The Rheidol Valley is situated near the Cambrian Mountains in northern Ceredigion, Wales. The river Rheidol rises in the headwaters of the Nant y Moch reservoir, which was created in 1964 by flooding a part of the valley of the River Rheidol and its headwaters derives its name from a stream, the Nant-y-moch, which formerly flowed into the River Rheidol at this spot. The construction of the dam and subsequent flooding of the valley south of it signalled the end for the hamlet of Nant-y-moch. The contents of the graveyard which was to be submerged were relocated to the chapel in the village of Ponterwyd. A number of cairns, prehistoric piles of stones, set on the hills and mountains to mark a spot for memorials to somebody who died there were painstakingly moved. Archaeologists estimated that some of these were over 3000 years old, which dates them as far back as the Iron Age.
The album opens with a short field recording called Lambs. Here we can imagine the purple moorland grasses that grow on the deep deposits of peat. We can hear the wind as it whistles through the branches of dense and ancient oak forests, which are carpeted with rich understoreys of ferns, mosses and lichens. It is the beginning of spring and we can hear the new born lambs that herald the approach of fine weather in Wales. Wales is a country of small farms and sheep rearing is an age old tradition. Down in the valley floor, glacial and alluvial deposits have been worked by man into a relatively low intensive agriculture.
Tanner and Kraus ambled aimlessly along the length and breadth of the valley with their instruments in tow and made field recordings, songs and improvisations as they went along, rather like the wandering minstrels of yesteryear. A minstrel was a medieval European bard who performed songs whose lyrics told stories about distant places or about real or imaginary historical events, and this can’t have escaped the musician’s minds as they sought inspiration for their landscape lamentation.
The rest of the albums song titles are just simple references to geographical features; valleys or waterfalls. Humble and sombre works of slow heartfelt strings, vocalised ancestral spirits, elusive percussion elementals and genuine field based recordings are coalesced to create a new acoustic topography that attempts to reinterpret this ancient terrain.
This could so easily have been a misguided attempt to create Welsh folk music by people who’ve have never even seen a dafad in a cwm before. Thankfully these musicians are artists of honesty, integrity and above all authenticity. Getting beyond their egos they have allowed the ‘sense of place’ to inhabit and roam freely through every last acre of these sentient sound mappings. These acoustic folk tales understand, respect and eulogise about the characteristics that make The Rheidol such a special or unique place. The softness and sincerity of their instruments and voices foster a sense of authentic human attachment and belonging, there is a genuine feel of why locals and visitors hold such a special meaning to the place.
This is a mysterious musical phenomenon that forms a bridge between reality and the imagination and it exists independently of either of the musician’s perceptions or experiences, yet is dependent on human engagement for its existence. A charming cultural codification that seems to protect, preserve and enhance this place of beauty and value.
- Review by Dean Rocker for Fluid Radio
released March 3, 2011
Sharron Kraus: Voice, Dulcimer.
Michael Tanner: Temple Bells, Autoharp.