Birchville Cat Motel is the project of avantgarde composer Campbell Kneale,
from New Zealand, whose first recording was the
album Birchville Cat Motel (Insample, 1997), a symphony of electronic
and digital noise that did not prepare the listeners for his future
career but bridged the gap with the generation of industrial music.
Siberian Earth Curve (Drunken Fish, 1998) is a tour de force
of sound manipulation. Kneale plays his instruments (guitars, cymbals,
flute, appliances) like an egg beater. What is left for the ears is only
Snakes Bark Maple is a 17-minute
symphony of harsh drones, sometimes imitating ethnic music and sometimes
cacophonous and abstrat.
Lux is 10 minutes of quiet, distant echoes that sound like a ghost
wailing from a grave.
Fake Fur Pond is a vortex of sirenes that winds up in a terrifying
There is no music in Trinity High Water Mark, only disturbing high tones
for about 11 minutes.
The closing, 16-minute Siberian Earth Curve is even more extreme, as
the drones change very slowly. The whistling of a Siberian snowstorms through
a window sill would be more musical.
Kneale's program is closer to avantgarde composers such as Gordon Mumma than to
ambient-rock bands like Flying Saucer Attack.
Blankangelspace (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, 2000) documents two live
(20 minutes and 40 minutes).
with the usual overdose of guitars, tapes, toys, drums, violin, electronics.
Crop Circle Empires (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, 2000) is merely one, 40-minute long, drone.
Shapeshifter (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, 2000) documents several improvised acoustic jams.
The droning acoustic EP Jewelled Wings (2001 - Freedom Form, 2006) was
a relatively simpler recording.
We Count These Prayers (Corpus Hermeticum, 2001) contains five pieces.
Another Miners Light (18:53) is a relatively static flow of
hissing background noise, grating electricity, rattling percussion and sparse guitar tones.
A thick buzz merges with shrill drones in the majestic cosmic music of
Slow Vehicle Bay.
Shapeshifter (18:52) begins with a duet between radio turbulence and
a music-box, but a distorted stringed-instrument drone and a howling voice rise
to submerge the original duo.
The Ecstasy Trio (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon) is an hour of free-jazz
improvisation by Campbell Kneale, Jeff Henderson (saxophone, clarinet),
Tom Callwood (bass) and Rick Cranson (drums).
The mini-album Zenkoji (Celebrate Psi Phenomena) documents a
live performance in a Japanese temple.
Creeping Frost Onset (Celebrate Psi Phenomena, 2002) employs
turntables, clarinet, violin, and assorted home-made/toy instruments.
Long Vanished Spirals (Celebrate Psi Phenomena, 2002) compiles singles.
September (Celebrate Psi Phenomena, 2002)
and Vespertine (Last Visible Dog, 2002)
each contain just one, one-hour long, drone.
Mighty Spine Catcher (2003), which collects unreleased recordings,
Serene Trajectories (2003), a collaboration with Eso Steel,
Assholes Of The World and Hunt in Packs (2003), a split album with
Guilty Connector (Kohei Nakagawa),
and his first album under his own name, Campbell Kneale (2003),
continue the deluge of releases.
Then he resumed the Birchville Cat Motel saga with the piece of
Copenhagen (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, 2003), recorded live.
The three pieces of Summer's Seething Pulse (Marino, 2003)
explore both old and new territory.
Sleep June Slope is simply a demonstration of ugly drones.
The 25-minute Seven Paper Lanterns begins with tiny scurry noises
against a loud steady drone. The drones keep changing and the noises keep
chewing at them.
The lone vibrating chord of Summer's Seething Pulse (the album's most
original idea) splits into a
strident string distortion and the languid tones of a guitar. The former
disappears and is replacing by a timid organ melody that provides the
counterpoint to the ever slower guitar tones.
The double-disc Beautiful Speck Triumph (Last Visible Dog, 2004)
represents one of his peaks of droning ambience. This time the sound is
almost symphonic, as the composer layers up guitars, keyboards, winds, violins,
percussions, turntables, etc.
White Ground Elder (30:34) begins as a distorted drone with barely
audible "background" noises. Within a few minutes it becomes obvious that
the noises are the real protagonists of the drama. They increase in number
and intensity until they create the feeling of a busy multitude of
deformed beings. They eventually become one massively droning ectoplasm.
Cricket-like sounds meet a festival of bells in Trembling Frost Spires (18:33). As the intensity of the intercourse increases towards its orgasmic peak, the music begins to resemble a cacophonous remix of a torrid Brazilian dance.
The musique concrete of
The Romance Of Certain Old Clothes (19:53) constitutes a "concerto of
ambiguities" in which ghostly echoes of cryptic noises populate a landscape
of supernatural voices.
Beautiful Speck Triumph (36:38) begins with a mixture of forest (cricket
sounds) and factory (dungeon-like sounds), then transitions to a fight between
two monolithic elements, a pulsating organ and a distorted guitar.
The sitar-like distortion rises to epic "om" levels and then gently decays
into a pastoral drone that reveals chirping birds and slow reverbed drum beats.
At the other end of the spectrum, the lovely undulating droning ambient music of
Speck Fears (19:20) is almost "new age" in spirit.
Each composition is carefully architected and narrative in nature, basically
refounding the form of the symphonic poem for the electronic/digital age.
Kneale reinvented himself with
With Maples Ablaze (Scarcelight, 2004), a
symphony of musique concrete.
Sounds and noises were contributed by the likes of
Dead C's Bruce Russell, the Vibracathedral Orchestra's Neil Campbell,
Simon Wickham-Smith, Jonathan Coleclough, the Blithe Sons' Glenn Donaldson,
and the Terminals' Peter Stapleton.
Each movement follows a different orbit, but they all revolve around
Kneale's aesthetic of invisible music. Each instrument adds a new muted voice
to what is fundamentally a chaotic void.
The beginning sounds like an ensemble of Indian musicians rehearsing a raga.
Thin metallic drones drown the cacophony, leaving only a wake of
industrial noises. A remix of urban sounds, in particular a merry-go-round of
warped human voices, leads to a set of sideral drones that slowly change in
timbre becoming more and more earthly (water, animals, wind). A one-note organ
drone ends in the quiet of a summer farm. And its soothing windchimes drift
towards the stars.
The whole tells a story, a moving story about the human condition.
In the meantime the 3" CD-ROM Screamformelongbeach (Pseudo Arcana, 2003)
had introduced an even more visible change: screaming heavy-psychedelic guitars
(notably the 16-minute 55000 Flowers for the Hero).
Thus the drones were downplayed on
Chi Vampires (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, 2005) that added the
super-doom metal riffs of Chi Vampires to the catalog of
Birchville Cat Motel's follies.
30th December 2004 (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, 2005) contains a hour-long
live jam with with Lee Ranaldo.
Chaos Steel Skeletons: One (Celebrate Psi Phenomena, 2006)
is a six-CD career retrospective of Birchville Cat Motel.
The new course (with heavily distorted guitar) continued on
Our Love Will Destroy The World (PseudoArcana, 2006),
that contains Screamformelongbeach,
paralleled by Campbell Kneale's new "heavy-metal" project,
Black Boned Angel, influenced by Earth and Skullflower,
that debuted with the three monoliths of Supereclipse (20 Buck Spin, 2005)
and the mini-album Eternal Love (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, 2005).
Pink Stalingrad (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, 2006), credited to
Campbell Kneale and not to Birchville Cat Motel, returned to his classic
slow-motion droning music.
The triple-disc boxsets
Curved Surface Destroyer (Last Visible Dog, 2006) and
Second Curved Earth Destroyer (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, 2008)
document colossal live performances.
Three Sparkling Echoes (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, 2006) collects
three collaborations with Anla Courtis.
The ethereal ambient droning music, recorded outdoors, of With Throats As Fine As Needles (Digitalis, 2006) was the result of a supergroup with Campbell Kneale (Birchville Cat Motel), Antony Milton (AM, Mrtyu, Nether Dawn), James Kirk (Sandoz Lab Technicians) and Richard Francis (Eso Steel).
The triple-disc set
Astro Catastrophies (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, 2007) introduced
a heavier sound, as if Kneale was trying to remix doom metal.
The four-song Bird Sister Blasphemy (Battlecruiser, 2007) was an
appendix to this already sprawling album.
Birds Call Home Their Dead (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, 2007) boasted
two of Kneale's most vibrant and delirious creations: the
cascading, fibrillating, pulsating and eventually exploding
Birds Call Home Their Dead,
that employed drums and organ besides the usual electronic arsenal
and approached the format of a space-rock rave-up at supersonic speed,
Her Anger Is Limitless (originally released as a tour-only limited-edition CD), a whilrwind of visceral buzzing and hissing musique concrete,
a wild orgy of audio torture that would remain the artist's emotional peak.
Gunpowder Temple Of Heaven (Pica Disk, 2008) was another
visceral tour de force of noise, while
Four Freckle Constellation (Conspiracy, 2008) was a dynamic suite
that seemed to tell a story with the injection of some new subtleties.
Seventh Ruined Hex (Important, 2008) contains Seventh Ruined Hex,
that begins with a wall of guitar feedback, and the 17-minute Bee, a crescendo and decay in the vein of instrumental post-rock.
Black Boned Angel, Campbell Kneale's project devoted to slow, heavy and deep music in the vein of doom-metal
(a trio with James Kirk on guitar and Jules Desmond on bass),
the hour-long piece of Bliss And Void Inseparable (20 Buck Spin, 2006),
Eternal Love/ Eternal Hunger (Riot Season, 2007),
the hour-long piece The Endless Coming Into Life (2008),
Dashed Upon Stones (Battlecruiser, 2008) and
Verdun (Riot Season, 2009).
Bliss And Void Inseparable opens with a suspenseful sequence of "explosions" in a field of drones. The drone gets louder and sharper, like a laser razor
severing the eardrum. Sinister voices begin to emerge from the strident
cacophony. After seventeen minutes, the a sudden bass riff takes centerstage.
The riff swirls and crawls onto itself, eventually joined by the drums. The riff becomes an agonizing ear-piercing glissando while piano notes follow the beats of the drums. Those piano notes become a lifeless melody that contrasts with
the strident, howling guitar noise, but the latter wins out.
The Endless Coming Into Life is a completely different beast. It begins
in the subliminal, barely audible realm and it stays there for a while. Lasy
guitar notes like distant church bells rise over the spectral landscape. Little else happens in the first half. The second half is instead a flaming guitar drone that splits into two, the shrill one prevailing and mutating into a sirene-like missile but then dying of a glacial death like a sustained piano note.
Our Love Will Destroy The World became the name of
new project that specialized in dense dissonant droning ditial music:
the mini-album Blondesummer Snowqueen (Don't Fuck With Magic, 2009),,
the live cassette Broken Spine Fantasia (Tape Drift, 2009),
the EP Cursegoback (Don't Fuck With Magic, 2009) and
Fucking Dracula Clouds (Blackest Rainbow, 2009).
However, Goddess Of Ten (Dontfuckwithmagic, 2009) introduced rhythm
into the equation.
Ships Cloud Mascara (Don't Fuck With Magic, 2010) and
Blue Eyes Are My Reward (Krayon, 2011) kept the joke going too long.
Our Love Will Destroy The World morphed into a much more professional
and high-brow project with the double-disc
Thousands Raised To The Sixth (Handmade Birds, 2012), that toys with
several different techniques of the avantgarde, while the mini-album
Limbless Soldiers Flight (Don't Fuck With Magic, 2012) sounded like
a rhythmic experiment.
Birchville Cat Motel's
Sprang a Great Stallion Whose First Leap Sparked The Celestial Star (Dont Fuck With Magic, 2011) resurrects an unreleased recording.
Campbell Kneale adventure into doom-metal continued with
Black Boned Angel's
The Witch Must Be Killed (Conspiracy, 2010), a sprawling concerto for
colossal slow-motion distorted riffs.
Kneale then launched another project, Ming, whose debut album,
Ming (Don't Fuck With Magic, 2011), was one of his most sophisticated
(and subdued) symphonies of musique concrete.
Black Boned Angel's
The End (Handmade Birds, 2013) is a
one-hour suite in three movements.
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