The birds aren’t an affectation on the first record by Flaer. Their chirps score Preludes because the artist behind the project, the visual and musical artist Realf Heygate, recorded the album at his parents’ house in rural Leicestershire, England during the early days of pandemic. The church bells that ring to open the album drift in as if through an open window because that’s likely how the tones excited the microphone. The sound of kids playing? Seems to be happening in real time.
While at his parents place, which is about a three hour drive north from London, Heygate reconnected with a cello he’d left there, pulled out his 4-track recorder and augmented the instrument with piano and acoustic guitar. The result is a record that suggests Erik Satie’s “furniture music” and gentle Penguin Cafe Orchestra pieces.
The seven songs on Preludes aren’t exactly revolutionary, not anything that will redefine the music of rural England. But that’s not the intention. In the same way a single birdsong doesn’t change the character of the forest but adds a unique accent, Heygate’s work joins a chorus of esoteric folk musicians as old as the land itself.
Release notes describe Preludes, the title of which is a portent for more work to come, as tapping “the tension and unease between the pastoral idyll of the English countryside and the darkness which lurks beneath the surface.” The artist cites “the analogue aesthetic of 1970s folk horror films, weaving field recordings of birdsong, church bells and the natural environment into chimerical melodies that reflect on Heygate’s childhood experiences of rural England.”
It’s music whose wobbly approach underscores an idea that writer Rob Young expressed in his fantastic book on British folk music, Electric Eden. Discussing the way that the music has ebbed and flowed over the decades and centuries, he wrote that “the idea of folk still seems unstable, volatile: there’s an ongoing chemical reaction that hasn’t yet subsided.”
That “chemical reaction” on Preludes is more an environmental reaction, one whose ingredients include the sound of birds and kids and rickety piano foot pedals, of fingers sliding along guitar strings, of odd thumps and knocks. “It was really important not to isolate the sound from its environment,” Heygate says in release notes, using the phrase “site-specific” to capture his approach to musical creation and composition.
Want to snag this exquisite record on LP? We secured a few copies of Preludes to sell through the shop.
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