Laura Cannell: Hunter Huntress Hawker
Laura Cannell’s fourth album, Hunter Huntress Hawker, is titled like a riddle. Alliterative but elusive, it speaks to both the seamless flow and searing contradictions found in her craft.
Primarily crafted on fiddle, these new pieces were recorded inside of an empty, broken-down church on the Suffolk coast, situated upon ‘a fast eroding cliff’. However, they began as riffs on a previous installation performance in a ‘London mansion’ that attempted to manifest a peculiar dream sequence of horses and hunters roaming through stormy woodlands. These settings, colliding and conflicting, defy the image of Cannell making picturesque period pieces. In reality, her work is corrosive and ever-changing. It crawls across space and time – and often cuts out of both.
Hunter Huntress Hawker is just one example of Cannell’s diverse process. Throughout her career, she has retooled instruments with ancient timbres for different environments. She uses her collection of overbowed fiddles, double recorders and woodwind to create unprecedented experimental compositions that sound dislocated – belonging to neither past nor present. By improvising on the aesthetics of Early Music (citing 12th century church musician Hildegard of Bingen as a particular influence), she abandons typical narrative structures to create work more meandering – ‘playing around the notes’, as she calls it – but equally intense.
Her world premiere for hcmf// 2017, FEATHERS UNFURLED, will wrestle melody with dissonance to navigate both mental and physical realms, once again combining and tearing apart themes.
Cannell’s interest in the medieval began as a mere piece of a puzzle. She describes discovering Early Music through her recorder teacher and in ‘finding scraps’ amongst endless collections of sheet music. Her self-teaching, and a longstanding involvement in contemporary scenes, sharpened her abilities within the tradition: she played in the group Horses Brawl alongside guitarist Andre Bosman, though found their attempt to define and restrict Early Music for audiences limiting.
As a solo artist, she found a freedom that made her music more expansive and sweeping; she created harmonies, noises and drones worthy of an ensemble of players on 2014’s Quick Sparrows Over the Black Earth, using her fiddle, deconstructed bow and double recorder (a process by which two are played at once) to create a solo cacophony in the vein of accordionist Mario Batkovic or saxophonist Colin Stetson.
Quick Sparrows received remix treatment from musicians far and away from her discipline. IDM artist Ekoplekz and techno producer Luke Abbott (from Cannell’s old Norwich scene) contributed reworks, proving her acoustic sound to be sonically malleable. Noise stalwarts Hacker Farm suggested strange spaces it could occupy, while Kemper Norton counterpointed with their own psychedelic take on folklore. These versions come as no surprise, considering that Cannell is in a sense making her own remixes on tradition. Her music thrives on fragments, treating old songs and poems as starting points for works that can become, through adaptation and free playing, wholly her own.
Cannell’s collaborations offer further opportunities to make changes to convention. She’s worked with Charles Haywood of post-punk demolitionists This Heat, along with dubstep musician Bass Clef, as Oscilanz. She made the record Feathered Swing of the Raven in partnership with harpist Rhodri Davies, another musician who debases tradition by stretching and attacking the formal limitations of his instrument.
She’s recently embarked on shows with Lori Goldston, a cellist who contributes rough edges to the meditative doom metal band Earth, and she also contributed recorders for Hen Ogledd, an experimental noise trio that counts Newcastle’s innovative bard Richard Dawson in its number. In these groups, interaction and improvisation become as important as particular source material.
Research may be a crucial part of her process, but the impressions Cannell makes upon her findings produce new emotional properties. Writing for her 2015 release Beneath Swooping Talons, she declared that ‘we build our own traditions, music that feels like a home for our souls’. It may be based on something reverent, but her music is ultimately personal, unexplained by the history that looms over it. Though it comes rich in context, Cannell offers cathartic and climactic sound that speaks to the listener on its own terms.
Laura Cannell: FEATHERS UNFURLED
25 November @ 2:30pm
Bates Mill Photographic Studio
Tickets £12 (£9 concession / online)