Poppy Ackroyd + Lumen: Escapement Visualised DVD
On those occasions when Poppy Ackroyd presented the classically flavoured settings on her 2012 debut album Escapement in a live context, the Edinburgh-based, classically trained composer complemented the presentation with grainy black-&-white films created by Lumen (Bristol-based Tom Newell). As its title makes clear, her latest release isn't new material but an updated version of Escapement that, now presented in a DVD format, accompanies the original release's music with Lumen's films. The collaborators first met in early 2013 through their shared association with Hidden Orchestra, with Poppy having contributed violin and keyboards to the group on record and tour and Newell having produced elaborate, multi-screen visuals for its live shows.
The musical appeal of Ackroyd's Escapement, which, a few field recordings aside, features nothing but piano and violin, hasn't diminished in the two years since its release. Such a description could be misinterpreted, however: the acoustic instrument sounds on Escapement are augmented by a wealth of additional sounds, often percussive, generated by striking the instruments. Given the strong degree of synchronization between them, Newell's visuals provide a fitting match for Ackroyd's music, something never more apparent than when the multi-layered images of nature in “Aliquot” align with the built-up construction of the music, and despite sharing an achromatic visual style, the seven films depart from one another in the imagery shown.
Light flickers through silhouetted tree branches during “Aliquot” in a way that visually evokes the chiaroscuro style of German Expressionism and the early days of cinema. In such cases, the fairy tale-like character of the nature imagery—Grimm, that is, not Hans Christrian Anderson—conveys the eerie quality that one associates with the work of early filmmakers like Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau and more recent ones like The Brothers Quay and Guy Maddin. In “Rain,” Ackroyd's pensive piano and plucked strings find their natural counterpart in Lumen's grainy film footage of overcast country scenes viewed from inside a moving car. Following naturally after the fall imagery of “Rain,” “Seven” features wintry landscapes as well as footage of aquariums, horses, beaches, and city panoramas, the visuals suggestive of a family's decades-old home movie with all of the nostalgic melancholy that goes along with it. Newell doesn't shy away from responding to Ackroyd's titles in a literal way either. A piece such as “Glass Sea,” for example, is dominated by footage of waves crashing and water ripples, but the film-maker goes beyond the literal in applying manipulations to the film stock, among them reversals in the black and white display and distressed textures of dirt and grime.
Just as Ackroyd's “Lyre” is dominated by piano sounds, Lumen's film treatment fixates on piano-related imagery, specifically shadowy close-ups of its insides. By moving the light slowly across its intricate machinery, Newell uses simple means to generate an arresting effect. As unusual is “Grounds,” which zeroes in on a dancer contorting herself in at times insect-like manner to an insistently percussive soundtrack. The body becomes the focal point in a different way during the closing “Mechanism,” with in this case mechanism referring not to a piano's insides but to the movements of bones within the body as captured using x-ray footage and displayed in a four-window screen.
Apparently the release of Escapement Visualised was prompted by requests from audience members who having attended Ackroyd's live shows wanted a physical record of the experience. Of course watching the DVD isn't the same thing as witnessing the event live, but it still provides a rewarding experience that now can be shared far and wide.