‘Sound Environment 1: Caves’ sees Stuart Chalmers peregrinate to various subterranean lairs across the Yorkshire Dales for a particularly atmospheric and reverb-drenched take on his ethnographic drone swirl. Chalmers’ release notes riff on the historical role of caves as places of shelter and worship, and remind us of the spellbinding power that the earliest cave paintings still exert our modern sensibilities. This album, he says, creates “a soundtrack to the stories and memories hidden within these subterranean worlds“.
I’m not normally one for too much verbiage around music, but this is just about perfect. Where artists too often spin tales around locations or techniques to disguise the paucity of their ideas, Chalmers uses his ideas to kick-start a haunting and emotive set of sonic investigations. His research points him to particularly evocative spaces – Scoska, Yordas, Attermire, Yew Cogar and Dowkabottom caves – in which the peculiar mix of aural and psychic resonances provide dramatic settings for in-situ creation.
Water is an almost permanent presence here, with recordings of underground rivers and waterfalls, as well as drizzled leakage from the surface world, adding layers of textural eeriness. In ‘Water Resonance’, the regular splish-splosh of liquid on rock is an impassive metronome for a chorale of opalescent chimes and singing bowl tones. And ‘Subterranean Sanctuary’ sees cautious swarmandal plucks edge their way through the dripsody like a grumpy feline trying vainly to keep dry in a downpour.
Most effective is when Chalmers’ interventions reach a level of shamanic intensity that seems capable of rupturing time and space. Exhilaration reaches a peak in ‘Mouth of Darkness’, with a cascade of heiratic gurgles transformed into archeological mantras enabling Chalmers to dissolve the walls of reality and access the deep-time panoramas of the geological eternal.