Quarry Bank explores the history of Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire, UK, one of the largest and most important British Industrial Revolution cotton mills. Founded in the late 1700’s, it was a working mill for well over 150 years, and has now been rehabilitated and refurbished, and is again a functioning mill, managed by the UK National Trust.
For this project, site-specific recordings of the machinery and environs were blended with electronically treated acoustic instruments – acoustic and classical guitars, zither, music boxes, chime bars, chord organ, violin, analogue synthesizer and effects pedals. The resulting audio is a homage of sorts to the mill, to the people who worked there (the majority of whom were unpaid and indentured child labourers), and to the regions around.
Released by Time Released Sound on digipak CDR and booklet in cloth bag, in a numbered edition of 100, 26 November 2011
Written and produced by Wil Bolton, July-August 2011, using acoustic guitar, classical guitar, zither, music boxes, chime bars, chord organ, violin, analogue synthesizer, effects pedals, laptop, and field recordings made at Quarry Bank Mill, Wilmslow, Cheshire, UK.
Design by Colin Herrick
Time Released Sound TRS-10
Also available digitally from bandcamp
“Women pouring through an open doorway, most seemingly in a hurry. One pauses, clutching a satchel, until a large skinny dog appears and barks at her, causing her to flee. The dog is chased away by a man on a bicycle. The second man to appear in the steady stream of frocks also has a bicycle; a third waves his handkerchief frantically as if to rid himself of a bothersome fly or wasp. The dog saunters by once more, as behind the last few stragglers two horses appear pulling a carriage.
Perhaps a few of the departing workers would have had their curiosity aroused by the smallish black box the factory proprietors had set up opposite the entrance – “what new toy are they conjuring up now?” – though they could hardly have guessed at what was taking place. They knew that it was late afternoon, maybe just after five, on a workday, and that for them meant home time. But the little black box was busy transforming this time into an altogether different temporal form, the rules of which were radically different from anything that had so far been discerned or articulated by anyone, including the maverick inventors themselves. A perfectly normal everyday occurrence – that of workers leaving the Lumière factory on the outskirts of Lyon in 1895 – was being transposed from the time of the phenomenon to that of the cinema.
It could be argued that a similar transposition occurs in all ambient and drone music, but the effect seems particularly pronounced in the work of Wil Bolton. It is fitting, then, to find him inside what could be thought of as a giant version of the Lumière Brothers’ camera: the Quarry Bank mill in Cheshire, now a museum. The mill has been repaired and refurbished in order to return it to its appearance as it was in the nineteenth century, when it was one of the largest cotton mills in the United Kingdom. The mill is thus preserved within cinematic time, an amber that never properly sets, but forever repeats. Bolton recorded the sounds of the mill’s antique machinery and water wheels, and used their creaking, clanking and gushing as the basis for dense, dreamlike drones. Dreamlike in the sense of disorientating, hazy, possessing a weight and a heaviness yet not quite resolving into anything solid. The resulting music, like the mill itself and the stream of homebound workers, seems to exist inside a different kind of time, one that on the one hand never stops moving, yet on the other seems congealed into a single affective moment. I found it very difficult to work out how much time had passed as I was listening to “Quarry Bank” – it could have been a whole day, a year, a second, or no time at all.
Given all these transpositions of time, it is perfectly fitting that this music should appear on Time Released Sound: the label is renowned for its lovingly handcrafted packaging that recalls the Arts and Crafts Movement, an aesthetics and ideology that gained popularity during Quarry Bank’s heyday. “Quarry Bank” is a sensitive and absorbing investigation into the persistence of moments in time, bewilderingly beautiful in the way it disrupts empirical concepts of temporality, just as the masterpieces of early cinema do. Rather than reassuring the listener with a slice of safe nostalgia, Bolton demonstrates experimental music’s ability to alter and unsettle our perceptions, opening up new possibilities for the imagination.” – Fluid Radio
“Release number ten from local label Time Released Sound, a one man operation that produces some of THEE most extravagantly packaged micro releases we have ever laid eyes on, with every element of every release meticulously assembled by hand, or built, or drawn, or collaged, or whatever it takes to realize these miniature works of art. Which is precisely what these are, they are records obviously, and the music is fantastic, but that steep price tag is because this music is paired with the perfect packaging, that both represent the sounds within, the unique and ephemeral nature of sound and of music, and these works of art offer a visual analogue to the music, thematically linked in a way that’s not always super obvious.
Needless to say, every release is fantastic, sonically, visually and aesthetically, and we’re lucky to even get any of these considering how ultra limited they are.
Which brings us to this, the latest piece of musical art from Time Released Sound, which comes to us from musician / field recordist Wil Bolton, who here indulges in his interest in the industrial revolution in the UK, by setting his miniature epics in the Quarry Bank Mill, one of the largest and most important textile mills in the UK, and is again an actual functioning mill. Bolton made repeated trips to the mill to capture the sounds of manufacture, of looms and machines, all manner of industrial whir and clatter, rumble and hum, around which he weaves lush and lovely drones and drifty bits of soft focus psychedelic folk. We’re reminded a bit of Rameses III, a sort of pastoral folk, but performed on the floor of some old functioning factory.
Little bits of acoustic guitar shimmer, shards of melodic filigree, looped and fragmented, layered and woven into the sounds of machinery, Bolton’s own drones deftly blurred into those of the mill, until it’s impossible to tell what is field recording and what is music, until the music gradually fades leaving just the sound of the mill, which is surprisingly musical on its own. A deft application of effects, and of manipulate samples, sound reversed and layered, truncated and stretched out, creating these darkly delicate lullabies, rife with music box tinkles and folky flutter, laid out in dreamlike swells, and draped over the sounds of that aged mill. So lovely.
And as always, the packaging is top notch, a printed, hand distressed, 6″ square cloth bag, made from raw unfinished cotton, at the actual Quarry Bank Mill, there’s also a hand distressed, printed and numbered tag, while inside, the disc is in a full color digipak, and is accompanied by a hand worked and sewn textured paper booklet, with liner notes, as well as images from and photos of the mill. So fantastic, and SO LIMITED. JUST 100 COPIES. We have a dozen and will most likely not be able to get more.” –Aquarius Records
“Here’s another lush CD on the Time Released Sound label!! These things are about the most amazingly packaged things you’ll ever see! There’s 2 editions o’ this one…a standard CD version or a mega limited (100 only) CD in a hand stitched bag (built with fabrics and thread made at the mill) with tags and what-nots and sitting inside the bag along the CD is a hand assembled book of amazingness. It looks brilliant!! Musically Wil explores his love of the industrial revolution and the textile industry conveyed by the magic of sound. You get some nice pastoral sounding electronica not a million miles away from the likes of the recent Epic 45 side projects (El Heath, Charles Vaughan & Toy Library). It’s gorgeous too…atmospheric drones and acoustic guitar are accompanied by samples of machinery (amongst other things) to create a unique sounding album drenched in emotional hiss and fuzz. This could be my new favourite thing on the label. Excellent indeed!! Fans of the electro acoustic stylings of the 12K label should get on the bus as well!!” – Norman Records
“L’hiver dernier, Wil Bolton nous apprenait qu’il n’était pas seulement la moitié fondatrice du label Boltfish (spécialisé dans l’electronica bien organique) où il officie d’ailleurs sous le joli nom exotique de Cheju. Son magnifique album Time Lapse (ici), paru sur la souvent excellente maison Hibernate Recordings, avait dévoilé une facette bien différente. Plus “musicienne”, plus abstraite aussi, lorgnant vers le drone et les compositions électro-acoustiques. Si les productions de Boltfish ont quelque peu perdu en qualité cette année, Wil a lui poussé ses expérimentations et ses field recordings vers une qualité remarquable. Quarry Bank, dont il est aujourd’hui question, en est le parfait exemple. Il est paru il y a peu, sur le label de Colin Herrick : Time Released Sound.
Quarry Bank, bled pas si paumé des West Midlands, est un symbole. De l’industrie textile britannique, mais aussi un symbole de la révolution industrielle. En curieux, Wil a même plusieurs fois visité les lieux. On dit que le site a perdu de sa superbe depuis que la bibliothèque de l’usine a fermé et qu’un centre commercial imposant s’est installé non loin de là. C’est avec beaucoup d’affection et de nostalgie que Bolton pose sa guitare et ses machines sur cet album hommage. Un hommage historique et culturel, qui peut laisser dubitatifs les français que nous sommes, nous qui avons eu l’intelligence (ironie inside) de complètement désindustrialiser notre beau pays. Notre génération ne fut pas témoin des révolutions qu’ont connu l’Allemagne ou l’Angleterre. Mais l’oeuvre est avant tout un objet d’écoute. Enveloppons donc cette humble chronique d’un soupçon de pragmatisme.
La qualité pure des field recordings est ici remarquable. C’en est presque troublant. Les cordes, graciles et magnétiques, accompagnent les enregistrements des machines à traiter le coton. Les drones sont parfois abruptes , mais dégagent des ondes pénétrantes et vibrantes qui procurent presque des sensations régénérantes (Calico). Mais le plus intéressant réside dans le caractère mélancolique et plein d’affection des textures. Comme si les morceaux venaient dépoussiérer des photos jaunies par le temps, pour redonner vie à des instants passés. C’est sans doute aussi ça, le soundscaping. Cette magie de l’instant ou du paysage, capturée et illustrée en musique. Le titre Jacquard est littéralement à pleurer. Tout à l’air si simple, si essentiel.
On dit que le témoin du passé qui meurt est comparable à une bibliothèque qui brûle. Les anciens le savent, malheureusement mieux que nous. The Long Decline est semblable à une magnifique fresque. Celle d’un ouvrier vieillissant retiré dans sa chaumière, recouvert d’une couverture pourpre aux motifs champêtres, contemplant ce qui reste de ce qui fut son environnement. Les gouttes perlent contre sa vitre, son sourire se fait plus cynique face aux dérèglements du grand progrès. La théière a sifflé, il est désormais temps de rendre un dernier souffle et de rejoindre la pleine liberté des feuilles mortes éprises d’un dernier voyage. Le temps a passé.
Quarry Bank est une belle oeuvre courte suintant l’humilité. Elle est aussi parfaitement idéale, de par sa facilité d’accès, pour ceux qui souhaiteraient placer un premier pied vers les field recordings. Pressé à un nombre plus que confidentiel (100 exemplaires), cet album est emballé dans un packaging plus qu’attrayant. Le peu d’élus qui auront la chance de l’acquérir ne le regretteront pas. Les nouvelles trajectoires prises par Wil Bolton sont passionnantes. Qu’on se le dise.” – Chroniques Electroniques
“Why would we tell you about a sold-out release? That’s just rude, right? We have two reasons: first, this release is worth the press; and second, we care about you and we don’t want this to happen again. For this reason, we are telling you to click the link at the bottom of this article and to get on the Time Released Sound mailing list right now. Don’t even read the rest of this article! (You can come back here later.) Colin Herrick’s handmade work and attention to detail, his ear for talent and his obvious love for his artists made Time Released Sound the best new label of 2011, and we expect even greater things in 2012. No pressure, Colin!
So let’s start with the packaging. Quarry Bank‘s form is similar to that of the limited edition of Paper Relics’ Over Exposure (also sold out, sorry!). The booklet is a tiny scrapbook of Quarry Bank Mill photography and art, a loving tribute to time and place. Various ephemera are bound together: wallpaper, handwritten notes, instructional guides. The Mill winds its way into the music as well: stream and machine are woven into a tapestry of music boxes, bells, organ, violin and guitar. The fact that Bolton himself recorded the locational sounds is an additional bonus. This makes the entire package a unique creation: no one else, no where else, could have made a recording such as this and surrounded it with so much fitting adornment. This is cloudy, busy ambient music in the Wixel vein, most apparent on the title track but present throughout: an homage that mixes past and present in an original and beguiling fashion.” – A Closer Listen
“Wil Bolton has been producing ambient-IDM electronic music since 2004 (as Cheju), as well as creating a good number of site-specific commissions that focus on the resonance of the spaces, their history, and the overall atmosphere of the location. This alias change is not a trivial one: the beats of Cheju left and an interest for field recording as source material arose. This inclusion, as is evident here, has been crucial in Bolton artist development, as well as his status as an artist to watch. His current sound and musical ideology is a sort of a half-way point between the “academically-minded” Alva Noto or Fennesz and a rawer approach to the ambient music.
Quarry Bank is built from a series of field recordings of the machines and the environment of the Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire, England. The mill was originally built in the late 1700s, but it has since been rehabilitated and turned into a museum. There is an implicit idea that arises from this album’s inspiration – England’s Industrial Revolution – and the question of why Bolton chooses to represent the remains of such an era as a peaceful thing if neither the epoch nor the future it brought were particularly quiet and pleasant. There is a possible quick answer – that the field recordings are of a museum and not a working industrial complex, hence it is a peaceful experience – but we must dig deeper for a better answer, because there is certainly much to consider here.
One of the most influential books of the Industrial era, The Wealth of Nations is often quoted by followers of classical, conservative, and economic liberalism to explain the benefits of free market. What many do not know is that they just reference the book’s encouraging start and thus omit the rest of the book. What’s worse is that they omit the rest of Adam Smith’s work, which is what definitely settles the author’s academic relevance as a social philosopher with inputs into sociology and economics. Smith actually explains that even if the market’s growth and division of labor are good to society’s overall material progress, moral progress does not necessarily follow that; rather, the opposite can occur: “routine crushes solidarity,” in the words of Richard Sennett. In relation to that idea, Quarry Bank appears to be pointing to Smith’s reflexivity more than reflecting on the Industrial Revolution era itself, which was presumably much louder and unsettled than what this album can evoke with its ambient sounds. This music is the perfect background to think about the progress the Western world achieved in that era.
There is an interesting discourse between and within the songs, whose titles try to guide the listener through industry’s rise and fall: “Quarry Bank,” “Water frame,” “A Black Mist,” “Jacquard,” “Calico,” “The Long Decline,” and “Moss & Rust.” In the opening track, field recordings fully develop as the background layer, soft violins blend with it to give a warmer shape, and acoustic guitar drives the melody while the zither and chime bars tinkle at the top, bringing Mountains to mind. This style and mixture is similar during the rest of the album, which could be viewed as a negative, as it is repetitive, but Bolton’s method delivers in the end due to the album’s stellar coherence and concise format (forty-seven minutes in length).. “Water frame” follows up as a darker piece, but when the white noise of the processed field recording is over, the chime bars sound like Brian Eno’s in Music for Airports.
Throughout the album, many tiny elements can be spotted: the small glitches on the field recordings of Fennesz, the tinkering strings of Four Tet, and even small hi-hat and snare kicks. This attention that Bolton puts to the details never distracts the audience from the main focus, which is not a single instrument or layer but a serious, well engaged combination of sounds. There are hints of brightness and even songs that could be considered lively and optimistic (“Jacquard” and “Calico”), but the record does generally paints a blurry, polluted atmosphere. To top it all, Quarry Bank is published on one of the most delicious new labels out there, Time Released Sound, who reached with this album a total of ten physical releases in its first year, all of them having special, individually handmade artworks for a limited edition release. In this case, the fortunate album owners received a 6” bag made of raw cotton fabric from the Quarry Bank with thread of the mill on it.” – The Silent Ballet
“Time Released Sound has enjoyed an incredible debut year, as you’ll likely read on many an end of year list. Most recently, concluding this ground breaking year, Wil Bolton’s Quarry Bank hit the shops. I’ve already seen it getting plenty of deserved praise since its release, and as you can see, it has left a lasting impression on me too…
After initially hearing the mp3 files first, in an advance promo, it reminded me of Marcus Fischer’s terrific ‘Monocoastal’ from last year.
Musically, ‘Quarry Bank’ has all the quality to it that might easily have got it signed to 12k – encased in a would be sleek looking minimalist digi-pack. Instead, Bolton’s choice in label ended up being a crucial choice in ensuring the incredibly successful portrayal of the album’s concept. Quarry Bank was put together as a homage to a disused cotton mill in Cheshire, UK.” – Audio Gourmet
“Long standing sufferers of this irregular missives will be all too aware of our fondness for Cheju and Biotron Shelf – better known to the in-tuned ambient populace as Boltfish head honcho Wil Bolton. A most prolific aural alchemist who over the years has set into production a formidable body of work for some of the finest and most eclectic labels operating in the electronic genre – Static Caravan, u-cover, hibernate, distant noise, smallfish, October man and herb to name just a small select few. We ought at this point to say that we owe Wil something of an apology having received a brace of CD’s here sometime last year which though loved to the point of being played to near destruction alas due to laziness on our part never quite translated or neither materialised into printed word. Of course it goes without saying that the minute we eyed a link heralding a forthcoming release via time released sound it seemed appropriate that we should check out same and report back on not strictly out for a while yet, when it does it’ll be available as an ultra limited 100 pressing no doubt housed in all the eye catching hand crafted loveliness that patrons of the time released sound imprint have come to know, admire and cherish. ‘quarry bank’ continues Mr Bolton’s exploration into pastoral ambience and follows hot on the heels of acclaimed outings such as ‘time lapse’ and ‘chimes for a wall drawing’. comprised of seven compositions, ’Quarry Bank’ serves as a personal homage to the Quarry Bank Mill in Wilmslow, Cheshire – at one time one of the largest cotton mills in the land and in service for over 150 years which until it was rescued, restored and reclaimed (as a living museum) by the National Trust was left to near ruin in recent times. The set made up of field recordings intertwined with less so electronics more so guitars finds Mr Bolton attaching his intimate craft to a more pastorally ambient persona. ’Quarry Bank’ focuses on moods, sometimes hollowing and haunting at others hitherto heartbreaking, the stilled elegance fracturing moments suspended in time. Viewed as a whole in one sitting ‘quarry bank’ is pierced with a lonesome ache, dreamy and distant its scratched with an introspective glow, perhaps atmospherically frosted, the bowed inclines and the shimmering dronal sighs afford a sense of loss and regret. But step a little closer, a little nearer, assume an attentive ear and what comes to pass is a longing hush, granted tear stained but shone with hope and alive (the translucent beauty of the lulling ‘jacquard‘), here amid the tranquil and tender between the detached detailing, Bolton attempts to connect with the mill’s past memories and in doing so by way of the accompaniment of his field recordings (ranging from free flowing water rushes and the hypnotic turn of the clock working mechanics – as found on the parting ’moss and rust’) he crafts an audio document capable of creating a sense of visual awareness of not only the mill’s vast enormity but also its picturesque surroundings and the vitality of nature around it, what first appears introspective and narrowed is revealed in widescreen detail, what might pass for the melancholic and the desolate is somewhere else cradled in warmth and affection. Reference wise ‘Quarry Bank’ shares a sonic kinship with the earlier work of David A Jaycock whilst in terms of providing a locational audio map shimmies closely to the work of Stylus – most notably ‘the last seaweed collecting hut at freshwater west’ from a few years back via the then industrious Ochre imprint, yet all said between the opining dulcet tonality of the dronal swathes Bolton engages an intricate fretwork whose artistry trembles and turns with the spirit of John Fahey’s ’the portland cement factory at monolith, California’ – none more so is this the case than on the slow cut solemnity of ’the long decline’. touching stuff.” – Losing Today