“There is nothing more to be said or to be done tonight, so hand me over my violin and let us try to forget for half an hour the miserable weather and the still more miserable ways of our fellowmen.”
Arthur Conan Doyle
In times of crisis, music offers the listener plenty of options; it can be a source of inspiration, a voice that says I have been through this and it will get better, or it can offer the pure thrill, of unflinching, unadulterated escapism.
David Bowie took us to the stars, and asked us to gaze down upon humanity through other-worldly eyes, Rick Wakeman’s prog-organ extravaganzas offered us a brief history lesson on the many wives of Henry VIII, while the Mars Volta, well who knows what the Mars Volta were on about. In their own ways they all offered us a brief opportunity to check out, to step away from the reality, mundanity and problems of the real world and embrace pure fantasy.
One artist who offered us that chance last year, was M. Craft. Recorded largely, in a cabin on the edge of the Mojave Desert, M. Craft’s third album, Blood Moon, was a record that set out to offer a suitable soundtrack for isolation. While naturally most music is inspired by sound, Blood Moon was equally inspired by silence, as M puts it, “the silence around Joshua Tree is otherworldly, deep, almost impossible, but once immersed in this silence, you notice that it’s not really silence at all. Little flecks of sound, which would have gone unheard on a city street corner, become like splashes of neon. The rustle of wind in a smoke tree, the hoot of an owl, the beating wings of a passing crow, all become vivid, important. Musical”.
The resulting record is a stunning, and very different album. Sure there are nods to the neo-classical compositions of Max Richter, the spacy-prog of Pink Floyd and the rural-Americana of William Tyler, but ultimately Blood Moon was M. Craft’s own personal take on the power of seclusion and escapism. The title of the album comes from a particular lunar event, where in four lunar eclipses occur in a row, each giving the moon a reddish-hue as the distorted sunlight is refracted by the Earth’s atmopshere – an event linked to a Biblical prophecy about the end of the world: although the jury is currently out on whether we’re facing that or not.
The process of making the record was every bit as interesting as the album it spawned, M. Craft sat down at a piano in a studio in nearby Los Angeles and simply began to play, “I’d long been planning a piano-based record and I found a recording studio in Echo Park with a hundred-year-old Mason and Hamlin concert grand piano” says Craft. “I simply sat down and improvised, with no plans or direction. Over a few months of these sessions, I ended up with several hour-long pieces of piano music. Taking everything back to the desert, I started to carve shapes from these pieces and songs started to form”. The results are perhaps not as unfocused as that would suggest, and that’s a result of the care and attention to detail with which they’ve been reconstructed; the results are expansive, experimental and intriguing.
Discussing his hopes for the album, M. Craft says, “I hope the record takes the listener off into the clear night air of Joshua Tree, that profound, neon-flecked silence, the star-spangled skies of the Mojave desert, under that lonely little sphere of rock caught in a red shadow”. Job done: in the sweet pianos, meandering guitars and rich, cooed vocals, we can feel it, we can see the stars, feel the warm breeze, and yes even hear the perfect, detailed silence.
As he’s about to come over to the UK, to play a show at The Forge In Camden, M. Craft was kind enough to put together, “a short playlist of other-worldly sounds for stargazing and other such escape strategies”, featuring the eclectic counterparts of Jon Hopkins, Arthur Russell and Ravel. We think we can all agree a little escapism wouldn’t go amiss at the minute and this is the perfect soundtrack for it.
1. Kaija Saariaho – Fall
Kaija Saariaho is an Finnish composer who lives in Paris. (Also she’s one of the most prominent female figures in the way-too-male composition scene). This is a performance of ‘Fall’ for harp and live electronics.
2. Sviatoslav Richter – “Le Gibet” (by Ravel)
Maurice Ravel composed some of my favourite piano music which was a big influence on Blood Moon … this is a haunting and profound performance of ‘Le Gibet’ (the Gallows) by Richter in 1954, in Moscow.
3. Cliff Martinez – Is That What Everybody Wants (from Solaris)
‘Is That What Everybody Wants’ is the amazing theme from the Solaris 2002 soundtrack by Cliff Martinez.
4. Jon Hopkins – Open Eye Signal
Jon Hopkins in rising spirals of intensity on ‘Open Eye Signal’… the excellent video is set mainly in the desert in California, not far from where I worked on Blood Moon.
5. Arthur Russell – This Is How We Walk On The Moon
Arthur Russell was wonderful.. here’s a song of his called ‘This is How We Walk on the Moon’…
6. Alice Coltrane – Jagadishwar
Alice Coltrane was a pianist and singer who came from jazz and was married to John Coltrane before his death. She devoted her later life and career to her spirituality. A few years back I spent a rainy Thanksgiving weekend listening to this record on Alan Watts’ houseboat in Sausalito, CA.
7. György Ligeti – Lux Aeterna
Gyorgy Ligeti was a Hungarian composer, ‘Lux Aeterna’ is a haunting, minimal masterpiece.
Blood Moon is out now via Heavenly Recordings. M. Craft plays the Forge in Camden, on February 2nd, click HERE for details and tickets.