Monday 1 December 2014

Devon Folklore Tapes Volume One - Two Witches (Archival Reissue Series)

Folklore Tapes Archival Reissue Series:

Ian Humberstone / David Chatton Barker
Devon Folklore Tapes Vol.I
Two Witches
Twin Ten-Inch Gatefold Edition
Contains 2x 10" Records & 12page Research Booklet & Download Code
Housed in manilla hand stamped & numbered paper sleeve
Ltd Edition: 500

‘Two Witches’ is where it all began. This inaugural volume resulted from a postal correspondence between David Chatton Barker and Ian Humberstone in 2011, and was released as a split cassette housed in a hollowed-out hardback book later that year. Long out-of-print and highly sought after, the original recordings have been completely remastered for this lavish reissue, which is presented as a double ten-inch vinyl sited in a gatefold sleeve, complete with expanded research notes and artwork. This release is the definitive edition and marks the beginning of a wider reissue series for Folklore Tapes’ back catalogue, further editions of which will arrive throughout 2015.

The release itself provides a sonic impression of two long-forgotten figures from Devon lore: Hannah Henley and Mariann Voaden. Though they never met, both women lived in rural Devon during the nineteenth century and fostered highly idiosyncratic careers in the provision of charms and curses, at a time when belief in the reality of witchcraft was in decline. Hannah and Mariann were thus engaged in an age-old profession experiencing its death throes, the last in a long line of wizened crones to provide their neighbours with folk-remedies and blessings, to threaten them with hue and cry.

Building upon the scanty historical record, these recordings recreate the world of Hannah and Mariann as a living soundscape, giving flesh to the bare bones of their stories. Through acousmatic sound and composed music, Hannah’s curses recover their voice in the night. With rumbling thunder and detuned harmonium, the wind blows once more through the walls of Mariann’s crumbling cottage. And in the gathering dark, through the whirls and rattles, the creaks and drones, the tales of the long since departed might live and breath again.

Friday 31 October 2014

Folklore Tapes Calendar Customs Vol.I - Fore Hallowe'en

Eva Bowan
Mary Stark
Children Of Alice
Ian Humberstone
Snail Hunter
Carl Turney & Brian Campbell
Rob St John

Whatever names they take today, many of our most venerable calendar dates have their origins in pre-Christian observances, often marking key points in the agricultural year when planting began or harvesting was completed. Mayday, with its dances, games and fertility ceremonies, is a fine example, reflecting the gratitude of an agrarian society for the sun’s rebirth and the bounty of the soil. Songs, games and rites often form an essential part of these occasions, and their echoes reach us today though the din of the ages, with hidden meanings and garbled messages. Our new Calendar Customs series attempts to explore this world of symbolism and ritual sonically, through research and artistic reinterpretation. We begin the series with fright night. Halloween.

If we cast our gaze back far enough, we can see the origins of today’s Halloween in the Celtic festival Samhain or Samuin (pronounced ‘sow-an’ or ‘sow-in’). This ancient, pre-Christian observance marked summer’s end and heralded the dark, winter nights to come with feasting, fire and sacrificial offerings. As a borderline festival between seasons Samhain was a time of supernatural intensity, when the boundaries between worlds were at their most porous and the souls of the dead might mingle with those of the living. Though much is lost to the murk of time, it also seems that at Samhain great bonfires were lit to both honour and guide the dead, as well as ward off such spirits and sprites as might be abroad that night.

Although the festival was Christianized in the fourth century, it never lost its predecessor’s supernatural flavour. Now linked to the holy days of All Souls’ and All Saints’, Hallowtide - as it became known in England - was a feasting day marked by prayers for lost souls in purgatory, but one which retained dark associations. Church bells were rung and bonfires lit to ward off demonic agency, while requiem masses were held to prevent the dead from returning to rectify wrongs committed against them while alive. From the Middle Ages, these solemn rites were joined by the carnivalesque, and Hallowtide became a season of masking and misrule, when ribboned mummers, guisers and Hobby horses could upturn the social norms. While the games and rituals of Hallowtide were attacked by the Protestant Reformation, many popular customs such as ‘Souling’ and ‘Lating’ continued, especially in the more Catholic northern areas.

By the time we arrive at the name Halloween in the eighteenth century, many of these traditions have subsided, though the night retains its reputation as a time when ghosts, spirits and witches might be abroad. At Dorstone in Herefordshire, one brave enough to stay the night in the local church would be greeted by the spectral forms of all those in the parish fated to die in the next twelve months. In Lancashire, burning candles were carried during the hour before midnight and if kept aflame throughout the witching-hour, the bearer would earn one year’s immunity from witchcraft.

While the customs may change, they retain at their core an unyielding association with the supernatural, with death and the departed: the hidden otherworld beyond our senses. So many of these traditions are lost in the fog of today’s heavily marketed and Americanized Halloween. This tape will pick out a few vestiges from the festival’s past, rekindling the fires that burned Fore Hallowe’en

Monday 5 May 2014

Theo Brown and the Folklore of Dartmoor - Exhibit

An exhibit of archive materials used for our latest project - Theo Brown and the Folklore of Dartmoor - is now in place outside the Special Collections Reading Room at the Old Library, University of Exeter. Pre-orders for the box-set are available here.


Wednesday 23 April 2014

Theo Brown and the Folklore of Dartmoor: Dartmoor Posters / Project Announcement

Theo Brown and the Folklore of Dartmoor (DFTVI)
by Ian Humberstone and David Chatton Barker

Available to pre-order: 1st May, 2014 (more details to follow).
Format and contents: limited edition box-set containing seven seven-inch records, download code, DVD, twenty-four page booklet, poster, seven postcard prints.

Theo Brown and the Folklore of Dartmoor explores the stories and folk-beliefs of seven Dartmoor villages through experiments in sound and vision. It also celebrates the life of the late folklorist and artist Theo Brown, whose publications, papers and woodcuts have lain dormant in the archives at Exeter University since her death in 1993. Using Brown’s unpublished research, Ian Humberstone and David Chatton Barker have crafted an audio-visual retelling of Dartmoor folklore grounded in the moor’s topography, history and folk-culture.

Theo Brown was an important and much maligned figure within twentieth-century folkloristics, who documented the arcane tales and traditions of her native Devon through first-hand accounts, often, in her younger years, camping out on the county’s waysides to do so. While her successes are the papers and monographs she authored, she was not afforded the full credit due her endeavours by the academic class of her day, who criticised her lack of formal training. Her writing is infused with a creative flair borne of her background as an artist, and the box-set is enriched by seven postcard print reproductions of her ‘lost’ woodcut images salvaged from dusty archive shelves.


Each seven-inch record takes a Dartmoor village as its theme, and each side recreates a folktale from that location as a textured soundscape, using composed music, foley work and site-specific field-recordings to conjure up long forgotten ghosts. Inspired by 1970s film soundtracks and library music, as well as the early sonic experimenters Pierre Henry and Karlheinz Stockhausen, the tracks utilise analogue recording techniques—tape loops, delays and hand-manipulations—to twist the thick organic textures into psychonautic permutations. Full transcripts of the tales covered by the records are included in the booklet, which are copied verbatim from Brown’s original notes, and intended, along with an accompanying map, as reference points to the audio.

Postbridge / Merripit

Tactile technology and biological elements also shape the film contained on the DVD, which, in a style reminiscent of Stan Brackhage, is the product of process-led chance and spontaneity. Shot on-location on Dartmoor, the original 8mm films were caked in mould, leaves, and other organic material collected from the moor in post-development, and left to decompose before transfer. The result is an unnerving visual dreamscape, warped and manipulated by Dartmoor itself into a psychic cinematography of rich natural colours and twilit landmarks. A special edit of the music contained on the records accompanies the piece.

These materials are housed within a hand-stamped, numbered and book-cloth covered box, the size of which belies the hidden world within. The container is a psychopomp with muddy feet and mischievous saucer-eyes, waiting to lead the unsuspecting traveller through mist-shrouded lanes and out into the breadth of the wilderness, into the midst of seething, surging and clamouring stories.


Saturday 19 April 2014

Miscellaneous Volume II - Twelve Stations

The Twelve Stations project started in Exeter in 2007. Originally it was intended as a one off event, featuring a one of a kind 10” record housed within a photographic book and displayed as part of a larger installation. Since then, however, the recording has taken on a life of its own, serving as the inspiration for the founding in 2011 of the Folklore Tapes. 
As the title suggests, twelve train stations across the UK were visited in ten days as part of an extended field trip. At each station both a thirty second sound recording and a thirty second photograph were taken. Compositions were sketched out during each train journey, influenced in turn by the things observed and overheard whilst visiting each station. These scores were later recorded with The City Of Exeter Railway Brass Band in an evening during their weekly rehearsals.
The project was an attempt to investigate an aspect of day to day existence that is characterised by a sense of transience. It was hoped that the fleeting nature of this experience, the sad, perpetual motion of strangers passing us by, might be reflected in the twelve vignettes that make up these recordings; each piece lasts no longer than forty seconds, the sounds never fully resolving themselves, thereby hinting at unrealised possibilities. 
The City of Exeter Railway Brass Band would itself become a crucial element in the unfolding of this project: both the brass band and the railway system developed as a result of the technological innovations forged during the industrial revolution. Thus, Twelve Stations was a chance to explore further this strange harmonic convergence of brass and breath, iron and steam. 
Although the creation of Twelve Stations was largely as a result of chance occurences and fleeting sensory perceptions, earlier echoes may be heard in the recordings of Basil Kirchin, with his aural portraits of places and people (as well as his various library music releases), minimalist works such as Philip Glass’ score for ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ and Steve Reich’s ‘Different Trains’, and in the sense of loss that permeates William Basinki’s ‘Disintegration Loops’ and ‘The Sinking of the Titanic’ by Gavin Bryars.
The late Owen Huxham was the trombone player in The City Of Exeter Railway Brass Band when Twelve Stations was recorded. He had been with them from the very beginning, when a group of railway workers came together just after the Second World War. Most of his family has played in the band- indeed, his uncle was the original conductor. They are one of the few remaining railway brass bands in Britain and this record is a way of celebrating them as well as their long-lasting, ongoing connections with the railways.
Re-mastered and presented here for the first time as a seven inch record, housed in screen printed die cut sleeve with 8 page booklet and ‘train ticket’ download card in a limited run of 200 editions hand stamped and numbered by the artist.
Twelve Stations marks the first official vinyl release for the Folklore Tapes project, tracing its origins to the present day in preparation for more expansive vinyl editions soon to follow.