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Plurals
Bugenes Melissae Ben Graham , April 3rd, 2014 09:02

A cello-like tone establishes a sense of space; the boundaries of an empty, high-ceilinged hall are gradually mapped out. Incidentally, as time and space blur into the same measure, other sounds make their presence felt: a high hum, a percussive clank that echoes and then disappears. Scratches and scrapes that track the floors and walls. We cautiously shuffle out into this unknown room as though blindfolded, arms and fingers outstretched for something solid. Very little can be grasped. Five minutes in, all that can be understood is the vastness; the possibility that this could stretch out to infinity. We are still blindfolded, but we are aware now that there are others in this room with us. How many? Not many. Certainly, there is space for many more.

Plurals are a synth/guitar/other drone collective from Brighton; Bugenes Melissae is their twelfth release. Perhaps their highest profile outing was last year's collaboration with Aidan Baker (Nadja), Glass Crocodile Medicine, on Southern Record's acclaimed Latitudes series of limited edition, live-in-the-studio mini-LPs. This sumptuous orange vinyl album is the fourth release on Birmingham's Oaken Palace Records- a record label that is also a registered charity. Artists produce one-off albums dedicated to a chosen endangered species, and all profits are donated to an appropriate organisation. Plurals' album is dedicated to the bee.

A crackling voice; a radio is playing, quietly, in the distance. Are we out of doors? Yes – the birds are singing in the trees. Do I detect a faint scent of blossom? But still, there's that infernal droning, like bees. Is it the bees? Yes, they're swarming, high above us, all around. And someone is calling them. Someone, or something. An inhuman voice, like blood on the wind. And the bees are responding. But are they arriving or leaving?

All profits from Bugenes Melissae are going to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, founded in 2006 in response to the alarming decline in Britain's bee population. Two species have become extinct over the past eighty years, and others are seriously endangered. This loss of bees is already having a serious detrimental effect on the wider ecosystem, the ultimate extent of which is hard to conceive. Realistically, the profits from an experimental drone record, released in a limited run of 500 vinyl editions, are unlikely to make a great difference to this, though the gesture is to be applauded. What is perhaps more interesting is the extent to which this album- consisting of one long, instrumental track per side- is an artistic response to the situation.

We are back indoors, in a smaller space now. Reverb and the sound of slowly dripping water suggest that we are under a bridge, or within a tunnel. Beside us, someone is playing an electric guitar; a minimal, psychedelic raga, barely there, all tremolo and static rhythms, like an idling engine, maybe a 50cc motorcycle. Actually, it sounds like the ghost of Lou Reed – or is it Sterling? Not quite there, but recalling the Factory crawl, those speed-jangled clusters of notes, building up like the buzz in your nerves after three days no sleep, another Chelsea Hotel Morning, ghostly vapour trails outside the Dream Syndicate. Feedback warps around as the walls close in; the universe is getting smaller. Outside, the flowers are crumbling. The air is growing thin. Nothing is left but the blazing, melting sun.

The album's title refers to an ancient Mediterranean myth that honey bees can be generated from a cow's carcass, literally translating from the Latin as 'bees from Oxen.' Different variations on the ritual – Bugonia – exist throughout Greek, Egyptian and Hebrew mythology. Best known are the story of Aristaeus being told to sacrifice cattle on an altar when his bees were sickening and dying, with the result that fresh swarms of bees arose miraculously from the carcasses, and Samson's riddle of "out of the strong came forth sweetness" – the honey bees emerging from a dead lion, as celebrated on the Tate and Lyle syrup tin.

We awake, to a rasping snake charmer's pipe in some hallucinatory afterlife. There is no sense of space here; only no-space, only the close, immediate presence of strange birds at your shoulder, a chattering monkey clawing at your chest and shadowy presences flickering on the periphery of your brain-damaged tunnel vision. The droning rises and falls like a swelling migraine; instruments are scraped and plucked, too loud, too close. God help us if they actually start playing them. Someone is grunting, breathing heavily in your ear. The heat, you realise, is stifling.

In the original ritual, a house had to be built to very specific dimensions. Into this house should be brought an ox, "thirty months old, very fat and fleshy." The Ox was to be beaten to death with clubs by a number of young men, "so as to mangle both flesh and bones, but taking care not to shed any blood." All orifices were to be stopped up with clean, fine linen, impregnated with pitch, and a quantity of thyme was to be strewn beneath the body. The house would then be sealed, the windows and doors thickly coated with clay, for a period of three weeks.

Everything falls away. Now there is only the drone. But this time there is no mapping out of space. This drone is enclosed, trapped inside your head and ringing like tinnitus. It begins to dip and waver, to grow and reverberate. It's the bees. The bees are returning, bringing life back with them. The world is regenerating, the space opening up again, becoming re-populated with strange new life forms. Echo defines depth and the swarm modulates, spreading across the sky. Strings seem to rumble and swell, triggering a Pavlovian Hollywood panning shot, a helicopter flying over the rain forest, mountains and waterfalls spread out below.

After three weeks the house would be opened up to light and air, though not at the side from which the wind blew the strongest. Possibly this would be so the stink of rotting flesh would not be carried. After eleven days, the house would be full of bees, "hanging together in clusters, and nothing left of the ox but horns, bones and hair."

Suddenly, there's an edge. We hit it and bounce back, and everything shimmers and blurs. The shot repeats. You realise that everything is on a loop. It's not real.

This process, it must be remembered, is a myth. It's not actually a practical solution to the depopulation of bees.

Somewhere, a giant is breathing, as if in deep sleep. The loop repeats, warm tones that suggest melody without ever combining into one. Someone screams out, and tries to wake. But all is dream. A dream of bees. A disappearing dream of bees.

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