25 July 2010

Bill Nelson: Trial By Intimacy -- A Catalogue Of Obsessions

This is the fourth and final vinyl disk included in Trial By Intimacy. What is there left to say after hearing many dozen similar Bill Nelson instrumentals? Only, perhaps, that if you enjoyed the previous volumes you will enjoy this as well. It is certainly not the weakest offering, even if it treads the familiar path of clockwork rhythm boxes, languid synth melodies, vaguely oriental sonorities and mysterious titles.

I particularly enjoy the sequencer interplay of "Happily Addicted To You" and "Initiation Of The Heart's Desire". The melody winding through "Birds In Two Hemispheres" is lovely. But if you are looking for more of those tracks that cleverly integrate film and radio samples, there are only two. "Love's First Kiss" is by far the most listenable. Nelson would revisit this style in two albums under the name Orchestra Arcana. Check out Iconography (1986) and Optimism (1988). These were compiled on the collection The Hermetic Jukebox, which thoughtfully includes all five non-album selections as well.

-- Second Chameleon


Bill Nelson: A Catalogue Of Obsessions
A01 Sex Party Six
A02 Wider Windows For The Walls Of The World
A03 Time In Tokyo
A04 Happily Addicted To You
A05 Snakes With Wings
A06 The Boy Pilots Of Bangkok
A07 Erotikon
A08 Birds In Two Hemispheres
A09 Windmills In A World Without Wind
A10 Love's First Kiss
B01 Initiation Of The Heart's Desire
B02 Edge Of Tears
B03 Test Of Affection
B04 Words Across Tables
B05 A Promise Of Perfume
B06 This Dangerous Age
B07 The Glass Breakfast
B08 Talk Technique
B09 The Last Summer For Dancing
B10 View From A Balcony

Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours)
4xLP: Cocteau Records UK [JEAN 2] 1984

A Catalogue Of Obsessions
LP: Cocteau Records UK [JC 9] 1984
CD: Cocteau Records UK [JCCD 9] 1989
CD: Enigma Records US [7 73379-2] 1989

Bill Nelson: Trial By Intimacy -- Pavilions Of The Heart And Soul

Pavilions of the Heart and Soul is the third album in Bill Belson's luscious box set Trial By Intimacy. With its photo-montage cover, recalling the avian preoccupations of Max Ernst, and elliptical song titles, such as "Meshes of the Afternoon", a nod in the direction of Maya Deren's spellbinding film, the album offers itself as kind of alchemical mystery. Everything here seems to have meaning, but only for those who are already initiated into its occult practices, or are willing to follow the trail of clues toward those artists, writers, and filmmakers who might better help us to understand this arcane world.

Nelson was not alone in prompting his listeners toward a greater appreciation of twentieth-century modern art from Europe, the Vorticists, Futurists, Dadaists, and Surrealists who explored the world of chance processes and unconscious motivations. John Foxx used the title of Ernst's "Europe After the Rain" for one of his finest solo singles. David Sylvian paid homage to Jean Cocteau in "The Blood of the Poet." And Richard Jobson, formerly of The Skids, gave up his pursuit of pop stardom to read from the works of Maguerite Duras. Eighties music is often caricatured as the height of the banal and superficial, but much of it not only encouraged but expected a level of cultural literacy that is rare today.

One can certainly enjoy Pavilions of Heart and Soul without having taken a course in avant garde film. The instrumental music here is among the most thoughtful and fully developed that Nelson composed during this period, perhaps most especially the spirited "Four Pieces for Imaginary Strings," that encompass tracks 11 through 22. But what makes this music distinctive is that it invites you to know more, to read more, to listen more. There is a kind of syllabus embedded in this album, and, indeed, in all the albums in this box set, one that seems half forgotten today, but which was an almost necessary part of being a serious music fan in this period. Google Max Ernst. Borrow a copy of Breton's The Surrealist Manifesto. Go to YouTube and watch Meshes in the Afternoon. It's all out there, waiting to be discovered. Again.

-- Crash The Driver


Bill Nelson: Pavilions Of The Heart And Soul
A01 Gift Of The August Tide
A02 Loving Tongues
A03 Blue Nude
A04 In The Realm Of Bells
A05 Your Nebulous Smile
A06 The Glance Of A Glittering Stranger
A07 Another Kiss For Your Slender Neck
A08 The Warmth Of Women's Eyes
A09 Seduction (Ritual With Roses)
A10 Dreamed Embraces
B01 Four Pieces For Imaginary Strings: Herself With Her Shadow
B02 Four Pieces With Imaginary Strings: The Exquisite Corpse
B03 Four Pieces With Imaginary Strings: Ardent Hands
B04 Four Pieces With Imaginary Strings: Her Laughing Torso
B05 Migrating Angels
B06 Les Amoureux
B07 Meshes Of The Afternoon
B08 Mountains Of The Heart
B09 Willow Silk
B10 Tender Encounters (States Of Grace)
B11 Melancholia
B12 The Eternal Female

Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours)
4xLP: Cocteau Records UK [JEAN 2] 1984

Pavilions Of The Heart And Soul
LP: Cocteau Records UK [JC 8] 1984
CD: Cocteau Records UK [JCCD 8] 1989
CD: Enigma Records US [7 73378-2] 1989

Bill Nelson: Trial By Intimacy -- Chamber Of Dreams

Our series of posts from Bill Nelson's instrumental box set, Trial By Intimacy (The Book of Splendours) continues with the second of four albums, Chamber of Dreams. Nelson writes in the liner notes:
In 1981 and 1983, I organized a series of live performances under the general title of The Invisibility Exhibition. This event toured throughout Great Britain and included contributions from the Yorkshire Actors Company, Richard Jobson, Frank Chickens and David Claridge as well as myself and Ian Nelson.

Besides theatre, poetry, mime, and musical performances, there were eight TV screens and one large movie screen on which were shown films by Jean Cocteau and Man Ray. My own musical contribution included improvisation of guitar, percussion and synthesizer over pre-recorded tapes from the archives of the Echo Observatory. Chamber of Dreams presents two facets of this event.

Side One is a selection of the 'backing tapes' which were used as the basis for my own performance. They are presented here in their virgin state without any live improvisation. Musicians owning this album, might enjoy sketching their own ideas over these tracks in the privacy of their own home.

Side Two presents a selection of the interval music which was played between the various performances during the Exhibition itself. These are complete and were not intended as part of the improvisational work.

For those who attended these performances, this record is intended as a souvenir for the ear. For those who missed the Invisibility Exhibition perhaps Chamber of Dreams will make you just curious enough to attend the next one.
For those of you who enjoyed the montage of voices from instructional films, surrealist poets, and television programs on the first album in this set, there's much to enjoy on side one of this long payer. Though meant only as "backing tapes" to accompany improvised guitar and other instruments, these tracks feel more complete than some of the interlude music on the second side. Indeed, some of the most notable tracks from Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours) are here, including the opening track, "The Blazing Memory of Innuendo," and the aptly-titled, "A Dip in the Swimming Pool Reactor."

Special thanks to the Second Chameleon for doing the audio processing of the original vinyl while suffering from a back injury. Service above and beyond the call of duty!

--Crash the Driver


Bill Nelson: Chamber Of Dreams (Music From The Invisibility Exhibition)
A01 The Blazing Memory Of Innuendo
A02 Into The Luminous Future
A03 A Dip In The Swimming Pool Reactor
A04 Tomorrowland (The Threshold Of 1947)
A05 Listening To Lizards
A06 Endless Torsion
A07 My Sublime Perversion
A08 Eros In Autumn
A09 Sleeplessness
B01 The Latest Skyline
B02 Train Of Thought
B03 Parks And Fountains, Clouds And Trees
B04 The Golden Bough
B05 Forever Orpheus
B06 In Arcadia
B07 Sentimental
B08 Autumn Fires
B09 Wild Blue Yonder

Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours)
4xLP: Cocteau Records UK [JEAN 2] 1984

Chamber Of Dreams (Music From The Invisibility Exhibition)
LP: Cocteau Records UK [JC 7] 1984
CD: Cocteau Records UK [JCCD 7] 1989
CD: Enigma Records US [7 73377-2] 1989

Bill Nelson: Trial By Intimacy -- The Summer Of God's Piano

Best known as the front man for Be Bop Deluxe, and for his production work with numerous bands, Bill Nelson established himself as a notable composer of instrumental music in the eighties. Though not his first such effort, Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours) is perhaps his most significant statement of a certain fondness for spontaneity and ephemera. This boxed set, released in 1984, consists of no fewer than four albums. That's over 80 tracks, issued from his private studio like so many falling petals from a cherry tree past its bloom.

The set, which we are lucky enough to number among our possessions, was released in an edition of 5000, some of which included a postcard set and "The Arcane Eye", a surprisingly impressive book of photography. All of this added up to a very nice package, which Nelson describes as a "musical sketchbook of instrumental moods captured during many private moments over the last few years."

The vinyl was never issued independently, though Cocteau in the UK and Enigma in the USA did release each album on CD in 1989. Those must be as rare as hen's teeth. By some oversight this music is unavailable today, and the various versions floating around the internet are of poor quality. In the next few weeks we will present rips from the original vinyl to fill this gaping hole in the Nelson catalogue.

We start with The Summer Of God's Piano, an eminently listenable work. This is best appreciated in light of The Love That Whirls, Nelson's stand-out pop album from the same year. That lovely and mysterious record manages to combine his penchant for drum machine clockworks, liquid guitar figures, ambience and over-the-top lyrics. But take away the vocals and you might have a hard time distinguishing the music on the two records. A song like "Hope For the Heartbeat" sounds exactly as though Nelson took a track destined for Trial By Intimacy and added vocals. And if you can tell which record "Waiting For Voices", "Orient Pearl" and "The Bride of Christ in Autumn" are from, it's not due to any intrinsic difference in musicality or quality.

But the real gems here are those tracks that create a different mood, through the simple expedient of adding samples from radio broadcasts and cinema. The French intonations in "The Celestial Bridegroom" mark it out as part of this new style, while "The Charm of Transit" and "Transmission (N.B.C. 97293)" rise to the top of the pile due entirely to the skill with which Nelson weaves the samples into the music.

Though the absolute best tracks in the boxed set are still to come, we are sure you'll enjoy this trip back to the gardens of Europe, circa 1984.

-- Second Chameleon


Bill Nelson: The Summer Of God's Piano
A01 Antennae Two
A02 Transmission (N.B.C. 97293)
A03 The Sleep Of Hollywood
A04 The Celestial Bridegroom
A05 Under The Red Arch
A06 Orient Pearl
A07 Sacrament
A08 Falling Blossoms
A09 The Difficulty Of Being
A10 Zanoni
A11 The Chinese Nightingale
B01 Tantra
B02 Soon September (Another Enchantment)
B03 Rural Shires
B04 Perfidio Incanto
B05 The Lost Years
B06 The Charm Of Transit
B07 Night Thoughts (Twilight Radio)
B08 Wysteria
B09 Swing
B10 Snowfall
B11 Realm Of Dusk
B12 Over Ocean

Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours)
4xLP: Cocteau Records UK [JEAN 2] 1984

The Summer Of God's Piano
LP: Cocteau Records UK [JC 6] 1984
CD: Cocteau Records UK [JCCD 6] 1989
CD: Enigma Records US [7 73376-2] 1989