Orla Wren: Book of The Folded Forest
Recently Home Normal decided it wanted to move away from a strict musical presentation in its releases to one that would involve film work, too. Having been suitably impressed with Orla Wren's 2009 flau release, The One Two Bird and The Half Horse, the label determined that the artist would be the perfect candidate to help realize that goal. And so it is that the ambitious Book Of The Folded Forest arrives as both a CD containing thirteen pieces and a DVD featuring seven video treatments by Lumacell, Joey Bania, The New Honeyshade, Tippi Tillvind, Elise Baldwin, and Skinofthetree (not to mention six double-sided cards and a poster, both designed by Urban9).
To begin, some clarification is needed as to who or what Orla Wren is. In essence, the de facto leader of the outfit is a male multi-instrumentalist named Tui who contributes a multitude of sounds to the album, including music box, pipe organ, Chinese ceramic bowl, celeste, piano, zither, clarinet, bass guitar, mandolin, Indian shruti box, glockenspiel, flute, synthesizer, field recordings, and vocals. It's no solo affair, however, as Tui is joined by an equally large assortment of singers and musicians: cellists Danny Norbury and Aaron Martin, percussionists Barry Leake and Phil White, electric guitarists Cyril Secq and Frederic Oberland, Lori Scacco (acoustic guitar), Keiron Phelan (flute, acoustic guitar), Katie English (bass, concert flutes), Hinny Pawsey (fiddle), and vocalists Paddy Mann, Jessica Constable, Eva Puyuelo, Joanna Joachim, and Heidi Elva.
Not all of the musicians play on every track, however: a typical piece features Tui accompanied by one to three others (a strings player typically one of them), and consequently the album's hushed, folk-electronic reveries never collapse under excess. Complementing the music's delicate character are vocals that are similarly fragile and tremulous. “The Words Under the Wood” opens the album as if it's slowly awakening, its sleepy drift guided by Mann's soft voice and Norbury's winsome cello, and the song emerging like some mist-covered incantation from a deep forest (at album's end, Mann returns to close the circle with the lovely “Ashes From a Long Fire”); five songs in, Martin's cello arcs gently across the piano-strewn vista “Four Feathers Few” in equally haunting manner, while Secq's and Oberland's guitars do much the same during “Swallow Tails and the Story Born” and “Things You Cannot Keep,” respectively. In a typical piece, Tui provides a slow-moving and densely textured backdrop of mystical entrancement over which a vocalist drapes delicate musings. An occasional nature element appears amidst the musical sounds to reinforce the enchanted woodland character of the project, while electronics also bolster the impression by suggesting the buzzing and chirping of insects. As a whole, the CD plays like some extended, hypnotic dream-state, within which tiny instrument sounds and fragmented melodies repeatedly bob to the surface.
The video directors effectively transcribe the music into visual form in presenting the material in a dream-like, non-narrative, and multi-textural form, with the footage often moving at a glacial pace (the jumpers in Joey Bania's mesmerizing “Four Feathers Few” treatment almost suspend time altogether). The videos come from multiple directors and thus hold up as stand-alone works, but, filled as they are with recurring elements (young people, nature imagery of forests and water), they also hold together well as a group. At times the imagery is presented in the form of blurred or scratchy, washed-out film footage (such as The New Honey Shade's “Willow Bows and Cats Cradles”), as befittingly rusty and time-worn as the music itself. As a whole, it's a remarkable package, that, in no small part due to Home Normal's elaborate presentation, shows Orla Wren in an extremely flattering light.