Human Greed: Fortress Longing

Though a key member of Fovea Hex is also involved in Human Greed, the two groups are much different. First and foremost, Fovea Hex is led by Clodagh Simonds, whereas Human Greed's ship is steered by Fovea Hex member Michael Begg (who formed it in 1999 and was joined by visual artist Deryk Thomas a year later), and needless to say the guiding visions of the outfits are fundamentally unlike. If Fovea Hex's recent album, Here Is Where We Used To Sing, concentrates on mesmerizing song settings, Human Greed's Fortress Longing focuses on moodscaping of the most potent kind (its full title is Fortress Longing: The Internal Campaign for the Safe and Complete Return of the Sleeping Egyptian to the Desert). Begg's group is no upstart, as Fortress Longing is its fourth full-length, with the last, Black Hill: Midnight at the Blighted Star, appearing in 2008. Begg's clearly the one in charge here, as he's credited with having produced and arranged the recording, as well as having written its texts.

It's interesting that, although contributors' names are included, with Antony & the Johnsons cellist Julia Kent and Fovea Hex associates Colin Potter and Laura Sheeran among them (the latter also credited with the vocal arrangement on “Weeping Bees of Heraklion”), the liner notes provide no listing of instrumentation. That seems, however, to be apropos in some strange way, as the various persons involved in the project seem to function as alchemists collectively committed to bringing rich scenic tableaux to sonic life. In other words, identifying individual sounds is less relevant here than focusing on the ultra-detailed tapestry that those sounds create as a totality. Having said that, the sound sources aren't terribly hard to identify: cellos, violins, pianos (bowed, prepared), organ, electronics, electric bass, bells, percussion, speaking voices, and field recordings thread their way through a sixty-seven-minute mix that unfolds without pause. To speak of individual tracks makes less sense in this case than usual, simply because the twelve pieces all function more as contributing parts of the whole. Even so, there are isolated moments that stand out, like the choir-like voices that become such a haunting presence during “Weeping Bees of Heraklion” and the elegiac cello playing by Kent that provides such wonderful support to Tommy Aashildrod's spoken text in “The Green Line” (Nicole Boitos also contributes a reading voice to “Solar Wind”).

If melody is paramount in Here Is Where We Used To Sing, the sculpting of mood is Fortress Longing's primary concern. There are moments that could be described as drone- and/or ambient-like, but applying such labels would misrepresent the material, which plays more like a slowly shifting dreamstate given concrete form. While an undercurrent of threat and unease establishes an omnipresent tension throughout the recording, overt displays of violence and agitation are absent (the closing “An End to Death” a notable exception), with the music unfolding with a becalmed deliberation that renders the experience of listening to it all the more absorbing. One becomes ever more progressively drawn into the album until the music's dramatic introspection seems to match up to one's own inner experience. Begg and company may have a particular narrative in mind for the recording, but it's a tenuous one, as far as the listener is concerned. That's not a shortcoming, however, as the absence of a clear storyline simply allows the material to effect all the more powerfully its dreamlike potency. It's unearthly music of nocturnal or early morning character, the kind best heard when one's mind and body are in a state of receptive relaxation and the heart rate slowed.

August 2011