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Review: Sieben - Ogham Inside the Night (2005)
A few weeks ago I went to a folk concert with Ms F. The most impressive band there was Sieben, at least according to me, Ms F. liked Faun better. Sieben is Matt Howden, his violin and a loop pedal. Here's how Matt describes the work he does:
I've developed Sieben so that I can play live without any backing. I use a loop pedal, a violin, and my voice. I can start with a simple melody, add a bass part or two, some 'drums' by playing beats on various parts of the violin ('kick' behind the strings, 'snare' by slapping the body, and 'shaker' by scratching the pickup with my chin* etc etc), harmonies and melodies over the top. Over this I can sing and play.

*) In the notes to Desire Rites Matt writes that two day old stubble is best for this.

The day after the concert I went to the store and ordered some Sieben cds, which arrived last thursday. I bought Desire Rites (2007), the latest album, and Ogham Inside the Night (2005), which also contains the album Sex and Wildflowers (2003). Unfortunately High Broad Field wasn't orderable from the distributor anymore so I might have to get a paypal account to order this direct. I have listened to each album a few times and Ogham is probably my favorite. The album is a bit odd compared to other Sieben albums in that most of the tracks have additional musicians performing, mostly a cajon and some backing vocals. Ogham is pronounced Oj-am by the way and appears to be an ancient irish/welsh script of which little is preserved except for some stone inscriptions. Reading the lyrics Ogham also appears to be personified somehow, leading me at first to think that it was some kind of ancient bog body like person but Howden appears to use the word Ogham to stand for many things in various tracks.

The album contains the following tracks divided into 4 parts or chapters (Prosperity Arising In The East, Melody Arising In The South, The Cauldron Of Knowledge In The West, Battle From The North):
  1. Ogham The Sun
  2. Ogham The Spirit
  3. Ogham In The Soul
  4. Ogham The Moon
  5. Ogham The Melody
  6. Ogham The Knowledge
  7. Ogham On The Hill
  8. Ogham Inside The Night
  9. Ogham The Blood
  10. Ogham In The Ground
  11. Ogham The Blade
  12. Ogham Carved The Tree
As you can see by the titles there's a definite theme going on here, see if you can spot it. Most tracks build up slowly over the first 90 seconds to swell with rhythm and melody. Lyrics range from nature based themes to songs of war and death but you don't have to fear being swamped by sentimental new-age gobbledygook. Besides, many songs contain incredibly weird words that do not spring from English but are words from various other languages, such as Danish, Portugese etc, making the lyrics somewhat obscure in certain places. All part of the mystery I assume. The official Sieben site contains some explanations of the words but as I assume you don't have the album and the lyrics before you it makes little sense to link to them.
Favorite songs: Ogham The Sun and Ogham The Knowledge, which has some lovely background vocals by Faith and the Muse, although it makes little sense to see the songs as really separate.

As said Ogham also contains a re-release of the earlier Sex and Wildflowers, a truly weird, and in places very dark, thematic album that deals primarily with wild flowers and the occasional hint of sex. Matt created a few extra songs for this album, the combined length of the two albums is more than 2 hours, and of this he says: Feel free to stop the album while you make a cup of coffee/seek professional help for your depression/have children/move to New Zealand.

Overall Sieben reminds me a lot of Glenn Branca's work. Branca takes a lot more time of course as he creates entire symphonies but the slow build-up and layering of instruments is very reminiscent. Some of the more insane violin sections also remind me of Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D minor Op. 47, although Howden's violin is decidedly darker, especially on Ogham.

End notes: well worth checking out, especially if you like music that slowly builds in intensity and aren't put off by off-beat stuff. You don't have to be a folk fan to appreciate this.

Official samples:
Rite Of Amends.mp3 (full, from Desire Rites)
Ogham The Blade.mp3 (excerpt, from Ogham Inside the Night)
Millennia.mp3 (full, from High Broad Field)
Some more can be downloaded from
http://www.myspace.com/matthowden7.

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