Was this sent to me in the post or did I discover it in a cavity between the two damp granite walls of a forgotten stately home? Did I, driven by the impulse of a voice within me, frantically tear it from the mud and sod of a field deep in the heart of the West Country? Was I surrounded by ancient stones that seemed to sing out to me when touched or gently caressed? I am uncertain. Is this a genuine recording created using up to date digital technology or are they the sounds captured in the lusum magnetite of the dank walls, playing back when the atmospheric conditions are just right? There is an uncertainty here. This uncertainty is frightening and this fear is rich and sublime.
I listen again to ensure that it is not simply my own imagination or a half forgotten dream, but there it is; the voice in the static, the seemingly innocuous information about Avebury, the snatches of phone conversation with one voice strangely distorted. Is it deliberate? I don’t know. But I am unsettled, I am frightened and this fear is alive and immediate. But I welcome this and I stroll towards it all, arms wide.
In West Kennet the ritual has begun and my head spins, half formed voices dance out at me from within the ether, the whirling electronic dervish excites, inviting me to join the dance but I must not. I must resist. I take shelter in the lychgate, the rain pummelling down all around me and for a moment all is calm.
The rain stops and I venture towards the Owl and Druid Stone. I know I should not touch it but my hand is pulled forwards. The voices and tones thrust into me like lightning into bark. I am among the petrosomatoglyphs, the damp and the drip, the indistinct. The sound grows, it ululates through me as I spin, the light between the stones scratching at my retinas with every pass. My feet leave the ground, stray ends of grass tickling at my bare feet as I rise a narrow herepath before me, made of silver and granite. On closer inspection the path is festooned with tiny carvings, myriads of spirals, symbols, laughing mouths. The mouths move and speak and sing and question and grin. I am lost. I fall.
Reality seeps in. A voice clear and distinct on the end of a crackling line gives thanks. But, it flits away and deeper voices and drifting tones chant around me.
A cry. Someone is lost. But how can you be lost if you stand in one place? How can you be lost if you have not moved from the centre of a field? The sound builds, a low hum, growing. Reassuring dots and bleeps try to break through, but something is crawling in the dark. Something is in the way. I cannot move.
I am overtaken. I should not have listened to the Stone Tapes for madness seeps through. Sometimes we look to deep into the dark, sometimes we travel too far.
I have removed the headphones but Avebury is still within me. The sounds among the stones are sounds among the synapses. The stones are seen when I shut my eyes, when I blink, when the sunlight scrapes across the iris, the stones creep through into the dark.
Do not listen.
Do not listen.
Do not lis
Sink. Tread. Spin.
Let it in. Let the stones in. Let them all in.
Chris Lambert – January 2018
The Stone Tapes : Avebury
Purportedly based on recordings made by a shadowy figure named George Albert Wilberforce, a researcher of sound phenomena, on his travels around historical sites throughout the British Isles. The sounds he captured are claimed to represent "the vestiges of time itself, or are proof of ghosts". The album combines these eerie sounds with a gripping drama made up of telephone conversations between Kat from the band and the Vicar of Avebury (played by A. Hayward) and the vicar's wife (played by K. Harvey), in which their reminiscences of George Wilberforce and the events that ensue become increasingly creepy. Like all good dramas, it is accompanied by a soundtrack: A Page from John Britton sets a reading about Avebury and its stones to mindbending ambient electronics and thumping dance beats, while Red Lion Interlude combines trad folk with Wilberforce's electronic voice phenomena, Faces on 19b is a chilling, horror filmic slice of noise manipulation, West Kennet Ritual is a darkly psychedelic experimental piece, Shelter in the Lychgate is a brief snippet of neoclassical piano music, and Sound 13 is made up of ominous and unsettling drones. Diverse, inventive and spooky; a supernatural thriller in aural form.
Hauntology, as applied to music, is a divisive term; a term used by writers and bloggers (such as myself) to describe that music that evokes memories and stirs primal instincts - a musical summation of collective memories if you will. Some artists and scholars refute the name claiming it is a 'lazy' tag that encompasses a whole spectrum of serious work. Whatever camp to which you may ascribe there is no doubt that as a 'genre' it is rich in imaginative and stirring works. In the UK we have the wonderful Ghost Box label and artists such as Jon Brooks and Leyland Kirby (in his 'Caretaker' guise) and elsewhere the Italian Occult Psychedelia scene takes a uniquely Italian take on hauntology. Throw into the mix the horror folk revival and 'haunted electronics' and you have a current crop of artists who take their musical cues from Delia Derbyshire et al and apply them to the genuinely eerie and wyrd....like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop scoring The Wicker Man.
One of the finest examples of this dropped onto my doormat the other day - The Stone Tapes' 'Avebury'. Before we get to the music, an explanation of Stone Tapes may help to set the scene - The Stone Tape theory is the speculation that ghosts and hauntings are analogous to tape recordings, and that electrical mental impressions released during emotional or traumatic events can somehow be "stored" in moist rocks and other items and "replayed" under certain conditions. Remember that. I'm going to forego my usual track by track approach for 'Avebury'.....it was recorded as a 'story' and so to take on each individual track would somehow lessen the whole.
The Stone Tapes are Kat Beem (a classically trained pianist, poet and actress) and M. Peach (soundologist, musician and photographer) and 'Avebury' is told from their perspective - protagonists as well as producers, and the story is based on, and unfurls from, a chance encounter with an elderly neighbour, one George Albert Wilberforce, who gifted them a box of tapes. Wilberforce "had been a researcher of sound phenomena, and the tapes held recordings that he’d made during the course of his travels" and it transpires that the tapes were made by recording stone using special modified equipment. There is an obvious reference point in Nigel Kneale’s 'The Stone Tape' and not just in the name.
'Avebury' is a genuinely unsettling work both in its subject matter and in its construction. The spoken word pieces set the scene in a haze of echo and reverb and the musical segments are genuinely 'haunted' electronica - veering from rich swathes of Tangerine Dream like synths to oscillating vintage analogue electronics that inspire dread and suspense. The story and the music combine beautifully to make this a fully rounded, immersive experience. Where artists like Pye Corner Audio etc tap into childhood memories for their effect, The Stone Tapes work on more visceral, primal fears....the things that flit hither and thither at the edge of your vision and the imagined evil that dwells in the dark. 'Avebury' goes beyond music (in whatever 'genre' you may care to fit it) and into the experiential. A wonderfully dark work. A visit to the Hare's Breath Bandcamp page will tell you all you need to know about getting your hands on this.
Sometime last year I was in conversation with a like-minded friend. Our interests merge over ancient trackways, stones and earth mysteries. We were reminded of an early 1970’s BBC drama 'The Stone Tapes' (which featured Jane Asher). The story is a spooky tale which included a team of scientists working on new recording techniques in an old Victorian mansion. The team encounter a ghost and attempt to access what they believe to be a psychic impression trapped in a stone wall.
The theory that ancient stones, monuments and places are infused with a “spiritual” memory or impression is not new and, of course, unproven. Many people though can often “feel” things or “sense” a presence or phenomenon in ancient places.
So when a link to 'The Stone Tapes' emerged on my Facebook feed late last year I was intrigued. Hardly any information accompanied the post, only a photograph of a cassette tape in a plain cardboard box. I followed the link to the Bandcamp site only to find the cassette edition all sold out. Only a digital download was available. I did my duty and downloaded the files only to “forget” them- perhaps it was meant to be?
This month, to my joy, the mysterious folks at The Stone Tapes decided to re -issue an expanded version of the tapes on to CD and release a limited run. I obtained mine without delay.
'The Stone Tapes' is a remarkable piece of work. A collage of storytelling and electronics that is eclectic and mysterious and recounts receiving a mysterious box of sound recordings, on electronic tape, made at ancient and historical sites in the British Isles from an elderly gentleman living in Avebury.
Beginning with shadowy and blurry telephone conversation with the vicar of Avebury we embark on an unsettling journey where voices and whispers are distorted in a mix of electronic noise. The warning to “be careful” is unsettling. Background chatter and processed sounds and electronics provide a deep sense of darkness and danger. Sometimes a folk guitar pushes through the electronic ghostly atmosphere as the tale unfolds. Throughout the the story the listener is constantly drawn into a world of nightmarish uncertainty. The voice of the main character is constantly drenched in static, noise and layers of echoed synthesised pulses. Waves of drone like sounds wash over a reading of a description of standing stones creating a tension and feeling of uncertainty as the storyline draws to a climax. It is folk/horror at its best.
Constructed on all kinds of analogue and vintage equipment, 'The Stone Tapes' is an extremely unusual and brave work and a fine example of the experimental and progressive music being produced in the quiet corners of our country.
The Stone Tapes can be found on Bandcamp.
P.S. A few days later I received an unmarked envelope fastened by a wax seal. Inside was some Avebury related ephemera including a warning to “be careful”. It is the attention to detail that makes things special.
Both a genuine curio and a substantial investigation into ‘held’ or ‘contained’ sound, The Stone Tapes début release ‘Avebury’ is an understated yet atmosphere drenched excursion into haunted electronics. Following the dictum of the Stone Tape theory which holds ‘that the impressions of emotional or traumatic events can be recorded into rock and replayed under certain conditions’ the group ‘have been tirelessly investigating this phenomenon’, resulting in this rather beautiful and unique cassette and download.
This recording began with a chance encounter with a box of dusty, electromagnetic tapes that were gifted to the band by one George Albert Wilberforce, an elderly neighbour who had wandered the British Isles with equipment designed to retrieve EMF and sound recordings from the stone and rock of the land itself; indeed, these old spools and reels were found to be filled with a multitude of mysterious and uncanny forms and noises. These howls from deep within the landscape were then converted and constructed into digital audio by The Stone Tapes members K. Beem and M. Peach by feeding the signals from the EMF and atmosphere recordings into a multitude of analogue and studio equipment (witness the extensive description on their Bandcamp page, it’s a veritable synth enthusiast’s wish list). This is a recording that has a connection and likeness to Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape script and film in both theme and masterful control of mood and tension; one suspects many Folk Horror revivalists will immediately have recognised and have been drawn to the project’s name. However this is also an album that stands on its own and tells its singular, engraved and hidden story. There are very particular ghosts in the machine to be found here, impressed upon not just the stone and rock that have held these long lost voices and sounds but also in the resulting playback and transmission; allowing something or someone that has perhaps been released after years of containment to take form and substance once again.
The album begins with ‘Kat Calls The Vicar’, a self-explanatory title that features said conversation about the shadowy Mr Wilberforce and the uncanny and ancient forces that are centred around Avebury. However the voices are slightly distorted and out of step, blurring our sense of reality, with an ominous tone pulsating ever louder before the call rings off with a considered, dire warning to ‘be careful’. ‘A Page From John Britten’ follows, a text excerpt on the standing stones read over a steady drumbeat and a Tangerine Dream-esque wash of hazy synths and reverberated guitar lines. Both hypnotic and utterly captivating, this is a carefully constructed and unsettling work that brings to mind The Legendary Pink Dots at their finest. Next, ‘Red Lion Interlude’ is a delicate and sepia tinged piece of acoustic wyrd-folk, the chatter and din from the patrons of the inn a shimmer of background noise against the Bert Jansch-like refrain of the guitar. A calm before the storm, this merges into the disturbing collage of ‘Faces On 19B’, analogue wails and wraithlike whispers emanating from the massed banks of electronics.This followed by ‘West Kennet Ritual’ which rasps and oscillates into view on waves of growling electronica and flanged guitar, a maelstrom of processed and unhinged sound that evokes a deep sense of diabolic and dangerous forces starting to awaken from a long held slumber. ‘The Owl And The Druid’ chatters synthetically into life with multiple layers of incantations and muttered chants, a solitary processional drumbeat sounding behind the crescendo of deranged voices and echoed howls. This is either musick to play in the dark because of its disquieting power or to always listen to with the lights on, depending on your dispensation and nerve. Next, ‘Petrosomatoglyphs’ follows, vintage electronics creeping stealthily under the crackle and sound of the rock and stone itself, the recorded and trapped voices of the ghosts of the past unleashed in waves of haunting, analogue synth. With a palpable sense of tension rising, ‘Incident On The Herepath’ creates a world of snarling synth lines and a cacophonous and nightmarish choir of twisted chatter and inhuman, forgotten languages until the fate of our protagonists becomes all too clear. The album closes with the dread and drone of ‘Sound 23’, a fitting finale to what is a truly inspired, bone chilling and breathtaking tale.
‘Avebury’ is a haunted house of an album; there is an almost tangible sense of something preternatural or not quite human living and waiting within this tape reel. Aficionados of the hauntological musings of Jon Brooks, The Caretaker and The Heartwood Institute and of the thread of electronica pursued by artists such as Belbury Poly, The Focus Group and other Ghost Box label acts will find much to admire here. Followers of Hawthonn and The Psychogeographical Commission will also doubtless wish to investigate. There are now but a small number of ‘Avebury’ cassettes left though the album is also available for download at The Stone Tapes Bandcamp page.
Highly recommended, as are Wandering Elder, another spectral and ghost filled project by the duo that covers similar ancient ground but adds a veneer of eerie folk for good measure.
(Review by Grey Malkin – The Hare & The Moon)
No doubt you are all familiar with the the Stone Tape phenemenom, ghost prints burnt into rock / stone or brick, the result of extreme – often traumatic – events both horrific and happy, though the latter are never as engaging for the purposes of horror, that manifest under certain conditions and situations, Nigel Kneale’s screenplay of the same name is probably the first place to turn for reference purposes, aired one Christmas by the BBC in the early 70’s, it has since proven to be a landmark cult broadcast dealing with this subject matter. The Stone tape phenomena has a curious relationship with the hauntology sound species, the latter an alternative abstracted / nostalgic view of imagined parallel worlds and forgotten times having fallen through fractured time lines, a re-alignment or more so a recalibration or resetting of yesterday intrinsically wired to analogue mediums and Radiophonia sounds. Now at this point you might well be thinking where on earth is this all going, well call it a brief introductory passage welcoming in a new ultra limited cassette release by the Stone Tapes who are, as far as we can tell, duo, K Beam and M Peach who’ve recently released ‘the stone tapes – avebury’ – a sonic document made up of field recordings taken while on an investigative information gathering exercise at the village of Avebury,admittedly not as chilling as those found lurking on that recent Hole House release yet all the same disquieting and gloomed in an eerie disturbia. A perfect listening companion to the ongoing Akiha Den Den radio series and that very excellent ‘the stroma sessions’ broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 at the tail end of last month. Eleven sonic phantasms stir from the grooves of this field report, amid this horrorphonic aural journal feature historical recitals, ghost conversations and paranormal happenings with ‘the vicar calls kat’ proving most disquieting. Elsewhere the delicate dream flurry of twinkling keys ‘shelter in the lychgate’ offers a brief moment of respite before the clouds gather and legion conspire to the bring on the madness‘forth in chilling fashion on the owl and the druid stone’ with ‘petrosomatoglyphs’ relocating the recordings outside of reality and into more sinister and darker realms.
Speaking of ambient malevolence.
I have reviewed Avebury already, but Hare's Breath Records (Matt Peach and Kat Beem's new record label) has recently reissued it on CD with a few extra tracks, and they very kindly sent me a promo (ahead of a planned interview). The important thing about Avebury is that although it has a constant background of grimy, gritty noise, the rumbles of sounds from the stones, it's actually more of an audio drama. You have to fill in the pictures yourself. Matt and Kat have, they claim, a neighbour called George Wilberforce, and George supposedly gave the band some electromagnetic tapes, tapes of recordings he made of various stone circles.
The rumbling echoes, waves of black noise from which emerge sounds that could be noises form a background to distorted phone calls between Kat and a retired vicar, readings from books of various kinds, and a sort of drama that you can see unfolding behind the lids of your eyes. The album hints at a pagan village conspiracy and "they" have found out what Kat is doing; the Vicar gets "taken". There is a ritual.
It feels like a sound recording of a lost BBC ghost story at times, given a sense of distance because of the aural grit the thing has; or at times it's like a scrapbook, a rough collection of torn ephemera, the joins in the sound quality organic, like the rough edges of ripped paper. It leaves you with a faint sense of unease.