Find Me in the Earth… is a strange and very personal album for me, representing a breakthrough after two years of struggling with writer’s block. Although I wasn’t struggling to write I absolutely loathed almost everything that I recorded. I’m not sure I can bear to think about the number of hours of work that I consigned to the virtual trash-can, but it’s almost certainly in triple figures.
I don’t remember the exact point the dam broke, but once it had, the music flowed fairly quickly and this record came together over the winter of 2020/21.
The moment that I wrote this I knew it would be the album opener. The queasy strings and swelling horns suggested the opening theme for a strange, dark movie or television show that will never exist. Which is of course a huge cliché in any kind of instrumental music, but I suppose some clichés have a grain of truth to them.
The ‘Reclamation’ part of the title came from the fact that I felt I was reclaiming my right to make music from the part of my brain that had for so long been criticizing from the side-lines. I think it sets the tone for the rest of the record. A little bleak and uneasy, but not entirely lacking in hope.
Having written that, of course the next track is probably the bleakest on the record. It’s dominated by a couple of synth parts which are essentially heavily processed strings. I made use of a lot of orchestral VSTs of different kinds across the record, often mangling them and reworking them until they lie somewhere in the uncanny valley between realism and artificiality.
There are a few samples across this track, all of which come from me scanning the internet for strange and unique radio stations and signals. In the first half, those samples come from a police scanner somewhere in the US, while the heavily distorted and pitched-down voice towards the end of the track is a preacher from what I suspect is a heavily conservative-Christian radio station – the name of which thankfully escapes me right now.
In some ways I see this track as the second of a two-parter which follows on from the previous track. It takes the sound-palette of Bind Them… and shifts it into a more hopeful mode. The droning, warped, string sound still underpins the track, and the grain shifted higher pitched synths are still twinkling in the background, but the feeling is less intensely ominous. If Bind Them… is angry, then this is the resignation and acceptance that follows.
In my head, this is the first of another related pair of interdependent tracks. I’ve always been a huge fan of Godspeed You! Black Emperor – particularly their first few records – and I suspect this was my way of writing in the style of those quiet moments that were found on F#A#Infinity, where everything sounds defeated and broken. There’s no uplifting crescendo in sight though, and instead the track remains sad and resigned the whole way through with a lone violin and cello sing against a barren, windswept landscape. Sadly I can’t actually play either of those instruments, so instead I made use of a Roli seaboard block and faked it as best as I could. Apologies to my violin teacher who told me I’d regret quitting when I gave up after 18 months at age 9. You were right.
The second part of the two-hander that began with the previous track. This starts with guitar being looped and warped via my Montreal Assembly Count to 5, which is a brilliant guitar pedal that can loop and pitch-shift and fragment samples in weird and wonderful ways. I’ve had it for years and still don’t really understand how it does what it does, but it means happy accidents are never far away. The looped guitar is joined by some quiet synth pads, which form the bed for the cello from the previous track to return, before it’s joined by a clarinet and, finally, the violin.
I’ve been listening to a ridiculous amount of jazz in the past 18 months, and no doubt that influenced my decision to try to write a clarinet part. It’s such a wonderful and wrongly maligned instrument. It’s capable of sounding wild and loose or – as is the case here – mournful and resigned to fate. I wanted it to feel like the three instruments were lamenting something together in conversation. Like three mourners at a grave sharing memories and whisky. Hopefully that comes through.
The track ends with a field recording of boats gently clunking against a jetty, which I think it probably another giveaway of how much I love those early GY!BE records, where the field recordings are part of a patchwork that helps tell a story when lyrics are absent.
Of all the tracks of the record, this is perhaps the most traditionally ‘ambient’. A heavily processed choir becomes is the bedrock around which the rest of the track is built. Violins make a return – this time peeking through the noise and spreading across the stereo field. I think this was another one of those happy accidents where I was messing around with various delays and loopers and ended up in a situation where the sound was constantly shifting and panning outside of my control or influence. I don’t think I could repeat the exact situation no matter how hard I tried, but luckily I’d hit record and preserved the moment.
The track ends with a weird, unsettling drone, and a sample of a female exorcist, which I believe came from the same unnamed radio station as the preacher on Bind Them…
Ostensibly the title track, this feels like the culmination of a lot of the musical themes of the record. It opens with a glassy, quiet and meditative synth before that’s slowly swallowed by increasingly crushed strings, bass and a wordless choir. The crush is provided by an OTO Machines BOUM, which is an incredible little box that can make things sound lovely and warm or utterly destroyed at the twist of a knob.
Like a number of the tracks here, the title is cribbed from Svetlana Alexievich’s masterpiece, Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future. She spent years interviewing people who experienced the Chernobyl disaster first-hand; gathering their testimonies and allowing them to tell their stories. The book patches those stories together into something truly beautiful, sad and harrowing. I read it a few years ago, and I’m not sure any book has had such an immediate and powerful impact on me. This album isn’t really meant as a soundtrack to the book, but I can’t deny the influence it has had.
I wanted to end the record on a more positive note than much of the rest of the album strikes. The first half of the track is all tape-hiss and uneasy gated synthesizer, but it’s slowly joined by warped woodwinds and other processed orchestral sounds that lift the song onto a more hopeful plain. In some ways it’s a message to myself in case the writer’s block strikes again. To say ‘you got through it then and you’ll get through it now.’
I hope people enjoy it.