Originally released as a 3" CDR on Rusted Rail in 2006.
Liner Notes originating from an e-mail conversation with Francois Hubert who reviewed The Northern Lights And The Northern Dark for Foxy Digitalis.
I'm listening to this 3” now for the first time since it was released. It was assembled/produced by myself and David Colohan. Regarding the title, we didn't have any theme of mirroring dualities in mind. We saw the offer of a 3” release as a chance to make a strange little EP using different styles and sources. All the selections are quite different from each other and, like them as we did, they didn't fit on any other releases. I think they sit together well here though.
However, I think it's true to say that the vocal/instrumental, traditional/experimental and joy/sorrow dualities are present in UBS music in general. I don't view vocal and instrumental music as opposites; It's more a question of what a particular performance or recording focuses on.
The title was chosen by David, taken from the 2000 AD story of the same name. I remember us being stuck for song titles and we hit upon the idea of using 'of' in the titles to help us focus and give some unity to this disparate, some might say motley, collection.
BUBBLE OF EARTH
This is based around a segment of a gig in the Peace Park, Cork in the summer of 2005. It was part of a project called 'BangCork' by Thai artist Surasi Kusolwong. He set up a Bangkok style market in the park and the organizers were looking for some Irish musicians to play for no money so naturally they called us. The prospect of taking a 6am bus (which I missed) back to Dublin to get to work in Freebird Records the next morning didn’t discourage me.
As often seems to be the case in Cork, it was a beautiful day to be in a park. The most interactive audience members were young children and this title reflects the playful nature of the gig.
We looped bits of our set over itself and overdubbed it. I've always enjoyed these studio/improv hybrids especially when there's a location sound from a live recording which becomes disembodied in the mix. Before we had titles I referred to this track in an e-mail thusly: ".....opens with childish giggles + flute then rips off Animal Collective even more blatantly" That said, I'm now struck by how 'Finnish' this feels. We were listening to Kemialliset Ystävät and had brought Avarus over that year for a gig and a never-to-be-released Avarus/Fursaxa/UBS recording session.
PICTURES OF KATIA
The vocals were digitally recorded in late 2005, overdubbing 4-track recording made almost five years previously making it one of the very first UBS recordings. Dave wrote this song and the original can be heard as "Katia" on 'Half Empty' a compilation sold with the Robots & Electronic Brains zine. This version was inspired by the Amelie soundtrack.
NOTE OF HOPE
This is from an improvisation we recorded in David's house (AKA Castle Greyskull) in summer '05. Half the minidisc was accidentally wiped which was upsetting at the time. We mixed it with a Carnage Visors-esque excerpt from another session which took place on a cold Valentine’s Day in the infamous Frederick Lane rehearsal basement across the hall from Rollers/Sparkers. An extra gate was added which means musicans no longer have to carry gear past people shooting up on the steps but the dankness is not so easy to keep away. This was our first recording with Tuula Voutilainen who's never afraid to go to dark places in her singing. Literally being in a dark place helped us all get there.
HEDGE SCHOOL DROPOUT
Mostly enacted throughout the 1700's, The Penal Laws made Catholic schools illegal in Ireland. The combination of oppressive laws and rural poverty gave rise to hedge schools where children could learn the Irish language, English and Maths. They filled a gap until the national school system was established in 1831. I can't say we researched hedge school dropout rates in coming up with this title. This is the only other studio track on this release. The mantra harks back to the feeling of our Peace Park concert sampled on Bubble of Earth.
ELBOW OF DAWN
This is the beginning of a gig we played in Dublin's legendary Lazybird club. The first musician you hear is Steve Coleman (also heard on Holt’s album) playing the uilleann pipes, an Irish instrument similar to bagpipes but the airflow is controlled by the elbow - 'uileann' in Irish. Earlier that day, Áine O’Dwyer, Bryan O’Connel, James Rider and myself had played a concert in St Johns Church Limerck which was released as Airs Of Sun And Stone. We hopped on the bus sharpish on waves of bliss after what is still one of my favourite live experiences. We got to Dublin in time to play this gig in Lazybird opening for The One Ensemble Of Daniel Padden and Nalle – Coast to coast! Admittedly, Ireland is a small country but we didn’t a helicopter like Phil Collins did at Live Aid, we didn’t even have intercity motorways way back in ‘05.
SPOON OF HAAR
Someone set up a UBS wikipedia page which reminded me that this track originally appeared on the Ihmettelenpä Sanoi Kampela Jos Lahanu On Pliisu compilation on 267 Lattajjaa with the title "Your Time Has Come" It’s an extract from a concert we played in Aberdeen with Kitchen Cynics and Mickelmass in September 2005. The venue was The Tunnels. It was previously a train tunnel and subsequently a mushroom farm before becoming the great subterranean venue it remains today. We were touring Scotland with Daniel Patrick Quinn. Each night, UBS was his backing band and he would play in UBS.
On this night he was nowhere to be seen and an announcement was made from the the stage. We started without him and I found him out cold behind a marshall cab, legs and fiddle akimbo. Of course, once roused, he played a blinder as usual. Wikipedia tells us that Daniel "is now a writer and editor for an Indonesian volcano website Gunung Bagging."
Mr Rusted Rail himself Keith Wallace also joined us for these shows and Aaron of Phantom Dog Beneath The Moon can also be heard here, singing in a lower register than usual. We’d driven up the coast from Edinburgh stopping off to clamber around some Clannadesque castles.
'Haar' is a word I learned from one of the promoters. It's the Scots-English local dialect for the type of fine fog that comes in from the sea and there was enough of it about that day. If you know Aberdeen you can imagine how, when stepping above ground, this disorientation was compounded by grey, granite buildings under a monochromatic grey sky. See if you can imagine a green ectoplasmic form floating up above us as you listen for that's what a can-wielding couple from the audience were delighted to tell us they saw.
Gavin Prior, 2006 & 2013
Artist: United Bible Studies
Album: The Northern Lights and The Northern Dark
Label: Rusted Rail
This new 3 cdr from United Bible Studies must be the most concise example of their unique aesthetics. It combines with new unpredictable results many of their various musical approaches: the vocal and instrumental sections (however pointless this distinction may be), the use of different sources (segments of concerts, studio recordings), the fruitful tensions between song and more extended forms as well as those existing between the presence of more traditional elements and a more modal/ droning type of sound.
In addition, it also offers a synthesis of their thematic and lyrical concerns as the songs (6 tracks in total) continue to explore the intersecting paths especially valued by the band between reality and mythology; the drawing of a Mayan astronaut on the cover thus seems quite appropriate.
Whatever the actual nature of these connections, I think that they are always made with the MUSIC in mind, because if there's one thing that truly characterizes UBS, it is their ability as an ensemble to tie all the pieces together without any pre-planned aesthetic or philosophical motto.
The music is SO rich and detailed... and focused that it can be seen as a series of responding musical gestures, none of which can ever be approached as isolated entities. As Gavin Prior (one of the core members of the group along with Dave Colohan and James Rider) said: The aim is to make a song feel like a world in itself not several styles/parts shoehorned together which is what they often start out as.
Consequently, what follows will only be an attempt at making you want to listen... just by catching your eyes, if I can!
The first track Bubble of Earth features delicate layers of manipulated vocal sounds (voice fragments, flutes) over which very subtle percussive patterns (cymbals, bells) are being added. Enters a simple electric guitar line, then a banjo, while the whole thing starts to hint at a more structured melody whose traditional charm may recall something familiar.
However, this ends as soon as it begins to take shape and next is Pictures of Katia the only actual song on the album (and one of the bands oldest). Here, Dave Colohan's beautiful voice is supported by particularly colorful arrangements (voice, accordion, flute, tin whistle, harp) which are able to bring out a certain melancholy from the piece with great simplicity.
As brilliant as it is short, it is immediately followed by the more improv-oriented (in a dronesome kind of way) Note of Hope which starts off with a harmonium drone before giving way to a set of intertwining wordless vocals (complete with harmonic singing). The second part of this piece features a more post-rock instrumentation as two laid-back guitar and bass lines enter a more melodic dialogue that is also sustained by the presence of some very sparse, yet assured drums. A tin whistle can be heard in the background.
The much shorter Hedge School Drop Out mainly consists of repeated acoustic guitar and vocal lines which rapidly turn into some kind of (relatively tense) mantra. It's also in this particular tune that the words of the cdr's title can be heard.
On the other hand, the track Elbow of Dawn can be seen as an exploration of a definitely more Celtic musical sensibility. It begins with a melody played on the uillean pipes, before a flute, a saxophone and some very subtle percussions join in and take part in the creation of an intricate web of carefully assembled wind instruments. This one is absolutely lovely and offers a perfect example of the magic that can be found in UBS.
However, my favorite of them all is the last song Spoon of Haar (the longest track on the album) which features the gentle, high-pitched singing of Dave Colohan against a complex backdrop of ever-shifting vocal drones. It is the most intimate piece on the album and the vocal lines have such a hypnotic quality to them that they're able to display a certain kind of strength which, despite the inherent fragility of the piece, remains all the more elusive as it is highly restrained.
What really makes UBS so unique is that you can truly hear/ feel this sort of communal, almost primal sense of belonging in their music (which is also reflected in their name beyond any kind of religious reference). UBS just belong where they are at a series of crossroads from which a variety of horizons can actually be perceived. This collection of songs is thus a particularly brilliant manifestation of this interconnectedness of things that the band mentioned in a recent interview as well as yet another expression of the endless creative possibilities that lie therein. - Francois Hubert / Foxy Digitalis
United Bible Studies - The Northern Lights and The Northern Dark (Rusted Rail)
This is another one of those really cute 3" CD-Rs that pop up now and then in the alternative folk underground, this time by United Bible Studies, again on Irish label Rusted Rail. One of the nice parts about this format, cuteness aside, is that because of the limited duration, you really get to focus on a release, being able to play it again and again in a short period.
That's certainly time well spent with this excellent United Bible Studies EP. Like "The Shore That Fears The Sea", which also appeared this year, "The Northern Lights and The Northern Dark" (what a title!) showcases the broadness of this band's sound. These six tracks are a mixture of live outtakes and studio tracks. The improvisational style, which these people pull off superbly, is nicely illustrated by "Bubble of Earth" and "Elbow of Dawn", both captivating and honest instrumental tracks. But the band can also write songs, as proven by "Hedge School Drop Out" and the sweet - but mind the stinging lyrics! - "Pictures of Katia". "Note of Hope" starts out as an improv piece for wordless voice and instruments, and fades into another improvisation with guitar , drums and flute. But, as the cliche goes, the best is saved for last. "Spoon of Haar", recorded live in 2005, is a song woven together of several distinct voices. I hear at least Dave Colohan displaying his considerable talent, along with Aaron of Phantom Dog Beneath the Moon. With minimal instrumental backing in the form of a soft drone, these men put down an extremely touching melancholic piece of vocal art. "Haar" means a special type of fog in a certain Scottish dialect, and it's a well chosen title, for this song would go along perfectly with a teary gaze upon mist drawing closer towards you over the hills.
For a mish-mash of songs, "The Northern Lights..." is a pretty sound release, and it forms the perfect little companion to the equally excellent full length album from this year. Once again, United Bible Studies prove to be one of Europe's finest when it comes to freefolk.
evening of light
United Bible Studies are a group of instrumental performers working in many experimental genres with a mysterious Celtic ethos at the core. Their CD here on the Rusted Rail label is called "The Northern Lights and The Northern Dark", a title that reminded of Norse heathenism and the duality of existence. Even this does not hint at the beguiling strangeness within. Chattering voices and percussion are like a sinister ritual we cannot comprehend. Then we go to "Pictures of Katia" which is one of the most amazing songs I've heard recently, a folk song of wheezing accordion and Celtic whistles with the marvellous singing we associate with Magickal Folk of the Faraway Tree. It has the joy and innocence of The Incredible String Band. Then this suddenly ends and we hear the layered droning voices, throat singing and wind organ of "Note of Hope" which later evolves into an improvised spectral post-rock instrumental. "Hedge School Drop Out" is a traditional banjo and communal vocals folk song that explores the album's title. It's magical, a folk charm in practice, ancient primitive music. A synth joins in playing a 1980s style sound and you can't help but smile at their undercutting of the moment. "Elbow of Dawn" is a shuffling Irish pipe and whistle instrumental, the sun groaning tiredly above the slumbering earth. Almost inconceivably we are already at the last track, the solo singing of "Spoon of Haar", a devotional ballad sung unaccompanied then overlaid repeatedly over itself slightly out of phase each time. The voices merging and overlapping beyond words into electronic waves. Music for a rural community long since lost, only memories of their voices carried in drifting radio signals. As I write this on the TV the stones of Callanish are being shown, somehow it's appropriate, ordained for this moment. The ancient and the new, the northern light and northern dark. Welcome home to a future past.
Mark Coyle/Harvest Home
6 tracks which highlight United Bible Studies' wide range of styles and sounds very well. Their distillation of folk and collective free music is always welcome and, in addition to the songs, there are wordless group vocal pieces which suggest magic(k)al adventures round the fire!
Boa Melody Bar
United Bible Studies is a loose collective of like minded Irish musicians based in acid psyche folk sounds, drone and taking in plenty of avant garde improv along the way too, this six track release on the new rusted rail label comes on a 3 inch cd in handmade card sleeve, this release sees the band take in a bit of traditional english folk with a nod to the early folk sounds of Fairport Convention on the odd track.
At a few hushed seconds under 19 minutes, I guess you would classify this new United Bible Studies missive as a mini-LP, though it packs improbable quantities of beauty, craft and oddness into its six compact pieces. 'Bubbles of Earth' is trademark UBS, overlaying eldritch tape manipulation rituals over a weave of acoustic guitar and banjo and sonorous bass depth charges. The reversed vocal invocations are particularly disturbing, calling up dark Lovecraftian Earth magics. The acoustic 'Pictures of Katia' has a sea shanty feel all drunken accordion and Dave Colohan's vocal melancholy and will appeal to those that dig the Magickal Folk of the Faraway Tree aspect of the UBS movement. 'Note of Hope' is a perfectly realised piece that builds from drones and spirit voices to spirited improvisation all in the course of four minutes. 'Hedge School Drop Out' could also be a Magical Folk track, its simple repeated mantra a bridge between two more substantial pieces. 'Elbow of Dawn ' has an appropriate pre-dawn raga feel, and recalls the wonder that is the UBS CD 'Airs of Sun and Stone'. 'Spoon of Haar' is an acapella of ghost voices, as haunted and unknowable as the carved stones around the Neolithic passage tomb at Howth. It's a wonderful conclusion to a small but perfectly-formed work. The Mayan astronaut on the cover is apropos for these explorations, as they continue the journey to find the dream world that exists in parallel with this one. 'The Northern Lights' is a nice dose of new UBS for those who have worn out their copies of 'The Shore That Fears the Sea'.
Folk with focus: Ireland's UBS does a lot in just three inches, getting directly to the heart without lingering too long nor exiting too soon. An assortment of six vocal and instrumental pieces ? a shanty, raga, and plenty of psychedelics - culled from various sessions, this album is a collage comprised of what is likely a vast supply of creative peat. The dynamics contrasting each track are only surpassed by the dynamics within each track: voices enter from all directions as drones billow up to overtake them, chimes rattle through mist while the winds blow, carrying the spirit from one song and into another. Very rich, damp and musty - and highly recommended.