‘Dabbin Houses’ – A (Journalist’s) Use Guide

glass picture (3)‘Dabbin Houses’ is the instrumental piece performed by nightjars in the second half of the Freiraum event in Carlisle on the 9th December. nightjars is written with a lower case n.

If you are a member of the press, you may want some pointers. The piece takes its name from the ‘vernacular architecture’ of this part of Cumbria – or, more precisely, the rural working class houses of agricultural workers of north/western Cumbria. The way the piece changes demonstrates the way that people moved away from these buildings to urban housing developments in the twentieth century, and then the movement away from these urban estates back into the countryside, where it often seems that every available rural building is being converted into housing. In Carlisle this is not exclusively a movement of the wealthy, because Carlisle’s/(most of)Cumbria’s house prices are unique: this means that there is a movement away from the city that mirrors generations of movement toward the city. The name ‘Dabbin Houses’ also references the name of the album ‘Dub Housing’ – by Pere Ubu – and some of the connotations of that title’s coinage.

nightjars are John Chambers, Nicci Reed and myself. John plays live acoustic guitar; Nicci plays live keyboards; I play the ‘sonic’ guitar (named to distinguish it from the one playing ‘notes’, as such) and control the field recording loops.

’Dabbin Houses’ has six parts. The first ‘Larkin’ features field recordings of larks, and was partly inspired by William Byrd’s ‘The Bells’. The first part includes field recordings of fragments of larks in song flight – this is an important detail. The second part is ‘Skeltonics’, which acknowledges the influence of Richard Skelton on the whole piece; the short musical motif also echoes the short lines used by the writer John Skelton (they were also dubbed ‘Skeltonics’). In the course of the first two parts of ‘Dabbin Houses’ we go from summer to winter in the Cumbrian landscape. The austere nature of the arpeggios in this section are not without beauty and the keyboard changes from minor to major demonstrate the infinite variety within winter; the landscape can be harsh, and it can be the opposite of picturesque, but it maintains the ability to create awe: even Cumbrian post-industrial landscapes. In this, the piece has a similar genealogy to Flying Saucer Attack’s 2015 album Instrumentals. Flying Saucer Attack’s Dave Pearce has long acknowledged the influence of German band Popol Vuh (Instrumentals is even dedicated to Florian Fricke himself).

The third part of ‘Dabbin Houses’ moves to an electrical, urban footing. It is comprised of a single vocal sample (‘I Promise I Can’) and sections of radio fuzz and echoes. This morphs into ‘Void Rates’ – a phrase used by council planners and accountants to measure the ‘unoccupied proportion of a property portfolio’; this cuts to the heart of an urban issue that affects Carlisle where some of its estate building in the twentieth century was seen as akin to the garden cities – this dream turned out very differently to the garden cities of the south.

The second last piece is the more upbeat ‘New Lonning’. You can see the word ‘Lonning’ on lots of signs in Cumbria. It means footpath, or trackway. It represents the hope for a future that is beyond what we have now: in terms of our cities, our politics, our ability to communicate with one another and feel association with something as simple as a central beat. This is held up to question by the keyboard motif and the building feedback. ‘New Lonning’ segues into ‘Martins’, which uses field recordings of nesting house martins, as heard on converted agricultural buildings throughout Cumbria in the summer. The whole piece ends with a four-note motif taken from Flying Saucer Attack’s live album In Search of Spaces (the motif also appears on the album Chorus, entitled ‘Popol Vuh III’); it only sounds out twice here. It is the briefest of bridges – built to show the influence of German music upon British art, literature and music, before the layers of decaying sound fall back into silence.

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