Will Montgomery [Brian Marley]
CD (E67)

In the beginning Rhodri Davies photographed an empty display
cabinet and Brian Marley filled it with words. This combined effort,
The Legend, was published by Thomas Evans in New York,
Spring 2006, as the supplement to Tolling Elves #37. In August
2007 Will Montgomery recorded Brian Marley reading his text.
The ten parts of Legend [speech] are treatments of the same
short performance. An additional part, Legend [room], is a filtered
recording of the empty room in which Brian’s reading took place.

The legend reads:

What are we to make of this cabinet and its remarkable
display of emptiness?

Historians have strenuously denied that this was the sarcophagus
in which the tattered mummy of the 18th-dynasty queen regnant
Hatshepsut was smuggled from Egypt to America in c.1917,
eventually to be put on display as ‘Unidentified Royal Female’
in the lobby of the Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas, and subjected to the
bland photographic gaze of legions of common folk, while from
every doorway along The Strip a million clamorous gaming
machines vie for their attention.
— Excerpt from The Legend

Will Montgomery’s electronic compositions have appeared on the
albums non-collaboration (with Heribert Friedl) and Water Blinks
(released on his own Selvageflame imprint). He is working on a
project on acoustic atmospheres in south London. He has written
about music since the early 1990s, mainly for The Wire. He teaches
at Royal Holloway, the University of London.

Brian Marley began publishing poetry in 1972 and was for a time
also active on the British small-press scene as editor and publisher.
He quit writing poetry in the mid-1980s and slept for a decade.
Since then, he has written music criticism for The Wire, Signal to
Noise and others. He also publishes short fiction and literary criticism
and has written ‘scripts’ for abstract animated films. He co-edited
(with Mark Wastell) Blocks of Consciousness and The Unbroken
Continuum (2006).

Will Montgomery’s Legend presentation, given at Translated Acts
no. 2, University of Southampton, 9 May 2009.

Tokafi interview with Will Montgomery

Edition of 300 copies
Out of print

Will Montgomery (top) and Brian Marley


Originating from The Legend, a joint literary and visual effort by
Rhodri Davies and Brian Marley, this magnificent recording uses the
English writer’s voice reading his original words as a primary source
for Will Montgomery’s strategies of sonic revision. This is not spoken
word (initially, I had imagined that after a superficial look at the
notes) but a brilliant series of mesmerising constructions in which
the vocal components are stretched, strained and made glisten in
style, tending to a general sonority that frequently results as awe-
inspiring as the sparkling stars of a clear summer’s night and yet
often deeply anguishing, extended parabolas, unfathomable halos
and bionic birds (check the effects of the seventh movement on your
psyche) depicting a transformation characterised by the infectious-
ness of inner movements implied by an introspective inertia.

Montgomery tackles the material with technical proficiency and
utmost control, transforming rather anaemic sonic bodies into
delicate fluorescence, sympathetic quivering and coordinated
hovering: subtly or evidently, this is music that affects the person
who stands and accepts its consequence. The album is closed by
a filtered audio snapshot of the empty room in which Marley’s
rendition firstly happened, the ominously hollow whisper of the
container equally gratifying to appreciate in respectful immobility.
Classy stuff, all the more appropriate given the unbearably grey,
low-pressure afternoon in which the listening sessions are
taking place.

Massimo Ricci at Touching Extremes

Will Montgomery’s Legend began with a single, everyday object,
although this object was brought into artistic consideration through
someone else’s impulse. Rhodri Davies photographed a glass display
cabinet, empty of all but its essence, and writer Brian Marley wove
a story about it. This story was the text used in a short piece —
accompanied by the photograph — which was published in Spring,
2006. I won’t go into the written text (you really should read it
for yourself), but I will tell you that I’ve read it more times than
I can count, and each time it’s been indelibly rich. Something
about this photograph paired with Marley’s writing (elegantly lofty,
grammatically perfect, finding linkage among unrelated phrases
to the point of accidental verse) makes me want to stand before
the cabinet, in vain, to see if I can somehow, osmotically, cull any
truth out of legend. That’s the impact of a modest work.

For this sensitive piece of work, Montgomery apparently found
Marley’s text so stimulating that it became necessary to pay
tertiary tribute to it (and to the cabinet, by proxy). This (final?)
phase of The Legend began with Brian’s unmolested reading of
the work. And that’s what we hear on the disc, but not really.
I’ll venture a guess that it took Brian three minutes and fifty-two
seconds to complete his recorded text. Each track (ten of them)
clocks in at 3'52". And that is possibly all Montgomery wants us
to know about the production. Consumer transparency. Embarking
on my own from that point, I found it difficult to get Alvin Lucier’s
I Am Sitting In A Room out of mind. Yet the only similarity the
Lucier work has with Legend is that the music is comprised of
altered speech. If Lucier wanted to record only the reverberated
resin of his words, leaving no trace otherwise that the sound
began with the human voice, then it would find companionship
in Montgomery’s work.

But we’re decades on and Montgomery has his own unique
approach in mind. Marley’s speech was obliterated by its own
activation, in concept before the words hit the microphone. What
we hear are digitally restructured sounds, some tamer in activity
and attack than others, with each track containing the slightest
fragments of the one before or after. The voice is manipulated
through processing, treated, re-treated, and mastered. Ten times,
3'52" each. And there’s nothing careless about it. Montgomery
could have abandoned form altogether, but he’s given us
something suitably mellow, each track undergoing its own
indiscriminate evolution.

Montgomery, Marley and Davies improvised with potential and
concept as instrumentation, and the inspiration was a cabinet
originally constructed for God-knows-what. The music wouldn’t
have worked well for me without knowledge (and appreciation)
of its associated context — one of the more notable pieces is
the final, 11th track, in which the music is an omni recording
of the room in which the cabinet stands. Yet, independently,
the music has worth as artifact. And perhaps that’s the point.

Alan Jones at Bagatellen

Without clarification, one would be hard pressed to know upon
listening to the material that Marley’s voice acts as source material,
given Montgomery’s radical transformations. Some faint trace of
the human voice emerges in the fourth and fifth [tracks] but the
variations essentially come across as economical electrical drone
pieces somewhat reminiscent of the work Stephan Mathieu has
produced. Glassy tonal streams whistle and shimmer in a style
that’s more placid than aggressive, and at times (e.g. the tenth
track) the material evokes the peaceful micro-activity of a digital
pond; overall, the release holds one’s attention, especially when
each carefully-designed piece is so compact.

Ron Schepper at Textura