Martyn Bates & Troum
To a Child Dancing in the Wind
(Transgredient TR-03, May 2006, Cd)
by Jim Haynes (The Wire, August 2006)
In many ways, the career of Martyn Bates has mirrored that of David Sylvian: a transition from an eccentric producer of art pop in Eyeless In Gaza, to a romantic crooner with avant garde sensibilities. Just as Sylvian’s work with Christian Fennesz and Derek Bailey added a contemporary sparkle to his voice, Bates’ collaboration with German drone specialists Troum seeks to recast his vocal melodramas in a new light. Inspired by the mystical poems of WB Yeats, To A Child Dancing In The Wind pairs Bates’ elegant tenor falsettos with the snowblind ambience and moonstruck melancholy of Troum’s signature drones. Previously Troum have delved into the depths of dark monochromatic rumblings, but here their arrangements are much lighter, recalling the transient atmospheres of this mortal coil.
by ? (Phosphor Magazine, July 2006)
Both Troum members have provided lovely transcendental drone material, created by means of accordeon, e-bass, guitar and percussion. The legendary British songwriter Martyn Bates, also known from his involvement in Eyeless in Gaza and 12,000 Days, has complemented this material with his vocals, mouth organ and melodica.
Martyn Bates recites four poems of the famous Irish poet W.B.Yeats in his typical style; that is very sensible and emotional. His sweet, warm vocals give the music an highly emotional touch and a dreamy atmosphere. The musical accompaniment is trance-inducing, full of tiny details, fully harmonizing with a nostalgic and lovely feeling to it.
Both instrumental pieces (track 3 and 6) can be considered fully integrated in the concept, they can be considered filmic scores of dramatic events, caught in the most touching way. A great album featuring an unusual co-operation that worked out very well.
by Jiituomas (Kuolleen Musiikin Yhdistys (Finland), September 2006)
This joint work by Troum and Martyn Bates (Eyeless in Gaza) takes advantage of Bates both as a musician and as a singer. It brings something completely new into Troum’s dream-like musical concept. At times the combination works extremely well, at other times it really doesn’t. The style varies between sad, melancholic ambient and ethereal of the kind usually associated with labels like Project. As a general rule of thumb in this album’s case, the first style succeeds brilliantly much more often than the latter. Yet, for the sake of honesty, this may also simply be due to my personally not liking Bates’ voice – though admittedly one does get strangely used to it after 30 or so listens.
In the ambient segments – which exist in the same songs as do the vocals – Bates’ playing makes the material clearly something more then it would otherwise have been. So, in this regard, the collaboration really does work extremely well. However, when there are vocals present, Troum has made much simpler structures than they normally compose, which makes the songs a bit less effective than could be expected. There is one exception, though: the title track, despite having dominant full-length vocals, is an exceptionally beautiful piece.
I dare not recommend this album to Troum fans without some reservations, but on the other hand I presume that it will be a great experience to people who like music in the “ethereal” style.
This is indeed a very fine album, but does need some getting used to.Original in Finnish.
by O.S. (Eveningoflight.nl, Late 2006)
To a Child Dancing in the Wind is collaboration of singer Martyn Bates (Eyeless in Gaza, Twelve Thousand Days) and German ambient pioneers Troum (previously part of Maeror Tri). These tracks were conceived in the course of multiple years of editing and sending recordings back and forth. It has proven to be a fruitful effort, as this is a marvellous mini-album that will please both lovers of drifting dark ambient and of Martyn’s unique voice.
Now, this isn’t the first time Bates has teamed up with an ambient artist. Some may recall the series of Murder Ballads albums (Drift, Passages, and Incest Songs) that Bates recorded with Mick Harris (Lull) in the mid-90s. This album is quite different, though. The Murder Ballads were a combination of extremely minimalistic soundscapes, and Martyn’s ghostly renditions of traditional songs. To a Child Dancing in the Wind is somehow warmer, more direct, yet still with a dark atmosphere. The soundscapes (based on various instruments such as accordion, bass and balalaika) and vocals seem more in tune with eachother, and mutually supportive, creating a beautiful and well-crafted whole.
The album is based on five poems by W.B. Yeats, presented with Bates’ usual emotional voice that is immediately recognisable. Opener “Mad as the Mist and Snow #2” is one of the best songs, with a strong buildup of excellent drones based on accordion. But the song is carried by Martyn’s vocals and the subtle backing voices of Troum. “The Arrow” is a shorter track, with a slightly obscuring effect on the vocals. “The Magi”, though based on a poem, is an instrumental with a scary atmosphere, and it is dominated by Martyn’s harmonica solo. “I Made My Song” is completely a capella, with only slight vocal effects. Then follows the absolute highlight: the title track. “To a Child Dancing in the Wind” displays best the perfect synthesis of rich soundcrafts, voice and backing vocals. The poem is stunning as well, making this a breathtaking experience. The album ends with an instrumental reprise of the first track, with Martyn playing harmonica instead of singing.
For me, this is an instant classic, and it comes warmly recommended. All I can say is: “more, please … .”
by Frans de Waard (Vital Weekly 529, August 27 2006)
In ‘24 Hour Party People’, Tony Wilson says that “W.B. Yeats was the greatest poet since Dante”, but Ian Curtis “never heard of him, mate”. I heard the name Yeats, but school education never went that far (let alone self-education), but his sensible poems are well spend on Martyn Bates and Troum. The latter are obviously my all time favorite drone meisters of the more forceful kind. Think Mirror or Ora but louder. Playing bass, percussion, accordion, lots of sound effects they create sometimes a subtle, and sometimes less of subtle atmospheric piece of music. I don’t think I would easily link them to Martyn Bates, one half of Eyeless In Gaza and recently in Vital Weekly with 12000 Days (see Vital Weekly 486). Back in the day, I was a big Eyeless In Gaza fan, lost sight for perhaps more than a decade but their comeback album for Soleilmoon 'Song of The Beautiful Wanton' was quite nice again. But somehow I wouldn’t expect this to happen. The voice of Martyn Bates is something you either truly like or truly hate. It’s full of passion, emotion or, deciding which side you are on, pathetic. Set against the background of Troum’s beautiful music, that solemnly spreads it’s wings in ‘Mad As The Mist And Snow’, this is all too good to be true. I am perhaps not the biggest lover of poems, perhaps on an ordinary day I would not enjoy the voice of Bates that much, but the singing forms only a small portion of the total package. There are even tracks that are instrumental. Now its so much more than “just” a drone record: the voice forms a counterpart of the music, perhaps because it fits so well. This is certainly on of the best drone records I heard this year, because it’s so familiar as well as such a surprise.
by Michael J. Salo (Strangefortune.com, July 26 2006)
Martyn Bates can never be accused of not being adventurous enough in his musical career. Perfectly capable of delivering accessible pop-rock records and working with his longtime partner Peter Becker, he continually surprises us as he pursues unusual directions and unexpected collaborations.
While Martyn’s singular style of singing surely ranks among the sweetest you’ve ever heard, it seems this artist has an ironic fasincation with deep, dark, drone. Aside from his recent “Twelve Thousand Days” work which is loaded with a dissonant, dronelike feeling, he also completed the all-out drone series Murder Ballads with Mick Harris several years ago.
This new collaborative release with Troum is certain to be compared with Murder Ballads, as it seems to pick up just about where that odd trilogy left off.
In my book Murder Ballads was an ambitious experiment where I’m never quite sure if it works or not. Mick Harris’s enormously dark electronic atmosphere certainly achieves its “isolationist” effect, but does Martyn Bates’s storytelling ever cut through the muck strongly enough?
What I’m sure of is that this release is better. First off this collaboration is a more fitting aesthetic match. While I’m a fan of Mick Harris’s cold electronic drone, Troum’s finely textured organic drone is warmer and it’s better, and you can vaguely feel some of the same emotions as you might get from Martyn Bates’s music.
Importantly, they balanced the mix to emphasize the vocals this time. Martyn’s voice shines over this music, many times more radiantly than the buried whispers of Murder Ballads. You are able to hear Troum’s dronecraft well enough, just not as overwhelmingly as Mick Harris’s cavernous rumbling.
Going by the press release, this project started out as raw musical material by Troum, taken and recorded over by Martyn Bates. This process suggests that Bates had control over the levels and may explain in part why he comes out so well. It causes me to wonder about the process of the Murder Balladsrecordings.
The lyrical content of this release is poetry by Yeats that’s hard to argue with, and to me it’s a far more inspiring choice than the depressing folk tales of Murder Ballads.
In summary, To the Child Dancing in the Wind is an interesting and rewarding listen that brings Martyn Bates closer to a strange musical ideal he has been pursuing for a while now.
Just note that even if you enjoy the music of Eyeless in Gaza and Martyn Bates as much as I do, and you also enjoy the pure instrumental drone of Troum as I do, it’s still uncertain whether you'll enjoy this collision of the two! For better or worse this is a beast of its own.
Further reader comments/reviews on the same site and page:
by Narsheptha, August 2 2006
I believe that I say it in every review, but it bears repeating: Martyn Bates can do no wrong by me. Some projects are definitely more “right” than others, though. While I don’t feel that this project surpasses his work with Alan Trench in Twelve Thousand Days, I definitely agree that this collaboration works on more levels than his work with Mick Harris. On this album, we get a true sense of Bates’ best vocal style: emotional, passionate and haunting.
Bates chose Yeat’s tragic tales of the madness of poets (“Mad As the Mists and Snow”); the bitterness of critics (“I Made My Song”); Yeats’ unrequited love for Maud Gonne and later her daughter, Isault (“The Arrow” and “To a Child Dancing in the Wind”). I think that it helps to have some familiarity with the poems, but it’s by no means necessary. There’s no way you can hear the frustration and yearning in Bates’ voice and think these are based on easily attainable goals or happy themes.
With “The Magi,” Bates chooses not to sing the words to this poem and let the music speak for itself. Being a poem about the birth and death of Jesus, I have to wonder if he’s adverse to the religious imagery, or just thought he should take a backseat for at least one track on the album. Thankfully it works. Troum’s shimmering and soothing drone shines on this track, as it does on “Mad As the Mists and Snow Reprise.”
by mathieubeausejour, October 24 2006
This is pure bliss. soothing, hypnotic and delicate. the spiraling drone of Troum and the fragile voice of Bates make this record a must for all the ones who like to listen to their quiet music, loud.
by Tobias Fischer (Tokafi.com, April 27 2007)
A tightly-knit encounter of two worlds: Deep string layers, balalaika rushes and accordion dabbers.
Many people have called this an unexpected collaboration and from a purely stylistic point of view it is: Martyn Bates, of genre-defying duo Eyeless in Gaza teaming up with Bremen’s finest Troum, whose live performances, select releases and own label have basically coined the term and general understanding of drone music today, bring together two different worlds. And yet, looking at it from a personal point of view, it is more than logical.
After all, Bates has always been both weary of and excited about working with other artists. Eyeless in Gaza split for years because of his expressed desire to walk alone, only to be followed by projects with Anne Clark and various band constellations. His eternal fear of parts of his work becoming “invisible” in the context of someone else’s contributions may actually have paved the way for To a Child … . Here, his warm and longing voice is free to jump the tonal ladder like a weightless spirit, to float in and out of cathedral resonances and dry spaces and to hover high above the wirlwind of Troum’s dense atmospherics – and it is always right inside the storm’s eye, never in danger of loosing its message. All the same, a mere 38 minutes of music and only six tracks (of which the final one is a reprise of the opening) over the course of a two-year correspondence point either towards a lazy and free-wheeling creative process or a difficult one with lots of material being discarded or only little being realised at all. The sometimes claustrophobic nature of this album seems to suggest the latter, even though the result has definitely not turned out forced or unnatural but rather extremely varied. In the shorter pieces of the album’s middle section, warm waves wash the shores of Bates concentrated and unexerted singing, apocalyptic mad-man’s harp-delays clash with fiery hummings and almost evanescent miniatures stand side by side with the sweetly melancholic title track. All of this, however, is reduced to the sideline, as the opening thirteen minutes of the majestically growing and then forever phasing out “Mad as the wind and snow” grab all attention, as the sometimes disillusioned, occasionally angry, mostly however sadly resigning lyrics melt into landscapes of deep string layers, balalaika rushes and accordion dabbers.
All texts come courtesy of W. B. Yeats and their intense imagery is well-adjusted to the surreal and longing nature of Troum’s compositions. Thanks to its concise length, “To a Child dancing in the wind” is an open invitation to leave everything else be and dedicate one’s time to the music alone. It is also a tightly-knit encounter of two worlds, which prove to be different – but not adversary.
by cd (Ikonenmagazin.de, Late 2006)
Martyn Bates, einst Frontmann der britischen Waveband Eyeless In Gaza und 12,000 Days, gibt alles: in einer Mischung aus David Tibet und Anthony and the Johnsons entfalten sich seine hochemtionalen Klagegesänge über melancholischen, subtil-melodiösen Klanggespinsten … . Der Liedermacher hat sich für To a Child, Dancing in the Wind mit der deutschen Ambientformation Troum zusammengetan, um eine eindringliche Vision zu vertonen: Im harmonischen Zusammenspiel von Klang und Sang entfalten sich hier die zugrundeliegenden Texte von W.B.Yeats in ganz eigener Qualität. Die monochrom gelbliche Covergestaltung schafft mit Hilfe nostalgischer Fotos eine visuelle Entsprechung und rundet diese faszinierende wie leicht sperrige CD gelungen ab. Troum erweisen sich nachgerade als wahre Ambientvirtuosen, denn es gelingt ihnen, aus minimalistischen Strukturen ein Höchstmaß emotionaler Schwingung zu filtern. Einzig die ebenso minimalistische Laufzeit von 38 Minuten ist ein kleiner Abstrich. Ansonsten: ein Klangerlebnis abseits der Klischees – aber auch gewöhnungsbedürftig.
by Pavel Zelinka (Freemusic.cz, October 2006)
Zas tak velké překvapení to být nemuselo, přesto spojení kytarově hlukového dua Troum s dnes již legendárním zpěvákem a polovinou dua Eyeless In Gaza Martynem Batesem slibuje mnohé. Jak se podaří zkřížit ambientně hlukové mlhoviny Troum (v devadesátých letech jako trojice s názvem Maeror Tri) s osobitým, niterným zpěvem Martyna Batese? Zadaří se alespoň jako v případě "mordýřských balad", jež ve třech dílech do industriálně hlukové podoby překopal Bates společně s Mickem Harrisem ze Scorn? Dva roky pilování výsledného tvaru znamená vysoké ambice vložené z obou stran. Výsledkem je šestice skladeb inspirovaných poezií irského symbolisty Williama Bultera Yeatse.
Troum tentokrát míchali jemnější a vzdušnější příměsi. Aby tradičními hutnými plochami nepotopili emocionálně vypjatý Batesům vokál, přednášející osobnější básně z Yeatsova zlatodolu, přistoupili ke smyčkování akordeonu, perkusí a kytar, jež posléze doplnili další porcí strunových přediv, hlasy a balalajkou. Martyn mimo vokál dodává svůj trademark - ústní varhánky a melodiku. Výsledkem je popisnější a melodičtější sound, zbavený veškerých industriálních podtónů, vynášející posluchače spolu s lyrikou nositele Nobelovy ceny (Yeats jí dostal v roce 1923) vysoko do oblak. Vše se před zraky rozpíjí a jediné, co uprostřed "něžného hluku" zůstává, je pocit hypnotického monumentálna, nekonečného prostoru a šlechetných gest. Podobně se na druhé straně Atlantiku prezentují v určitých pasážích Black Tape For A Blue Girl. Využití pouze necelé poloviny stopáže disku je rozumné. Dalších třicet minut totiž budete stejně přemýšlet s hlavou stále ještě v oblacích. Delší čas ve stavu mimo sebe by si vám prý autoři netroufli vzít. Poděkujme jim za to.
PS: Českého vlastence potěší přítomnost dvou fotografií Josefa Sudka uvnitř pěkného digipacku.
by Bauke (Gothtronic)
How honest does someone have to be when he or she is a reviewer? Well, I always try to be as honest as possible and sometimes I describe releases a bit to much from my point of view. The big advantage is that after a while you will know how I listen, and what my background is musically. But mostly people say the reviews should always be objective. So why do I write all of this when I should be writing about this (excellent!) CD by Martyn Bates and Troum? Okay, it’s because I don’t have any Eyeless in Gaza … Shame on me!
Martyn Bates is one of the original members of Eyeless in Gaza who made quite an impact in the musicscene back in the 80’s. He is still very active over all the years with collaborations with amongst others Anne Clark, This Mortal Coil and even Mick Harris from Scorn.
Troum is a duo from Bremen and they are for me one of the first ones to introduce me to drones. I think that was back in 1998 in St. Niklaas Belgium where I saw them at the ‘11th Independent Music & Arts Festival’ presenting their very first CD ‘Ryna’. Ever since them I followed their actions and releases.
“So, enough background for now, what about this release?”
To be precise, if any of the two halves of this collaboration has your attention, you will not regret having this CD in your collection. The CD took two years to make through mail collaboration.
The quality of the recording is really very good, so within moments after ‘press play’ you will know this is the result of people who are on the same wavelength, working with the same goal in mind.
That goal is to find the common emotional factor in the mixture of Troum’s music, Martyn Bates’ vocals and additional music and finally the poetry of Yeats. The class of this release shows they found that factor.
by Steve Koenig (Acoustic Levitation)
Dronemeister Troum (famous both as Troum, and for producing the amazing Drone label series of vinyl seven-inchers) meets wonderfully haunting singer Martyn Bates in their first audio collaboration.
Bates’ Murder Ballads (with M. J. Harris) is one of my all-time favorite (triple) discs in any genre. He’s probably most famous for his duo Eyeless In Gaza. Bates’ voice has a beautiful Irish-sounding timbre; although you can imagine him doing simple, traditional Child ballads, it has a commanding ring when he extends it.
Troum is not “just” drone; these textures range from, well, drone to orchestral to folky. The result is felicitous: six extended, moody pieces, each a song in its own right. To accomplish this, Troum uses loops, accordion, guitars, djembe, guitar, voice and “choirs,” whatever that means; Bates does harmonica, melodica and vocals. Texts are inside the beautiful triple-fold digipaks, each wistful poem akin to a song from a 21st century Winterreise. Deeply moving.
If it’s still available, grab Troum’s brilliant 2001 triptych Tjukurrpa, the second of which has a track dedicated to Bates.
by Paolo Bertoni (Blow Up # 103) (Italian)