals: but that’s where the similarity ends however – Raven’s Global Warning Sessions was blistering noise, but Sigillum is firmly in minimalist ambient with a dark edge country. The music relies more on swathes of sweeping sound layering that builds up gently evolve over time to metamorphose into something else. Harrogat is a new name to me but he’s released five albums plus a compilation so far, beginning with Galeria in 2017, and now he’s given us Sigillum, released this month on the Lake label.

This has the distinct flavour of Brian Eno in terms of approach and atmosphere, especially those he released in the latter part of the seventies and early eighties. I am thinking in particular of ‘An Ending (Ascent)’ as a reference point, but this explores beyond space ambient to embrace a less confined and more wide-ranging thesis. In terms of ‘space’ itself, it ventures beyond the heliosphere of our solar system to roam the interstellar space between the stars themselves. This isn’t a rushed suite of compositions, either; instead they take their own time to unfold, a function of universal time itself, as the vast distances render the concept of ‘time’ irrelevant and useless.

The first track, ‘I’, finds us still within the confines of our home system, slowly making our way towards its outer limits, where our knowledge effectively ends. It glides in with slow steady tones, superseded by a choir of angelic voices harmonising, sweeps of bass drone and planes of soaring etheric chords, creating a virtual vehicle made of light for us to travel in. The harmonics soar and fly majestically, a fitting ship from which to view the wonders of the known planets. ‘II’ opens with deep drones, a sign perhaps that we are approaching the orbits of the outer planets, the realm of gas giants and icy little worlds. Passing by them, their faces so familiar and yet so alien, we can only gaze in awe; these globes have been circulating the central orb for billions of years just like Earth has, but it is only in recent times that we’ve come to know them in the detail we do, and yet there is still much to learn.

‘III’ is where the adventure really begins, where we encounter the truly unknown; beyond this point, past the heliosphere, we will be entering true deep space, a region where even the distance to the nearest star is so immense that we cannot comprehend its significance. We are treated to more grandiose dronescapes, but this time replete with much darker undercurrents than those in the previous two pieces, signifying perhaps our ignorance and our inexperience of the possible dangers ahead.

Then a subtle segue into the next, appropriately titled ‘IV’, and the universe opens out before our very eyes – massive nebulae, star-clusters, huge clouds of dust and gas, some glowing and others light-blocking, and most of all, billions of other suns, innumerable and uncountable. It is both uplifting and terrifying – the infinity of the universe is made manifest, and the concomitant terror is all too real. At the very least, it leaves us breathless and dumbfounded.

All about there is constant activity, although it is played out on a timescale unimaginable to us humans. Those pillars of star-forming dust are slowly being eroded by the vigorous light of newly-formed stars, some not even a million years old yet. The slow purposeful drones evident on ‘V’, heard as if from a distance, signify the aeons of time still needed before these already ancient and diffuse columns finally disappear to unmask the villains responsible for their demise. Billows in the clouds roil with infinitesimal patience, their movement elusive even to the keenest and most observant eye.
‘VI’ is the end of the first part of our journey, the prelude to perhaps an even greater voyage. It could be we’ve finally reached the edges of our island universe, the home galaxy we call the Milky Way, and we have left everything we’ve ever known behind. This is the perfect point at which to leave our travels, as imagination is the only thing we have to delineate the unfathomable distances to even our nearest neighbour galaxy. Perhaps we’ll stop off at one of the satellite galaxies before we make that ultimate leap, its quiet susurrations and hushed drones a signal that everything that lies before us is a true mystery.

Overall this is like a Chesley Bonestell painting, a minutely observed canvas depicting realms of wonder that, whilst only existing in our imaginations, nevertheless inspire thoughts of what lies out there, beyond the limits set by reality, science, and the laws of physics. In the mind’s eye, infinite vistas of star-fields, most of which have no name, spatter the perfect black, their individual pinpricks of light beacons luring us to explore and wonder further. This may not be a long album, but the pieces on here are far bigger and broader than the time it occupies to listen to it – it’s expansive, just like the universe itself, and as colourful and as rich as any Hubble Space Telescope photograph. It’s also multi-layered, thrillingly bright but also undeniably containing darker and more dangerous elements along with them. To make a long conclusion short, it’s a beautiful, gorgeous, and exhilarating ride.

Available as a download and as a CD, which you can order from here:

Psymon Marshall 2019.

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