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Philosopher's Stone Preparation

Gareth Mitchell, the writer' recorder and performer of Preparation, is at heart a songwriter of the Scott Walker persuasion. It's to his credit that this album is more an exploration of the power of music than words. Too many songwnters are half-assed about the textures and possibilities of their medium, while too many sonic explorers seem cold and passionless, in it for the art not the heart. Philosopher's Stone is a project that filters its lyricism through manipulated sounds so that most of the album is instrumental, and the vocals come, when they do, as a further distillation of mood.

Such restraint characterizes the whole album. The first piece, 'Through Palisade Trees', lays resonant loops of treated piano against pulsed samples, while the second, 'Cathode Cataract', is four great crescendoing minutes, all minor-key chimes and worrying bells, before it unravels gently into sleep. Each idea is worked through to a resolution and then stops: a fine example for all those loops-and-drones dudes, whose ideas are introduced in the first couple of minutes and worn threadbare in twenty-five.

It takes 'til the third song, 'Where Regrets End', before Mitchell actually allows vocals to crank up the intensity. His voice has the stately devotion of Brendan Perry: deep chocolate tones that carry simple, beautiful melodies and make them sound like the earth singing. There's something of Dead Can Dance, too, in Mitchell's juxtaposition of the human and the electronic: the way a song, sounding as ancient as the hills, all medieval harmonies and phrasing and sung out like beauty and truth were all that mattered, is backed by drones and samples that can only have been computer generated. And it's also this use of drones and hymnic melodies that reinforces the patina of the spiritual that Preparation is given by its titles ('Building A Mirror Of The Stars', 'The Spirit Leaves The Body', 'Places Where The Mind Dies').

Like ex-colleagues Dave Pearce and Richard AMP, Gareth Mitchell takes things seriously. As influenced as they by Nick Drake and Scott Walker, 70s psychedelia, and 80s Creation and 4AD bands, his is another take on their amalgam of lyricism, space and noise. He adds the touchstones of improvisation and Electronica old and new: Zoviet France, Main, Labradford, Stars of the Lid. Ascending swells of sound are punctuated by white noise, melodies crumble under atonal rumblings or are heard distantly in chords and loops. So much, so mid-to-late 90s- as heard across continents, from Bristol and Texas and New Zealand. This is music in which emotion is wrung out of effects boxes and computers, humanity pitted against manipulation, and as such is something of a soundtrack for our times. Where Gareth Mitchell succeeds uniquely is in his measured use of vocals. When he sings - not mutters, not whispers, but really sings - he makes sense out of his music. What is implicit in the instrurmentals, in the melancholic drones and dislocated samples, all the nostalgia and decay and regret and longing, is finally made evident.


Alternative Press

Alternative Press No. 112, Nov. 1997

Gareth Mitchell chose to record outside of Enghnd's AMP (his main band) for good reason. AMP this ain't, with no serious emphasis on guitar architecture. It works more with mantra than with drone. Deeply personal contemplations anchored by unoryhodox sample loops and semi-melodic textures put Philosopher's Stone on a discreet mountain top closer the coast of Main.

Open and cavenous, Gareth's approach to sampling shares much common ground with that of Main's Robert Hampson. The difference lies somewhere between the near Antarctic atmospheres of Hampson and the contrasting Autumn plateau of Mitchell. Cue Zoviet France-like blur pedodically splashed with vaguely operatic vocals, recalling breathier moments from In The Nursery, Sixth Comm and Conlrolled Bleeding, Preparation lays on a thick, deep-gray mood, like 3 a.m. fog rolling into a small seaside town. Let Gareth be your lighthouse as he bridges the era/genre continuum. (Kranky, POB 578743, Chicago IL 60657) Troy Palmer


Philosopher's Stone Preparation


Philosopher's Stone is Amp's Gareth Mitchell. Preparation has a similar effect to Dissolve, though it's resolutely non-rock. It's constructed from loops generated by guitar, percussion and all nnanner of concrete sources These can sound like footfalls through a spectral landscape, as on 'Through Palisade Trees' Mega-loud wedges of teeth grating noises are occasionally drilled into the mix for short durations, as on 'Places Where The Mind Dies' They might be nothing compared to Merzbow or KK Null, but in this context they'll get you leaping for the volume control. Such disorientating blasts aside, preparation is spartan music that works at least 50 per cent by implying something that is not there. Elsewhere, when Mitchell flexes his voice on 'Where Regrets End', it sounds for a moment like Scott Walker singing with The Hafler Trio. It s a shame he didn't make greater use of this combination. Mike Barnes