8 Jul 2015

Michael Begg/ Human Greed "Hivernant"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Scotland's Michael Begg has provided several of the last decade's key musical moments both as a solo artist and under the guise of Human Greed alongside artist Deryk Thomas; works such as 'World Fair', 'Black Hill; Midnight At The Blighted Star' and 'Omega' stand out as ambitious, hugely moving and carefully crafted pieces that have included cameo appearances from the esteemed likes of David Tibet (Current 93), Chris Connelly (Ministry), Julia Kent (Antony And The Johnstons) and Clodagh Simonds (Fovea Hex, Mike Oldfield and Mellow Candle). A true visionary, Begg has quietly developed his own unique and affecting compositional style and sound; indeed his work is genuinely and startlingly original in a world filled with musical copyists and humdrum 'alternative' acts. He is also a stellar live performer and his rare concert appearances should not be missed. With the release of 'Hivernant', his eighth album, Begg describes his methodology following a period painting in the wilds of Scotland; 'I sketched notes about silence, about space and place, music and recording. I took one step to the side and listened to the time rush by. I applied the same light touch to the studio. I sketched. It was enough. I somehow, briefly, removed ambition and purpose and found, in the winter, a moment of repose. I now feel like some little winter animal, a hivernant, arising from sleep'.

The album begins with 'The Garden (apres Part)', field recordings of birdsong gradually and gently merging with a metallic shimmering drone and unearthly rumble. A delicate and mournful piano piece emerges and floats under the waves of spectral drones, the whole piece seamlessly drifting into the haunted choirs of 'Da Pacem'. Hugely affecting and with a tangible, beautiful melancholy the track layers and builds, ominous bass notes washing through the ghostly haze. Begg is undoubtedly one the UK's foremost composers, very few others can command such musical and emotional power (only contemporaries Richard Moult and Richard Skelton come to mind). The piece twists, emerging strings and woodwind adding tension and a brooding, glistening sheen. There is something of nature in this recording; Begg's recent forays into the wilds of East Lothian in order to paint may well have seeped into the album's skin; if encroaching dusk had a sound it may well resemble this , a skyscape of darkening colours and moods. Next, 'Improvisation' is a warmer, piano led piece of reflection, strings dancing in the shadows behind the notes. A strong sense of solitariness and being far from the bustle of the world is invoked; this music is contemplative and occupies emptier, wilder and more barren and landscapes.

'Psalom' begins with choral voices and a glassy, shivering drone that drifts out of the dark into consciousness. A crackle and hum with the distant sound of drums slowly develops, underpinning the glacial sadness and grace. Should Werner Herzog ever wish to employ a new regular soundtrack contributor in the manner he did with Popol Vuh, look no further. Church organ emerges, the track now layering and building with a feeling of dread, awe and of something deeply sacred filling the sound. Gradually the composite parts recede, leaving a reverberating echo in their wake. 'Pastorale (apres Schnittke)' shudders with what sounds like the buzz of one hundred cellos playing at once until quiet descends and glistening piano notes paint a gorgeously simple and sad refrain. Ominous echoes and winds pass by yet the stately and defiant melody remains, shimmering and graceful.

'Nana' starts with a deep well of strings, organ drones and a sprinkle of chimes before backwards tapes and percussion joins and a feeling of electronic unease permeates. None of the music herein is in a rush to go anywhere; it unfolds, it develops and is all the more effective for this. This is an album that must be listened to with attention, care and involvement; it is not background music. 'Therobo's sorrowful guitar plucks and oboe lead into an organ based lament that is heartbreakingly lovely, an elegy to the dying moments of a day, a year or a precious moment in time. 'Return To The Fortress' (Human Greed's catalogue includes the previous 'Fortress Longing' album) contains what sounds like the wail of a Tibetan thighbone, electronic chirrups and sparkles hovering around waves of strings and an air of windswept solitude. Finally, 'Ameland et Amsterdam' closes the album with the sound of wind amongst metal and glass objects, the buzz of birds in flight cascading overhead. It is a suitably atmospheric and nature tinged end to a deeply impressive, emotive and contemplative work.

I cannot recommend both this album and Human Greed/ Begg's discography highly enough. These recordings are hidden vaults that, once opened, will soundtrack your days and nights with beauty, longing, melancholy, grace and joy. Trust me, awaken the hivernant within you.

Available through the Bandcamp link below as a very limited CD edition or as a download.

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