Bill Nelson

Trial by Intimacy (The Book of Splendours)

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A gorgeously packaged box set of four albums that also comes with a set of six postcards of Bill Nelson's artwork, along with a book of cryptic black-and-white photographs and puzzling fragments of text called The Arcane Eye, Trial By Intimacy (The Book of Splendours) is really a lovely item. However, it's also -- it must be said -- strictly for hardcore Bill Nelson fans and even those might find the set rather tiring in large doses. After dissolving the glam rock Be-Bop Deluxe and aborting the interesting art punk experiment Red Noise after only one album, Bill Nelson reinvented himself as a new wave synth-popper, releasing some fine records in this style best collected on the 1984 American compilation Vistamix. However, by the time Vistamix was released, Nelson had already grown tired of that style, and, it seems, of pop music in general. Retreating into his home studio in the north of England, Nelson began recording an entirely different sort of music. Seemingly influenced by Brian Eno's ambient experiments as well as those of Eno's contemporaries and associates (Robert Fripp, Harold Budd, etc.), Nelson began recording his own brand of watery guitar instrumentals. After an initial exploratory release, 1983's Savage Gestures for Charm's Sake, on his own Cocteau label, Nelson released the enormous Trial By Intimacy in early 1985. The four individually titled records have some nominal differences between them. The Summer of God's Piano consists of 23 very short ambient instrumentals, most of which are just long enough to introduce a texture or sound and then fade gracefully. Chamber of Dreams (Music From the Invisibility Exhibition) consists of the incidental music from a traveling exhibition of Nelson's artwork, as well as the backing tracks over which Nelson would improvise during performances in the galleries during the shows. These longer pieces include found-sound and spoken word segments not unlike the albums Nelson would do later in the decade under the name Orchestra Arcana. Pavilions of the Heart and Soul is subtitled "Dedicated to the charms of sacred and profane love." Yes, it's a pasty British art geek's version of Let's Get It On. A Catalogue of Obsessions is the darkest of the four albums, and probably the most artistically successful. Subtle undercurrents of dread fill the 20 short pieces, making the album the more unsettling bookend to the calming The Summer of God's Piano. All four albums were later individually reissued on CD on Enigma Records under their own names. Although they lack the sumptuous packaging and extras of Trial By Intimacy, the albums' individual strengths are perhaps best appreciated singly.

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