Tone 57 – UnicaZürn ‘Transpandorem’

Vinyl LP and download – 2 tracks

Release date: 27th January 2017

Written, recorded and produced by David Knight & Stephen Thrower
Additional production assistance: Ivan Pavlov
Cut by Jason @ Transition
Artwork & Photography: Jon Wozencroft

Track listing:

1. Breathe the Snake
2. Pale Salt Seam

UnicaZürn (David Knight and Stephen Thrower).

UnicaZürn build their long, ceaselessly evolving musical compositions through a process of improvisation followed by careful editing and processing. Their music, drawn from subconscious associations while recording, is frequently aquatic or oceanic in overall mood and texture. Knight has spent most of his life living on the banks of the Thames while Thrower resides on the East Sussex coast, and their musical flights of imagination tend toward rolling river dynamics and the open seas of synthesised sound.

For UnicaZürn, tidal imagery, oceanic forms and the slow rhythms of coastal water are a recurring structural presence, with strong associations of rootlessness, of being far away from home, a stranger in a strange land. The inability of human lungs to breathe water endows rivers and seas with special poetics: a boundary between two different but inter-related states. On the one hand, solidity, clarity, definition; on the other, fluidity, uncertainty, dissolution. The sense of a threshold between opposites gives rise to an elusive otherness, suggesting a portal through which the everyday world can be escaped. Death under the water, the survivors of a lost kingdom clinging to the rocks of an unfamiliar island, a coastal boat ride into deepest abstraction, a deserted beach expressing a world outside reality.

A sexual frisson too: a hovering at the brink, poised at the turbulent edge of pleasure, swept away into oblivion. Do we head toward the sea when we want to escape? And at the coastline, do we walk to the edge because we want to jump, or be swept away by an unexpected wave? There’s a darkness in the sea, even if illuminated by the most dazzling sunshine. Open horizons shows the clutter of our lives to be transient, and as we look to the sea we feel a dizzying sense of the eternal. Aquatic sensibility, oceanic timescales: the action of the salt sea beating on the shore. Each grain of sand a rock smashed to dust. Beaches are cosmic, elemental. They are images of time.

UnicaZürn’s core instrumentation blends analogue synthesiser, mellotron and electric piano with electric guitar and clarinet. Both Thrower and Knight draw upon their love and wide experience of of electronic music, from the outer shores of Stockhausen to the outer spaceways of Tangerine Dream. In addition, Knight is reknowned for his pioneering multi-textured fretwork with Danielle Dax and his ambient guitar settings for Lydia Lunch, while Thrower’s reed playing provided a distinctive melancholy in Coil and emerged as electro-acoustic texture in Cyclobe.

The title ‘Pale Salt Seam is drawn from the poem ‘[Night-Song of the Andalusian Sailors’ by Federico García Lorca. Parts of ‘Pale Salt Seam’ were recorded live at the Ironmongers Row Baths on 2nd March 2013.


The International Times (UK):

Unicazurn’s new album ‘Transpandorem‘ announces itself with both an umlaut and sounds of uncanny arrival, as if a vast astral craft was seeking earthly location, changing the ground as it lands. As harsh winds accompany this embodiment of aural conquest, an altogether different and less enchanting air is brought into being. In these opening moments the musicians behind this intricate music making are teaching the mind what to hear. Made of two electronic compositions, the first, ‘Breathe the Snake’ encourages the listener to inhale not only the essence of a sound driven serpent rising and settling through this mix of aural alchemy, but also the separate powers and tensions behind its very creation. With Stephen Thrower on keyboards, saxophone, string machine and treated woodwinds and David Knight on guitar, synths and organ, shamanism crests and courses its way, free of storms, to the ear.

Touch’s beautiful vinyl package makes this album a totemistic object in itself, evident in Jon Wozencroft’s striking cover image of suffering leaves and wheat, and the shimmering density of ‘Breathe the Snake’ enables us to conjure a kind of coruscation and virus affecting the landscape of sense. Musical Duos have always been some of the most effective ways to get new music across from the days of Parisian Chanson in the 1920’s with voice and piano, through to the exuberant dalliances of The Associates or Yello, but here Knight and Thrower prove themselves to be expert soundscapists of the highest order. Indeed, music can be said to be the highest of all the forms in terms of what it is able to do, making those who make it, virtual Druids of reflex and interconnection.

Magicians of any stamp and sort are the true artists of change. I would go as far as to call them the shapers and controllers of space, affecting the immediate destiny of the moment by changing the air around us. Here, in these two pieces of music, a sense of sculpture and structure combines with the spread and flow of the ‘sound-paint,’ allowing us to release the snake Unicazurn and would have us summon and watch as its ensuing trail scars and re-fissures the land.

Each moment of this first piece allows for transformation as the music moves and invokes its inherent reptile. The texture of the cover artwork therefore acts as a useful equivalent to what these wonderful musicians are making in and of themselves. A spell is cast, solely in terms of sound and one that guides and shapes our understanding and perception of what we are presented with. In both of the pieces of music on this album you hear echoes of every ground breaking experimental artist from Delia Darbyshire to Simon Fisher Turner and Christian Fennesz, through flickers and shades of Wendy Carlos and early examples of JM Jarre, Vangelis and John Surman and yet each is subsumed in a greater glory; an elegant and almost inspiring call for mental and physical change.

Records like this are played, not to be studied, but to be experienced in the same way that art and photographs are, and as the piece concludes, the story is left unfinished. Indeed a CD or digital version should be played on endless rotation with the limited revolutions of the record merely announcing the spiralling path to adopt.

Although individual in character, both compositions influence and reflect each other, with Knight and Thrower exploring the fringes of their own internal landscapes and worldview, while at the same time asking us to enquire at the borders of where music and sound effectively converge. There are echoes of the austerity of Rick Wright’s ‘Sysyphus’ (from Pink Floyd’s ‘Ummagumma’) in both pieces, but in ‘Breathe the Snake,’ the sound soon swells with distant echoes of a more acceptable sense of welcome than in that slightly formless piece from 1969.

In 2017, this is music to enter into, as well as being sounds, ideas and images that will in turn, enter you. If music cannot move or transform us in some way, it is scarcely worth describing as music at all. That which we can write off easily, we can no more write about in a truly useful way, than the worst kind of moral or political transgression. On this sublimely accomplished record and in these two compositions that ripple with a range of suggested ideas and intentions, we have something ambient and ethereal that we can, in a very real way, hold onto.

Side Two’s ‘Pale Salt Seam’, is the calmer of the two pieces, and extends the strictures of ambience with a delightfully mesmeric quality. By summoning Terry Riley at his most primal, its String machine workings produce a virtual factory of reflection, as if the density of Side One of the record had found its solution or balm. While falling into the areas of experimentation, improvisation and electronica, covered by magazines like WIRED (and even the outer pages of PROG), both musical statements extend the supplied remits as to where this music can go and more importantly, how it can get there. This is because, like the best line in Pinter, something else is suggested beneath. By fashioning their own world in a genre that is already about creating effective alternatives, this particular duo are rearranging the surface of sound. They are using the musical equivalent of ambiguities usually found in drama to enthral and enrapture. This is a piece of vinyl that rises across and indeed through technology to make its own claim on the need for reformation.

This lofty statement stems from how Unicazurn seem to me to have fashioned their own unique sound from recognisable elements as well as creating an implied visual gallery. The name of the band and of the music it produces, conjures echoes of place, affiliation and states of being. As a combined approach and system, Unicazurn offers a reason to experience and imagine the new, as well as providing a useful signpost through sound. Listen if you are interested in joining with the musicians to compose an end product together, not in the same way that Brian Eno talks, or talked, about generative music at the start of the century, but in the almost standard way of combining title with sound to create a new and ever evolving idea. Eno’s most affecting album title in my opinion is, and will always be, ‘Another Green World.’  Unicazurn take you to one of their own making and imagining. They even go as far as to provide climate and scenery. Now it is you who must people the plain.

We who are pale must work with the salt forces within us to merge and seek congress; Man meets his new world in this musical/magical seam. [David Erdos]

freq (UK):

Sometimes, the press releases just absolutely nail it and I hate it when they do.  This latest release from the band that fell from the belly of The Amal Gamal Ensemble came with a description that’s clearly trying to ruin my review before it’s even got going. It has a little handwritten note from Dave Knight who, alongside Cyclobe’s Stephen Thrower, makes up the ever-impressive UnicaZürn; Dave hopes that I like this album and I really do; it’ll be in my lists of 2017, no question, but it does feel a little like drowning.

The press release steals a lot of the words I’d have used anyway. It does, it does; I’m not just being lazy (that ‘just’ is as important as the one Genesis sings at the end of TG‘s ‘Six Six Sixties’).  It’s not my fault; they’ve stolen all the words: oceanic, coastal, uncertainty, dissolution, fluidity.

spreading out like bacteria on substrate, there are micro-patterns of detail and a gentle fuzzing

The record consists of two slow and tidal passages, which ebb and flow and pull you deeper into them. You can just listen casually, of course, but you probably should start paying attention because, in amongst the evolving synthesiser strains, spreading out like bacteria on substrate, there are micro-patterns of detail and a gentle fuzzing of the edges, which has the result of making objects around you feel as if it’s they are slightly glowing.

Okay. I know what you’re thinking. But I hadn’t touched a vial. Not even a puff of Salvia Divinorum has touched this throat. I’m a professional; I’m all ears.

I was tired and maybe that could explain the gentle pulsing of life around the edges of this record.

The night I properly listened to this, for the third time through, was cold and clear and there was a rare twenty-two degree halo around the moon; it’s probably unrelated. I was tired and maybe that could explain the gentle pulsing of life around the edges of this record. Probably, probably. The thing with UnicaZürn is that they can make you believe.Their attention to detail transcends yours and even a hardened micro-cynic like me can get caught up in the haze.

So, about that drowning.

a series of movements that can sometimes not feel like movement at all.

‘Transpandorem’ feels like it would make a brilliant soundtrack to a reading of ‘Pincher Martin’, William Golding’s spiritual, beautifully bonkers meditation on life and death and eternal watery struggle. If all death is in Golding’s book then it is here too; slow, inexorable, beautiful. If that book deals with the slow decline of reality into unreality and the loss of sense between them, then so does this record. It’s a series of movements that can sometimes not feel like movement at all; that sense of looking suddenly at how far you’ve drifted along the coast when you thought you were still. [Loki]

Africa Paper (Germany):

Auf ihrem 2013 erschienenen Album ‘Dark Earth Distillery’, das auf einer Reihe von Liveaufnahmen basierte, sieht man wie Stephen Thrower und David Knight – deren beider Stammbäume im Bereich experimenteller Musik weit verzweigt und verästelt sind und wohl keinerlei näheren Erläuterung bedürfen – auf Wasser schauen. Schon seit ihrem 2009 veröffentlichten Debüt ‘Temporal Bends’ ist zur Beschreibung ihrer Musik immer wieder die Metapher des Meeres aufgetaucht (pardon the pun): “…like Jacques Cousteau meets HP Lovecraft twenty thousand leagues under the sea.”, schrieb das FREQ Magazine; ‘Temporal Bends is exactly the sort of music that I would expect to hear if I was rapidly losing consciousness in a pool of my own blood aboard a haunted submarine’, bemerkte der Kollege bei Brainwashed.

Auch das Presseinfo zum neuen Album ‘Transpandorem‘ thematisiert ‘tidal imagery, oceanic forms and the slow rhythms of coastal water’ als das Album strukturierende Elemente, verweist auf Throwers und Knights Wohnort nahe der Themse (im Falle von Knight) und der Küste von East Sussex (wo Thrower zusammen mit seinem Partner Ossian Brown seit einigen Jahren lebt).

Auf dem neuen Album des aus dem Improvisationsprojekt The Amal Gamal Ensemble hervorgegangenen Duos, das sich nach der Schriftstellerin und Zeichnerin Unica Zürn benannt hat, befinden sich erneut zwei lange Tracks: Auf ‘Breathe the Snake’ meint man Möwenschreie und Wellenrauschen zu hören. Der Track ist fortwährend in Bewegung, die einzelnen Klangschichten scheinen ineinander überzugehen, und wenn nach drei Minuten melodische Flächen langsam einsetzen, muss man unweigerlich an Ebbe und Flut denken. ‘Breathe the Snakeist ein in verdichtetes und dichtes Stück, das nach zehn Minuten hektischer wird. Bleibt man bei der am Anfang thematisierten Bildlichkeit, dann hat es etwas Strudelhafttes, eine gewsse Unruhe, die an den Sturz in den Maelstrom denken lässt.

‘Pale Salt Seam’, auf ein Gedicht Frederico García Lorcas anspielend (ein Autor, nach dem der jüngst verstorbene Leonard Cohen seine Tochter benannte), klingt weniger unruhig, es beginnt mit einzelnen Tönen, die von sphärischen flächigen Klängen untermalt werden. Die Elektronica scheint hier weniger auf das Meer zu verweisen als auf andere Weiten, denn die Synthesizermotive lassen ‘kosmische’ Assoziationen aufkommen. Von der Stimmung wird hier fast schon ein paradiesisches Geborgensein im Hörer erzeugt. Nach etwa zehn Minuten setzt ein Mellotron ein und man fühlt sich, als wohne man einem Sonnenaufgang auf einem fernen Planeten bei. Großartig. [MG]

HHV (Germany):

Wasser ist manchmal anscheinend dicker als Blut. Das Duo UnicaZürn jedenfalls, benannt nach der gleichnamigen Schriftstellerin und Künstlerin, fühlt sich vor allem durch die gemeinsame Nähe zum flüssigen Element verbunden. David Knight von den Shock Headed Peters und Stephen Thrower von Cyclobe, zugleich letztes überlebendes Mitglied der Postindustrial-Institution Coil in ihrer klassischen Besetzung, improvisieren für ihre Musik zunächst ausgiebig, lassen die Klänge kommen, um dann im zweiten Schritt das Material sorgsam in die gewünschte Form zu bringen. Für ‘Transpandorem’ sind dabei zwei durchaus unterschiedliche Plattenseiten-füllende Stücke herausgekommen. Insbesondere auf Seite eins schlägt sich der aquatisch-maritime Ansatz auch in der Entwicklung der Musik nieder, die Klänge branden an, bilden Strudel aus, fließen vor sich hin, ebben wieder ab, meistens mehr Rauschen und Hall als klar definierte Töne.

Ganz anders die Seite zwei, da tropfen glockenartige Synthesizerklänge harmonisch in den Raum, bilden Akkorde, die sich wie Kreise auf einer Seeoberfläche auszubreiten scheinen, anfangs in kaum getrübter Harmonie, die aber mit einer irritierend sinnlichen Spannung aufgeladen ist. Allmählich mischen sich vermehrt Dissonanzen ins Geschehen, sinken als Glissandi zum Grund und lenken die Spannung in unruhigere Zonen. Bis sich alles wieder gelegt hat, der Wohlklang wie eine versöhnliche Geste zurückkehrt, ohne gezwungen zu wirken. Ein tiefes Gewässer. [Tim Caspar Boehme]

Polyphonia (Poland):

Duet UnicaZürn dosyć aktywnie działa. Najnowszy ich longplay wydała wytwórnia Touch.

Ci dwaj panowie, czyli Dave Knight (aka Arkkon oraz Five Or Six, Shock Headed Peters) i Stephen Thrower ( Possession, Cyclobe, Coil), to wielce zasłużeni artyści dla niezależnej brytyjskiej sceny elektronicznej, industrialnej czy post-punkowej ostatnich kilku dekad.

W tym momencie najbardziej interesuje nas ich wspólny projekt UnicaZürn. Pod tym szyldem Knight i Thrower zadebiutowali w 2009 roku płytą ‘Temporal Bends’. Tegoroczny album Brytyjczyków nosi tytuł ‘Transpandorem’. Na ten materiał złożyły się dwie długie i niezwykle udane kompozycje. Pierwsza strona winyla należy do utworu ‘Breathe The Snakeemanującego kosmiczną energią pokroju Tangerine Dream, Cluster, Coil czy tego co oferuje label Ghost Box. Podobny nastrój zagościł na stronie B, choć wydaje się, że ‘Pale Salt Seam’ brzmi jeszcze bardziej eterycznie. W tym fragmencie muzycy ‘zawieszają’ w oszczędny sposób swoje dźwięki (stworzone przy użyciu syntezatora analogowego, mellotronu, elektrycznego pianina, gitary, klarnetu) na rozmaitych falach, pulsacjach i drganiach elektronicznych.

Dzięki takim płytom jak ‘Transpandorem’ retromania ma się bardzo dobrze. Mnie wchłonął kosmos w wydaniu UnicaZürn. [Lukasz Komla]

The Wire (UK):


Stranded (USA):

UnicaZurn is the collaboration between Coil’s Stephen Thrower and David Knight of Shock Headed Peters, Arkkon, Danielle Dax’s ensemble, etc. While named for the Surrealist writer and artist, UnicaZurn is guided by sages of inner-mind music and the very British astral projections of John Dee via modular synthesis. Thrower’s final contributions to Coil were on the lysergic classic ‘Love’s Secret Domain’, an album that Thrower was at odds with due to its heavy focus on rhythm. His work as Cyclobe (which he conceived after parting ways with Coil in the early ’90s) paralleled Coil’s obsessions with hermetic knowledge and shapeshifting aesthetics. As UnicaZurn with David Knight, the two follow similar strategies but dial back to an earlier time of kosmische electronic exploration, through the patterned sequencing and charmed electronic invocations harkening toZeit-era Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze.

Blow Up (Italy):


The Quietus (UK):

Unicazürn’s are among the strongest of sonic spells. Their unrivalled transportive powers are conjured through a duality of the psychic abilities of improvisation and a studied studio craft. If their previous release, ‘Omegapavilion’, issued by The Tapeworm last Spring, took its listeners on a flight ‘[from secret sewers to interstellar travel’, then ‘Transpandorem’ sets them adrift on unknown seas.

The ocean analogy is made explicit in the notes that announce the release, their first for Touch, where it suggests the tendency ‘toward rolling river dynamics and the open seas of synthesised sound’ is due to the duo dwelling near bodies of water – David Knight on the Thames and Stephen Thrower on the Sussex coast.

Whether primed by foreknowledge of these associations or not, it would be hard to imagine anywhere other than an ocean as the sounds of ‘Breathe The Snake’ fill the room. Its apparent minimalism is deceptive as it casts an uncanny tidal rhythm out of phased layers of electronics. The form is so palpable as to be almost sculptural, although this doesn’t stop a narrative from unfolding as traces of siren song flow over lapping electronics in constant flux.

More radiophonic than rhythmic, ‘Pale Salt Seam’ has small synth notes drip across the stereo field, gradually filling a sparkling pool into which we take a deep dive. Its delicate details wrap around our ears like sprays of air bubbles before Knight and Thrower bring us up to surface in a coastal cave filled with stars.

Once again, Unicazürn’s strange synthesis is rendered through august audio design to take its listener on a transformational journey. Yet, on ‘Transpandorem’, the fanciful impact of this function is secondary to the sheer marvel of their large-scale sound forms. [Russel Cuzner]

Loop (Spain):

UnicaZürn is formed by David Knight (guitar, analogue synthesisers) and Stephen Thrower (reeds, keyboards) in 2009. During the 1980’s Knight was a guitarist and co-songwriter with Danielle Dax, who was very influential in pop art, and contributed guitar on Shock Headed Peters. He also works as Arkkon, a solo project that focuses on electro-minimalist music.

For his part, Thrower was an eight year member in Coil, participating in the cult albums ‘Scatology’, ‘Horse Rotorvator’ and ‘Love’s Secret Domain’. He is currently half of the electro-psychedelic duo Cyclobe, alongwith Ossian Brown. Other solo projects include original scores for electronic films for ‘Hell’s Ground’ (2007) and ‘Down Terrace’ (2009). Thrower with Brown recorded and pre-produced the latest album [‘Lodestar’, Domino, 2016] by English folk singer-songwriter Shirley Collins.

The layers of rippling sounds of the duo remind the German Kosmische Musik and its insights to Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schultz, among others. Also involved are electro-acoustic vignettes of noise and dark tunes building a haunted atmosphere.[Guillermo Escudero]

The New Noise (Italy):

UnicaZürn è il connubio formato da David Knight, conosciuto anche come Arkkon, un passato negli Shock Headed Peters ed al fianco di Danielle Dax e Lydia Lunch, e Stephen Thrower, ex membro di Coil e Cyclobe. Insieme si dedicano a una musica ambient in cui il tema acquatico è elemento ricorrente, un fluire costante e imprevedibile che caratterizza gran parte della produzione del duo inglese. Mi dicono che entrambi abbiano – appunto – un rapporto speciale con l’acqua: uno ha passato gran parte della propria esistenza sulle sponde del Tamigi, l’altro vive sulla costa dell’East Sussex.

Transpandorem’, quarto album di Knight & Thrower, il primo a uscire per Touch, è diviso in due lunghe tracce. Nella prima, intitolata ‘Breath The Snake’, l’elemento liquido è ben tangibile, solcato però dal respiro mefitico del rettile: l’acqua è, nelle intenzioni degli autori, rappresentata come elemento fortemente ambivalente, il suo scorrere rassicura, quasi anestetizza e allo stesso tempo lascia sgomenti nel suo essere simbolo di sradicamento, col suo mutare continuo ed imprevedibile. Il brano alterna un andamento libero, che riecheggia il lento sciabordare, ad una parvenza di ritmica.

In ‘Pale Salt Steam’ vi è una mutazione di stato, da liquido a gassoso (parte della traccia – guarda un po’ – è stata registrata in un bagno turco londinese): permane il moto continuo abbinato qui a un certo qual senso di sospensione. Il pezzo dà una maggiore percezione di profondità, il suono sembra rapprendersi per poi diradarsi velocemente, senza seguire un andamento ritmico ben definito; la presenza del mellotron dona al tutto una piacevole patina retrò che accosta il brano a certa library particolarmente stramba o ardita. Visti i nomi in ballo però forse era lecito aspettarsi qualcosa in più. [Angelo Borelli]