Morning Pageants - A concept album about the death of the Devil.
Nearly a year ago myself and Tom Lenton released our debut album ‘Morning Pageants’ together as Delmer Darion. Morning Pageants is about the death of the Devil. Not any literal death, but instead his steady demise over the past several centuries. At the height of his power, pretty much everyone feared Satan’s ability to walk, talk, convey, possess, and generally affect the physical world. Nowadays, he’s a cartoonish character who is at his scariest in slightly cheesy horror films. Not that we think there’s anything wrong with that - we just thought it would be a really interesting historical shift to track, and an unusual but fertile concept to explore through our music!
Today we are annoucing ‘Morning Pageants: Remixes’, a collection of reworks of the album tracks by Joseph Shabason, Rachika Nayar, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Lucy Gooch, Imogen TV, r beny and Anton Pearson (Squid). I thought this would be the perfect time to finally post about the album here on lines to hopefully have a discussion about some of the album concepts and to keep you updated on the release of the remixes. Bandcamp links here to Morning Pageants and Morning Pageants Remixes, then of course everything is on the usual streaming platforms here.
For each of the album tracks we have written both a technical and a thematic breakdown which you might find interesting to read as you listen to shed some more light on things. This is a very text heavy post so I’ve made the breakdowns of each song collapsible.
TechnicalThis track ended up being one of the hardest to get right and one of the last to be finished on the album. The main synth is Dexed, which is a VST emulation of the Yamaha DX7. We recorded it out onto tape and then ran a parallel version of it through the Old Blood Noise Haunt.
The snippet of song you were at the end is actually a song that’s split into three parts across the album. We call it “Doubles”. The first part is here at the end of “290 Recto”, the second part is at the end of “Lacuna”, half way through the album, and the third part is at the end of “Television”, at the very end of the album. Each time the song comes back, it is slightly slower than before and one key lower (it starts in C, moves to B, and ends in Bb). This first snippet is totally clean: just acoustic parlor guitar and vocals, with a little bit of Telecaster guitar in the second part.
A few other interesting bits: first, there’s a dulcimer part half way through, which we used the Spitfire Audio Labs VST for. Second, the mangled guitar that bridges into the clean guitar was processed through the Make Noise Morphagene.
ThematicWe knew we wanted the album to start deep inside a forest, as Dante does in Inferno. We felt we wanted to create a frantic, nervous energy. We actually had scenes from The Blair Witch Project in our heads as a visual reference point. But for about 3 years, we went through a cycle of redrafting, being unhappy, leaving it for a while, and then starting again.
The breakthrough finally came with a new idea for the lyrics. We’d been reading about a musical language called Solresol, constructed by Jean-François Sudre. The idea is that distinct clusters of notes from a scale, ranging from one note to four notes in short succession, form words. We wondered whether we could create a synth from samples of a sung solfège scale and then play the lyrics through melody on that solfège synth. And after a bit of work, we got it working nicely. From there, we eventually settled on taking fragments from the litany from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and translating those.
The title came last. “290 Recto” is a reference to the Codex Gigas, which is also known as ‘the Devil’s Bible’. The legend around its creation is that, in return for his life, a monk had to write down all of the world’s knowledge in one night. So, he sold his soul to the devil to get it done, leaving a large illustration of the Devil in the middle of the book as a sign of his infernal deal.
TechnicalMost of the parts for “Darkening” were written back in 2015. It was then that we came up with the slightly shoegaze song that “Darkening” samples: the 15/8 guitar riff, the drums at the end, the 4/4 bridge sandwiched in the middle, and so on.
But it still took us about 4 years to get this track right. It was the last one to be finished on the album. In fact, this final version came into being the week in which we were doing the final mixes for the whole album. We started mixing an earlier version of “Darkening” and noticed how much less excited about it we were than the other tracks. We thought, ‘shit, that means it’s not good enough’, and spent the day redrafting it instead. Thankfully, we were really happy with how it came out that time!
For the final version, we recorded some parts of the sample song to tape and some other parts to a pretty badly broken cassette player. The bridge, featuring vocals from Guest Singer, was all recorded to tape as one, and then we just layered that with a subtle part on the Elektron Analog Keys. Everything that we recorded to the cassette we played back through the cassette player’s built-in speakers and took a room recording of that with stereo condenser microphones.
ThematicFor this track, we pictured a dilapidated hut deep inside a forest. We knew we wanted this track to be the first in a sequence of three overlapping tracks that portray a journey - from the depths of the forest in “Darkening”, to the boundary between forest and empty streets in “Wildering”, to the winding underground corridors of “Narrowing”. And since that journey ends up somewhere pretty bleak - our centre of the album, our centre of hell, “Lacuna” - we wanted “Darkening” to create a sense of foreboding.
In addition to painting that initial scene, the lyrics reference accounts of demonic black dogs found in British folklore. A particularly big source of inspiration was Abraham Fleming’s 1577 account of an incident at St Mary’s Church in Bungay, called A straunge and Terrible Wunder.
TechnicalUnlike most tracks on the album, which took months or years to assemble, the foundation for "Wildering" was created almost entirely in one very long evening. For a long time, we’d had a totally different song for track 3, but decided to scrap it completely and start from scratch. Also unlike most songs on the album, it started with the two of us jamming together, rather than one of us working alone in Ableton for a while. We think the result is something that feels more live, more performed, and more wild.
The driving percussive sound at the start and then throughout the song was made by pinging the Mannequins’ Three Sisters filter with three variations of a jittery clock from Mutable Instruments’ Marbles. The Three Sisters filter is unique in that it has highpass, lowpass and bandpass inputs and outputs, which allows for interesting feedback patching. A combination of the three varying gate signals from Marbles and the way these interacted as they pinged the highpass, lowpass and bandpass filter inputs is what created the rhythm. As the song progresses, the clock is modulated to become less on grid; by the end it is totally broken and out of time.
The sample we created for this song was a short, slow ballad. We took the vocals from that, mangled them in the Make Noise Morphagene, played chops live using the Mutable Instruments Stages as a voltage source, recorded that into Ableton, and then arranged that into the vocal melodies you hear throughout the track. If you listen to the vocal part with the lyrics in front of you, you can pick words out a lot more easily than you can without them in front of you!
The bass is an Instruo Ts-L oscillator with its wavefolder and sub outputs mixed through the Three Sisters filter. The main audio signal was taken directly from the filter. However, a copy of the audio was run into the Mutable Instruments Rings resonator and then fed back into the filter input. The bass at the start of the song is mostly the clean Ts-L signal with low feedback. The bass in the breakdown has much higher feedback to create the wailing bass swells. The part was recorded in one take and the brightness of the resonator as well as the amount of feedback was played manually to create the swells.
We recorded live drums for this track, but supplemented those with a live performed part on the Arturia DrumBrute.
Thematic“Wildering” always had a clear job: to take the journey initiated by “Darkening” and propel it forward, from the depths of the forest to the edge of a deserted, urban landscape.
The lyrics were the first thing we had for this track. They take snatches of that setting and present them back as fragments, like “severed roots”, or “curdled air”, or “pall of mist”. The images were very heavily inspired by David Harsent and Matthew Francis - in particular Harsent’s A Bird’s Idea of Flight.
“Wildering” is a slightly archaic word which means to cause someone to lose their way. Or in botany, it’s a plant that’s run wild and isn’t being cultivated.
TechnicalFor “Narrowing”, we recorded a disco track to use as a sample and then burned that to tape. The original sample was recorded at 120bpm but, after we recorded it back off the tape, we slowed it down to 88bpm using the Re-Pitch warp mode in Ableton, to imitate the sound of slowing an old single down from 45rpm to 33rpm.
We then recorded that slowed-down sample into the Morphagene and spliced it into various sections. Those splices were played live using a Make Noise Pressure Points, which controlled sample position and length. We recorded performed parts out into Ableton and sequenced them further in the software.
The verse vocals on this track were recorded by Private Agenda. The first half of each verse is clean vocal, just with some simple reverb and so on. The second half of each verse is their vocal parts recorded into the Morphagene and played in different warped splices.
The driving percussive force in this track comes from an electronic kit in Ableton. But we also recorded some acoustic drums. And the acoustic drums for this track were recorded such that the snare would deliberately start to lag behind the beat as the song progressed, to make the song sound increasingly off-kilter as it progresses.
To create the ending, we recorded the original sample to tape over and over again until it became almost unrecognisably degraded. We re-recorded to tape somewhere around 10 times in the end. In the final track, we crossfade between each of the different tape recordings one by one, starting with the cleanest and ending with the most destroyed, so that the sample sounds like it’s being continuously degraded.
ThematicAt the start of “Narrowing”, we’re being carried through winding corridors. We picture them as a modern, urban reimagining of the concentric trenches in Dante’s 8th circle of Hell. But the central image - the scene we’ve been conveyed towards since the start of track 2 - is of the Devil endlessly playing piano somewhere at the centre of this underground labyrinth.
That image is indebted to an American poet called Bianca Stone. She has this poem called “I Saw the Devil with His Needlework”, in which the devil is sitting on an old chair at the curb of some street, looming over an embroidery hoop stitching something ‘special’ for Bianca. There’s a line half way through where she says she “saw his hands that never stopped”. For whatever reason, that line stayed with us for months. And it’s the first thing we wrote down when trying to tackle the lyrics for “Narrowing”.
TechnicalThe main thing to talk about in “Lacuna” - and one of our favourite elements from the entire album - are the bass hits that make up the centre of “Lacuna”. They come from the Noise Engineering Cursus Iteritas, which was running through the Three Sisters filter and the Xaoc Tallin (which provided the overdrive). That’s the heart of the bass sound. But we layered that with a few modified versions of that same sound. For example, we recorded the stabs onto the broken cassette player and took a room recording of the built-in speakers, just as we ended up doing in “Darkening” too. It’s pretty battered, meaning the tape badly warps whatever is recorded onto it. That’s where the squeals and shrieks in the bass part eventually come from.
There’s also quite a bit of guitar in “Lacuna”. For example, the drone at the start of “Lacuna” is a sustained guitar note held in the Old Blood Noise Endeavours’ Dark Star. And then, the repeating beeping sounds in the middle of the track come from different guitar drones being held in the Dark Star and then run through the Make Noise Lxd, which is being plucked by clocks with different tempos.
Another potentially interesting detail is the piano heard at the start and end. The piano in “Lacuna” is the Native Instruments version of the Una Corda: which is a contemporary piano with one string per key, created by David Klavins in collaboration with Nils Frahm.
Finally, the second snippet of “Doubles” (introduced in “290 Recto”) appears at the end of this track, slightly slower than before and now in B rather than C. To create this version, we sampled the guitar part from the first version and then turned that into the droning sounds heard here by stretching it out.
Thematic“Lacuna” is the centre of the album, our centre of Hell. The name comes from a few places.
First, in Christian theology, it’s common to understand evil as a lack of light and goodness, rather than a thing in and of itself. St. Augustine, for example, said that evil can be understood only as an absence of positive qualities, like the darkness in a room when a candle is snuffed out. And lacunae are always some kind of gap or absence. In anatomy, a lacuna is a cavity, often in a bone. In codicology, it’s a gap in a manuscript, often caused by weather and decay.
Second, in Dante’s Inferno, the ninth circle of Hell is home to a frozen lake, Cocytus, in which Satan himself is lodged. And the word “Lacuna” comes from the Latin “lacus”, meaning ‘lake’.
TechnicalThe production for “Pearse” was definitely the most straightforward of the bunch! We recorded the whole song in Ableton, and then recorded the entire track to tape a couple of times. That was pretty much it for this one. It’s supposed to sound like a bit of a found object: a random old dusty record that has somehow made its way into this album.
ThematicThe Pearse resurgence is a water-filled cave in New Zealand, from which the Pearse river flows. The exact origin of the river is unknown. Even 200m down, each tunnel just leads to more ice-cold, black tunnels. So, every few years, divers push further inside, searching for the source of the Pearse. In 1995, one diver lost his life exploring the main shaft.
During a more recent dive, John Atkinson got awful vertigo whilst deep inside the cave. He ended up trapped in an air chamber, in which he had to wait an hour and a half before being rescued. The story is told in Advanced Diver Magazine - it was one of those very late night, very random reads that you only come across after hours of Wikipedia diving. And it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever read.
The link to the Satan narrative is a little looser for this track, but it’s this. When Dante and Virgil reach the centre of Hell, their escape is through a narrow passage which is too dark to see, and can only be found by the sound of a small stream that trickles through it. So we’re kind of superimposing John Atkinson’s ascent after being rescued onto Dante and Virgil’s escape. The refrain at the end is “The cavern’s dark, the way is long.” The rest of the album is that long ascent through time, away from the centre - from medieval fear to enlightened skepticism, and all the way to modern indifference. The following four tracks tell stories from different moments in time, arranged chronologically, which chart that progression.
TechnicalThe long drone at the start of “Brossier” was made using a 4MS SMR, which fades slowly from its internal noise source to its six resonant filter peaks. The filter peaks are then modulated by a Make Noise Wogglebug. Eventually, a flute drone loop also enters.
The two vocal loops in “Brossier” both come from a sample that we created for this track. Like the one we created for “Wildering”, it was a ballad. The first vocal loop was created entirely in Ableton, just through chopping, reversing some parts, and rearranging. The second vocal loop is a straight reverse of a line from the sample - meaning, if you reverse it back, you’ll hear a backmasked lyric.
Like in “Lacuna”, there’s quite a bit of guitar in “Brossier”. This time, there’s an electric guitar but also a P bass at the end. Both the electric guitar and bass guitar at the end were played through Old Blood Noise Endeavours pedals: the electric guitar is coloured a lot by the Dark Star and the bass is coloured a lot by the Haunt.
“Brossier” was easily the hardest song to mix on the album. There’s a lot of sidechain compression throughout (to create all of the swelling), and getting the settings right for those compressors took a lot of trial and error.
Thematic“Brossier” is about a 16th-century French woman called Martha Brossier, who feigned demonic possession. There are many historical accounts of possession, but what we found so compelling about the Martha story is that her possession was put to the test. For example, one Church official tricked her into drinking nothing but holy water for days on end, which she didn’t react to. Another day, he wrapped an ordinary key in a piece of silk, claimed it was a piece of the True Cross, moved it towards her and watched her react in theatrical demonic fits.
The first line you hear in the song is taken verbatim from a contemporary account of the Brossier story. Church officials are putting stinking vapours under her nose, knowing she’ll believe the smells are supposed to drive the Devil out. She reacts violently, and they quote her as saying “Pardon me, I am choked; he’s gone away.” But really, their understanding was that those stinking vapours were the ‘Devil’s dainties’, and would therefore have no reason to drive the Devil out.
After a series of tests like these, the Church officials concluded she wasn’t possessed at all. And we thought this story could function as a really powerful symbol in the album - a story which starts to sow the seeds of Satan’s long but inevitable undoing.
The lyrics also allude to “sunbeat yarns” - those are the yarns of the Apocalypse Tapestry in the Château d’Angers, which tells the story of Satan’s final battle with Christ in the Book of Revelation. That’s the city in which Martha was examined by Charles Miron, one of the officials. For decades, the tapestry sat beside a large bay window and slowly became bleached by sunlight. Nowadays, it hangs in a darkened, climate-controlled room.
TechnicalFor the start of “Genoa”, we recorded an acoustic upright piano with a pair of SM57s and stereo condenser microphones and paired with that with some saturated, chorus-and-reverb-drenched, repitched and autotuned vocals. Like with “Wildering”, it’s much easier to pick out lyrics if you have them written in front of you! Then, the arpeggiated, distorted pluck sounds at the start come from a Mutable Instruments Rings that was recorded much faster and then time-stretched until it was audibly warped.
The next section introduces some live recorded acoustic drums and a synth part from the Elektron Analog Keys. Then, once the vocals come back, a Spitfire Audio Labs cello part comes in as well.
The soft, subtle sounds in the lull that follows are actually recordings of us whispering. We were reading snippets from the Book of Common Prayer, which we layered on top of each other and dressed in various Ableton effects.
When the song picks back up, we bring in the kick drum part from the following track to create a seamless transition.
Thematic“Genoa” is about Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini. Paganini was born in the late 18th century, and was born in the widely rumoured to be in league with the devil. Some said his mother had sold his soul to the Devil so that he could become the greatest violinist in history. After a concert in Vienna, someone said they had seen the Devil stood behind Paganini, helping him play. And it was even said that the Devil made lightning strike the end of Paganini’s bow during one performance.
The rumours were so widespread that, after he died, the local church would not bury his body on consecrated ground. In the following years, his embalmed corpse was housed in an abandoned leper house and then an olive oil factory. Eventually, Pope Gregory XVI allowed his body to be taken to his place of birth, Genoa. But he was still refused burial. He was finally buried in Parma in 1876: well over 100 miles from Genoa, 36 years after his death.
TechnicalCompared with most other tracks on the album, the production for “St. Louis” is fairly sparse. We focused on having fewer elements and just nailing each part.
The lead vocals come from Claire Wellin. The piano in “St. Louis” is the Native Instruments version of the Una Corda: the same piano from “Lacuna”. There are also a couple of synth parts that come in, all from the Elektron Analog Keys, as the song progresses. Then the drums come from the Arturia DrumBrute, which was run through the Old Blood Noise Endeavours Haunt. We also recorded live cello and flute for this one, which come in during the bridge. Finally, there are short snippets of a distorted guitar riff in the outro. This riff was part of a very different, much earlier version of this track. But it still found its way onto the final version!
Thematic“St. Louis” is about Pearl Curran, an American housewife who shot to fame in the early 20th century after allegedly making contact with a 17th-century spirit named Patience Worth through a ouija board. The first line in the song alludes to the first message Pearl received: “MANY MOONS AGO I LIVED. AGAIN I COME - PATIENCE WORTH MY NAME.”
For a few whirlwind years, Patience was a phenomenon, writing poems, plays and novels through Pearl. But soon, experts started weighing in. One such expert, writing in the Unpartizan Review, attributed Patience to “an excessive discharge of phosphorus” in Pearl’s brain - that’s what the “streak of phosphorus” in the first chorus is alluding to.
Before long, Patience had become a passé throwback to a sentimental age. And unfortunately, Pearl Curran was left worse off than she had been in 1913, before making contact with Patience. She lost $4,000 creating a magazine devoted to Patience Worth’s work and roughly the same hosting 8,000 guests in her home over the years.
Technical“Television” is possibly our favourite track from the album. There’s a lot that we like in this one. So we’ll break down a few bits.
The growling sounds at the start and throughout - which sound to us like they’re coming from some kind of animal - were made by scratching the contact microphone of a Mutable Instruments Ears, meaning we were able to perform them with a pretty high degree of control.
The electronic drum kit was built in the Ableton drum rack from samples of a Roland CR-78. Then, we recorded a fragmented acoustic drum part to complement the stable electronic kit. We recorded a series of jittery, freeform fills. Then, we sequenced those in Ableton. And what follows is one of our favourite things we did: as the vocal starts to loop towards the end, we started to mess around with the audio channels for the 12 drum microphones. Initially, all 12 channels are of course in sync, playing audio from the same fill. But one by one, we changed the audio playing on each channel. So to start with, 11 channels are playing one fill, and the 12th channel - the left overhead, perhaps - is playing audio from an entirely different fill. By the end, all 12 channels are playing audio from 12 different fills.
The track also features some noisy, messy guitar samples which were recorded on a Telecaster, recorded into the Morphagene, and rearranged. These are heard as short bursts throughout the song - like at 0:56, for example.
We recorded an acoustic upright piano part for this track, too. Actually, we recorded two lead parts: one which holds the theme and one which countered with increasingly complex and extended variations. We panned one ever so slightly to the left and the other ever so slightly to the right, to create the subtle impression of two pianos playing in call and response. There’s also a more subtle piano part before the vocals come in, which we recorded as improvisation, loaded into the Morphagene and then stretched out.
The third and final snippet of “Doubles” comes at the end of “Television”. It’s now slower once again and in Bb (as opposed to C and then B). To create the second snippet, we sampled the first. And so to create the third snippet, we sampled the second snippet: so, it’s a sample of a sample. We turned the drone sounds from the second snippet into a series of long held notes, and then sequenced different pitches of those notes to swell in and out. The extended drone sound that you hear after the vocals have finished was all recorded to tape. We performed manual tape stops live, with a reverb applied in Ableton. The closer to end we get, the more frequent and sustained the tape stops are.
ThematicBeing the last track on the album, the question for “Television” was always, ‘where is he now?’ Where has Satan fallen to? And we stumbled on our perfect landing spot in a detail from the Satanic Panic that swept 1980s America.
At that time, there was a general, widespread fear that a secret Satanic underbelly was perverting the country. It was largely kicked off by the fraudulent Michelle Remembers, which gives grisly (but fabricated) details of Satanic ritual abuse. And amongst this fervour, some Fundamentalist Christians like Pastor Gary Greenwald were preaching how cartoons like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe were turning children to Satan and the occult. That gave us this wonderful image of Satan curled up and imprisoned in the electron guns of old cathode ray tubes, forlorn and pathetic. It felt like the perfect symbol for the death of Satan in the collective consciousness.
When it came to the final lyrics, we imagined light from a cathode-ray tube TV being cast across an 80s-family living room. We saw blue light illuminating a lonely bowl of Lucky Charms on the carpet. Then, we imagined the scene playing in reverse: we imagined the light waves being pulled back to the screen, and the electron beams being sucked back into the electron guns. That’s where Satan lives, we thought, interpolating a line from Wallace Stevens’ “The Auroras of Autumn”: stuffed inside electron guns, resigned to hiding little symbols and messages in Saturday-morning cartoons.
I would love to hear from anyone who has had a listen with any thoughts or questions. There is a lot more to talk about with the artwork, videos and the accompanying chapbook that comes with the vinyl release on Bandcamp - but this post is already long enough as it is!