Martyn Bates
(Hand/Eye H-E Moon 4.2, June 22, 2005, Cdr-Ep (100 copies))

Review 1

by Mark Coyle (, 2005)

Month four also brings a very welcome bonus disc from Martyn Bates, ex-leader of Eyeless in Gaza and key driving force in the development of experimental acoustic music since the eighties. Before the concept of wyrd folk had even been envisaged, Martyn was making ‘murder ballads’ that prefigured the idea and took it into personal exploration. Although a bonus disc, this has as much care and attention paid to it as the other CDr this month and comes with a thematic aspect integral to it’s creation.

The piece is called ‘Leitmotif’ and weaves two aspects together, first a pre-17th traditional song ‘The Twa Sisters / Minorie’ learned from Ewan McColl’s version that in the words of Martyn combines “both malevolent and benign characteristics.” Woven in between restatements and evolutions of this song are instrumental sections that aim to evoke the tragic romance of mankind’s desire to become our own god at the heart of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Frankenstein was a book that talked of the desire to transcend the emptiness of human existence by becoming gods ourselves, creating perfection. The inevitable imperfection of our heretical creation reveals our own folly and ignorance, the lack of grace at the heart of our being and a message against the quest of alchemists (or now modern scientists). However more than this it is a romance of man with himself and of the monster’s desire to become us as we try to become god.

It appears then that this release in it’s alternating sections and explorations of both positive and negative, in the song and in the allusion to Frankenstein is concerned with the duality at the heart of humanity, the unresolvable struggle that drives us to sustain. Whether this is an adequate answer to the puzzle Martyn sets in his sleeve notes, does not matter for the music speaks for itself. Combining traditional ‘folk song’ with dread filled instrumentals of silent heresy that tell of crumbling manors, of rejected crying women and of chemicals bubbling, on the way to creating life that should never be.

Review 2

by Jeff Penczak (Foxy Digitalis, 2005)

Former Eyeless In Gaza star Marty Bates checks in with the second bonus disk in the series, engineered and co-produced by his ex-EIG partner, Peter Becker. Bates writes “it seems the moon is forever bound in allusion with the feminine,” and states that the three-part centerpiece of his EP, “The Twa Sisters/Minorie (Child #10)” (from Francis J. Child’s five-volume “The English and Scottish Popular Ballads”) “can be seen as obliquely addressing both malevolent and benign characteristics of this allusion.” Bates also suggests that Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” “deals to a lesser or greater extent with these self-same themes” and suggests the listener reacquaint themselves with the novel prior to (or while) listening to the EP. And in what must surely be the most esoteric and scholarly liner notes ever written, the EP is accompanied by a three-page pamphlet entitled “I Pursued Nature To Her Hiding Place: On Manifestations of the Moon & Other Matters in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein,’” which contains Bates’ analytical dissection of the novel and reads more like a doctoral dissertation than liner notes! They do, however, explain the source of the titles of Bates’ instrumental interludes, as noted in the pamphlet excerpts quoted below.

Now all of this would be superfluous baggage if the music Bates created was tossaway barrel scrapings, but it’s obvious that he has invested a lot of time and energy in his creation (as did Dr. Frankenstein!) and the results are, for the most part, worthy of the extra attention they demand. The classical strains of the string-driven opener, “The Dim and The Yellow Light…” [from a quote on page 58 of the novel, “by the dim and yellow light (my emphasis) of the moon as it forced its way through the window shutters…I beheld the wretch, the miserable monster….”] announce the rising moon (“as female personification of Nature”) and introduce part 1 of Bates’ banjo-accompanied, emotional rendering of the tale of “Menorie.” “The Lovely Moon” [“The lovely moon (p 131) continues to supply a benign nurturing presence to the monster….”] offers a sorbet of electronic atmospherics, with occasionally disassociated voices akin to Ligetti’s choir in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

To be honest, part 2 of “Menorie” suffers a bit from Bates’ overly theatrical recitation, like some Shakespearean ham overextending his range. The downside is that the listener gets caught up with Bates’ “overacting” and begins to lose the thread of the story, which is somewhat difficult to follow as it is, particularly without the assistance of a lyric sheet.

“Midnight Labours” [“the moon gazed on my midnight labours, while with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding places….”] is a frightening, shrieking, violin interlude, reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s “Shower Scene” cue for Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” and perfectly encapsulates the paranoid fear of someone looking over your shoulder or pursuing you – as the moon overlooks Frankenstein’s work in his lab.

Following the conclusion of the tale of “Menorie,” “The Bright Moon” wraps up the EP with soaring electronics and shrieking whistles, perhaps symbolizing the dead sister’s ascent heavenward, with attention called to her murder by the beacon of “The Bright Moon.” Alternately, using the “Frankenstein” analogy, Bates’ quotes page 103 and suggests this rising musical passage represents the moon’s benign and nurturing presence for the Monster, “…a gentle light stole over the heavens, and gave me a sensation of pleasure. I…beheld a radiant form rise among the trees…the only object I could distinguish was the bright moon, and I fixed my eyes on that with pleasure.”

As can be gleamed from my cursory analysis, this is a challenging work that demands the listener’s attention, and those willing to offer it will be richly rewarded.