The Cornish roots of the mysterious Kemper Norton run deep in his music. Though outwardly electronic, his compositions have a naturalistic edge inspired by the local folklore, mythology and topography of his home county. In the last few years he has released albums inspired by everything from the Torrey Canyon oil spill (Toll, 2016) to the abandoned arsenic production facilities that litter the Cornish landscape (Brunton Calciner, 2019 and Oxland Cylinder, 2020), in so doing isolating a sort of ghostly fascination with vestigial relics that have left an indelible mark on England’s otherwise unspoilt western frontier.
‘Troillia’ is an old Cornish verb meaning to spin round. Over time, the word became ‘troyl’, the Cornish equivalent of the ceilidh dance. With Troillia, we find Kemper Norton turning his distinctive gaze to the Cornish culture, through references to these traditional dances, exploring regional Celtic links to Scottish songs and the fairs, parades and civic events that can be found in many Cornish communities.
These are things that are somehow disconnected from time and place, passed down by generations ceaselessly without their true origins being understood. The effect is to give a piece like ‘Crowshensa’ and ‘Cantol’ a blurry, imperceptible, unplaceable dimension, their genteel, undulating accordion drones rapidly subsumed beneath layers of murky reverb and synthetic hum before once more returning to their original states or cacophonous chatter by the end. ‘Three Craws’ finds our Cornish spirit guide singing in a plaintive voice against a backdrop of subtle turbulence, while the angular, amorphous shapes of ‘Corwedhen’ offer glimpses of other things – cyclical passages, inchoate rhythms – that seems to encapsulate this notion of appreciating tradition while not appreciating whence they originate.
Kemper Norton’s enduring conceit is to give seemingly innocuous things a sense of creepy displacement. Though he is at pains to point out that this album was made in sunlight instead of in the darkness of Victorian Industrial Age relics, on Troillia you feel this sense of modernity clashing uncomfortably with tradition, without ever knowing precisely why it makes us feel this way. Its ten pieces occupy their own post-hauntological, interstitial time zone, a queasy, discomforting interzone where our electroacoustic hero is the sonic archivist of long forgotten cultural reference points.
Troillia by Kemper Norton is released March 29 2021.
Words: Mat Smith
(c) 2021 Further.