Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 June 2007 18:02
Artist: Nurse with Wound
CD Title: Salt Marie Celeste
Reviewer: Matthew J.
Nurse With Wound, for those not in the know, is Steven Stapleton, an eccentric Englishman who has worked with such luminaries of underground music as Current 93 and the Legendary Pink Dots. His work as Nurse With Wound ranges from the humorous to the bittersweet to the barely listenable, and he counts everything from German psychedelic rock to Italian Futurism as influences.
Stapleton’s work is unpredictable even for the experimental music scene. While certain elements – like his apparent fondness for samples of laughter and creaking doors – have appeared throughout his twenty-five year recording career, every new Nurse With Wound album is a surprise. Stapleton has released everything from minimalist collages of ambient tones (as on Soliloquy For Lilith) to his own deformed versions of dance music (i.e. The Sylvie and Babs High Thigh Companion).
Stapleton’s latest work, Salt Marie Celeste, is actually an expanded version of a limited edition recording called Salt that was released last year. It consists of a single, hour-long track. The piece begins with the repetition of two faint organ notes, so heavily processed that they are barely even sound textures. This faint musical fuzz gradually builds over time. At first, one hears only the distorted organ itself, but gradually multiple, separate layers of distortion and electronic effects reveal themselves to the careful listener.
Salt Marie Celeste is a concept album of sorts, based around the idea of a long-sunken ship, but the first intrusion to the soft but unsettling thrum of the organ is not the sound of the sea or even of creaking wooden decks. Instead, it seems to be the sound of a bicycle, suddenly racing from the right side of one’s headphones (and make no mistake, this should definitely be listened to on headphones) to the left. This is what makes Stapleton such a genius: this ability to evoke emotion and create genuinely unsettling music by juxtaposing seemingly unrelated sounds. The other minimal sound effects employed on this recording -- the creaking wood and the bubbling water – also work this way. The wooden creaks and groans, though they might be heard as the sounds of a ship decaying underwater, have a somehow dry quality to them that belies the notion of a shipwreck, and even the noises of water at the end of the piece sound more like bubbles from some fetid swampland than waves or ocean currents. Where a lesser composer might use more obvious aural tricks like foghorns or seabirds, Stapleton has weaved a number of disparate elements into a haunting piece that is far more than the sum of its parts.
Those select few who are already initiated into the endlessly weird world of Nurse With Wound have no doubt already added Salt Marie Celeste to their collections, but for those who only know of Steven Stapleton by hearsay, this album might not be such a bad introduction. Those who have already cut their teeth on more conventional dark ambient music and are looking for something a bit more challenging might find Stapleton’s latest effort the perfect stepping stone into new realms of strange sounds.