The beauty of four organs

The beauty of four organs

The sounds of church organs were some of the most striking sounds in Sacred Spaces – today we wanted to take the time to highlight just four to you, which have some remarkably beautiful reimagined counterparts.

Working with the Churches Conservation Trust, we drove around to some remote corners of England to access some of their beautifully-maintained churches, and play some organ improvisations as source material for the project.

If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase ‘pulling out all the stops’ comes from, here’s the answer. In a church in Yazor, we pulled out each of the stops one by one, to sample how the organ sound went from a low, quiet pulse to a space-filling roar in just a couple of minutes.

Stanislav Nikolov took this as his raw material to produce a brand new musical composition, as he explains:

“The recording starts with the clatter of movement in the church. Once at the organ we hear, gently, a beautiful and richly textured chord.

“Gradually, we hear all the stops being pulled out as the chord dissolves into booming dissonance. Finally we come back again to that gentle chord, and the clatter.

“I picked this because I loved the narrative and the constituent sonic themes. I knew I wanted to make pad sounds with the gentle chord, a more ominous atmosphere using the dissonance, and percussive texture using the clatter.

“In the end, I made an electro track using these elements and an additional drum kit, as well as bass, and sub bass instruments. I also made a second bass instrument and a bleepy pitch-bent instrument from the recording using some extreme EQing.”

City version:

Memory version:

Next, in Fisherton, Nick St. George recorded the quiet sounds of harmonium playing, which Warren Daly transformed into something quite lovely:

“Recently I’ve been experimenting with the sound of airflow through different mediums, so I was instantly attracted to a recording that features a harmonium. I think the recording resembles a performance piece, it’s a treasure trove of sounds.

“I began my composition with dissonance, a call before the response. Finally a mesmerizing repetition is the acknowledgement.

“A conversation reflecting on the juxtaposition of the relaxed ambience and the surrounding commotion.”

City version:

Memory version:

Our next stop is Holy Cross in Burley – when we entered the church and saw the organ we were about to play, it was a breathtaking moment.

It’s a huge, 20-foot high, perfectly-preserved organ in a very large and beautifully-kept church – just playing it was quite a moving experience.

Andy Billington has experience of visiting this very location, which he brought to bear on the reimagined version:

“I was drawn to this recording having visited this Church as a child many years ago. I liked the fact that the field recording tells a micro journey as you listen to footsteps across the Church floor, then the playing of the organ and finally the retreat.

“I thought about everything that the Church had seen. Could the architecture soak up elements from the Services and all of emotions it had seen played out over the years?

“I then thought of what all of these would sound like layered over each other (like some of the video clips on You Tube of every episode of Friends played on top of each other).

“The field recording was loaded into a failing Mid 90’s sampler (name unknown). Random parts were then recorded and a pattern created from the parts spread across the various trigger pads and re played.

“This was then re recorded into an Teenage Engineering OP1 and further slowed and pitched down. Finally it was re-recorded into Logic 8 and re ordered.”

City version:

Memory version:

Our final stop is St. Cuthbert’s Church in Herefordshire, a remote church we visited in the dead of night after a long drive, only to find a beautiful space with an impressive organ waiting for us – well worth the trip.

Our organ improvisation was chosen by Nick St. George as the basis for his narrative piece “Sir Galahad and the Fiend”:

“I chose the organ playing from St Cuthbert’s Church in Herefordshire as I felt the slabs of sound would be good raw material for manipulation.

“I then delved a bit into the history of the church which it turns out contains a stained glass window featuring two of the Knights of the Round Table; one of whom is Sir Galahad.

“Thanks to the Gutenberg Project, I found a 1918 Longman’s school edition of the tales of King Arthur online, which included this tale of Galahad and the Fiend – a suitable story for this project with its comment on who may or may not merit being called a true Christian… Having been involved in gathering the field recordings for Sacred Spaces, I supplemented the basic track with some bell ringing and further organ playing that was recorded in two of Bristol’s redundant churches, but was surplus to Cities and Memory’s requirements.

“All the audio in this piece is, if you like, “organic” (sorry about the pun): organs, bells, Chinese Baoding balls, human voice. Treated, yes, but there are no sounds of purely digital origin present.”

City version:

Memory version:

Rock Me Mama

Rock Me Mama

Three new versions of the prison blues song ‘Rock Me Mama’ today, from the UK and Mexico – and three very different approaches, as you’ll hear below. 

Andy Billington (Solo1), Loughborough, UK

“Having listened to this many times and being aware of Alan Lomax and his field recordings I wanted to capture some of the elements he was battling to control (echo, buzz, string hum, creaks, room noise and all the challenges of recording with a single mic).

“I wanted to link in a primitive way the raw elements of dub and “versioning” approach to original songs and these one take field recordings with the intention of looping the gaps between the chords (room noise, string buzz and slurred picking) to create something that captured the essence of the song and the person sat holding the mic.”

Manuel Guerrero, Mexico City, Mexico

“I imagined the prisoner’s life as a loop of hard work and a perpetual loneliness feeling. I have a very close familiar living there, and everything I can think about him is that there’s not a real difference between living on a prison and living in the ‘free world’: we are allowed just to do the things that other people permit us, pay bills on a deadline, and the control is almost the same. Darrington-Farm-Prison-1

“We are enclosed in cars, subways, in the school, office, in a impersonal communication with others, till the point that ‘freedom’ doesn’t really means something.

“We are close, in the way of life, to the people in jails even if we constantly draw lines to separate the ‘bad guys’ from the ‘good ones’.”

Lee Christian, Bath, UK

“I was under the influence of many things making this… not least the music of On-U-Sound Records and Skip MacDonaId and his IittIe axe.

“Their remoulding of bIues, dub, souI, funk and originaI source recordings has been a favourite since my teens so its only fitting it surfaced here with this awesome source material.

“This song has been with me in various incarnations since my first VHS of Jimi Hendrix covering BB King’s descendant of this ‘Rock Me Baby’ so it was a treat!”