As one half of trans-European duo Isan, Southend-based Robin Saville had been responsible for an extensive and fascinating array of electronic music since the late 1990s. Whereas Isan’s method of working (something like an ambient version on of the Postal Service – remember them?) involves a kind of arms-length collaboration and all the retouching, negotiation and cooperation that may imply, Public Flowers is a more personal and in many ways more immediate work.
Clearly in debt to Erik Satie (Isan once released a version of the French composer’s Trois Gymnopedies), Saville is content to let aural prettiness grow out of almost childlike simplicity. The watery background of Bryophyte Society Annual Picnic, for example, is that track’s only concession to sonic layering. This doesn’t mean that the sound lacks humanity or depth. The analogue instrumentation plays off against mossy field recordings in an effortless dialogue between technology and nature. In Konik Mokkin has a similar effect, the subtly evolving synth patterns brought into focus by skittering, elusive percussion.
Throughout Public Flowers the drifting, unhurried minimalism evokes a bucolic Steve Reich or a more restrained, more western Terry Riley. This is particularly true of longer pieces like The Long Walk From Sallowes Church, a stunning meditation on the act of walking. Beginning in birdsong, it soon drops into an ostensibly settled refrain that mirrors both the obvious rhythm and the less obvious melody of a rural stroll.
Melody is a real strong point for Saville, a way of communicating emotion in a musical framework that, in a less talented composer’s hands, could be sterile. But, like Satie, he recognises that melody is an ingredient best used sparingly. Even on Nutmeg Saba Cinnamon, perhaps the warmest and fullest track here, he allows space for the delicate growth of a musical motif. It is a knowledge he shares with post-Krautrock ambient composers like Eno and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, but he puts it to use in a more organic and (understandably) more English way. The electronic plinks and plonks that define the genre are in no way severed from the landscapes and feelings that inspired them.
Saville (as the titles of his pieces sometimes suggest) is a keen gardener, and much of this album is the auditory equivalent of time-lapse footage of an emergent flower: simple, concentrated, dew-speckled and mesmerizingly beautiful.
Review by: Thomas Blake
Robin Saville expands on the influences behind his new album, ‘Public Flowers’ in this exclusive mix for Second Language.
Robin : “I’d like to think that all of these tracks have informed “Public Flowers” to a greater or lesser extent. They’re mostly things that have had a place in my heart for many years and for that reason it seemed appropriate to mix them from vinyl. I make no apologies for the pops and crackles which result from this decision ;)
1. Marc and the Mambas – Untitled. I just love the overall aesthetic of this song. The mix is really strange, Marc’s vocal is oddly distant and the bass just wanders around vaguely.. the playing is incredibly loose which is interesting as it’s all done by Matt Johnson. Both of the Mambas’ albums feel like they’re always on the verge of overreaching themselves with constantly stunning results.
2. Mrinal Sen Gupta/Lateef Ahmed Khan/Tirath Ajmani ?– Rupak Dal (excerpt). I really like how the melody part of this is a simple seven note arpeggio and the tabla just dances around it. Without the sarod part the track would just fall apart, but it’s a nice inversion that the melody provides the stable element whilst the rhythm part is so wayward. Also, fact fans, this was produced by Joe Boyd.
3. To Rococo Rot – Mit Dir In Der Gegend. Just because of the elegance of the arrangement. Such a simple and exquisitely balanced track, where every sound seems to provide a springboard for every other. The tiny variations feel very witty and human.
4. Piero Milesi – Modi II (excerpt). I like to imagine that the recording of this involved many musicians playing one note each at odd intervals according to some arcane mathematical formula. But unlike so much music which might be described that way, this is just beautiful. A complicated interlocking puzzle of sound.
5. Mimi Majick – Utilities 4. I bought this record many years ago from the bargain bin in a record shop in Southend. It has a lovely warm, understated sound, really unhurried and assured. She’s not done anything else although Irdial claim there’s an unfinished album which might see the light of day eventually. I live in hope.
6. Penguin Cafe Orchestra – Rosasolis. I’ve never been a huge fan of the idea of dividing music into genres, but Penguin Cafe Orchestra seemed to break down the barriers between pop music and classical in a much more approachable and witty way than the prog bands who tried to do the same thing from, arguably, the other direction. Also, this is one of their tracks which features an Omnichord, underpinning everything with a cheery synthetic bounce which I can’t resist.
7. Casino vs Japan – From Rouge. Erik Kowalski is a genius at constructing rich and moving pieces from the barest ingredients, creating something here which totally envelops the listener in a soundscape both lush and unsettling. Indespensable.
8. Cluster – Es War Einmal. So gentle and relaxed, it’s easy to imagine that this is being played under a tree beside a lake at sunset.. Soundtrack for a techno-agrarian utopia.
9. Isan – Candidate. If there’s one musician who’s influenced me over the last twenty years it’d have to be Antony Ryan, my partner in Isan. I’m still surprised by they way he constructs tracks and this is a lovely, simple piece which is, typically of him at his best, far more than the sum of its parts.
10. Scritti Politti – The Sweetest Girl. I wanted to include something by Robert Wyatt, and also something with a drum machine (I can’t resist drum machines). So, since he plays keyboards on this and it has a lovely drum machine, this beautiful cloud of sugary nothingness will do nicely.”