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Altar Pieces

Bill Nelson

album - 20 July 1990

Bill Nelson - Altar Pieces - Cover
Altar Pieces reissue page 2
Altar Pieces cassette cover


1)  Prima Materia (First Matter)

2)  Arbor Philosophica (Tree Of Philosophy)

3)  Opus Hermeticum (The Work Of Hermes)

4)  Signum Natura (Symbolic Nature)

5)  Mysterium Magnum (The Great Secret)

6)  Clavis Angelicae (Key Of Angels)

7)  Sanctus Illuminatus (The Sacred Illuminated)

8)  Accessio Lucis (The Coming Light)


A limited edition cassette issued as the first post-Cocteau Records release, and available at gigs and mail order. The Altar Pieces cassette artwork design was decidedly DIY.     

These eight tracks were originally created for a live performance in Wakefield Cathedral as part of the city's 1990 Arts Festival. The performance was titled Opus Illuminatus and featured live improvisations on guitar, (by Bill), and saxophone, (by his younger brother Ian), played over interactive 'backing tracks'. These tracks, (without the live overdubbed guitar and saxophone), were released as an extremely limited 500 edition cassette-only item in 1990.


The cassette was reissued in 1991 in another numbered edition of 500 copies. However, unnumbered copies also exist, suggesting that more than 1000 copies were manufactured.

In the mid '90s, when Nelson's career was being supported by the publication of a new occasional fan-club magazine called The Nelsonian Navigator, the final few numbered copies of Altar Pieces were sold off to members of the new club. These copies are autographed by the artist, and dated Nov '94.


Having stated a number of times that an official CD reissue was under consideration, Nelson, clearly annoyed by the appearance of a bootleg edition on eBay, immediately took steps to reissue the album as a remastered digital download via Bandcamp with revised artwork. This edition is available for purchase as a digital download in the
Dreamsville Store.

Chance Encounters in the Garden of Lights, Cote D'Azur, Secret Ceremony, Map of Dreams, Crimsworth,
Simplex, Sounding the Ritual Echo, La Belle et La Bete, Das Kabinett,
Signals From Realms of Light


"Altar Pieces was part of a unique two-part performance given as part of the Wakefield Arts Festival in 1990. Wakefield is the town of my birth, and where I grew up and was educated (as many of you will know). Part one of the performance, (which was given the title: 'Goofing Off in God's Garden') was presented on the open air bandstand of Wakefield's Clarence Park. (Also the site of a free concert I staged way back in the 1960's with my then band 'Global Village'.) The Altar Pieces music had absolutely nothing to do with the 'Goofing Off in God's Garden' performance in the open air. G.O.I.G.G. was an entirely different set of instrumentals altogether.

"The Altar Pieces music was used for a SECOND performance on a different day. This second performance was titled 'Opus Illuminatus' and was held in Wakefield's gothic cathedral. The Altar Pieces tracks, (on the cassette mentioned above), were actually the foundation or 'backing tracks' for live improvisations that I performed on guitar that day, live in the cathedral. My brother Ian joined me on sax for several numbers, both in Clarence Park AND in the cathedral. The cassette contains only the 'backing tracks' though, which actually work fine without the improvised overdubs. However, some of those tracks have survived to this day as live performance pieces. "Artifex" being the main one. Another is "Gloria Mundae". These can be heard with overdubbed guitar parts on the Romance of Sustain album.

"The Altar Pieces music, for those of you curious about it, was devised around alchemical and hermetic philosophies, the western mystery tradition. The irony was playing this music in orthodox Christian churches such as Wakefield Cathederal and the French Church in London. The philosophies that provided the music with its foundation were, (and still are), considered heretical by religious orthodoxy. Thankfully, they don't burn heretics at the stake anymore."

"For those of you who enjoy the more ambient and esoteric side of my work, this album is not only rare but essential. For those of you fortunate enough to own the original cassette release, this new remastered, re-designed version brings ALTAR PIECES to you with a sonic clarity denied to the original."

"Oh, my God..the HAIR!  The RADIANCE!! The Goat-Headed cane!!!"



"A set of eight deep, mysterious, but quite minimalist instrumental pieces that sound like they should be performed in a very dark and threatening cathedral.
The titles are all Latin and explore magical, esoteric religious territory associated with Bill's involvement in study (and practice?) of Gnosticism. Nothing unpleasantly pagan about it, as far as I can tell, but this is a concept album to end all concept albums!"

Chris N:

This is my favourite Bill album - played endlessly on a loop when when I was studying a management course a few years ago. I found it helped me to think and define my ideas.
This [digital] release sounds stunning"


"Altar Pieces is very special because the music is so mysterious and otherworldly to me."

Kalamazoo Kid:

"Not identical, but certainly aesthetic kin to Chance Encounters and Simplex."


"I'm just totally awed by its complexities. I especially love listening to it late at night when it's raining cats and dogs, complete with thunder and lightning."

james warner:

"I transferred my original copy to CD, but couldn't do much about the tape hiss. Now the atmospheric nature of this music can be fully appreciated."


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