Untold Things

Jocelyn Pook

Released 21 February 2001

  1. Dionysus
  2. Red Song
  3. Upon This Rock
  4. Yellow Fever Psalm
  5. Hell, Fire And Damnation
  6. Take Off Your Veil
  7. The Last Day
  8. Saints And Sinners
  9. Butterfly Song
  10. Calls, Cries And Clamours
  11. Saffron

Liner notes

“I wanted Untold Things to reflect the live work I’d been at the time,” says the classically trained, thirty-something Londoner. Pook sees the recording as a natural progression from her long association with Real World, where she’d been a keen participant in the legendary creative jams that are Recording Weeks and worked as a string player and arranger for Peter Gabriel. (As a former member of The Communards and co-founder of the all-female sextet Electra Strings she has also helped flesh out the sounds of PJ Harvey, Paul Weller, Morrissey, Nick Cave and Siouxsie Sioux).

Where her previous albums, 1997’s ‘Deluge’ and 1999’s ‘Flood’, were written specifically for theatre and film – the former for Canadian dance company O Vertigo, the latter for Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ – ‘Untold Things’ is very much Pook’s own creative vision. Encouraged by Real World’s penchant for blurring boundaries, she channelled her trademark combination of classicism and innovation into an exhilarating gem of an album, one which pulls off that rare coup of putting listeners in touch with their deeper feelings. ‘Untold Things’ will, no doubt, be the source of many an epiphany. You could say that it has a spiritual, even magical, quality, as befits one who is constantly changing artistic shape – and whose surname is the Celtic word for fairy.

Pook’s soft speech, translucent skin and Pre-Raphaelite curls might fit the stereotype of a classical musician (and, if you like, a latter-day Titania), but they belie a background in performance-based work that’s seen her create ‘atmospheres’ from found objects like answer-machine messages and corrugated iron. And though Pook insists she is proudly rooted in the formal, classical music tradition, she still hankers after the cutting edge. Her influences – Laurie Anderson, Steve Reich, Holger Czukay and her friend Michael Nyman – are also shared by her like-minded ensemble. “Most of my string section are friends who go way back and who, like me, are also composers. I tend to work with people I’ve got chemistry with and then build around what they play. That means all sorts of instruments and voices creep in.”

“There’s a juxtaposition of vocal styles,” states Pook, who has always favoured eccentric opposites. On ‘Untold Things’, she pits her English choral plainsong and early music leanings against multi-ethnic traditions, and offsets the spacious, tranquil nature of some tracks with the pulsing, dervish-style rhythms of others. It turns out the vocals are not words at all. “Because words are so incredibly powerful,” Pook explains, “I tend not to use them. I prefer to treat voices like instruments. So we’ve used a made up language on two of the songs; there’s one piece which developed from a phrase Parvin Cox once sang to me over the phone. On others I’ve recorded texts backwards, because I love the strange, kind of uneasy quality you get. I find it really peaceful.”

‘Saffron’ is the title track for ‘In A Land of Plenty’, a major new BBC TV drama series which aired at the time of the album’s release. “It’s about a family who are my generation, born in the Sixties and growing up into the present day. It’s very beautifully shot, very impressionistic, which is unusual for television” Pook states. But it started out as a poem written by a mother for her daughter, its lyrics reversed by Pook and Pappenheim before being featured in a short dance film. All of the songs on ‘Untold Things’ have been reshaped and sculpted to perfection. Or at the very least, as near to it as Pook will admit.

“I could go on fiddling with all these pieces for years,” she grins. “But with what I’ve learnt over the past year, especially from doing ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, I’ve been able to go back and rework some of them. I’m more confident in what I’m doing now, which has really helped me to develop. And Stanley (Kubrick) was just so amazingly positive and flattering about my music. The experience of working with him was truly powerful.”

“I’m not somebody who conceptualises,” she offers. “I just do it and see the connections afterwards. I know people will think there’s a religious element to this, which isn’t something I want to comment on. But I do think there’s a sense of faith, of loss and yearning, which is inherent in the music. Hopefully, it moves you.” And in keeping with her Celtic surname, Jocelyn Pook has made an album with translucent wings.

Listen

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