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BLACKLIGHT BRAILLE

Blacklight Braille is a long-running Cincinnati-based musical collective, whose music I have been covering in Aquamarine since the 1990s. Multi-instrumentalist Owen Knight, a founder member of Blacklight Braille, sent me revised versions of six of their albums, as homemade CDRs. The lineup varies across the albums but always comprises more than 15 members, many of whom play an assortment of instruments. As they all add something of their own to the albums, the music on offer here is diverse, with a healthy disregard for genre boundaries.

Avallon Tower Revised is an eclectic mix of spacerock, folk, jazz, experimental, country, prog, world musics, blues, and film soundtrack style music, all woven together to create a coherent (though often surreal and abstract) whole. Highlights include Battle of the Birds, a nicely hypnotic psych/prog/folk piece with lyrics inspired by Arthurian legend (a frequent lyrical theme for Blacklight Braille in fact); Avalon Towers, a brief but enjoyable folky number with something of a fairground atmosphere; Descant of Flowers, an instrumental piece that hints at Middle and Far Eastern traditional musics; and Rainswept Hills, a multi-part piece in excess of seven minutes in length, which begins as a dramatic mixture of ambient, prog and early sci-fi film score, before morphing into evocative spoken word backed by found sounds, then finally bringing in some delicate neoclassical piano music.

The other CDRs I received were only marked with the catalogue number, and all arrived packaged within the covers of various original 1990s albums by Blacklight Braille, but all but one of the covers do not match the contents of these revised albums. The cases seem to have been simply reused as convenient packaging materials. I am assuming that versions of these revised albums available for sale to the general public will be packaged within more informative sleeves that relate to their actual contents. Owen provided me with a full track list for Avallon Tower and the album known simply as 4601, but not the others, so reviewing the other albums will involve a bit of guesswork.

Starting with 4601, this one includes an eclectic mix of psych, prog, spoken word, blues, jazz, and dramatic, filmic experimental soundscaping. There's some evocative use of chimes, gongs and musical saw in various tracks, and some effectively frenetic percussion in Mr Wandereye's Introduction. The epic, multi-part piece Joe Joe Chopped Off His Toe, which is over 20 minutes long, is worthy of specific mention. The song itself has the feel of a traditional folk song, backed by psychedelic accompaniment. This section is bookended by a spoken word piece narrated entirely in 1960s slang, and a bizarre abstract noisescape made up of found sounds and eerily processed speech snippets, which then morphs into a spacey ambient piece combining synth and theremin. And just when you think you know what's going on, the piece changes style several times again, to encompass fierce, gunfire-like percussion, semi-abstract vintage synth music, and a sort of jazz/neoclassical hybrid. There is something for most tastes on this album, ranging from fairly straightforward blues-rock numbers to challenging experimental pieces. The fact that Blacklight Braille even consider putting such a diverse collection of music together on one album just goes to show what an open minded bunch we are dealing with here.

3607 is the album Sleep Not Yet, and does therefore come packaged within the correct cover. It appears from Owen's notes that the album is as originally issued, aside from the addition of revised versions of two of the tracks, Cryptolithic and Beltane Confrontation. The emphasis of this album is split between blues-rock and intense, eerie and disorienting experimental tracks that take on board aspects of psychedelia and film soundtrack, plus the occasional nod towards folk and neoclassical music.

I don't have a track list or proper title for 3R37, but it includes a lot of very fine contemporary folk balladry and powerful psych-rock, as well as some very creative and somewhat freeform instrumental music combining psychedelia with eerie film soundtrack-like effects. There's some effective use of harp, flute, violin, and musical saw here and there, along with some blisteringly intense psychedelic guitar work. Owen's brief handwritten notes accompanying the CDs show the revised track on this album is Persephone of Short Vine, a superb folk/classical/psych hybrid with a strong, memorable tune. This was always one of my favourite Blacklight Braille tracks and continues to remain so.

Again, I don't have the full details for 3R35, other than Owen's notes stating much of this album has been revised. There's some sophisticated and impressive use of harp, some spooky, atmospheric and/or discordant neoclassical and experimental music, along with traditional-style folk, theatrical and semi-operatic music, spoken word, psychedelic blues-rock, and American folk-rock with jazz touches, and as such, the album is more diverse than some various-artist compilations.

Finally, there is 3601, which again I don't have the full details for. Joe Joe Chopped Off His Toe is here, but divided into shorter separate parts rather than the one long track on the other CD. Most of the other material on this CD is also familiar from other Blacklight Braille albums, with an emphasis on prog, blues-rock, spoken word, spacerock, and eerily atmospheric film soundtrack-like instrumental music.

Owen Knight is also an author. I reviewed his book Wind Over Linden Hill a few years ago; he has since published a couple more books. Waterford and Nearby Towns (Black Moon Publishing) is packaged within plain and unassuming wrappers, with no back cover blurb, giving the reader little clues on what to expect. What we have here is a collection of short stories and poems, that often start off fooling the reader into expecting a kind of nostalgic historical fiction, before veering into the realms of supernatural horror, a touch of sci-fi, and more than a few offbeat and surreal tangents that take the reader completely by surprise, and even have the power to shock at times. The stories are often bizarre and are not for everyone, but those unafraid to be shaken out of their comfort zones and have their preconceptions challenged could do a lot worse than to give this book a go.

Owen's latest book is King Arthur: An Astral King, published by Left Hand Press. I'm only partway through reading this at the moment, so will have more to say about this novel next issue.

More info on Blacklight Braille via www.myspace.com/blacklightbraille

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