I sometimes dream I’ve been given a chance to make a feature film. It’s a free-form adaptation of the children’s book ‘The Dark is Rising’ by Susan Cooper, nothing like the horrible Hollywood treatment it got in 2007. Maybe the film will run for days – maybe it will adapt only one image or element in the story and be over in minutes, but the opening credits always show a bus in South London, early winter, grinding to a halt at a terminus. The shadows between the bus and the wall, the movement of birds on the trees, briefly form the outline of a face, something gliding, fugitive, almost unnoticed, through the world. The whole point of representing ‘the dark’ –the supernatural, shapeshifting force described in the book- would be to depict it as a part of other, everyday things. Something briefly glimpsed in the corner of the eye in a shopping mall, rather than an obvious phantasm.
Michael Jon Fink’s ‘I Hear it in the Rain’ is always the soundtrack to this film. The ninth track, ‘Living to be Hunted by the Moon’ would play as the camera panned to a wall of trees at the edge of a field, fog slowly gathering and moving outwards over nineteen long minutes to besiege a house. ‘Echo’, the fourth: the movement of undulating river water as lost objects slip away under the waves. I still see these scenes when I listen to the record. Maybe they come from the record itself.
‘I Hear it in the Rain’ is a collection of spare and beautiful instrumental pieces recorded between 1986 and 1997 by classically trained musicians in California. Instruments used are celesta, piano, glass guitar (whatever this actually is, it does sound like a guitar made of glass), clarinet, samples, electric bass and percussion. It was released on the Cold Blue Music label in 2001.
Around the time it came out I was bored of the same old guitar bands and trying out other things I’d meant to get round to hearing one day: one CD each of Japanese noise, musique concrete, skronky jazz, dub, Detroit techno. Rough Trade Shop stuff. Officially, ‘I Hear it in the Rain’ falls into the ‘post-minimalist’ category. No, me neither. Amazon bafflingly lists it as ‘orchestral jazz.’ ‘Ambient’ doesn’t work – it’s too tightly wound, focussed and ominous. It perhaps shares some of the otherworldly mood of Alice Coltrane’s ecstatic, spiritual jazz, but is way less swaggering and full of itself. The titles of the tracks probably describe it best – it really is like music you would hear inside the rain: pieces called Passing, Mode, Fragment, Echo, and Epitaph.
I first saw it mentioned in a roundup of new releases on http://www.tangents.co.uk, described as:
“patinas of notes, near and far, heard and half-heard. It’s an astonishing, entrancing album, careful and considered, yet never too precious or conceited”.
I ordered the CD after reading that sentence.
When it arrived it had that odd, magical attribute of feeling like something I’d always been looking for, but hadn’t known I was.
As teenagers, we used to listen very closely to ‘The Pictorial Jackson Review’ by Felt. My friends and I admired the elegance and feeling for space and composition on that record; the way that side A contained pop songs and side B only spacey, mysterious instrumentals. The fact that the two types of music could coincide naturally on the same record was incredibly inspiring to us. They were different but united by the same austere elegance. I could suddenly see a link between my classical guitar training and the pop music I loved. ‘I Hear it in the Rain’ brought me back to that lightbulb moment; abstract music within my grasp again.
Years later, a friend asked me to make a soundtrack for an art installation he was putting together. I recorded the trees around Epping Forest and then the sound of a harp’s strings being vibrated by the wind, and combined them, edited them into waves of sound which ebbed and flowed for twenty minutes with the rhythm of air moving through the woods. It was an attempt to get on the same spectrum as ‘I Hear it in the Rain’. Unhurried, and at the same time bringing in something disturbing – some indefinable extra voice which came from outside, something from the corner of the eye (or ear). A new kind of music, at least for me.
And one which I have still not worked out how to combine with pop songs. I haven’t listened to ‘the Pictorial Jackson Review’ in years, it’s done its job for me and I’ve moved on. A lot of game-changing, transformative records eventually get worn out in that way. But I still listen to ‘I Hear it in the Rain’ and it still opens up new possibilities in sound. (Alasdair MacLean)
Click here for a link to our feature on The Clientele’s magnificent Suburban Light compilation: