Blackwaterside is a pet project of pioneering UK electronic artists Ultramarine. It takes as its source of inspiration The Blackwater Estuary, near the duo’s hometown of Maldon, in Essex, where the River Blackwater joins the North Sea. Since the band’s beginning this stretch of water, and the nature that surrounds it, have been the subject of a book, a film, and, of course, influenced numerous pieces of music – with the pair frequently incorporating field recordings made along its banks. The latest edition to this ongoing endeavour is the album Send And Return. Built on a session recorded aboard the Thames barge, Kitty – whilst moored on the estuary – the six tracks are named after her sisters: Mirosa, Xylonite, Decima, Hydrogen, Reminder, and Dawn.
The album opens with percolating, programmed rhythms. Treated instrumentation – woodwinds, vibes, guitar, and grungy live bass – that tumbles like Jon Hassell’s 4th World off out dancing. This segueing into a beatless meditation of 6-string microtones, cymbal shimmer, and spiritual Pharoah Sanders-esque skronk. Crystalline chimes synergise with orchestral strings to gentle pitter-pattering electro patterns. Soft splashes of sound, like rain kissing a windshield. Flute floats over the complex, carefully layered arrangements. Details are fragmented and made to fidget in an afro fashion – complete with collaged shouts and chants. Shuffling to shakers, cowbell, and sharply snapped snares. Rather than chillout, or ambient, much of the record is actually an “intelligent”, “arty” house / techno workout. Reminder, however, is a Robin Guthrie-like study for fragile frets and reverb. Serene tremolo echoes in a shallow bay, with added sax.
Initially focused on the fantastic flute playing, a solo serenade, Dawn is a divine, final demonstration of Ultramarine’s folk, now jazz, infused electronica. Dissolving into the ringing of singing bowls, the tiny tintinnabulation of temple tingsha, before being transformed into tender dub techno as the percussion becomes more prominent and the track begins to trot.
Ultramarine’s Send And Return will be released on May 29th, care of Blackford Hill.