I have never been to Chanctonbury Ring, but I have read stories about it- both the factual and the fantastic. It sounds like a really interesting place to visit, one I might try to experience some day. The mysticism around it is something that reading alone doesn’t capture well. Justin Hopper and Shannon Kraus have collaborated on Chanctonbury Rings to create an audible story about Hopper’s experiences at this place, and bring the mysticism to life.
Kraus adds the music elements to Hopper’s autobiographical, spoken tale. Ambient electronics, choral melodies, and folk pair with introspective prose and nature sounds to weave a story of a day on the downs at Chanctonbury, in which the narrator remarks on legends of its creation and many fables of happenings there, as well as the more grounded history of the place.
Hopper’s tale is descriptive and grand, detailing the surroundings with a critical eye, and expertly expanding on the folk tales. This story leads you on the journey of an enchanting day as summer approaches. From the dense dew that pre-dates dawn, Hopper sits pensive over Sussex and remarks on its history, before wandering the ring and finding the ghost of his grandmother, who first took him to Chanctonbury. He observes a number of other things while there, including a troupe of dancers and a separate concertina. His speaking is pensive and measured; the calm and careful words are soothing, and very easy on the ears.
Kraus’ musical contributions are what turn this from essentially an audiobook into something I am allowed to write about, thankfully. The beautiful folk vocals and acoustic guitars that lift certain segments of this album are wonderful, with the song “Wanderer” being almost exclusively comprisedof those elements. Somber moments of the album, and most of the parts focusing on the more spiritual elements of the tale are backed by Kraus’ ambient electronic measures and the more forward synth melodies. Other instruments are present throughout, including flutes and violins that add nice touches to the expertly crafted backdrop.
Hopper and Kraus are joined throughout by Belbury Poly, the eclectic rock band of Ghost Box Records co-founder Jim Jupp, as direct contributors. Their combined efforts lead to something very unique to experience. It’s a record akin to Radiophonic Workshop‘s The Seasons and The San Sebastian Strings‘ The Sea, embracing that forgotten time of spoken word-accompanied soundscapes that you don’t really find all that much anymore.
Chanctonbury Rings as an album is the kind of thing that shows how much music is truly art. This isn’t the kind of record I would recommend neither to a music enthusiast nor a casual listener based on either of those traits alone. It is the kind of album you recommend to someone patient and thoughtful, who will take the time to absorb the essence of something beautiful and unique regardless of how they feel about any one type of music. Chanctonbury Rings is a wonderful auditory experience, and an audible journey more than it is a music album. And for that, I recommend it to everyone.