Australian and British entities Lost Salt Blood Purges and Boring Bathtimes have collaborated on a release of massive proportions, elegantly titled Yellow Fog Sword. On this release, Michael Snoxall (Lost Salt Blood Purges) set out to create a novel and its accompanying soundtrack with Oliver Aldridge (Boring Bathtimes), whom he already had made some small collaborations in the past. The original story of Michael ended up as a forty-four-page novelette, illustrated by Ov Exvn Infërnvz. Then, the outline of the music was created, with directions for pacing and events, and the task of coming up with music was handled equally by both musicians.
While I wait for the physical novelette and cassette tape to arrive at my doorstep, Michael has been keen enough to provide me a digital version of the former so this review can be dealt with more quickly. Fronted by a detailed illustration from Ov Exvn Infërnvz, the story begins straight away with “Part I–I: The Violent Light”, which corresponds to its musical counterpart, the fifteen-minute opening track. Here we are acquainted with our protagonist, Shan’xi, in what seems like Michael’s take on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Though rather short, each part is well-written and presented expertly, with each consecutive page absorbing me into the atypical world and story of Shan’xi.
Thanks to the compositional process, the music aptly reflects the words that fly by on paper. Sure, the reading pace of everyone will be different, and that will have a certain impact on what notes you hear on the words you read, but – if you want to live the full experience of parallel reading and listening to the album – you can modify your reading speed according to subtle musical cues. The most obvious one is that you should have finished reading a chapter when a song ends, but there are also more organic cues hidden in the songs: tempo, energy, rhythm, harmony… All of which you can use to guess if you’re reading the right passage at the right time. Moreover, the music offers us additional information on the feelings expressed or implied in the story. For example, when first reading the very first paragraph of “The Violent Light”, you could read it with a contemplative mindset; like witnessing hidden and fantastic beauty. However, what the song offers us is an eternally slow and sad eulogy, which reflects well how, and this we can only know when reading further, Shan’xi feels about what was presented to us in text. We might fantasize about the mystical beauty of her world, but she is disgusted of this monotonous, dull, and uneventful life of this cavern, and the music embodies it rather perfectly with languid chords. This is but one example of how music and text can work in synergy to create something even more magical and meaningful. The pacing of the text and music is a bit uneven. At times, you’ll have ample time to read the chapter and wait for the song to end, while other times you feel pressed to finish it as time runs out. However, this is only a small disagreement in an otherwise entrancing journey.
Shan’xi and the Yellow Fog Sword is a metaphor for life, humanity, conscience, knowledge, and imperialism. It’s a tale of genesis and apotheosis, the Alpha and Omega of its own world, and a peculiar voyage. Blending fantasy and science-fiction, metaphor and literality, it offers an intense story that leaves many questions unanswered with lore that goes at least as far back as Only the Youngest Grave. Beautiful and dark, sometimes deranging, the forty-odd pages of this story offer a compelling, if quite strange, story that echoes itself within its sountrack. At over an hour and a half long, the musical side of Yellow Fog Sword goes to many grounds in order to accurately reflect the story on which it is based. Through what could best be called experimental folk, Lost Salt Blood Purges and Boring Bathtimes made an important work that should stir and make waves into the people who dare bathe into it. While the music holds some clues, the experience is truly incomplete without having read the amazing short story for which it was meant.
Thanks to Michael for some answers and material.
Artists: Lost Salt Blood Purges & Boring Bathtimes
Album: Yellow Fog Sword
Release date: 21 July 2017
Countries: Australia & United Kingdom
Label: Apothecary Compositions
First Movement: ‘The Violent Light, the Soft Luminescence and the Expanding Earth.’ – 26:08
1. The Violent Light – 14:49
2. The Soft Luminescence – 4:03
3. And the Expanding Earth – 7:15
Second Movement: ‘Ritually Fallen Leaves Lay before a Village That Dreams but Never Sleeps. The Water Leads the Way to Small Dead Souls That Build upon the Bed of the River.’ – 24:23
4. Ritually Fallen Leaves – 6:00
5. Lay before a Village That Dreams but Never Sleeps – 10:05
6. The Water Leads the Way – 3:28
7. To Small Dead Souls That Build upon the Bed of the River – 4:50
Partial running time: 50:28
Third Movement: ‘The Tower, Centred in Saltless Plains, the Sorceress, Hiding in Its Highest Chamber, and the Yellow Fog Sword That Leaves Shan’xi in Eternal Sleep.’ – 37:15
1. The Tower, Centred in Saltless Plains – 3:49
2. The Sorceress, Hiding in Its Highest Chamber – 7:21
3. And the Yellow Fog Sword – 14:05
4. That Leaves Shan’xi in Eternal Sleep – 12:00
Partial running time: 37:15
Total running time: 87:40
Lost Salt Blood Purges
Michael Snoxall – percussion, keyboards/synthesizers, vocals, woodwind, saxophone, field recordings, noise, tape and vinyl manipulations, programming, mixing, mastering
Oliver Aldridge – strings, dulcimer, woodwind, hulusi, clarinet, keyboards/modular synthesisers, guitars/bass, percussion, sample and tape loops, saxophone, vocals
Samantha Kempster – vocals on ‘The Violent Light’
Unknown – vocals on ‘The Expanding Earth’ and ‘Ritually Fallen Leaves’
File type listened to: MP3
Bit rate: 128 kb/s
Sampling frequency: 44,100 Hz, 2 channels