Guernsey’s north east coast, from St. Peter Port to Bordeaux Harbour, is an area much discussed in some regards but in others it feels somewhat over looked.
Being the more commercial and industrial part of the island it’s natural beauty as well as the life of it is not often as represented as the more rugged west and south coast, this alone makes the new album from Flexagon, 7 Nocturnes East, which is inspired the area, worthy of exploration — on top of that the fact it has become a project wider than ‘just a record’ with an associated art exhibition makes it all the more fascinating.
I’ll focus on the record first though that, as the name suggests, features seven tracks with each dedicated to a specific location on Guernsey’s east coast as well as a time so it, loosely, charts a progression around the area from 1am until 7am.
Along with that each features a basis of a ‘wild track’ recorded on location at the specified time directly linking the music to its titular locale.
Opening at the harbour of St. Peter Port with the clanking and creaking of the marina pontoons and the distant sound of voices in the town it is evocative from the off as live strings join synthesised instruments to create a soundscape that brought to mind, for one not so accustomed to this kind of music, Sigur Ros.
The second track, Belle Greve 2AM, adds more electronics to the mix along with the sound of a storm, the rain falling and water rushing from a nearby storm drain — something particularly pertinent as I write this during a particularly stormy winter.
As the record moves on around the coast the mix of live classical instruments and virtual instruments, along with the ‘found sound’ tracks from each point in the journey, makes the whole thing flow in a fluid way that perfectly captures the coastal inspirations while also adding to the feel of travelling along and observing this rather different nighttime version of a fairly common trip for many locals.
The synthesised element of the music also, for me, had another effect somewhat similar to some of the world of Guernsey based visual artist Chris Foss.
In some of Foss’ work he takes a Guernsey location and adds a science fiction twist and this has a similar feel to it, adding a sense of something ‘alien’ but somehow appropriate to something otherwise familiar.
Mont Crevelt 4AM brings us into more industrial landscapes with the location recording featuring the sound of machinery and shouting workmen.
For me this is a highlight of the record as it manages to capture a sense of its time with both the sound and music in an entirely unexpected way.
La Crocq Pier 5AM meanwhile continues this industrial theme as a distant but persistent alarm joins the mix of the sounds of St Sampons Harbour capturing another element of the life of the area which is both represented and counterpointed through the music.
As we near the end of the journey the more natural sounds return with Black Rock Reef 6AM capturing something of the sounds of predawn life and Bordeaux 7AM evoking daybreak as the record resolves itself with the sound of the sea lapping on the shore in contrast with the opening sounds of the marina.
While my descriptions here feel rather literal across the record the musical elements, in some cases even more so than the location sounds, are what really tell the story of the locations capturing something darkly evocative and a side of Guernsey not seen or heard by many.
While this may sound hyper local I’m sure would translate whether you knew the areas in question or not (despite having lived here all my life several of these places are largely unknown to me).
With that it really makes for a great listen with a particular relaxing feel but with surprising moments and, to my mind, spans styles from classical to electronic in a way that should render it accessible to a far wider audience than it at first might appear.
Along with the album the Guernsey Arts Commission staged an exhibition in their greenhouse gallery space (ongoing until 22nd March 2020) at the Guernsey Museum at Candie Gardens.
The Commission’s 72nd exhibition saw seven artists working in different media challenged to create a piece inspired by the same locations as the music.
This lead to poetry, painting, printing, video art and more with one wall of the octagonal gallery given over to each piece (the other wall is the door).
All of the pieces capture something of the location in their own way with most also capturing the time of the music.
The first, a poem by Aeva Joy Love, is a terrific introduction as it really provides a great encapsulation of life in modern St. Peter Port (and Guernsey as a whole) and the mindset of many (at least in my frame of reference) challenging and prodding the status quo and finding problems with how the island works but never losing sight of what makes the island so special for those of us who live here.
Adam Stephens‘ triptych like painting of Belle Greve does a great job of capturing what is literally heard in the music but has something extra and abstract within its dark and stormy imagery.
The video piece inspired by Spur Point 3AM by Monika Drabot is one of the most fascinating as, at first, it appears like a synthesised kaleidoscopic set of video images.
On closer watching though water and rocks appear in the mirrored images on screen, lit by a range of constantly moving lights of different colours and we see it actually gives us a glimpse into not just the time and palace but the feeling of it in a really spectacular way.
The pieces based off Mont Crevelt 4AM from Zone Comics‘ Adam Gillson, Alice Nant and Kit Gillson were, at first, the works that I couldn’t really find the connection with to the music or the location despite being striking images in their own right.
Once it became clear that the central piece of the three was an abstraction of the fort at Mont Crevelt it became somewhat clearer with the industrial elements and natural landscape of the early morning represented by the surrounding pieces, to my mind at least.
Bozena Pollock‘s piece for La Crocque Pier is, like Stephen’s Belle Greve, a more obvious representation of the subject being a representation of the pier and surrounding harbour at St Sampsons.
The manner in which this has been rendered though feels somewhat fragmented and non-specific, as if drawn from memory and flashes in the dark of night, while capturing something of the movement and life of the working harbour.
This is also accompanied by a poem that feels a step further away from the original project as it appears inspired by the artwork rather than the music or the location and is unlisted in the exhibition catalogue.
For me, along with the opening poem, Bridget Spinney‘s Black Rock Reef piece is the most impressive and striking of the works in the exhibition.
Made by printing directly from the rocks of the reef at the mouth of St Sampson’s Harbour it at once is obviously this but, within it’s broken shapes and lines, one can, subconsciously, project something far more.
At once organic but with a hint of something industrial in its colour, it captures that feeling of first light, being able to make our shapes but not clear images and in that way has an impressive haunting quality.
The final piece, The Wind’s Eye-View by Maryjane Orley inspired by Bordeaux 7AM, is again a far more abstract piece but in that captures something of the feeling of light coming to the otherwise dark and nightly works while also evoking something of the movement of the sea over the sand and stones in the small fishing harbour.
Interestingly some of the work for this piece was lost while being made, documented in a pamphlet at the exhibition, and though these parts being lost is a great shame of course, it does add something to the final piece that suggests this is not an end.
Obviously being a temporal work as whole time continues after the framing of the album and exhibition and these lost pieces hint at this ongoing movement and how this all just captures a moment in an ongoing continuum.
In all then both album and exhibition, whether seen or heard together or separately, are very impressive and mark something very different not just for what I’m used to experiencing, but I think for art in Guernsey as a whole, as it ties together, both directly and indirectly, several ‘scenes’ in one over arching project in a way I don’t recall seeing before, particularly in such an organic manner.