Simon Fisher Turner
The Epic Of Everest
, November 1st, 2013 04:42
Filmed in brutally harsh conditions by Captain John Noel in 1924, Epic Of Everest began as a filmic document of a British expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, one which was had fatal consequences for George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. Long regarded as one of the most staggering documents within the BFI National Archive, the film's restoration has enabled Simon Fisher Turner to craft an entirely fresh soundtrack, with the original film now immersed in the sounds of a modern Nepalese Thapa family playing Tibetan instruments, Cosey Fanni Tutti's beautiful cornet and Peter Gregson's cello, wrapped up in a startlingly Spartan electronic melodicism, easing the torturous passage through the chasmal plains, valleys and glaciers of the Himalayas.
Perhaps fittingly, Simon Fisher Turner is an indelibly cool individual, having partied with Bowie at Haddon Hall, befriended Salvador Dali and Amanda Leer, scored Derek Jarman's films and fashioned a niche for himself playing a stream of sensitive Victorian men in 1970s television. His soundtracks, steeped in experimental collages of found and Foley sounds and teetering on the precipice of archive fever pitch, occupy an eternal bequest to create space rather than fill it, a philosophy which dovetails in beguiling fashion with this attempt on the very top of the world.
Crucially, Turner's soundtrack singularly fails to pander to the whiff of colonial supremacy that, to contemporary sensibilities, might seem to be wrapped up in the original mission. The scoring of such a film could just have easily ended up as a mishmash of cod Nepalese sounds, awash in some ill-informed imperial nostalgia. But there's an unusually theoretical depth to Turner's approach, dispensing with the use of original artefacts as evinced on his previous soundtrack for The Great White Silence – also detailing a doomed expedition, this time Captain Scott's attempt to plant the Union Flag on the South Pole - in favour of the sounds of Yak bells, sighs, and Himalayan silence which serves to inform the score rather than simply provide a sonic translation of what's on screen.
On its own merits, Epic Of Everest is a remarkable exercise in ambient aurora, a gloriously slow awakening of an electronic dawn. The album could easily be tagged as a polar cousin to the KLF's Chill Out, with its similar usage of delicate waves of sound, punctuated by brief fragments of conversation, the braying of Tibetan llamas and E-Bow guitar yawning and seeping through the sunlight. The album is divided into sixteen tracks but is best experienced as an unadulterated whole, an expansive and complex exercise in glorious ambient electronica with these very parameters stretching out into infinity.