Skjolbrot - Maersk

7 tracks - 38 mins

Track listing:

1. Rue Victor Masse to Gare d'Austerlitz
2. Migrated
3. I Am Better Now
4. Shipbreaking
5. Idle Fleet
6. Ballard of Windfarming
7. Emma

The first release from Skjølbrot, Maersk follows a kind of archival dérive through physical locations, libraries and the internet, connecting disparate events such as the exocet strike on the Jahre Viking oil tanker, Xenakis’s presence in Paris during the ‘61 Algerian Massacre, and bird strikes on the windows of the Bibliotheque Nationale.

Developing Robert Smithson's "A Provisional Theory of Non-sites", recordings of walks and locations appear either literally as audio material or else - on "Rue Victor Masse..." and "Shipbreaking", spectrally as sonic maps/scores. On these tracks musical topographies are traced over recordings of sound-walks and the original recordings erased, leaving behind musical schematics; non-figurative connections to places and times which make no attempt to reproduce them.

Elsewhere the music proceeds by way of processing with deliberately contaminated reverbs - arberrent "impulse responses" that not only capture the physical characteristics of spaces but also contain traces of the people that frequent them and the events that take place there. These field recordings and resonances - gathered from markets, factorys, demolition sites - are used as a framework for peculiarly personal alternative histories, gestalt locations and unreliable travelogues.


The Wire (UK):

"No region of the world is immune from outside influences." This claim from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Division of Tuberculosis Elimination) is one of the epigraphs for this high-concept work of electronica. Yet the album's theme is not the connectedness of the world, but the connectors - the ports, machines and ships that produce the globalised environment from which none of us can escape. "Maersk" is one half of the name of one of the largest container companies in the world, Maersk Sealand. The Ballardian poetry of this name is all of a piece with the Ballardian semi-visibility of containers, which pass by only half-noticed as they web together the global commodity system.

There's an eeriness about the containerisation process, about the automation of the ports and the loneliness and of the ships, and this is what Maersk, with it's radio broadcasts, piano, electronics and half-erased field recordings, conveys so powerfully. The sound sources and inspirations on the sleeve have a Ballardian poetry of their own: "Maritime VHF radio; Resonance of demolition equipment impacting on shipbuilding shed in Plymouth; Recording of supermarket refrigeration units; Recurring dream of beaching container." There's a terrible, troubled stillness on "Shipbreaking", with its tolling bell and electronic drone, and on "Idle Fleet" (it's title a reference to the so-called "ghost fleet of the recession", which amassed when hundreds of container ships were left anchored near Singapore).

Maersk is about place and travel, or non-place and non-travel - for aren't the container ports of the world practically indistinguishable from one another, and don't the ships ensure that every place they visit remains a certain sameness? On "Ballad of Windfarming", the stain of place - as spectrally embodied in a harrowing sample of the old folk song "Braighe Loch Iall" from Alan Lomx's Scotland collection - is gradually obliterated by identity-erasing electronics, leading into the Turneresque squall of noise that is the final track, "Emma", inspired by the Exocet strike on the Jahre Viking oil tanker. [Mark Fisher]

Foxy Digitalis (USA):

“Maersk? is the first release for Skjølbrot, which is the nom de plume of one Dan Bennett hailing from Bristol, UK. WIth this album, Bennett has managed to craft an amazingly well thought out album that is simultaneously beautiful, startling, and haunting. “Maersk? combines field recordings, electronics, voice, and a few bits of old-fashioned piano to create this incredibly rich forty-minute disc.

Each song is loosely based on a historical event or a specific location (some of which appear courtesy of the field recordings). From the opening of the disc, the appropriately named “Rue Victor Masse to Gare d’Austerlitz? (inspired by composer Iannis Xenakis’ life in Paris), real-world sounds are deftly combined with musical ideas. On this track, sounds of the streets and Paris metro are combined with ghostly piano, ultimately ending with the blown-out screeches of what sounds like a subway train rolling through the underground. In Bennett’s hands, these seemingly far-flung elements come together in near perfection. In many ways, this piece is a good road map for what is to come, as the album is largely defined by the interplay between loud and soft, as well as elements of the real world interacting with music.

Even with this basic blueprint in mind, “Maersk? is full of interesting twists and surprises. One stunning piece is “I Am Better Now,? which features wordless singing recorded in some empty corridors of the Bristol Royal Infirmary and layered into a fuzzed-out, otherworldly chorus. The voice sounds have obviously been manipulated electronically, yet the end result is more akin to hearing a scratchy 78 rpm record than anything slick or digital.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the closing track, “Emma,? which was inspired by a missile attack on an oil tanker during the Iran-Iraq War, along with Bennett’s recurring dream of a beached container ship. This track is an all-out assault of grating electronics and sheets of noise. Amazingly, these sounds are just as crucial and at home on the album as the elegant piano and light singing heard elsewhere. It’s a credit to Bennett’s keen ear that such different elements wind up fitting together so well in a relatively small space.

Ultimately, these are just a few samples of what “Maersk? has to offer. Part of the magic of this disc is following the twisted path it creates and discovering all of the musical landscapes hidden within. Adding to the overall quality of this release, Bennett seems to have spent put nearly as much effort into its physical presentation as he did with the music, as each disc is packaged with a handmade cover and insert. And as with many great things, this disc is extremely limited (50 copies), so if you’re interested, act quickly. 9/10 [Matt Blackall]

Freq (UK):


"Throughout the Skjølbrot project, Bennett is an unreliable narrator, weaving a tale that is somehow both subjective and depersonalised, a confusion of settings with key characters and events omitted or occulted...the musical equivalent of a Mike Nelson installation, in which paradoxical clues scattered around uncanny locations encourage a kind of forensic examination, positioning the listener as a Lovecraftian detective attempting to trace the tracks left by someone or something that is at once human and altogether unknowable."

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Skjolbrot - Maersk

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