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Kemper Norton – To Mahina

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Kemper Norton - To MahinaIn which Kemper Norton applies his spectral resonances to The Doomed Bird of Providence‘s “Mahina,” a standout track from their most recent album Blind Mouths Eat. The Doomed Bird of Providence explore the very darkest recesses of Australian history through their bleak sound constructions, and Kemper Norton brings his own West Country roots to bear on a story which reflects on the violent effects of tropical cyclone Mahina (one of the most intense, if not the strongest, storm recorded in the southern hemisphere since record-keeping began) in 1899 upon ships packed full of Cornish emigrés heading for a new life in the Southern colonies.

It’s not just Europeans whose lives and livelihoods were cut short by Mahina – also swept up and rent asunder by the category 5 cyclone were hundreds of Japanese pearl fishers, and here Kemper Norton imagines an encounter between representatives of each devastated group across the four tracks on the EP. There are nautical creaks and displaced sonics, the twist and beat of time held low on the bass frequencies; where The Doomed Bird of Providence can be harsh, almost unforgiving, Norton takes a more mournfully introspective approach, building a haunted dreamscape which soundtracks a notional movie unfurling in the abstract far more then placing definitive ideas front and centre.

This separation makes for a step back, the regard from afar of the viewer of the screen, a distance which reflects the passing of more than a century since a disaster which has perhaps been forgotten by the wider world. Unlike a remix – this is billed as a re-interpretation – Kemper Norton comes into the limelight to sing in his softly intoned folk voice on “Working.” Here he is a raconteur more than a singer, explaining rather than declaiming; and his delivery is all the more effective for this.

Tones ebb and flow, not with hurricane force but at a steady pace, making for a cursive meditation upon rather than a representation of the violence which sundered so  many hundreds from their lives. Instead, the conclusion comes, appropriately enough, with “Ending”, where a threnody of meshing loops and synthaesthetic drones make for a solemn paean for the long, long dead. The names of the victims, as well as their boats, make a final reverberating tribute – though missing through a fault of history rather than the musicians are the pearl fishers, whose Australian memorial consists only of a reference to “300 coloureds;” there is a sense that there is plenty to mourn for the way the past saw itself as much as their is for the people who came, and perished, before.

-Linus Tossio-

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1 comment to Kemper Norton – To Mahina

  • “Instead, the conclusion comes, appropriately enough, with “Ending”, where a threnody of meshing loops and synthaesthetic drones make for a solemn paean for the long, long dead.”

    – This is a lovely sentence, particularly ‘meshing loops and synaesthetic drones’. Kudos for accurately describing sounds and their trajectories.

    Kemper Nortor is such a boss, who keeps getting better, and Doomed Bird Of Providence are fantastic, as well, so I’m sure this is a rager. Need to find a copy.

    Have you heard ‘Music For Lighthouses’ by Plinth? You might dig it. Some more nautical hauntology for us all.

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