Mercury 1981, Cocteau 1981, Mercury 1982 / Cocteau Discs 2017
Multidimensional packaging of peculiar musician’s majestic visions which don’t require visuals to fire up one’s mind.
“In the moment” might be Bill Nelson’s special mindscape, and it’s impossible not to admire him for trying to capture and convey this state in aural terms – not for nothing the devil’s dozen of the artist’s albums have “dream” in their title. The three records gathered here, in a box set, are arguably the most exemplary of Nelson’s experimental approach to composition where his love for Ligeti and Satie – as well as limited capabilities of Bill’s Yorkshire home studio, the Echo Observatory – first found an outlet in minimalist pieces that, together, create a highly imaginative concept.
Although 1981’s “Sounding The Ritual Echo (Atmosphere’s For Dreaming)” originally accompanied “Quit Dreaming And Get On the Beam” as a bonus LP, it wasn’t a soundtrack per se and, thus, stands out as a very accomplished collection whose individual elements work no less impressive than the entire album, the twang of opener “Annunciation” resonating kaleidoscopically to herald a sweet portent which would be manifested on the otherworldly likes of “Sleep.” An allusion to Man Ray movie, “Emak Bakia” may add percussive urgency to the overall picture, and “Another Willingly Opened Window” is full of death disco-tinctured, electronic chug, yet the amplitude of the dynamically meandering sound – or, rather, a series of sonic cathedrals, the futuristic “Cubical Domes” among this paradoxical parade – must also be measured by breezy, riveting oriental melodies so clear on “Glass Fish” or “Near East.” Nelson sense of humor is as obvious there as it is in “My Intricate Image” with its reggae undertow, but rich tones of “Opium” bring the ritual home on a serious note to eventually make the “Echo” return.
Out within a year as a standalone platter, “Das Kabinet” tracked a production of “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” by The Yorkshire Actors Company, so while the record’s numbers feel quite abstract in nature – all served by synthesizers, with no guitar in sight – they’re in fact perfectly fit with a particular fragment of the theatrical performance and shape sharp sense of horror apart from it. Some of them, like “The Asylum” which is a portal into the spectacle, are little more than noisy snippets – “Caligari Opens The Cabinet” a 10-second stroke – of a larger collage; others, such as “The Fairground” that has an orchestral potential, latent songs infused with imagery; still, those depicting Cesare The Somnambulist lead Bill to the familiar, if frightening now, hypnagogic terrain. Intermittently wobbly, it’s the same fleeting dream behind the tinkling and wooshing of “Murder” or the stumbling strum in “The Attempted Murder Of Jane” whose solemn organ passages only intensify the nightmare, yet there’s excitement in “Escape Over The Rooftops” where sunrise throb reigns supreme.
And that’s what present in abundance in 1982’s “La Belle Et La Bete”: another companion disc – attached to “The Love That Whirls” – and Nelson’s next collaboration with the Actors Company who took Jean Cocteau’s classic to the stage and (t)asked Bill to compose new music to his idol’s visual ideas. A whopping 35 numbers the artist came up with range from crystalline reveries of “Overture” to the animated, folk-influences stories told in “The Family” and the baroque new-age of “The Castle” which possesses a harp-like pull. Albeit the organ-elevated “The Garden” is solemn, the evershifting panorama “In The Forest Of Storms” is a progressive adventure unto itself, whereas short pieces – evocative “The Great Hall” in their midst – hold the tale together, and a few almost intangible “Transitions” effectively link various scenes. This time there are also recurring themes, the title track taking one of those to the fore but, with “The Pavilion Of Diana” smashing static wonder to bits, unextected twists and turns keep the listener’s attention throughout.
Same can be said about the whole Bill Nelson’s method of delivering dreams – mercurial, if fantastic; to have a lot of them in a sort of treasure chest is special indeed.