Dead Space Chamber Music - ''The Black Hours''
Updated: Dec 5, 2021
Ellen Southern (voice / psaltery) and Tom Bush (guitar) are half of the musical force that is Dead Space Chamber Music. Joined by Katie Murt (drums /percussion) and Liz Paxton (cello), they have just released their second album ‘’The Black Hours’’ after 2 years of hard work. It is a journey through the many realms that is music combined with passion and a sense of unparalleled musical and thematical commitment. Dead Space Chamber Music have overcome the last two incredibly difficult years to deliver a conceptual piece inspired by classical elements yet utterly relevant, haunting yet also uplifting. Having been described many musical genres, they defy them all. ’The Black Hours’’ is natural and most importantly organic.
‘’Yes, the final results are developed by playing all together, at the same time. Of course, under lockdown this was a real challenge, and we found ways to keep making music, like sending each other audio to create new tracks, and to use in live streams, highlighting and channelling the sense of ‘absentia’. As soon as we could go back into the rehearsal room together again we did, and we think that ‘leaning into’ our music so much over the pandemic has only made our sense of connection stronger.
‘’We like to record in a 'live room' setting, where we can see each other and respond to each other in the moment. We definitely draw on the experience of performing live when doing this, especially as we develop pieces by playing them live before recording them. So, the raw element of a live performance is at the heart of all the recorded material, even though of course things are tweaked and added later in mixing and production.
What is the best way to enjoy your music? ‘’It’s difficult to say since live performance and recordings have different things to offer. 'Delivering' our music to people directly has a real energy and opens up an immersive space which is hard to define, but it is something that can feel quite timeless and transformational. Being in the studio however offers different creative possibilities - experimenting with the acoustics of different spaces, discovering ways to make new physical sounds that we can then run through amps or effects - we would like to explore these kind of things more with our recordist / engineer Tom Berry. This is not easily achieved due to studio time being so expensive. ‘’In the end, one informs the other, like a conversation. For example, on this album we integrated one song in to the next. This reflects how we perform our pieces as a fluid thing - ideally each flow into the next or where pieces are connected via loosely formed sections which are semi-improvised. This way we like to achieve a changing atmosphere from the start through to the end, combining ethereal and tender material with heavy drones / doom, and free form or abstract material with tightly arranged rhythmic songs. Moving between these forms a kind of ritual or journey for ourselves and for the audience. We also integrate sound-making objects and performative elements too in relation to the space. We can especially explore this when, as we love to do, we perform in unusual spaces like churches or crypts - which in turn led to us recording the Sapperton Sessions on a reel-to-reel tape machine in St Kenelm's church, Gloucestershire, with its amazing natural acoustic (huge thanks to The Churches Conservation Trust for inviting us to do that!). We want to continue to explore these approaches in both live performance and recordings.
The use of Renaissance inspiration to convey the challenges of the last year? ‘’We are fascinated by traditional and early music, meaning music from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, so reinterpreting historic material wasn’t a ’new’ way for us to respond to the challenges of the last year. music from the medieval and renaissance periods is not as 'fixed' in composition as later classical music, and is more open to interpretation, so we can be creative with it as a starting point, so this probably gave us space to explore the many feelings that the last year has evoked.
‘’We use historical sources to rework early music (pre-classical), so it’s usually a tune that’s hundreds of years old that will spark an idea. Some have lyrics, and some have a melody which we set words to, and the words themselves will be similarly from traditional or historical sources.
‘’It’s a fine balance when you combine influences and are open to experimentation. The goal is to create something that is consistent and always identifiable as ‘your sound’, and we feel that by following our instincts we do this successfully. You can’t combine too many things - it means a lot to us to be able to explore and push ourselves creatively and yet to always be able to say ‘yes, that’s so us!’ We’ve arrived at a formula which combines early music with doom, dark/ritual ambient and some jazz and avant-garde derived improvisation. This is probably pushing it in terms of fusion so we’d better not add any more styles beyond these!
The use of metaphors to convey personal experience and transformation? ‘’This is done on instinct, yes. There is an unconscious aspect to the process of creating anything; such metaphors may be present, but they are not there by design. The journey of Bryd One Brere and its romance? It is the first love song? ‘’It is the earliest known secular English love song with complete lyrics, which are in Middle English, which feels wonderful to sing! Its origins date to around 1300AD, but the melody is more like something that evolved, and musicologists have pieced different versions together. it is amazing to us that an emotion from hundreds of years ago can still resonate with people now, and when we perform these pieces we feel a sense of channelling that. Yet there is a dark primal beating heart as well? ‘’Yes, we tend to bring a darkness or unsettling aspect to things, and especially since Katie Murt, our drummer , joined the band, we have been able to explore and develop some pretty full-bodied , doom-laden material and impactful arrangements too, and we love that! In fact, The Pit / Dissolved in Ashes is based upon a heartbeat, so that’s literal! The idea to link all the tracks to the liturgy of the hours? ‘’The idea was there from the start, pre-pandemic. We discovered these amazing personal prayer books, ‘books of hours’, that if you were lucky enough to have in the medieval period, took you through the night with specific prayers for certain hours. This idea of being taken though dark hours through acts of personal faith was very potent. We made the tracks sequentially, in the order they appear in the album, so we had just done the first track and the pandemic hit. Suddenly the theme seemed even more powerful. The specific book we refer to is The Black Hours, created in the early 1400s in Belgium. It is hand crafted on black velum (calf skin), with gold silver and turquoise pigments, the latter being the most valuable at the time. Not only is it visually striking, but the concept rang true with the experiences we were all going through. We leaned even deeper into our music in this disorienting time, creating tracks, live streams, collaborations and more to ‘mark the hours’ of this disorienting time, and to keep us going. Each song is marked by the toll of a bell from St Mary Redcliffe, which we recorded field-recording style on one of our permitted ‘exercise’ sessions! And the booklet that accompanies the release is our version of the prayer book The Black Hours. It features drawn elements and 3D collaged ‘miniatures’, with art by Ellen and photography and layout by Katie. The artwork for the album has taken months and has been a pleasure and a labour of love. Like our music, it reworks something old to create, we hope, something contemporary and original, which can transport the listener.
Should music be mysterious and the more you explain it the more it loses its magic? ‘’If there is magic there in a piece of music, then there will always be something elusive and engaging that will grab you every time. As musicians we are always looking to learn, and getting under the skin, technically, of music that you love expands your own possibilities. The more questions you ask the more questions you find, and however much you learn there’s always more to learn. So, the presence of magic and the unexplained will always be there. Your idea to combine Lyrical themes from classical eras with modern sensibilities? ‘’We use historical and traditional sources, but we want to deliver it in a contemporary way. We don’t pretend to be in the past - we use modern equipment, but the core emotions are the same and speak over time and place. We don’t aim to make historically accurate performances, (though we do love and respect the whole area of early music). Instead, by reworking historical sources, hopefully we find our own way to help reveal what the core or essence of that piece is. That visceral heartfelt human feeling. Does this re- enforce emotions are timeless and still mysterious? ‘’Yes - using historic sources as inspiration can be very moving when you realise humans don't change that much and music that was emotive and stirring to someone hundreds of years ago can still have that effect in the present day. So, conjuring this music is like thinning the veils somehow. The greatest book we haven't read? ‘’’Improvisation and Inventio in the Performance of Medieval Music’ by Angela Mariani. Musical plans for the future? ‘’We would love to play in other cities, and even abroad. We want to make a 3rd album, a double album this time, and we already have so many ideas and some songs in progress. And as we mentioned, doing something like what bands used to do in the 70's where they did residential recordings over days or weeks, amongst and integrating the natural environment, is a bit of a dream of ours. We think we could get a lot out of it.
Top 6 Albums of all time
Black Sabbath - volume 4,
The Doors (1st album),
Skinny Puppy - Cleanse Fold and Manipulate,
David Munrow and Early Music Consort of London - Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance,
Trio Mediaeval & Arve Henriksen - Rimur,
Dead Can Dance - Spleen and Ideal.