the grey sky is close here: ‘ghost machine’ by helicopter quartet

June 28, 2015 at 2:32 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Helicopter Quartet – Ghost Machine (self-released download)

ghost machine

[Editor’s note: written mainly on Tuesday 16th June, 2015.  All sections in italics are true observations from that day.]

I find myself on a long and unexpected train journey, not wanting to dwell on my reasons for travel.  As I stare distractedly out of the window my hands, of their own accord, busy themselves with a hastily packed rucksack.  I am pulled from my fugue by the sound of a retractable ball point pen being clicked.  Arranged neatly on the little fold down table in front of me I see my mp3 player, headphones and notebook.  Whilst my not-so-rational mind was free-floating in storm clouds of panic, my unconscious knew what to do.

Write, it suggests gently: write it down.

Write about music.

Track one of five: ‘Voice of Reason’

There is a lot hinted at but unsaid.  The implication is of a massive responsibility borne with immense dignity but increasing difficulty.  A transparent membrane holds everything in place, existing only because we believe it does.  Helicopter Quartet push against it until it threatens to split.

I touch my temple to the window to feel the train’s pulse.  I imagine I’m in some European indie film about, y’know, ‘life’.  I practice self-hypnosis by watching the overhead cables bounce from pole to pole.

Track two of five: ‘Off World’

Clear-eyed determination, lacewing delicacy.  Like a decision that has to be made despite, perhaps in full knowledge of, the uncomfortable consequences.  This is the musical equivalent of what in counselling is known as a ‘door knob moment’ – a sudden, serious revelation made at the end of a session:

So, yeah, I’ll see you next week and, er… there was that one time I came home early from school and found my Grandmother dying on the floor of her bedroom.  OK, bye!

It is the end of the beginning.

A lady guards a giant, octagonal, zebra striped hat box.  It takes up almost an entire end-of-carriage luggage rack.  The gun-metal grey of King’s Cross looks glorious in the punishing sunshine.

Track three of five: ‘Romanze’

A lament for an unknowable past, an unvisited country.  An example of Helicopter Quartet’s patented ‘uneasy pastoral’ mode.  It’s a moorland hike through the purple heather to a site famed for neolithic carvings.  We brush our fingers over the lichen covered stones.  The grey sky is close up here.

There are adverts for the Samaritans on the end of every platform.

Track four of five: ‘Cortege’

Domestic aside: I have a dinky, portable speaker made by Betron that I can plug my mp3 player into so I can listen to podcasts when in the shower, doing chores and whatnot.  Chrissie will be unimpressed to find out that I have listened to their work through a mono speaker the size and weight of a satsuma but, well, y’know…

Anyway, this track was playing as I held it in my hand whilst climbing the stairs.  Something about the music and the way it vibrated my palm was suddenly and shockingly poignant.  For a moment it was like holding an injured, shivering animal – a bird rescued from a cat, say – and I just stood, halfway up the flight, staring at it until the track finished and the spell was broken.

Sadly, I am too early for the track-side buddleja to be in bloom.  I imagine being a child again and gulping in the scented air through the small sliding windows that used to suffice for ventilation.

Track five of five: ‘Ghost Machine’

The title track, the closer.  What is a ghost machine?  Is it us?  Crude matter for Yoda to poke dismissively, existing for the purpose of producing a spectral reminder of itself?  Or can the objects of technology have souls that live on as code, in blueprints, in smears of oil or crackles of ozone?  Cemeteries of landfill – who knows?  Whatever it means, the emotional Fibonacci sequence that has been accruing throughout the album approaches a dramatic, urgent catharsis and then…

As I remove my headphones and wind the cable around my fingers:

Mother: “What is it? Did you hurt your ear again?”

Toddler, maybe three years old, crying: “No, I just want Daddy to feel better!”

Mother: “…yes, I’m missing Daddy too.”

A full carriage contemplates this exchange in complete silence.


It is difficult to write about Helicopter Quartet, the duo of RFM staffer Chrissie Caulfield (violin, synths) and Michael Capstick (guitars), because their music is so enveloping, so attention seizing, that when I’m listening the part of my brain I use to put words in a row is too awestruck to function.  However, following many hours with it, I am certain this is their best album yet.  That a work of such mature beauty, sculpted over months, is freely downloadable is surely further evidence that we are living in a golden age for self released music.  It has the austere and magisterial presence of a glacier edge, the drama of that glacier calving into the sea.

If you ever act on anything I say then act on this: go get it.


Helicopter Quartet

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