Tone 54 – Bethan Kellough “Aven”

Compact disc in slip case – 5 tracks – 27:54
Limited edition of 500 copies
Artwork & photography by Jon Wozencroft
Mastered by Denis Blackham
Release date: 26th August 2016

Live at VOLUME, Los Angeles, 30th April 2016 as part of Touch Conference

Track listing:

1. Descent
2. Vision
3. An Opening
4. Canopy
5. Low

The word ‘Aven’ refers to an underground shaft that leads upward from the roof of a cave passage.

Recorded with SoundField SPS200 & JrF C-Series contact microphones, Sennheiser ME64, Sound Devices 788T, Elektron Monomachine, RME Fireface UCX, and Cockos Reaper. Field recordings from Iceland, June 2015 and South Africa, November 2015.
Strings performed by Bethan Kellough.

Bethan Kellough creates sound worlds that weave together instrumental materials, sound design and ambisonic field recordings. Her composition ‘Aven’ is based on a recording made in Iceland in 2015, which features the booming sound of underground geothermal activity escaping to the surface through a small shaft. “Looking down into the darkness, there was a sense that a whole world existed in an unknown space beneath. The sound world of Aven is a journey through such an imagined environment.” The composition is driven by this sonic encounter, but enters the imagined worlds beneath through the instrumental material developed throughout the work. These melodic passages predominantly feature violin, which Bethan has played since childhood exploring traditional Scottish music, rock violin, free improvisation and classical studies. The field recordings used in Aven were made in Iceland during the Wildeye sound recording workshop with Chris Watson and Jez riley French, and in South Africa during the Sonic Mmabolela residency with Francisco Lopez and James Webb. Each of the recordings explore a world of sound beneath a surface, reflecting upon the initial recording environment at the geothermal site. In South Africa, an approaching storm was heralded by wind blowing through bushes in the savanna, underneath which was hidden a Soundfield microphone. A contact microphone on a fence in South Iceland revealed the tones of the wind contained inside the wires, and in an Icelandic nature reserve the wind was also captured by microphones buried underneath a layer of grass – a miniature world sheltered by the strands of dry straw.

Bethan Kellough (formerly Bethan Parkes) is a sound artist and composer. Her work spans across ambisonic composition, field recording, sound design and multichannel sound installation practices, drawing a focus on sonic spatial experience. Her works are designed to open out spaces with sound, exploring spatial aesthetics and the interactions between sonically and visually articulated spaces. The immersive sound-worlds she creates inhabit the boundaries between music and sound design, weaving together instrumental materials, sound design and ambisonic field recordings.

She holds a PhD in Sonic Arts from the University of Glasgow. In 2015 she joined the Touch Mentorship Programme.

Her works have been exhibited and performed internationally, including at Touch Conference, Los Angeles, USA; Gallery of Russian Art and Design, London, UK; Resonant Forms Festival, Los Angeles, USA; Borealis Festival, Bergen, Norway; Jardins Efemeros Festival, Viseu, Portugal; Spazio Bocciofila, Venice, Italy; The Global Composition International Conference, Dieburg, Germany; Symposium on Acoustic Ecology, University of Kent, UK; Sound Thought Festival, Glasgow, UK.


Rolling Stone (USA):

Top 20 Avant-Garde Albums of 2016

Los Angeles–based artist Bethan Kellough accompanies some fairly gorgeous field recordings of Earth – geothermal activity in Iceland, wind rushing through the bushes in a South African savanna – with a tasteful amount of her own violin. The blend of rushing wind with her cinematic sweeps, part documentary and part whimsical fiction, is sometimes magical and sometimes terrifying.

A Closer Listen (net):

Aven refers to that which is hidden, yet still is heard: underground shafts through which air reaches the surface. Fascinated by Iceland’s natural geothermal activity, Bethan Kellough recorded the subterranean rumbles and upper-level hisses, and augmented them with wind recordings made in Iceland and South Africa. Only the very trained ear will be able to distinguish the difference between South African wind and Icelandic wind (Savannah bush, strands of straw), but neither identification nor deception is her intention. This soundscape is inspired by the very nature of sound.

While field recordings are the lead story, the artist also plays violin. Her gentle strings allow her to shape the soundscape into a personal reflection. What do you hear in these sounds? she asks without words. What drama can be heard in rising rumbles and twists of wind? To escape through a shaft from an underground cave is to act out a myth, and Kellough provides just the right balance of darkness and light.

For the most part, the success of the strings is in their subtlety, but a few exceptions apply. When Kellough shifts from light drone to composed notes in “Vision”, the attention shifts from the earth to the artist, performing a pas de deux with the planet. Her sound design is exquisite, as she allows the growing rushes to battle and briefly overwhelm her own music. “Canopy” includes both violin and piano, challenging the listener to define which sound source is canopy and which is shade. Again the earth’s drones rush in to dominate the sound field, but this time, Kellough matches them with a rising volume of her own. Only in the aftermath does the wind subside, although it is more proper to say that the artist causes the sound of the wind to subside. Job may have rued the futility of chasing the wind, but at least in one sense, this sound artist has managed to capture it. [Richard Allen]

Norman Records (UK):

A marriage of untouched field recordings and arranged stringwork brings Bethan Kellough’s Aven together. These tracks came into existence via captured sound from Iceland, a great spot to capture the audibly intense “geothermal activity” that goes on in the ground. By using violin alongside these sound discoveries, Kellough offers something both earthy and fantastical, taking the natural world’s slice of life and developing new narratives. This CD for Touch includes a similar smelting of sound design and composed music for field recordings captured in South Africa.

Boomkat (UK):

Touch introduce a set of keen, new set of ears to the field with Bethan Kellough’s divine debut, Aven; offering a sweeping demonstration of her sensitivity towards spatial aesthetics, natural sounds, and string composition. Where Richard Skelton, Chris Watson and Anne Guthrie leave off, Bethan is subtly shaping up a gorgeous sound of her own. Definitely check this and keep an eye out for what may come!

Polyphonia (Poland):

Tym razem brytyjska kompozytorka prowadzi nas niby w głąb wyimaginowanego świata przyrody. Ale czy na pewno jest to przestrzeń wykreowana tylko w jej głowie?
Od razu odpowiem – że nie. Ponieważ Bethan Kellough przygotowując swoje utwory na płytę „Aven” sięgnęła po nagrania terenowe z Islandii i Republiki Południowej Afryki, które zresztą sama zarejestrowała w 2015 roku. Oprócz tego spoiwa, jakim jest tu field recording, Kellough przetwarza także brzmienie skrzypiec, po czym całość nasyca ambientową elektroniką.

Odnosząc się do nagrań terenowych to w obu przypadkach artystka uchwyciła wiatr: na Islandii mikrofon kontaktowy ukryła pod cienką warstwą trawy, zaś w RPA „złapała” silny powiem powietrza zwiastujący nadejście sztormu – tam mikrofon umieściła pośród krzaków porastających okoliczną sawannę. To, co jest charakterystyczne dla jej kompozycji, to to, że potrafi w nich balansować między ciszą a narastającą dynamiką, zachowując przy tym nieskrępowaną elegancję i lekkość. Chyba najlepiej to słychać w dwóch intrygującym nagraniach, czyli „Canopy” i „Low”.

Chain D.L.K. (USA):

The first stone for this enchanting output got laid on the occasion of Touch Conference at South of Sunset area in Los Angeles, one of the appreciated meeting that Touch recently organized to focus listeners’ and followers’ to some branches of sonic research (including of course the one by the artists in its rosters, some of whom took part in these events in order to help newbies to learn some techniques as well). British composer and sound artist Bethan Kellough (formerly known as Bethan Parkes) attended the one I mentioned above after having joined the touch Mentorship Programme in 2015. The “concrete” sounds you’ll listen in this precious sonic gemstone got collected during some journeys in Iceland and South Africa together with some big names of this branch of sonic exploration. She grabbed the noises coming out of a fence in South Iceland by means of a contact microphone in the days when Chris Watson and Jez Riley French were holding the Wildeye sound recording workshop, while the ones she grabbed during the Sonic Mmabolela residency with other two big names of this branch of sonic explorations like Francisco Lopez and James Webb got taken by a Soundfield microphone hidden under some bushes in the Savannah while a storm was approaching. What makes the listening actually engaging are the delicate and powerfully evocative musical insertions by Bethan: this inventive woman managed to highlight the mysterious power of nature by some breathtaking melodic lines she mostly made by the violin she played since her childhood, when she started getting involved in Scottish traditional music, classical music, rock violin and free improvisation. The melodic parts got added on the occasion of the conference I mentioned above, and that guided choice managed to turn the sonic canvas of field recordings in two special natural sets into a powerful musical poem. Highly recommended listening experience.

Touch label release from last year’s august that I missed somehow but still want to recommend to those that missed it too. Reading Aven‘s liner notes it’s clear that field recordings are the main ingredient here: recordings made in Iceland and South Africa. The impressive rumbling sound of ‘underground geothermal activity escaping to the surface through a small shaft’ gave the album it’s title: such shafts are called ‘Aven’. But by augmenting the field recordings with various drones and melodic violin passages,  Bethan Kellough transforms the recordings into a symphonic fantasy, imagining entering unknown underground environments. If you want to hear one example of how environmental field recordings can be turned into a full-featured symphony, try Aven

Bethan Kellough (a.k.a. Bethan Parkes) got the PhD in Sonic Arts in 2015 at the University of Glasgow. She is researching “immersive sound-worlds, spatial aesthetics and the interactions between sonically and visually articulated spaces”,  her music “inhabiting the boundaries between music and sound design”.

Aven is her debut album release – a live recording, recorded in April 2016 in Los Angeles as part of the Touch Conference.