Tuesday 3 July 2012

Dead Rat Orchestra - The Guga Hunters Of Ness

Album review by KevW

Before reading about this album or even seeing its title you can guess purely from the music that 'The Guga Hunters Of Ness' was either recorded as a soundtrack, or if not, it would make a bloody good one. Dead Rat Orchestra have been sculpting abstract folk from an exotic array of rare, traditional and even makeshift instruments for many years now and their history, approach and style make them perfect for this project. 'The Guga Hunters Of Ness' is a BBC documentary that follows ten guga (gannet) hunters embarking on their traditional annual journey to capture the birds for meat on the Isle Of Lewis. It's a treacherous journey to an outer island that takes the men two weeks.

In order to capture this isolation, Dead Rat Orchestra themselves took to a converted lightship in a tidal river in Essex (apparently the acoustics of the studio change with the rising and falling tide) armed with footage to the men's expedition and a clutch of traditional Hebridean folk songs for inspiration, parts of which have been incorporated into the music on this album. There's certainly a rustic and age-old feel to this music and it does project a feeling remoteness but also one of warmth. All but one of the pieces here is instrumental, only 'Salt Slide', with it's field recording of the Ness Church Choir, provides any vocals.

These are stark and barren tracks that gently weave their way around in an organic fashion with occasional percussion adding a more robust feel, as heard on 'Joy/Sorrow (Sula Sgeir)', but mostly these antique sounding pieces meander in no particular direction, creating a desolate and very Celtic atmosphere. This is an album that succeeds exceptionally in capturing the essence of the documentary and is a thoroughly interesting listen that does transport you to a different time and place. If its tunes you're after however, your best bet is to look elsewhere.

Dead Rat Orchestra's website

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