“Music is the weapon of the future […] Reality is clearer.” Those words, spoken by collaborating vocalist Vengeance Tenfold, ring true in the defining of this album’s thesis. Sam Shackleton’s lastest musical output focuses on the exploration of the visceral relationship that a listener has with the sonic realm, ideas that span over two simultaneous releases: Music For the Quiet Hour and The Drawbar Organ EPs; one serving as a sort of experimentation, the other employing those ideas in the form of a full-blown orchestral work.
The ideas in question are the artifacts found in sonic qualities and the silence that it overcomes and participates with. In an interview with The Wire, Shackleton mentions his fascination with the inherent sub bass qualities that accompany the pipe organ — the “spiritual majesty” that accompanies it, if you will. That fascination appears to have impregnated him with a thirst to discover the inherent qualities of sounds and their context. From the start of the Drawbar Organ EP, one can already hear Shackleton playing around with a palette that suggests a specific mental picture, a quality. The entirety of the EP appears to pull from Steve Reich’s works (Tehillim and The Desert Music, specifically) and industrial music to build a sonic palette that resembles a more rhythmically focused version of Demdike Stare’s. That is, Shackleton builds an image using the instruments and their qualities in conjunction with each other, as opposed to Demdike Stare’s manipulation and extraction of those qualities. I suppose one could call Shackleton more straightforward in his approach using what sounds like dusty, aged marimbas and stretched-out feminine vocals that weave in and around the anchored Eastern rhythms of “(For the) Love of Weeping.” These rhythms riding on dubbed bass and ethereal vocal samples pervade the entire EP, evoking a decidedly barren image. That hyper-specific image can only be a direct product of the connotations that come along with Shackleton’s instrumentation and somewhat visceral titles: “Dipping,” “There is a Place For Us.” Shackleton, in dabbling in the inherent qualities and connotations of instrumentation, may also be attempting to test out how to deconstruct them for further use.
The main album, Music For the Quiet Hour, picks up on that point, taking the EPs’ method and stripping them of their immediate, culturally-inflected codes. Its structure of five eponymous movements forces one to take it in as a whole piece of music. This symphonic experience calls to mind the idea of a space in time — words like “hour” being in the title coupled with that structure denotes a cinematic experience. That is to say, a piece that is designated for a space in time to and of itself to then meditate on itself — that particular moment. This meditative setup is the groundwork of Shackleton’s thesis of the visceral body of work/experience. One could say that Shackleton is using signifiers that reach into a place that is utterly Dionysian, the forcing of the soul out of the body. Shackleton wants the listener to experience the representation of experience. When the narrator states that “Tone is embryonic,” Shackleton’s statement becomes clear: tone is at its most basic upon its initial appearance and grows with the inclusion of the subjective eye and experience. Shackleton/Vengeance Tenfold here suggests the tangibility of tone and the knowledge of it that confines it.
What Shackleton has done with this mammoth album is create a full-bodied, visceral experience that meditates on the nature of the essence of a sound in a time and the space of time in which it appears, and the narration only presents the voice as the confrontation with time. To quote Edward T. Hall’s The Silent Language: “Time talks. It speaks more plainly than words. The message it conveys comes through loud and clear. Because it is manipulated less consciously, it is subject to less distortion than the spoken language. It can shout the truth where words lie.”