If you have ever listened to a Haiku Salut album, or have been to one of their shows, you will know how immersive their performances are. Watching Gemma and Sophie Barkerwood and Louise Croft move around the stage, changing instruments, is almost as hypnotic as their gently rotating loops and song motifs. It’s like watching a babbling stream; it’s always a stream but it’s always changing. Their mix of electronic/acoustic, and pastoral/classical has rightfully given them an incredibly loyal following (including my friend Andrew who has been a huge advocate of theirs for years and introduced me to them).
With The Hill, The Light, The Ghost the band have said that “the record is a miniature exploration of sound in relation to memory”. The recorded sounds were not originally intended as the basis for an album, but Haiku Salut say “as our writing process evolved the textures of these memories became a bank of inspiration” and the band started to frame songs around the recordings “removing them from their context and building worlds around them. Capturing and preserving personal experiences and evoking vivid spaces”. And ‘vivid spaces’ is such an excellent description of how Haiku Salut create landscapes and sonic environments with their music. These new songs will not leave their fans disappointed, far from it. They will be able to inhabit the band’s experiences and vivid spaces for themselves, like an art installation that sits in the mind’s own gallery space.
In the introduction video (below) you can hear the track ‘Entering’ playing, and it features sounds captured in an abandoned house near Frankfurt which Gemma and Sophie stopped at on their way to play in Berlin (Louise was on parental leave). The haunting black and white photographs shown in the video were also taken there.
I put some questions to Haiku Salut and Sophie Barkerwood was kind enough to answer them:
I found your video introduction to The Hill, The Light, The Ghost very moving. I really got a sense of the abandoned house you explored near Frankfurt/Berlin. How had you heard about the house?
Before visiting the house in Germany we had visited a few other abandoned buildings nearer to home in Derbyshire. We didn’t have much luck – either the entry had been locked or the place had been disrespected and vandalised. I had heard before we left for our trip that Germany had many empty places like the one we visited. After the war, or the wall came down, people moved around very quickly. England has a much more linear state of events where houses are passed down indefinitely and very few are forgotten about. We found out about this house when we stopped over in Belgium for one night on our way to Berlin. I decided to take a look online to see if there would be anywhere to visit on route and came across a house that people were calling “Dr Anna’s House”, the photos people had taken looked incredible. Luckily for us someone had posted coordinates so we knew exactly where to find it. Weirdly it was on a very busy road, hidden in plain sight.
Just like Pripyat near Chernobyl it seems we are fascinated by abandoned building. Not so much the empty ones but those that are Marie Celeste-like with everything intact but the occupants having just vanished. Have you always been interested in these types of buildings and was the unease you felt in the property from the sense of ‘trespass’ or not wanting to upset the ‘ghosts of the house‘?
When we talk about ghosts, we’re addressing the concept of ghosts within the very fabric of things, rather than ghosts in the popular sense of the word. Memories and how long it takes for memory to die away. I guess that’s why being in a place where the occupants have spirited away into thin air is so fascinating. All of their belongings are still connecting them to the world in some way. It does bring a sense of restlessness which we felt deeply. That all mixed up with the awareness of trespassing was an intense feeling. I could hear my heart in my ears. When we saw blood smeared on a broken window we knew it was time to go.
I think audio recordings are really overlooked as a medium for evoking a place or triggering a memory. How much did you record, and can you talk about you went about editing and finding the right place for place them in the tracks?
Everything we recorded in the house went into the track in some capacity. What you hear in the beginning of the track is me re-entering the house. You can hear cars and people chatting on the street outside which dies away as I go through the front door and make my way to the piano. The piano itself was irreparable, many of the keys were stuck down with a grey crust and entirely unplayable. I managed to get a few usable notes, and some percussive samples from some of the keys that didn’t work. In terms of the arrangement of the track we built it from the recordings up, once we’d introduced instrumentation we tweaked and nudged the recordings into position. The other tracks on the record were built with different types of ghosts.
I imagine having Louise back from parental leave was exciting. Were you able to get straight back into writing the new tracks for The Hill, The Light, The Ghost?
It has been lovely to have Louise back from parental leave, yes! Since we visited the house in Germany we’ve all become mothers so it’s been a case of being flexible and writing when it’s possible. Haiku expands and contracts depending on who is available. It keeps everything moving and the door open for everyone to come back when they’re ready.
Having seen you live on a few occasions you appear to work almost telepathically will only little nods and gestures to each other like you are the conductor and the performer. I think The Hill, The Light, The Ghost will be tremendous live so are you planning an audio-visual show around it (you do seem to like setting yourselves a technical challenge) and when do you hope to tour this?
We are working on a new audio-visual show! Thanks to PRS Foundation we have been able to expand our team a little which means we can take our families on tour with us. We’re working on some dates for the autumn and we’re very much looking forward to performing again. Dare to believe!
You can pre-order The Hill, The Light, The Ghost on Bandcamp where it’s available as on CD, vinyl and download.