Switched On: Blanck Mass – In Ferneaux (Sacred Bones)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

There are just two tracks on In Ferneaux, the new release from Benjamin Power – the man behind Blanck Mass. They are long-form pieces of roughly equal length, drawing on Power’s substantial archive of field recordings from the last decade of travelling. It is in effect his way of continuing to travel in spite of lockdown conditions, with compositions brought about by extended time at home.

What’s the music like?

The output of Blanck Mass has never been short of substance or emotion, and Power confronts his feelings with typically direct musical honesty. In Ferneaux gives the impression of being a piece of work a long time in the making, needing extended time at home to realise its ambition.

The two tracks last just over 40 minutes and work in a single sequence on headphones or with surround sound. Their emotional impact and musical identity are strong, right from the start of Phase I, with its shimmering electronics. It is a powerful depiction (for me at any rate) of the bright, sunny days we experienced at the start of lockdown in the UK this time last year, and the burst of positive energy unleashes a flurry of rhythms. As these depart stage left the scene darkens, and an ominous drone takes over. From this a new regenerative process begins, and the musical camera pans out with big chord shifts – which in turn fade.

Power’s talent for moving between scenes comes from his experience with soundtrack work. Phase II, however, is an immediate jolt to the senses, beginning with a wall of uncompromising, metallic noise. This single blast introduces the most human of the field recordings so far, a personal conversation, on which Power reflects with slowly moving, cool sounds. The metallic blast returns, but just when it all feels too much consolation arrives in the form of big, woolly chords that the listener can dive into.

This is a prelude to the most confrontational music so far, a set of pounding rhythms and primal white noise, a party in a dungeon. Again the response is huge chords but the closing is pure and moving, a piano solo that loops round majestically. Ultimately the music fades away on the wind

Does it all work?

Yes – this is a compelling pair of sonic journeys, a travelogue of Power’s last decade on the road. The only regret is not knowing where some of the scenes were captured – but in turn that fuels the imagination when listening.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. In Ferneaux is a strong indication that Blanck Mass can work with bigger structures, reinforcing Power’s capabilities as a soundtrack composer but also emphasising the potential he has to go on to score longer, more classically-based works. His development promises to be fascinating.

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