Somnambule - Writing About Music

Icarus ~ Carnivalesque

Carnivalesque arrives unrequested at my house in the sort of recycled padded envelope - complete with handwritten address label affixed with masking tape – that usually signals one of my all too frequent eBay purchases. Inside is a CD jewel-case with a white sticker that almost completely obscures the graphics. The sticker’s typography is a little confusing and so instead of trying to decipher it I open the case and remove the booklet. The title is ‘Survival – The Music Of Nature’ set against an exotic tree-studded mountain landscape. It’s scribbled over in black marker pen. I flick through the rest of the booklet and each and every one of the other 11 pages has suffered the same fate. For a brief moment I wonder whether the slightly disturbing glossolalia of contemporary email spam has somehow transmigrated into the real world and begun squeezing itself through my letter box and lying in wait for me on my hallway floor.

I then read the sticker and note that the main title, rendered in a reversed serif font is ‘Carnivalesque’. Underneath is stated ‘by: icarus’. The name’s familiar, I’ve reviewed their previous release I Tweat The Birdy Electric. I begin to realise that the packaging is appropriated, its presentation is designed to intrigue and confuse, perhaps to open up a space into which Icarus’s music might steal, as free as possible from the dulling effect of mediated expectation. If you’ve ever watched a film without knowing anything at all about it you’ll recall the sense of relieved freedom that Icarus might just be trying to achieve.

I play the CD. The music is bustling and ragged, as if tied together with old twine and worn belts. It’s junkyard breakbeat teeming with activity, a-bustle with animated micro-movement. Carnivalesque prompts images of Jan Svankmajer films played at hyperspeed, of timelapse photography depicting the decay of a lovingly tended garden. Its level of detail forces the listener to swim in its slipstream, always seemingly a moment or two behind the immediate action. Icarus’s favoured tempos and sounds suggest an Outsider Art version of Drum’n’Bass, a bricolage Jungle. Their focus verges upon the odyssian, given the neglect breakbeat now suffers in most quarters. However, the pace is only one element of an unsteady, but determined accretion of events held together both by their momentum and by long-held notes that drift and swell. Ultimately there’s a welcome conceptual fit between Icarus’s graphics and music: both appear to repurpose pre-existing elements into new, intriguing forms.

My music playing software automatically tracks down a different cover graphic for Carnivalesque: six bearded men pose on a rock under the title ‘Paul Winter, Winter Consort, Icarus’ – is it another of Icarus’s appropriations or a chance congruence?
Now I’m thinking more about it, I’m wondering how they got my address...
Colin Buttimer
August 2005
Published by the BBC