Compulsion | PO Box 19577 | Kilbarchan |Johnstone | PA10 2WX | Scotland | UK

Bretwalda - Cammock Tongue

Bretwalda - Cammock Tongue coverBased on authentically delivered Middle English texts, Cammock Tongue is a wonderful distillation of doomy electronics and spoken archaic text highlighting the daily toil of ordinary folk, as they worked the fields, rejoiced in dancing, and worshipped. The accompanying notes are scholarly and informed, and on a par to the footnotes of an Andrew King folk song release, but the music here is furnished with a ghostly hue closer to a dark ambient inspired hauntology. Superstition, plant folklore and the spectre of death all figure in the archaic texts presented here over languid synths and location recordings.

You can almost picture the agricultural workers toiling in the fields in the recreated, uh, field recordings of 'Fallowlands', as it relates the tasks associated with the months in a reading of a medieval calendar. It's clear the life of a serf wasn't easy and it's something Bretwalda focus on highlighting the lowly status of the feudal worker in a number of tracks. Dancing was a pastime enjoyed by all levels of society, even part of some sacred settings and in slow rhythmic pummels and gentle synths 'Daunce, Brothers' reflects its slide from a celebratory and devotional activity into the realms of heresy, forbidden by the Church as immoral. Death is always near at hand and mortality is reflected in another dance, The Dance of Death. Both 'The Machabre' and 'Death Speaks to the Laborer' use text from the John Lydgate poem 'The Dance of Death'. Featuring the editors of 'John Lydgate's Dance of Death and Related Works' these two tracks almost form the centrepiece to Cammock Tongue. Dr Elizaveta Strakhov's narration on the ominous sounding 'The Machabre' is particularly effective, as she slowly enunciates lines in gnarled tones about the universality of death amidst passages woven with brooding dirge like and squalling synths and whispered utterances. A personified death appears to the lowly overworked labourer on 'Deeth Speaks to the Laborer' with an address and response delivered authentically amidst churning electronics, tolling church bells and chirping birds. Death, it seems, for the labourer provided an escape from a life of misery and from a world that offered no rest.

The twisted, spectral music of Cammock Tongue is formed from dark ambient droning, industrial flourishes but it is the delivery of the archaic dialect, sometimes manipulated that provides the weird oddness to Bretwalda. A pastoral edge runs through the dark synth folk patterns of 'Shepherd's Needle' extolling the power of plant spirits while 'The Great Vowel Shift (in the North of England)' marks the change in dialect and pronunciation of English over time, as voices eke out letters of the alphabet to the swirl of a medieval pipe sound. Crackling with fiery textures over dark ambient drone, 'Mildreth's Textus' explores the talismanic nature which gospel books played in ritual, superstition and faith. Delving deeper into ritual, 'Deerhurst' opens to liturgical chant as forlorn melodic synth chime couches the preserved recordings of folk speech held by the British Library of a rural farm labourer recounting past floods that affected the Gloucestershire area.

Some of the synth sequences in this are reminiscent of Hawksmoor's "hauntological imaginary soundtrack" inspired by the architecture of Nicholas Hawksmoor's London churches but Cammock Tongue is more of a one-off, and perhaps more academic as it attempts to place medieval English in a modern context cast against experimental electronics with dark ambient at its base. Cammock Tongue isn't an album in the usual sense but is to be considered as the second in a series of sonic papers about medieval Britain. I was particularly taken by this release and its atmosphere, but I'm a convert to Ghost Box and some of the releases by Castles In Space and Woodford Halse where this would sit nicely. From their base in Bangkok, this medieval, dark ambient project are aiming to draw in listeners to the fascinating language of medieval English. Cammock Tongue offers an enjoyable and enthralling glimpse into the past and with its bibliography there's much for interested listeners to follow up on. Cammock Tongue is available digitally from the Bretwalda Bandcamp page.