‘A Pocket Guide to Dream Land’ from Dave Clarkson


Some words and images from Alan Dearling

A little bit of context…

Found sounds, field recordings, ambient music – mixing and sound sampling…these are all components in many musical psychogeography projects. That is the ‘study’ of the context of places and the meaning of spaces in everyday and community lives.  Something like that, anyway!

Indeed, ‘samples’, especially of bird songs, have featured in literally thousands of recordings throughout the history of recorded music. I’m no expert in this field, but Dave Clarkson is, and I saw him play live at Hope Chapel with one of his bands, Scissorgun in Hebden Bridge earlier in the year. As you can see in the photograph, Scissorgun like to  provide a sumptuous audio-visual feast.

At that event – a mix of electronic and World music – I bought Dave’s latest solo ‘Pocket Guide’ album. It’s been a nice addition to my own fairly massive musical collection. And, it has grown into becoming a musical ‘friend’ – a companion. Ethnomusicology – is the quasi-academic discipline –which explores cultures, people and places and the related musical traditions. I would liken these mixed media experiments to sound-scapes. Even the Rolling Stones contributed with their mobile recording studio being transported to North Africa – Morocco to be precise, to record the ‘Pipes of Pan at Jajouka’, organised by Brian Jones, way back in 1968 . Not an easy treat for the ear, being incredibly discordant! Here’s an example, ‘War Song’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwRS__2ddYc

However, It reminds me of a number of personal favourite albums and tracks from the likes of Virginia Astley who produced some rather wonderful pastoral masterpieces, based on many ‘field recordings’ of ‘found sounds’. Especially memorable are her ‘From Gardens where we feel secure’ and ‘Sanctus/Melt the Snow’.  In my university time, I fell in love with some early experimenters with field recordings, such as Beaver and Krause, particularly their use of Native American words and chants, mixed into electronica in the track ‘Legend Days are Over’ from 1972 on the ‘All Good Men’ album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arQ7uI-NcvQ

Likewise, the sounds of whales, dolphins and porpoises were introduced to pop and rock and folk  audiences by the likes of Judy Collins on: ‘Farewell to Tarwathie’ from ‘Whales and Nightingales’ (1970). Check it out. Still evocative: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1Bv19YVdZw

 I also discovered a 1994 album on the island of Lanzarote, ‘Musica de los elementos’ by Solar, which was used as background to some of the green architectural spaces and landscapes, including the underground volcanic lava caves at Jameos del Agua. The mix of natural landscape, art and music was created by the artist, Cesar Manrique. It’s a really well integrated mix of sounds and instrumentation. Here’s ‘Volcanoes’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5YhYUV-LW0

It’s something of a precursor to the techniques used by Dave Clarkson in his musical assemblages, ‘The Pocket Guides’.

More well-known, but no less experimental, David Byrne utilised ‘field recordings’ in many of his widely influential albums in the 1980s. These built on earlier African field recordings on classical labels such as Nonesuch, and the Congolese version of ‘Sanctus’ from the ‘Missa Luba’, was used to startling effect in the film, ‘If’,  by Lindsay Anderson in 1968. Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqwyiFDnhXo

The integration of recorded ‘sounds’ into song structures  is perhaps best known from some of the recordings performed by the Beatles when they worked with their producer, George Martin. For instance, ‘Being for the benefit of Mr Kite’ included fairground and carnival sounds, and ‘Yellow Submarine’ featured the sounds of ocean waves, clanking chains, hooters, bells and more. There is even a recording largely full of the sound effects from the track! Mucho weirdness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SyxDtLUsf8

Far simpler, but very effective, was the use by Pink Floyd of cash registers and jingling coins in their world-wide hit penned by Roger Waters, ‘Money’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_oyemr9n2A

Albums such as ‘My life in the Bush of Ghosts’ in 1981 with Brian Eno tiptoed on the fringes of the mainstream psyche. Then there are Eno’s own albums such as ‘Another Green World’ (1975), ‘Ambient 1: Music for Airports’ (1978) and ‘Ambient 4: On Land’ (1982). They were very much forms of ‘expressionism’ – sound paintings.  I also remember marvelling at David Byrne’s musical experiment wiring up the insides of the Roundhouse in London into a giant Sound Board Musical Instrument – via an old pump organ. ‘Playing the Building’ in 2009 was the result.  Weird and indeed wonderful! Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIIao7dJi2M

A Pocket Guide to Dream Land: Faded Fairgrounds and Coastal Ghost Towns of the British Isles – by Dave Clarkson

I think this is a real musical gemstone. I grew up in a faded seaside town, Bognor Regis, on the south coast of England. It was during the 1950s and into the ‘60s – and the sounds of fairground rides, bumper cars, amusement machines, steam-powered engines – these were the sonic tapestry of my early life. The album is a sound collage. Industrial clunkings, swirling ghosts that seem to have escaped from an early episode of Dr Who, and the ‘Illuminations’ – what Dave calls, “dirty electricity”. Repetitive stutterings.  Sirens.

From the very first sounds of the organ, its looping strains, the music becomes transformative. It captivates and nurtures the imagination, rather like an audio Stephen King horror. In ‘Sizzling Hot Dogs and Burnt Onions’, I can almost picture Jack from ‘The Shining’ careering in pursuit, axe in hand, a mad, sadistic smile curling on his lips!

As one humourist on-line has commented:

Otis Nugatory:  “Dis here, dis is sum vacky veirdness”.

For me, this ‘Dream Land’ is stuffed full of nostalgia. Half-glimpsed and heard sounds and images. Hauntings. Faded places and memories that are cracked, jaded, but still evocative. It’s also actually very musical too… at times a little reminiscent of Tomita and his Debussy interpretations in ‘Snowflakes are Dancing’. Just much darker and much more menacing. The track titles are well chosen too: ‘Memories and Loss’, ‘Penny Arcade in the Rain’ and ‘Organ Transplant’.

It’s an Audio Hallucination. Atmospheric.  Mesmeric. As one title suggests, it provides us with: ‘Tiny Lights (Magic in a Child’s Eyes)’. Bizarrely perhaps, I can actually imagine tracks like ‘Penny Arcade in the Rain’ working well on the dance floor in an EDM chill-out zone.

Here’s how the producers from Cavendish House Studios describe Dave Clarkson’s’s latest album: “Following previous albums exploring British coastal quicksands, shorelines, caves and forests, Dave Clarkson takes his recorder into faded seaside towns and fairgrounds (including Rhyl, New Brighton, Blackpool, Porthcawl, Northumberland, Margate and Hastings) and applies his production technique to the results. Some tracks are melodic and rhythmic while others are more desolate, capturing the unique fading atmosphere for the locations. Music was generated from the source sounds he recorded of penny falls, on-board rides, fairground organs, demolition noise, electrics and location ambience. One track (Spectral Pier Ballroom) is a spliced and stripped composite of three separate old musical recordings from his family archive, featuring his late father, grandmother and grandfather.”

The Pocket Guide to Dream Land is a strange manifestation. Half glimpsed, but leaving some kind of irradiation in the subconscious. Eerie and unsettling, psychedelic even, but essentially strange and spectral. I feel that I need to go and explore more of Dave Clarkson’s Pocket Guides.

From the Cavendish House press release again: “The final track, Organ Transplant, speaks to this reshaping – layers of organ, clockwork ticking, silent ambience fold into one another giving way to what sounds like the distant noise of construction and architectural remaking. A new idea of place, formed of nostalgia and progression, often awkwardly squeezed into an existing situation, montaging into a complex collage”.


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