Recorded Fields Editions
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It was the discovery in Australia of a 1932 photograph of Curgenven’s grandfather - whose grandfather in turn had emigrated from Cornwall to Australia back in the 1800s - which was the inspiration that brought SIRÈNE together. Five generations after that first migration across the ocean, Robert Curgenven had been the first of his line to return to the Atlantic peninsula after many years in central and northern Australia.
In Cornwall, living amongst the familiar climes of wild country, he’d returned also to his first instrument, the pipe organ, where his ideas about composition, pursued since his earliest pieces made over three decades before, were consolidated though hours of recordings in centuries-old Cornish churches to become the selection of works etched on SIRÈNE.
In part a companion piece prefacing a visceral forthcoming album (RFE_02) about settler colonialism, SIRÈNE proves just as visceral in its own right. As with the Turner painting, “Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth”, that adorns the back cover and whose story is at the heart of an eponymous track which bodily charts this myth of biography, SIRÈNE sends listeners across roiling oceans billowing humid air, beneath plunging coastlines. Amid this elemental immersion, Curgenven asks what is it to belong to a land, or even to this ever-changing country? Cornwall has been home to thousands of years of tin mining, with a tin trade dating back beyond the Bronze Age and the Phoenicians.
With a colonial history of its own, empires around and within it have come and gone like its rugged granite cliffs, which once stood miles away in the days of Cornubia. Like that coast, the citizenry has remained in a slow process of transformation - waves of imperialism wash over and across Cornwall, as they did on Caliban’s horizon in his own Tempest. SIRÈNE is not a kind of nostalgia or looking back nor a looking forward into an imagined future, but instead it views time, lineage, nationhood as a process and a continuum of change.
“Curgenven really excels as he charms easily with a selection of expertly-treated pipe organ recordings. It’s not easy listening as you can probably imagine, but hearing the familiar spiritual throb of the organ anchors the recordings in the real world and allows Curgenven to experiment without fear of losing our interest… his most definitive work to date… astounding” – John Twells, FACT magazine '
’’SIRÈNE’ is BREATHTAKING! An artist whose work continues to overwhelm.” - Richard Chartier, LINE
1: Ressuscitant de l'étreinte de la Sirène
1: Turner‘s Tempest
2: Imperial Horizon (for Caliban)
Recorded Fields Editions
£14.99Visceral psychogeography of settler colonialsm via field recordings - 30+ remote areas across Australia over 12 years - pipe organ, guitars, dubplates "It is with regret I have had to record the existence of such large areas of desert land encountered in my travels in Australia.” - Australia Twice Traversed (1889), Ernest Giles, 1835-1897 ‘They tore the earth and, like a scar, it swallowed them’ is a very physical negotiation of territories voided by history.Visit product page →
Forged from the historical dynamics of the settler colonial trope, the album plays out across four scenes, through the eyes not of the invaded but of the invaders to a harsh and unforgiving land. Rendered via field recordings gathered over 12 years in over 30 remote locations across Australia, mixed and expanded within immense, shimmering harmonics wrought via pipe organ, dubplates, guitar, bass and turntable feedback, piano, and low frequency oscillators. Amidst the heat and the dust, in a landscape populated only by the insinuation of characters, the field recordings bear testament to a dramaturgical tension within an ontological and phenomenal space - a starkness dwelling within an unfillable horizon. As the embodiment of a rogue outpost of empire, the settler colonialists’ blind enactment of will and violence against and into the arid interior of their new land serves as the manifestation of a mortal struggle.
This story is not about a battle well-fought in a hard and unforgiving land, nor the romanticisation of ghost towns and their spectral remains. Whether the settlers’ myopic conquest be a dogged attempt that ends within the span of one short life or a hard-won, yet momentary, triumph to last a few generations, the result is much the same. It is as if the conviction in their misapprehension of the “willful, lavish land” is turned once again upon them, as the ravaging frontier consumes and erases the ruins of these battles, leaving little to tell bar a scar where the drama played out in the wretched shadow of true desolation.
Four scenes in a delinearised order comprise the album and the live audio-visual versions of this piece. Within the sequence of the overarching chronology the scenes are: the survey of a land assumed to be empty; the movement into and inhabitation of this confrontingly large, alien landscape and the colonists vague awareness of the underlying social landscape; a conflagration and the resulting change in the relationships with the land for all within this social landscape; devastation - of culture, citizenry, land - the inevitable decline.
Scene 1. Scattered to the wind, the fortunate
Scene 2. Only the dogs and the fires on the horizon
Scene 3. The heat at their necks
Scene 4. And when the storm came, they were the storm