Martin Archer

Winter Pilgrim Arriving

Discus / 12CD

Martin Archer (synths, sopranino sax, clarinets, recorders, “violectronics”), Benjamin Bartholemew (guitars), Derek Saw (cornet), Simon H Fell (bass), Tim Cole (guitar), Charlie Collins (flute, sampling), Gino Robair (percussion, one track only), James Archer (onjects, one track only), Mick Beck (bassoon), Sedayne (crwth, one track only)

If, as we are warned in a long press release accompanying this CD, Martin Archer is to close down Discus due to lack of interest, it would be something of a tragedy for British experimental music. Virtually everything in the label’s small catalogue is excellent, including the documentation of his own work such as “Ghost Lily Cascade”, alongside which this release clearly sits.

Here, as on that disc and the equally fine “Pure Water Construction”, Archer works with a loose collection of musicians, whose improvisations are sampled and then reorganised into what Archer loosely refers to as compositions. The sound-world is fantastically rich and otherworldly, like a dream of music on another planet; the acoustics are all wrong, instrumentation comes and goes, but the whole usually sounds natural. It’s just like listening to musicians playing together with a mike in front of them, albeit musicians with vary numbers of limbs playing instruments made from unknown materials.

One thing which gives this CD it’s particular quality is a rather surprising affiliation with English folk music. That’s dangerous in the wrong hands, leading to the risible kind of wimsy associated with prog-folk and the Cambridge School. Clearly this is something Archer has some fondness for, but his relocation of Bert Jansch (or whoever) into outer space is touching as well as surreal, poignant beyond any accusation of novelty.


As if slightly concerned about accusations of “going soft” or (heaven forfend) “selling out”, Archer tends to place these folksy passages in an ambiance of thunderous noise, as if his imaginary guitarists, recordists and Ulelian pipers (imitated by Archer’s phenomenally accomplished sopranino) were stranded on some nightmarish hard shoulder in a J G Ballard short story.

This is so zeitgeisty it’s scary, and Archer really ought to be better known on the other side of the Atlantic, where chancers abound doing this sort of thing with little real musical commitment, often in search of witty postmodern gags or a sort of ersatz beat sensibility. This is an ultra-contemporary version of avant folk which can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Eugene Chadbourne’s reimagining of hilbilly music in its lack of respect for any dogma, be it from the world of folk, improv or the electroacoustic avant garde. In its sense of unified diversity and its ever-changing atmospherics, one might also mention Zorn’s film music: it really is that good, and it’s also distinctively English and completely unique.

Anyone who has been considering investigating his music — or completing their collection — is advised to do so without delay. The thought of all of it disappearing into a dark hole bearing the dread word “deleted” is enough to send a shudder down the spine. If it’s going to happen then one ought to stock up on supplies now. Richard Cochrane