Sing High! Sing Low! (SHSL) Is the second album release from Coral Rose who records (with friends) as The Silver Field. Whereas last year’s Rooms felt like an artist testing out recipes, SHSL is a complete meal in content, overall sound and production values. To me, the album is akin to an immersive art installation with the listener navigating through each track like moving from room to room. There is a processional feel to the flow of the album with each new space/track offering a different mood or set of atmospheric conditions with musical shapes and sound patterns that appear, rearrange, disappear, reappear, rearrange, and repeat.
From the opening track ‘Dry Light’ you instinctively know you are not on terra firma; a woozy looped backing is enhanced by Coral’s strong, clear voice which resounds throughout the song, occasionally enveloped in a mist of opaque percussion and washes of vocal harmonies. ‘Hearth Bite’ offers near-dissonant close harmonies which sit at counterpoint to the spoken word passages and then ‘Song of Wandering’ has the pomp of an unhinged fanfare. ‘Day Flowers’ is the most ‘conventional’ song on the album and whereas many of the tracks evoke surreal landscapes this is the most pastoral, a laconic drift downstream on a hot day. Song after song new vistas emerge, some unfamiliar or unsettling like ‘The Valley Spirit’ or ‘Talk To Me’ and others that offer folk filtered through surrealism like the excellently titled ‘Salt Light’ or the feel of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ on ‘The Fire Dream’.
There are delicate tensions that coalesce to form strong sinews in the tracks and the looped backing drones put me in mind of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. which was featured in an excellent Radiolab Podcast. While listening to SHSL those first few times my brain fizzed with the resonance of other artists I love: Julian Cope on Fried, Marika Hackman’s first album We Slept at Last, Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, Kate Bush on The Dreaming (as Caoimhe Lavelle from The Demented Goddess website so aptly noted), The Wicker Man soundtrack, This Is The Kit / Rozi Plain and many more. It’s not that SHSL sounds like any of these directly but it’s about what the music evokes: a sense of place or a unique biosphere. The artistic sensibilities brought to bear on Sing High! Sing Low! has created a true gem (a contender for one of my albums of 2020) and I am enamoured of the scuffed-up feel of the music and of an artist who seems not to be in thrall to the tyranny of perfection but understands the beauty in imperfection and what happens disparate elements collide.
Coral Rose was kind enough to answer some questions for Joyzine about her music:
Q: How do you construct your loops, are you using physical tape or are these being generated through a looper or in music software? Can you give some examples of some source material used?
I make my loops from 1/4-inch reel-to-reel tape. I used to use a small mono reel-to-reel recorder / player, which most, if not all, of the loops on Rooms and Sing High! Sing Low! were made on. I got it second hand from a guy who practically gave it to me because I got talking to him about Daphne Oram & the radiophonic workshop. It was on its last legs and I managed to revive it, though it’s recently finally given up! I was sad to see it go. I also have an Akai 1710 that I’ve been using more and more and really enjoying being able to get a bigger sound out of it.
As for source material, it all comes from voice memos I record on my phone – things I hear when I’m walking, friends improvising, occasionally live performances. From the new album, ‘Song of Wandering’s loops come from a live performance of a guy called Barnaby Brown who I saw perform inside one of the exhibits at the Barbican curve gallery. He makes these amazing replicas of ancient instruments – reed pipe chanters from bird bones, they sound incredible!
Q: As I have said above, I felt a strong sense of the album being like an immersive art installation. Did you have visuals in mind when making the music and have you been influenced by any visual artists?
I love this response to the album! I do have a really strong visual, or almost topographical sense when I’m making music, I’ve been calling the music I make as The Silver Field ‘sound worlds’ because it feels like I’m using the music to describe or sketch some kind of idea of a place or environment. It almost feels theatrical to me, like each song is a kind of scene or set-piece.
Probably one of my favourite works of visual art is the video game Kentucky Route Zero – which also plays with ideas of theatre, installation & environment within a game context. I’m also a fan of surreal cinema – things like Maya Deren’s At Land, where time and place slip and slide around in a dreamlike way.
Q: I found the album felt like the blurred line between sleeping or waking or the magic hour between day and night. Can you describe what your music feels like for you?
I think to me it feels like a journey, a kind of disjointed and almost vignette-like document of a journey; I think the journey that I’m talking about happens in that space you’re describing though – that kind of in between space of asleep and awake, real world and dream world. It feels like I’m storytelling but most of the story is written between the lines – which feels similar to how dreams work, too.
Q: Once lockdown is over will you be playing live?
I can’t wait to play live again! I had such a great time touring this material in March, it was a real shame that we had to cut it short because of COVID, and I was looking forward to a year of playing it all over! Nobody really knows how long it will be until we can safely get together under one roof or in a field and listen to music, but as soon as it is, we’ll be there!
Review by Paul F Cook