*AR: Wolf Notes
Published: August 10, 2011
A thing about music, maybe at its root one of the most fundamental things about music, is its ability to haunt. You know this already because you’ve felt it, courtesy of most any sort of music that’s ever existed. Not the quality of being haunting, but to actively—as if of its own mind—haunt, appear and reappear in brain crevices or even smeared across the frontal lobe such that you can barely process anything else. And not even in the “earworm” sense of a great (or terrible) pop hook getting lodged into your gray matter like, well, some kind of parasitic worm, but something finer and more ethereal. A haunt.
Frankly, there aren’t many terms that Wolf Notes can fall under. Background-wise, it’s the work of Richard Skelton, a United Kingdom-based ambient/modern classical composer who does gorgeous and otherworldly things with electronics and violins, and vocalist Autumn Richardson. It’s her voice that makes up the central haunt of Wolf Notes (a title that would seem as inaccurate as Blastfurnace Partytimes if you didn’t read somewhere that the “wolf” is referring to a particular muted, serene U.K. landscape). The record is, in a most bizarre fashion, one melody, sung again and again with slight local variations (you need to pay some amount of attention to catch that it’s not looped). There are five different tracks, but consider them more movements; save for an equally lovely passage of dronier “flattening out” in the last bit of album, it’s just this one repeating theme.
Describing the vocal theme beyond “very pretty” is difficult. It’s basic, in a sense; you might be able to plonk it out on a piano after hearing just a couple of reps. It riffs on itself in slight ways, trims off this or that note, but never so much in a way that it’s become something different. So, imagine writing a composition in the key of not just a scale, but one particular melody. It’s like that. What becomes interesting beyond the initial melodic haunt is how it interacts with Skelton’s orchestration, almost too down in the mix. It’s almost as if these lush waves of sound—imagine a somber choir and strings processed into increasingly intense swells—come together with Richardson’s glassy, ghostly voice as a function of gravity. They trail behind as an entourage of love-struck avant-garde drones, emerging every so often to just slowly heave and fade by their lonesome. The net effect is mesmerizing and, indeed, lasting, no matter how much you invite it along.
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