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Memories of the Future – a review of “Trial By Intimacy” by Bill Nelson

Peter Cook - Sunday 21.10.12, 17:30pm

Trial By Intimacy - The Book Splendours by Bill Nelson

Trial By Intimacy - The Book Splendours

It’s one thing to be one step ahead.  Quite another to be 30 years ahead.  Bill Nelson has continuously innovated in music, sometimes so far ahead of the wave that he has only been noticed through those who have been influenced by him such as The Kaiser Chiefs, Ambulance, The Darkness, Foo Fighters et al.

This boxed set “Trial By Intimacy – The Book Splendours” preceded ambient electronica by a Country Decade and has just been re-released by Esoteric Records, having been out of print for many years on Bill Nelson’s DIY Cocteau Records label.

The box comprises recordings made by Bill Nelson at his “Echo Observatory” home studio. Comprising some eighty pieces of music, the set was a fine example of Bill Nelson’s grasp of ambient music and has subsequently been hailed as a groundbreaking work.

Check out this interview with the gorgeous Mariella Frostrup, which shows Bill Nelson composing material in this genre / period long before anyone owned an i Mac !

Trial By Intimacy” contains four albums of mostly short ambient pieces of music that will provoke, inspire, question, comfort and challenge your views of what one man with a tape recorder can do in a day.  Part of the charm of this material is that it was composed on primitive equipment in Nelson’s studio above the kitchen in his house.  The instruments Nelson chooses vary from state of the art electronica available at the time to children’s Casio keyboards, Marimbas and archive radio extracts.  The contrasts and contradictions between futurama and distant memories, between grown up electronica and childhood musical toys provide the listener with a naïve charm and a connection into the inner soul of the artist.  Many of the pieces were laid down in a native state, without over production and ‘polishing the grooves’ so hard that the artist is drowned in the process.

So, why would you not want to buy this album?   Tough question, but I guess the clue is in the answer to why you would alsolove it.  The primitive approach to electronic ambient music may not appeal to anyone that wants to buy their music fully produced, sanitised and so on.  Some of the pieces are sketches, which may suggest great ideas, but may feel like unfinished symphonies to some.  Bill Nelson is a Yorkshireman and to misquote the bread advert, “Trial By Intimacy” is an album “with nowt taken out“.

If you already own the vinyl, I bet it’s worn out by now.  The record company has also fully restored the original elements of the box set, including a 32-page book of artwork and eight art postcards that featured in the original set.  So, as well as four albums of material that was 20 years ahead of Leftfield, Underworld, Lemon Jelly, Moby et al you get a timepiece of the age via Nelson’s arcane photographs and written words.

Peter Cook, The Academy of Rock

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Tags: 1980s · Album · Ambient · Review


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