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IT'S TWILIGHT TIME

Since last issue's article on Knitting By Twilight, I have received some more CDs from their label It's Twilight Time, both recent releases and CDs from their back catalogue. The latest CD I have is by Knitting By Twilight themselves. Entitled Weathering, the CD is packaged in a beautiful large format fold-out cardboard sleeve featuring the 19th century painting Biblis by William Bouguereau. The album comprises eight instrumental tracks that are progressive and experimental in the best senses of these words. A Thousand Islands features prog rock guitar and synth accompanied by a vast array of percussion instruments, mainly of an unusual nature. The Hammerax Cymbal Company's 'Boomywang' and 'Dustbowl' creations appear alongside concert toms and improvised percussive use of kitchen implements. Clouds and Stars combines ethereal ambient synth with frantic percussion. Heavy Water is an intense and dissonant sound-sculpture. Biddeford Pool is an artistic piece of sonic exploration adding crashing wave sounds and birdsong to the usual concoction of multiple percussion instruments and synth. Harold's Budds is an atmospheric wall of sound comprised of aspects of post-rock, spacerock, ambient, shoegaze, prog, and frenetic cymbal-clanging. The Doorman's Dairy Dream features the unlikely - but strangely effective - juxtaposition of synthesised pan pipes and harsh angular guitar noise. Rainy Day Trains combines atmospheric drones and prog guitar with almost mechanical-sounding rhythmic clunks and clatters. Weathering brings together hints of Far Eastern traditional music, dramatic use of church organ, horns and who knows what else to create an inventive musical melange.

I have also received two early CDs by Knitting By Twilight, released in the 1990s. Their first self-titled CD comprises six tracks, starting with Lisa, a dreampop/darkwave/spacerock instrumental dedicated to Lisa Gerrard. There Goes Everything is a song-based track with rich, deep vocals over an avant-garde ambient backdrop. Subsequent Sorrow combines dramatic, filmic synth, speech snippets, and complex rhythmic drumming. Blue Ink for Fountain Pens is a film score-like soundscape starring ambient synth alongside xylophone and that extraordinary percussive work that is the hallmark of Knitting By Twilight's sound. Spending the Nights is another song-based track, with progressive/avant-garde musical accompaniment. Final track Knitting By Twilight is an improvisational-sounding yet melodic avant-garde instrumental.

The second Knitting By Twilight CD was/is Heavy Hearts and Safety Nets. The first track, Talk of Trust, is an experimental instrumental where the doom-laden collides with the chaotic. Juliette combines spacey synth, speech samples and mandolin played in the style of Mediterranean folk music. Song One is an entrancing instrumental with ambient and percussive aspects. Toy Tools combines 70s style synth, harsh yet atmospheric guitar noise, vocals and percussion, creating an inventive spacerock/post-punk hybrid. Splinter brings together doomy and chaotic metalish guitar, synth drones and innovative use of percussion. I Believe is a melodic synth instrumental with occasional snippets of speech.

Knitting By Twilight's sound is based on experimentation and improvisation and includes its fair share of noise. I avoided experimental and improvisational music for years, as my earliest exposure to it, via the underground tapes scene in the early 1990s, revealed a lot of talentless mess, and I perhaps naively assumed this amateurish atonality and chaotic randomness was the norm for this genre. Other broadly 'experimental' bands I heard later all sounded much the same as each other, their sound being based on the same cliched forms of drone music, and thus ceasing to be properly experimental. Bands like Knitting By Twilight blow such preconceptions to smithereens. They have a high level of artistic skill, and they do not sacrifice melody in the process of their improvisation. They are creating music that is genuinely new, without choosing to venture down the 'weirdness for weirdness's sake' route. Whilst there are dissonant and chaotic aspects to some of their tracks, these are combined with other musical elements in a creative way, and are not solely there as a sadistic effort to torment the listener, or a way of using noise to cover up a lack of musical ability.

Incandescent Sky have three CDs available, the first being out on Noisynoise/Independent Records and the others being jointly released by Noisynoise and It's Twilight Time. All are available from It's Twilight Time. The first album, Glorious Stereo, comprises seven instrumentals that cover quite a wide musical territory but are held together by an atmospheric, psychedelic and progressive thread. Caldera is spacerock, noisy but atmospheric, incorporating some hypnotic psychedelic repetition. Glorious Stereo brings together atmospheric guitar and synth, rumbling bass and intricate percussion. Solid State is an excellent piece with lots going on. Aspects of different genres from electronic music to psychedelic rock are brought in every now and then to keep the listener on their toes. SkyVue is a sophisticated mixture of neoclassical, jazz and prog. Divide By Zero is a kind of bizarre, warped prog rock meets film soundtrack music, incorporating lots of strange sound effects. Lullaby is an ethereal and relaxing piece of great beauty. Bent is a combination of spacerock and prog rock with speech samples.

Incandescent Sky's second album Paths and Angles includes eight instrumental tracks, most of which are over 7 minutes long. The music is a kind of avant-garde prog rock, and across the various tracks you will find relaxing synth music, virtuoso guitar and piano playing, angular experimentation, speech samples, spacey ambience, touches of jazz, and drumming as art, not merely as rhythm. It's serious, sophisticated and artistic music with high quality musicianship. Very occasionally the music could be described as self-indulgent, but it could also be argued that talented musicians have the right to show off their abilities!

The latest CD from Incandescent Sky is Four Faradays in a Cage. There are six instrumentals here, mainly of an elongated nature. The music can be described similarly to the previous album: progressive rock with additional influences from ambient and experimental music and occasionally jazz. Antarctica is a bleakly evocative nine minute composition that effectively conjures up visions of Antarctica's icy landscape. The Byways is an atmospheric piece that takes on board aspects of ambient, prog and shoegaze. Orange Ice features some hypnotically rhythmic percussion and effective incorporation of spacey bleeps and mechanical sound effects. Title track Four Faradays in a Cage is avant-garde rock with improvisational, spacey and angular aspects, lasting for a massive 16+ minutes. It's an intense, powerful, and at times surreal listen.

Herd of Mers is primarily a project of Karen Riendeau Orsi, with additional percussion from John Orsi (who is also a member of Knitting By Twilight and Incandescent Sky). Their album Aurora Caught Napping is out on It's Twilight Time. The music is a brilliant, idiosyncratic and intelligent variety of indierock/indiepop with additional influences from psychedelia, folk, and experimental music, in which Karen's songwriting is complemented perfectly by John's artistic and distinctive drumming style. The message printed on the cover is worthy of quoting: "To those who never quite fit in - fit in too well and you can't see where you are". How true!

John Orsi also has a solo EP available, Surface and Features, which consists of a reissue of a 3-track EP originally issued in the late 1980s by Lilith Music, and two bonus tracks from 2005. This release is first in a series on It's Twilight Time known as The Library of Music. In many ways the music here can be seen as a definite precursor to Knitting By Twilight. In Spending the Days, the song itself is similar to post-punk or early indie music, but its arrangement is much more inventive, combining prog rock, synth music, and artistic use of percussion. The Method sounds rather like an indiefied version of the more sophisticated end of 60s pop, set to off-kilter ambient/prog instrumentation. In a White Room is an excellent ambient/dreampop/experimental song featuring guest female vocalist Lee Piva, whose vocal style is both powerful and beautiful. Way Station is an inventive blend of electronic dance music and instrumental dreampop. The Most Comfortable is an innovative keyboard and percussion piece that can't really be forced into any existing pigeonhole.

It's Twilight Time is a label responsible for some very inventive musical creations. Anyone who appreciates originality in music really ought to investigate what they have to offer. More information on the label at www.itstwilightmusic.com

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Text Kim Harten, 2012.