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Hawksmoor - Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor's churches have captivated, inspired and captured the imagination of artists, writers, poets and musicians. The large imposing white stone structures of his churches, layer tower upon tower, topped with spires and lanterns point upwards to the sky. Hawksmoor was a pupil of Christopher Wren, and the architecture of his churches involve a hybrid of pagan, Egyptian, Roman and Greek symbolism and structure. And that's without mentioning his predilection for obelisks and pyramids which sit alongside many of his creations.

It was Iain Sinclair in Lud Heat who first noted the occult influences around the alignment of Hawksmoor's churches, while London biographer Peter Ackroyd cast the architect as the devil worshipping alter ego Nicholas Dyer with Hawksmoor appearing as a contemporary detective investigating a series of ritual murders around the churches in his brilliant novel Hawskmoor. Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell expanded upon these sources in his seminal graphic novel From Hell, with a conspiracy linking the Freemasons and the Monarchy with the Jack the Ripper killings, teasing out the mystical symbolism of Hawksmoor's architecture. Whatever his intentions Hawksmoor is now associated with freemasonry, ley lines and ritual murder, and is posthumously referred to as "the devil's architect".

This isn't the first musical project to focus on Hawksmoor. Way back in the eighties the enigmatic and esoteric duo Into A Circle sang of Hawksmoor's "phallic limestone structures" on their single 'Evergreen', while the late industrial percussionist and numerologist Z'EV along with sound artist Nick Parkin recorded The Ascending Scale in the crypt of Hawksmoor's Christ Church in Spitalfields. Hawksmoor is described as "a hauntological imaginary soundtrack which ... is inspired by and explores the mysterious cartographic connections between the six Hawksmoor churches in London." Formed from an evocative setting of Moog generated melodies accompanied by loose basslines and textures Hawksmoor walks a similar path to The Psychogeographical Commission, English Heretic and the strange nostalgia found within releases on the Ghost Box label.

Before encountering the churches Hawksmoor sets the scene with the soft piano notes and lulling tick-tock and chime of the opener. A lurking drone acts as a portent of something more ominous, as synths arch and evolve into an evocative electronic cinematic score. The opening title 'Act for the building of Fifty New Churches in the Cities of London and Westminster 1711' refers to the legislation that was passed to erect grandiose churches to serve London's growing population and to cement the authority of the Church of England. Hawksmoor as surveyor was well placed to select the sites to achieve his vision. Only 12 churches were built and Hawksmoor was the architect of 6 of them, and co-designer of another two. The six churches lend their names to the titles of most of the other tracks. The opening track captures the tension between these houses of the holy and the more sinister goings attributed to Hawksmoor's creations and the placement they occupy within London.

'St Alfege Church, Greenwich (1712-18)' was the first of Hawksmoor's creations and above a dizzying haze of distortion, patters and thuds flit randomly, almost resembling the sound of stone construction. Synth patterns rise majestically, through the rumble of creaking distortion, as if soundtracking Hawksmoor's vision for the rebuilding and remodelling of the church following its collapse during a storm in the years previous.

The opening moody and atmospheric synth patterns of 'Christ Church, Spitalfields (1714-29)' are more than worthy for this one regarded as Hawksmoor's masterpiece. Dissolving into passages of quavering and wavering drones, it places the steeple topped towering structure as if existing between points, capturing its latent occult powers and darkened history. The Ten Bells pub of Ripper lore sits in it shadows. Accompanied by soft bass tones it rebuilds and ascends upwards to the skies with mesmerising melodic chiming synths.

Things begin to get darker on 'St. Anne's Limehouse (1714-30)' which is set to layers of brooding synths overlaid with an expansive shimmering drone yielding loose hollow bass tones. A succession of repeated juddering buzz stabs root us to the spot, on what Iain Sinclair termed an "island shrine" before being drenched in a wash of watery hiss, as if to remind us of St Anne's Limehouse role in navigational history. It gets darker still on 'St. George in the East (1714-29)' with its unsettling combination of hollow xylophone chime sprinkled with disembodied keys and discordant tones. It's almost as if with each track representing one of Hawksmoor's churches points are being drawn on the map to create that unholy symmetry.

There is an air of reverence to be found within the church like orchestral strains of 'St. George's Bloomsbury (1716-1731)', one of Hawksmoor's more enigmatic and eccentric designs. The portico was based on that of the Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek, Lebanon and the steeped tower modelled on the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, capped, perhaps surprisingly, by a statue of King George I in Roman dress, perched above lions and unicorns. Hawksmoor may have been constricted by its enclosed space, but Hawksmoor carve open the sound with electro sequences gliding from underneath the solemn keys into a series of low pulsing shudders.

The site of St. Mary Woolnoth had previously been home to all forms of worship; evidence of Roman and Pagan buildings have been discovered within the foundations here. Long demolished Hawksmoor had free rein for his new structure, and maybe that's why 'St. Mary Woolnoth (1716-23)' arrives fully formed sculpted into rhythmic bass tones, understated beats and fermenting keys constructed over a hovering drone, as we complete the musical journey around Hawksmoor's churches.

You're going to have walk far to visit the final piece - and even further for the final secret track. 'Anno Domini 1736' takes its title from part of the inscription from Hawksmoor's simple raised tomb slab now set in private gardens in Shenley, situated just within the periphery of the M25 and returns to choral melodies, arcing synths, pulsing tones and following Hawksmoor it remodels previous motifs into evocative new forms closing on a series of static clicks. The extra hidden track, 'The Mausoleum', is a neat coda of pastoral folk styled guitar pickings tumbling over the green fields of Yorkshire where this multi-pillared dome topped funeral monument sits within the grounds of Castle Howard.

Hawksmoor is an effective and alluring journey around the architect's creations. Hawksmoor may draw out the malign influences associated with Hawksmoor's sacred architecture but they don't dwell in the shadows there's also a lightness in the moog generated moods reflecting the Portland stone used to create these places of worship. Understated and atmospheric Hawksmoor doesn't impose any specific form allowing you to make your own interpretation. The music created by Hawksmoor "has been composed as an 'imaginary soundtrack' that could be used or experienced as an immersive enhancement to an occult psychogeography of London." I've already visited most of the churches referenced here but, like the best of these psychogeographic musical excursions Hawksmoor encourages you to put on your boots, get out there and explore these places for yourself. Hawksmoor's creations for Castle Howard are now on my to do list. Already in its third pressing Hawksmoor is well worth seeking out. Great stuff. For more information go to Environmental Studies