Victoria Bourne and Walt Shaw
Songs From A Cloud Chamber
Discus 109DL
Available formats: DL


“So wonderful to hear the beautiful boiling of percussion and this very folk like melody moved and twisted and distorted into this landscape of trees and meadows and hill.” – Corey Mwamba, BBC Radio 3 FREENESS


Melodies inspired by traditional English Folk Songs floating above the pointillistic abstraction creating a richly atmospheric, melancholic, brooding and beautiful sound. Living in a twisted folk landscape. The threads of percussion, voice and electronics weave together, at times blending, but sometimes colliding, creating a kaleidoscopic , often haunting soundscape.

Walt’s percussion on this album uses conventional instruments and also a range of more unconventional instrumentation that is home-made.
The former consists of drums, singing bowls, shakers, woodblocks etc.
The latter are made up of the following – A large, beaten steel sheet, suspended by springs; some lengths of taut piano wire with contact microphones; an instrument with fret saw blades, wire brushes, springs, broken music boxes, and other found objects. These are amplified, but without any additional electronics.

Victoria’s vocals used multiple harmonies blending with the sounds created by Walt. She thought of the twisted landscape we’ve all been living in since the first lockdowns. Finding inspiration from traditional English Folk Songs and giving them an unsettling feeling. Adding final texture with created sound in the Korg Kross.

Victoria and Walt are both involved in The United Isolation Ensemble, which was created as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown. It was due to working in this that we realised that a duo collaboration was going to be a rich creative possibility.

Victoria Bourne – Vocals, Korg Kross Workstation.
Walt Shaw – Kit, hand percussion, gongs, home-made instruments


So wonderful to hear the beautiful boiling of percussion and this very folk like melody moved and twisted and distorted into this landscape of trees and meadows and hill. – Corey Mwamba, BBC Radio 3 FREENESS

This richly atmospheric, haunting and melancholic album features Victoria Bourne’s voice, multi-tracked in various guises against Walt Shaw’s percussion. Shaw uses conventional instruments – drums, singing bowls, shakers, woodblocks – plus home-made percussion. The latter includes a large beaten steel sheet, taut piano wire with contact mics, and an instrument with fret-saw blades, wire brushes, springs, broken music boxes, and other found objects. These are amplified without additional electronics, and Bourne added final textures through her Korg Kross Workstation. Bourne and Shaw are involved in The United Isolation Ensemble, created during lockdown. In their duo, Bourne was inspired, sometimes directly, by traditional English folk songs. Though it’s not apparent from this release, she’s a vocal polymath. Based in Bristol, she studied with leading contemporary sopranos Rosemary Hardy and Sarah Walker, and jazz singer Carol Grimes. She runs the choir All Together Now, was singer and drummer with punk blues band the Husky Tones, flamenco ensemble Harper Bourne and Folktronica duo Vanity Press. That’s a wide range, with some unfamiliar genre-crossing – can an artist be authentic across it? But the engaging, colourful Songs From A Cloud Chamber puts such worries to one side. Shaw’s melodic percussion forms a close partnership with Bourne’s vocals and vocalising – his work has the inventiveness, if not perhaps the radicalism, of Jamie Muir. “Sorely Failed Honey”, with its obsessive whispering and plangent choral backdrop, is haunting, while “Suspended By Strings”, with a death-rattle percussion motif, has an eerie ambience. A classic folk song is “Ye Mariners All”, interpreted by A.L. Lloyd, and by Martin Carthy on his eponymous debut. Bourne deconstructs it with her fractured sound-poetry, against achingly beautiful harmonies. “Raven’s Kit”, based on the classic “The Three Ravens” which dates from 1611 or earlier, features multiple chattering against clattering percussion. “Tension Zeitgeist”, again with whispering vocals, and sporadic, sparse percussion, provides a disturbing conclusion. – Andy Hamilton, THE WIRE

The songs on this set come from traditional English folk tunes. So, as an example, the opening track is drawn from a song called Three Ravens, possibly drawing on Thomas Ravenscroft and his notes in ‘Melismata’ of 1611. Listening to the words, you might glimpse phrases from Shakespeare’s plays, so well have the notions of the song become embedded in our everyday vocabulary. Or listeners with familiarity with Martin McCarthy (for example ‘Ye Mariner’s All’, track 4) or Peggy Seeger (‘Shakespring Maid on the Shore’, track 2) and the preservation of the Tradition, might recognise the words, phrasing and tune that is presented here. Certainly, from a quick trawl of vinyl and CDs, I could find other recordings of the tunes collected on this set. But, I have no examples of the songs interpreted in the ways that Bourne and Shaw present them. The nearest analogy I have (in concept rather than sound) is that ways in which Jah Wobble has experimented with English and Bretagne folk music. In both cases the ambition is to retain the purity of the “original” source while creating a setting that challenges contemporary listeners. But this creates many challenges… Not least the ‘scare-quotes’ around the word ‘original’ (we simply do not know what the song sounded like when it was written) but also the question of conveying the songs to a contemporary audience (particularly one that might have listened to music through many ‘folk revivals’). Either the musicians seek the earthiness of the original version of the tune (but sanitised through tunings and phrasings for an audience brought up on BBC Radios 1 and 2) or one seeks to find ways of creating musical contexts through which the original lyrics offer shocking and challenging ideas or stories. What Bourne does with the multi-trackings of her voice is to provide a sort of potted history of each song. This provides layer upon layer on plausible ways in which the songs could be sung (often mixed in rounds or canons), depending on how she wants the rules of the song to be interpreted. What shifts the songs from an archaeology (in which the ‘original’ is preserved) to a contemporary version is the combination of Bourne’s layering and Shaw’s percussion, which often provides the sound of chains dragging and pulling on the tunes – a little like Marley’s ghost in Dickens’s ‘Christmas Carol’, pulling the listener away from the comfortable and familiar to experience something shocking and strange. At the end of several listens to this recording, I am still going back to recordings of English folk music and findings new ways of hearing them. – Chris Baber, JAZZ VIEWS

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