The Blizzard That Birthed Her cannot be called an album in the strictest sense. It consists of two original tracks, each one of which has been recorded four times including two separate takes of each with different collaborators. At their most basic – the opening, unaccompanied blueprint of Five Acre Ladder – they build and swirl on the sparest of electronic melodies over a plateau of drone, creating worlds that are at once misty and earthy. Orla Wren’s individual pieces are each like a single exhalation drawn out and slowed so that every particle of air, every bit of woodland mist, every icy molecule of breath is discernible. And like breaths that are given personality by external forces – tiredness, passion, fear – each of these pieces is markedly different, whilst retaining the overarching character of the species. The atonal bells and wordless vocals on the Aaron Martin take of Five Acre Ladder give the tune a processional, pagan quality, while the flute of Isnaj Dui suggests a subtler, more lithe form of movement. Martin’s cello takes centre stage on his version of the second track, Mountains And Wishbones, which has the most discernible build and fade (or inhalation and exhalation) of anything here.
When a musician’s artistic vision is as singular as that of Orla Wren – the collaborative arm of electro-acoustic soundscaper Tui – it serves little purpose to compare it with other performers. Indeed, The Blizzard That Birthed Her appears to owe as much to sound art, field recording and sculpture as it does to folk, or electronic popular music. In particular, the variety of land art as practiced by Robert Smithson or Richard Long comes to mind. The circular or cyclical nature of these tracks mirrors the use of circles as archetypal shapes in much of Long’s work. And of course the organic side of this music, the idea of growth within nature as a basic constituent of performance or sculpture, is something that Long has been doing throughout his career.
In addition to these eight intriguing and surprisingly filmic compositions we get a bonus track, another recording with Aaron Martin called The Cup Of Remembered Things. Relying on eerie found sounds and the occasional supernatural vocal sample it serves as a delicate coda to an impressive record that wears the ambition of its concept lightly.
Review by: Thomas Blake
Orla Wren – The Cup Of Remembered Things (With Aaron Martin)
Orla Wren – Five Acre Ladder (Reprise)