Albion Dream Vortex
Listening Notes to accompany the album
Albion Dream Vortex
by Bill Nelson
'Albion Dream Vortex' is an instrumental album blending guitars and keyboards in a variety of styles. It contains subtle references to instrumental music I've made throughout my career, embracing ambient, electronic, vintage and modern, wrapped up in a dream-like vortex of sound.
The word 'Albion,' for me, signifies the post-World War 2 era I grew up in. It also reminds me of a company called 'Albion Motors' who built art-deco styled buses in the 1930s and '40s. But 'Albion' is actually the oldest known name for the island of England and inevitably conjures up swirling spirits from the mysterious past.
The subject of dreams, their nature and purpose, has fascinated me since childhood. Dreams have also been a recurring motif in my creative life, and will continue to be so until, somewhere in the future, I will become little more than a flickering, ghostly dream of myself...atoms of memory, spluttering and sparkling like tiny fireworks in a long ago November sky.
We inhabit two worlds, one of which we assign to reality and the other to dreams. Our lives are spent half awake and half asleep, adrift in realms of reason and unreason. The boundary between these realms, for the artist, is often deliberately blurred, nebulous, ambiguous. Yet our creative imagination holds the ticket that allows us to travel between these two states and permits mysterious goods to be imported and exported. This luminous traffic, this flickering mystery, is the foundation of 'Albion Dream Vortex.'
1: 'Thought Bubble Number 1.'
An opening, an introduction. Shiny, chrome-plated guitars breaking through a grey veil, pushed by percussion...A brief taste of something always just out of reach.
2: 'Behold These Present Days.'
Percussion looping back in time to 'After The Satellite Sings.' Voice samples trapped like insects in amber...a simple, brief burst of synthetic energy. Ice skating on the frozen river of time. The present day lost to the past.
3: 'Like A Boat In The Blue.'
Aching guitar, the melancholy sound of six philosophical strings underpinning a found-voice sample. Tubular Bells and ocean sound. Sailor Bill laments beneath an ancient lighthouse.
4: 'Sparky And The Spearmint Moon.'
Sparky may be perceived as the character featured in 'Sparky's Magic Piano,' and 'Sparky's Magic Echo,' children's records which often played on the BBC's Saturday morning 'Children's Favourites' radio programme in the 1950s and of which I was, as an infant, quite fond...but the music here has no literal reference to that piece, (other than echoes applied to the guitar sound.). Instead, it presents a mock easy listening experience, Liberace and Mantovani smothered beneath a pink blanket of electric guitar candy floss. Short and, in some ways, violently sweet.
5: 'Tomorrow Will Not Be Too Late.'
More found voices, introduced by a burst of distressed electronica. A music box from Planet X tumbles helplessly over itself as the track's inexorable mad chant reminds us that 'Tomorrow Will Not Be Too Late.' It will, of course, always be far too late, yet the voice sample presents us with a sort of kitsch and surreal optimism. Ghostly voices at the track's conclusion try to console us but ultimately only serve to underline the disembodied and temporary nature of our brief lives. It's a cheerful tune about a melancholy subject.
6: 'Start Beaming And Get On The Gleam.'
An obvious variation on the title of an old early 1980s track of mine. ('Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam.') Actually this piece has no real musical connection with that track but instead heads into more ambient jazz territory...I just liked the play of words on that old title. It opens with a rather melancholy piano section before percussion enters and a chromium guitar excursion kicks in, underpinned by marimba and a bubbling sub-bass pattern. E-bow sections and orchestral counterpoint bring further textures to the piece. Piano mixes in with marimba, Wurlitzer and guitars...the longest track, (so far,) on the album at this point.
7: 'We Who Are Awake Will Not Be Asleep.'
This could be seen as a wilder, more intense development of the mood of 'Like A Boat In The Blue,' but it eventually develops into a sort of filtered, distorted, guitar jig to which brief brass riffs are added before the track's fragmented conclusion. It's ecstatic but intoxicated, maybe possessed by some perverse spirit of electrical pagan revelry.
8: 'Thought Bubble Number 2.'
Remember those old comic books where a character's inner dialogue would be represented by a graphic 'thought bubble'? Well, these thought bubble tracks are a sort of musical equivalent of my own inner dialogue. This one illuminates the darker, foggier corners of my mind's dusty attic. Uncertain, tremulous, slightly spooky. Guitars and radios mess with each other under a moonlit sky.
9: 'Electrical Adepts Of The Celestial Bed.'
Sex, inevitably, enters stage left...erotica embodied in the opening chords of this slinky, trippy neo-jazz fantasy. Title inspired by words found in a book about William Blake's bedroom life. The ghost of Miles Davis gets horny and shiny whilst Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer pianos bring the bitches brew to the party...extended improvisation, ethereal interludes, cosmic star-fields and fuzz bass suggest heaven and earth. A weird old wah-wah guitar enters as if Haight-Ashbury was still, after all these years, the centre of the hipster universe...Dissolve to tides of static, moog pitch wheel aberrations...Miles returns as a synthetic ectoplasmic spirit...now is the time to drop the body and transform to radio waves.
10: 'The Mastery Of The Thing.'
More found voices...a quiet, reverse collage of guitars underpinned by trippy percussion..."Higher and higher" the voice urges us...Guitars alternate between forward and reverse gears, chromium, liquid, tuned mercury. Strange.
11: 'Albion Dream Vortex.'
The absolute heart and soul of the album, the hidden pearl at its centre. This is the track that birthed the entire album. It's one of those neo-classical adventures that I embark on from time to time, poignant and sometimes sad, yet uplifting, bright and optimistic. An embrace, an affirmation...strings, electric piano, acoustic piano, found sounds, music boxes, church bells, ethereal choirs, cellos, oboes, English horns, electronica...a ten minute sixteen second symphony from my heart to yours.
12: 'Thought Bubble Number 3.'
Back to guitars. Filtered, delayed, set to sail on some far distant, slow cosmic surf. An ancient 1980s drum machine rattles and claps beneath as if the 21st Century never actually arrived.
Dissolves in a pool of shimmering electric piano. Brief...an interlude.
13: 'Long Ago By Moonlit Sea.'
Eleven minutes and thirteen seconds of slowly evolving fantasy...a drift, a flow, a hovering, angelic cloud of lights. Persevere...it goes through change after change. Beauty rewards patience...this one swims deep.
14: 'Let Us Melt And Make No Noise.'
A fitting conclusion...to both this album and our time as actors employed in the theatre of Planet Earth. A found voice urges us to "Melt and make no noise..." Guitar sounds slide in and out. Buzzy, electro-static percussion enters and soon fades, an electronic ocean of sonic textures, re-tuned radios, distant echoes and close whispers. A kind of conclusion...but far from absolute.