The Seaman and The Tattered Sail: Light Folds
One thing understandably overshadows all else about this collaboration between The Seaman (Bill Seaman) and The Tattered Sail (The Boats' Craig Tattersall) and that is, obviously, the issue of length. Consider: with seventy-two tracks spread across two CDs, four audio DVDs, and two vinyl albums, the release checks in at 674 minutes—which inevitably prompts questions such as: is eleven hours of music for a single release necessary? And what justifies such excess (more charitably, largesse)? To what degree should one expect cohesiveness and a clearly defined narrative shape to emerge amidst such sprawl? Those with an insatiable appetite for The Boats' oceanic drift will feel like they've died and gone to heaven; others will question why a release of more modest duration wasn't issued. It's worth mentioning, first of all, that Light Folds is hardly the only ultra-long release in existence. Not long ago Terre Thaemlitz issued the thirty-hour “Meditation on Wage Labour and the Death of the Album” as part of 2012's Soulnessless, and overstuffed box sets are no longer a rarity, a current example being King Crimson's 24-CD collection The Road to Red. Such projects are designed more with the fanatical musicologist in mind than the average listener.
A project of such massive scope invites phenomenological as much as musical consideration, and issues of reception invariably arise when confronting Light Folds: the music journalist anxious about finding time to attend to the dozens of other recordings awaiting review brings a different mindset to the release than the listener who has no other releases to contend with than the one in question. The manner by which one absorbs the material also will affect one's overall impression. Binge-listening will likely induce indigestion and turn the listening experience into an endurance challenge. Perhaps a more advisable approach is to spread it out and listen to an hour or two per day.
A great deal of the project's production process took place over the internet via file-sharing, with an initial seven hours of loops and tracks eventually expanding into the final eleven-hour total. And while the duo account for many of the sounds, among them guitar, piano, drum machine, vocals, analogue synth, synth bass, field recordings, and all manner of textural detail (noise, digital distortions, pitch shifts, tape ambience, tape degradation, crackles, record surface noise etc.), other musicians appear, too, with Seaman and Tattersall repeatedly weaving samples of their playing into the recording's tracks. Heard throughout Light Folds is Robert Ellis-Geiger's trumpet, David Beaudry's clarinet, Eric Pritchard's and Hsiao-mei Ku's violins, Fred Raimi's cello, and Jonathan Bagg's violin and viola. Not every track is distinct, by the way; in fact, many of them appear in several permutations. “Her Whispers Fall Silent,” for instance, not only shows up on the first vinyl album, a version of it appears on the first CD as well.
While a uniform style does assert itself, the music is also pulled into multiple directions by the duo, with some pieces leaning in a more classical direction and others closer to an ambient or glitchtronic style. Regardless, Light Folds is sufficiently similar to The Boats' sound that anyone with a strong affection for the music released by Tattersall, Andrew Hargreaves and, since 2009, Danny Norbury should find the Seaman-Tattersall collaboration as satisfying. A typical piece finds the aforementioned instrument sounds—piano, guitar, trumpet, strings, and clarinet—placidly and unhurriedly floating within thick textural baths teeming with hiss, pops, crackle, clicks, scratches, and smears. “Chinese Whispers” is memorable for its slow-motion flow of falling violin phrases and reverberant piano patterns, as is “A Tear in the Sails,” a funereal dirge of scarred feedback noises, horns, strings, and electronic murmurings. On “The Tender of Emotion 2” (DVD D), a soggy piano sounds as if it's being played underwater, while elsewhere woozy strings and mechano rhythms are smothered in foggy clusters of pops, clicks, and hiss.
Not everything's sleepy drift, however: an occasional animated beat pattern emerges to jumpstart the material, as occurs within “Ideas Mix Minimal” and “If Light Was Breathing on the Turn of the Tide,” and the pitter-patter of a 4/4 techno pulse even surfaces during “Ends.” “The Lighthouse of Grey Sound” works up enough rhythmic steam it starts to resemble some Boats-styled take on post-rock, while “The Tender of Emotion” (on DVD A) makes a surprising stab at bleepy electro-funk.
There are moments when the material plays like the gentlest of breezes, plaintive violin playing elevates the recording in a number of places (the first CD's “Against the Swell,” for instance), and ambient-styled tracks such as “Dust Against the Swells” and “Shiftlight Micropiano Mix” (on DVD D) are indisputably stellar examples of the form. But the number one thing that puts the clearest distance between this project and The Boats is the presence of Seaman's hushed voice, an appealing element that shows up in a number of songs, including “Lights and Snippets,” a moody meditation with a hint of Reichian minimalism in its string patterns.Length notwithstanding, what shouldn't be overlooked is how artfully the creators have threaded the elements into the arrangements, especially the longest pieces where numerous scene changes take place (the second CD's “7 Holes,” for example, starts out as a still place for reflection but eventually turns into a bubbly electro-dub track). It can be easy to forget how the material was assembled when one loses oneself in playing that can resemble an improv session featuring musicians interacting in real time. Fittingly, Facture has gone out of its way to present the ambitious project in eye-catching manner, with Light Folds packaging its discs and albums in special cover designs and including a double-sided poster and prints with the release.