During lock-down here in rural Scotland, as everywhere, life has altered. Along with the major changes we’ve all made, slowly, over time, it’s apparent that we’ve all started to do smaller more personal things differently as well. Whilst I’ve continued to go out for walks through the fields, riverbanks and woodlands near home in the last few months, these wanders have been without my normally ubiquitous headphones. Perhaps based on the fact that it felt right to be more aware of my proximity to others and dulling my senses by covering my ears, felt like an avoidable stress.
However, music’s healing power along with staggering weather encouraged me to go on another wander recently. And this time, I decided to pick a very isolated route and put my headphones back on. The music I listened to was Feeling the Spirit by The Transcendence Orchestra.
Whilst headphone listening has always felt like a contradiction of sorts whilst out in the wilds, it’s also always been a hugely effective way of sound tracking reality and a hugely effective setting for deep listening. So as a warm breeze blew up the hillside and the opening track It’s better to experience things than to conquer them, everything melted into a sublime whole. The name of the album and project, the sleeve imagery and the track titles all invite this communion with wide-open spaces, all within my head.
It’s better to experience things than to conquer them, over the course of its 10 and a half minutes, is a slow droning alignment of instrumentation and gently distorting electronics that opens your ears like how sunbeams behave at dawn. Hinge caterpillar and Imagine a mountain named after a hospital are both more pronounced drones with layering and sparkles that pull you into a more colour saturated state of mind.
These first 3 tracks have already taken you 30 minutes into the wilds and in a way the next tracks, But said in my head, not out loud (comment made) and The golden jaws of the celestial vice plot more thickly smudged dreaminess. And with many albums, that so far appear similar and broadly ambient, you’d expect to continue in that manner.
However, after the long horizons of the album to this point, it appears we have simply been made ready or suitably disorientated for the albums second phase. Nothing is real (slight return) slowly climbs through the clouds into swooping hallucinations before the odd pared back folk oddity of The goose and wren clanks into a junk yard.
At just 3 and a half minutes, Overview Effect is perhaps the most intense moment in the whole disc, like the gravity of the entire album is strangely pivoting and folding in on itself in vast waves of sound.
Spiralling reeds flit around in the mid distance in the vast Humans as vessels for a suite of corporate dream delivery services as things grow messier and more volatile. Slowly a pecked at drone raises out the pulsing meadow. The sounds feel like mirages of birdsongs and ploughed fields, dappled in the watery sunshine of the sleeve. The closer Nothing is real, separates the foreground keys from a mechanical background to draw your ears back into reality.
By the time you’ve reached the end of this album, 76 minutes have elapsed and that’s potentially left you quite a distance from home. Feeling the Spirit does give off all sorts of cues that encourage you to image what ‘feeling the spirit’ might mean in these strange modern times. Ultimately though, what shines through is a heady blend of ritual and landscape, the ancient and modern into some form of uplifting singularly.
Feeling the Spirit is out now on Editions Mego, on vinyl, CD and digital.