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The Lead Review

The Heroine's Journey: Jane Weaver's Fenella Rekindles Old Myths
Danijela Bočev , October 31st, 2019 10:37

Taking inspiration from Hungarian animation masterpiece, Fehérlófia – and England's "first lady of the double entendre", Fenella Fielding, Jane Weaver's latest project is full of utopian potential, finds Danijela Bočev

It is almost symptomatic, the subtle presence of a fairy godmother muse hovering over Jane Weaver’s recent output coinciding with her musicianship being warped to ever greater kosmic heights. No doubt she has found her muse and following in the emancipatory trajectory, we’re witnessing the artist coming fully into her own.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that her latest project is named after yet another female muse: late actress Fenella Fielding, remembered for her campy glamour and vampy subversiveness. As Fielding herself, a child of the free-flowing, blooming 60s, Weaver’s new project with long-term collaborators Razz Ullah and Peter Philipson, draws the creative substance from the subversive popular modernist sensibility.

Fenella is part of Fire records’ fascinating series of reimagined scores. Weaver here is drawing inspiration from the (1981) Hungarian animation masterpiece Fehérlófia (‘Son of the White Mare’). Based on the ancient tales of the Scythians, Huns, Avars and other nomadic tribes, it is a tribute to the old steppe people, combining several folk tales into a narrative variation of a hero’s journey and origin of the world legend.

As basic as it is weird, the story tells of a hero, third-born of a dethroned goddess-turned-horse, he gains superhuman powers by suckling the magic mare’s milk for two seven-year intervals after he sets out on a heroic journey to rescue the princesses and reclaim the kingdom from the underworld dragons. Fehérlófia is a solar hero’s journey in a circular allegory of the eternal recurrence of time and space. But the real hero here is the boundary-dissolving animation of Marcell Jankovic. Characters are just a minor part of the super-vibrant fantastic context, the overlapping tales providing the basis for a psychedelic blending of the individual with a wider planetary consciousness.

Highly formally inventive, the lysergic style of Fehérlófia boasts a bold, surreal colour scheme without black contours, capturing the eerie energetic form of glowing characters in a state of epic, witty, whirlwind-paced hyperfluidity at the edge of abstraction. Here is unfettered creativity in mindboggling flux through a sort of psychonautic vortex-hopping, creating a surreal ecstasy of oneness.

In all its phantasmagoric vibrancy, Fehérlófia captures the kind of acid lucidity emerging fundamentally from art, serving as a portal into the wider world of abstraction. It is an expression of the cosmic aeonic forces and representation of some archetypal intelligence, most readily found in old tales.

I am reminded of Justin Barton’s call for lucidity over reason, challenging the modern world’s idea that reason is the place of maximal abstraction. Instead, he argues, “lucidity, most recurrently, and perhaps most effectively, expresses itself in the form of stories, in the form of tales, in the form of deeply, profoundly abstract tales. In fact, if a tale is genuinely the product of lucidity, it is more abstract than the products of reason.”

The unfettered sensory delight of Fehérlófia is reflected in Fenella’s rich layering of blissful swirling synthscapes, ominous drones and processed guitar textures, but expertly sublimated into an exemplar of perfectly poised restlessness. Fenella’s contemplative arcade aesthetic evokes the tuneful abstraction of the applied kraut of Kosmischer Läufer: The Secret Cosmic Music of the East German Olympic Program 1972 – 83. Processed ambient guitar thrives on the contrast of the dreamy and ominous, straight from the Fripp/Eno pioneering masterclass.

There is a taste of dreamy, airy melodicism here, delivered in warm, gentle bouts of twangy clarity evoking Slowdive (eg ‘Strength in Air’, Rotation Wells’) with hints of Durutti Column. Then more ominous moments uncover the aggressive clarity of Robert Fripp (‘Occurring in Waves’, ‘Rock Creature’, ‘Transfiguration Into One’). There are moments of astonishing synth wizardry (‘Gilded Griffin’) akin to the new spiritual jazz and abstract synth doodling of Szun Waves’ Luke Abbott.

The most accomplished and psychedelic of all Weaver-related projects, Fenella’s far from being a collection of textures or loose mood pieces. A collection of fully-formed songs in a mesmerising ambient disguise. Far too richly dynamic and compositionally evolved to drone on aimlessly, Fenella gives us an imagination-affirming piece of popular modernist music with a high utopian potential. It sounds invigorated rather than defeatist or stuck in the loop of the post-modern recycling bin, drawing you straight into the attractive forcefield of lucidity towards the highest aural delights.

In the context of Weaver’s musicianship, after the meditatively expansive Loops in the Secret Society, the recent ambient re-work of her recent catalogue, Fenella represents a further sonic exaltation and refinement of her craft, going further into the sonic realms of atmospheric abstract cosmology blissfully morphed with the mythopoetic.

Fenella’s re-imagined score coincides with the recent restoration of the film itself, both rehabilitating something also in need of restoring in our culturally disintegrating contemporary perspective: the myth-bound imaginative potentials at the source of a culture, a vital part of the engine driving forward. Most importantly, the act of re-imagining re-possesses the fundamental spark of creative lucidity, vindicating it from inside the traditional folk tale form, salvaging it from too easy co-option by reactionary forces.

Any idea that actually has a future will be informed by a utopian potential in the present. The most potent weapon in the progressive arsenal is to evolve the modernist legacy’s ideal of formal experimentation and innovation, pushing forward that spark through updated forms and re-imagining it for the present moment.

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