Virginia Astley – From Gardens Where We Feel Secure (1983) – Review



By Cal Meacham

This album is an instrumental collage of piano and field recordings that Astley made in the English countryside.  Loops of animals and bird chips, bells and bangs but without ever feeling like it doesn’t belong.  Nine Bits of chamber music that float between ambient concepts, to fleshed out rolling tunes such as Hiding In The Haha, which takes on a playful feel of the morning sunrise and the moments after.  In one of the stranger moments, it ends with the sound of a screeching donkey as if to say “whoops I almost forgot the textured loop” but luckily this is the only such moment on the album where things feel out of place.  While out of place, it falls right in line with the jaunty nature of the piano and woodwinds of the song.

These tracks are beautiful piano pieces, secluded memories of many years past and they invoke a feeling of warmth and happy memories.  The background notes of Out On The Lawn I Lie In Bed reminds me of a swing set, swaying back and fourth in the wind while the piano notes water color the background trees and smells.  Summer Of Their Dreams with its warbled music and water noises hazes you into their dreams and slides you down the river as you float atop it, on your back.  When The Fields Were On Fire is more frantic, as the bells ring and the chimes pulse you feel a sense of urgency.  Is there something wrong?  You imagine a slow motion pan across a field that is ablaze and the villagers passing pail after pail of water to douse the flames.  Only when the birds chip do you finally see the charred remains of the crops but the promising sunshine of tomorrow steadily beams in the background.  Every song title throws you a scrap to build upon and create all you own with each little moment of sound already filled in.   That is really what this album is about: all the textures, visions and feelings.

One could argue that Virginia Astley could have skipped over adding the field recordings of sheep or noises of water, looped for texture.  But what they do is take you to a place, they help you connect to a countryside that many of us have never been.  They frame the inspiration, and add to the majestic beauty of the gardens and security that she references in the album title.  The loops never seem forced or haphazard, which is often the downfall of similar ambient artists.  The nine tracks fly by before you know it, leaving you searching for the repeat button so you can quickly return to your dreams.  Concepts albums are difficult to pull off to this degree of success and knowing that makes you revel in the beauty, all the more.

Score: 10/10


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