Electronic artist, arranger and composer Hannah Peel’s work combines the tremendously deep, rich power of traditional brass with the uplifting arpeggiated patterns and unearthly sound textures of analogue synthesizers. Through an intergalactic journey from Earth to the star constellation of Cassiopeia, Peel explores one person’s journey through space, time and mortality by telling the story of 86 year old Mary Casio and her lifelong stargazing dream to leave her South Yorkshire home in the mining town of Barnsley and see Cassiopeia for herself.
Drawing influences from synth pioneers such as Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire and performing live with the newly formed brass band Tubular Brass, featuring the UK’s finest brass players, Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia will be released in September 2017 as Hannah Peel’s third album. Their special performance at Hull UK City of Culture 2017 will be one of only a handful of shows around the UK.
Hannah Peel’s musical arc continues to ascend in unusual and intriguing directions as news of her third album appears on the horizon. Having already captivated audiences with her 2016 album Awake But Always Dreaming, an album that drew on her own family experiences with dementia (see TEC review here), Peel has wasted little time in shaping up album No. 3 in the form of Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia.
‘Mary Casio’ is a side project that Peel has been cultivating for some time. When a brass band commissioned Peel for a new musical project, she felt that her Mary Casio alter ego was the best face to put on it.
Drawing from her influences of electronic pioneers Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, Peel’s back story for Mary Casio is as an elderly stargazing electronic musician. Her lifelong dream is to leave her mining town home of Barnsley in South Yorkshire and journey into space via home-constructed, hand-made machines that ‘buzz and whirr’ alongside her ever-growing collection of antiquated analogue synths, which she started collecting ever since her father gave her a Casio keyboard as a child.
This combination of brass and analogue synths was originally premiered in Manchester in 2016 as Tubular Brass, which featured a performance of Mike Oldfield’s classic album performed live with a 28-piece brass band.
Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia will see Peel embark on a record described as a “seven-movement odyssey composed for analogue synthesisers and full, traditional 29-piece colliery brass band”. If the idea of such disparate sounds strikes you as bizarre, then the lead track ‘Sunrise Through The Dusty Nebula’ might convince you otherwise. There’s an engaging quality to the quiet beauty in this composition. The brass instrumentation lends the track a certain romance, with chord changes that captivate the imagination.
The tracks on the album were recorded live on location in Barnsley with a complete brass ensemble and the collaboration of Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio team. The result is an emotional journey through 7 tracks, including a sample taken from a 1928 recording of Peel’s own choirboy grandfather. Through tracks with titles such as ‘Goodbye Earth’, ‘Deep Space Cluster’ and ‘The Planet Of Passed Souls’, Peel charts a story that may be Mary Casio’s actual journey, or simply a fantasy conjured up in her head.
Either way, Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia is sounding like one of the more intriguing albums that 2017 has to offer – and also suggests Hannah Peel’s own musical journey is bound for the stars.
In a recent interview Hanna talks about her philosophy around music creation and production:
MT: What’s your philosophy when it comes to composition?
Hannah Peel: For my solo work, I like to play with layers, hidden frailties and contrasts. The blend and dissimilarities of analogue synths and machines with light minimalist resonances, melodies and my vocals has been an ongoing unearthing in the last few years of my work.
The human voice is so harmonically rich – every single human is different, playing with the voice as an instrument always creates something more unique. Everyone can get a similar sound out of a vintage Juno or a Moog, but combining them with something as volatile and fragile as the human voice can create a rich web of sound and happy accidents. I really enjoy what we call ‘lab time’.
Exploring a sound palate, textures, samples, feelings and instrumentation. It helps to establish that first, before hitting record on a new song or arrangement. It creates a spark, a freshness and is a great icebreaker when working with someone new or old. It allows you to both connect without the awkwardness of talking too much.
MT: Would you say that there is a particular ‘Hannah Peel sound’ and what is it?
HP: In short; organic, analogue music… or, as the electronic artist and my good friend Benge affectionately says, “Electro orgustic music”. Emotional, real and warm electronic music that makes you feel something. There is always a song or story behind it, however esoteric or leftfield it may be at times.
MT: Tell us about the new album. Where does the title Awake But Always Dreaming come from?
HP: The album was inspired by a moment last year with my late grandmother who had dementia. She was awoken by hearing music she loved and it was a very surreal experience.
My album delves into the mind and I hope it takes you down into the rabbit hole of the brain and an imaginary world, one where I wanted to believe she had gone. She was in the room with me, awake, but her mind was so often in that dream state between consciousness and subconsciousness.
MT: It also sounds like you have a few collaborative projects on the go…
HP: I really like to collaborate and know it can be a very magical process if you’re open to it. Positive attitude promotes creativity and when negative, it’s like someone turning the power off in the studio, so I always try to enthuse and find solutions to problems if I’m feeling like something isn’t working.
It’s best having a break and going for a walk than fighting it! Finding some common ground, literary, poetry, Oberheim drum machines, Irish wheaten bread… It always helps.
Earlier this year, my expansive band project (The Magnetic North) released a surprise follow up album Prospect Of Skelmersdale. We’ve just about finished touring it and watching the audiences grow bigger and more passionate with each show was an incredible feeling. Green Man festival and a one-off show at RIBA were a triumph!
I was also involved in the new Beyond The Wizards Sleeve record on vocals and have also composed for a new project called Mary Casio – traditional colliery brass band and analogue synths, which premiered earlier this year in May.
MT: What would you say your role is in the studio?
HP: Melody, texture, exploration and a different view, or one to always challenge. I tend to get very deeply involved in projects, so I’ve learnt over the last few years to only choose to work on things I want to know more about and like the people involved.
Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia is released on 8th September and can be pre-ordered via https://hannahpeel.tmstor.es/
Hannah Peel has several live shows lined up for this year including:
1st July New Music Biennial & BBC Radio 3: Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia, Hull. 2nd July Solo Show at FRÜIT, Hull. 8th July Bluedot Festival: Mary Casio & Tubular Bells, Cheshire East. 9th July New Music Biennial Southbank: Mary Casio – Journey to Cassiopeia, London. 29th July WOMAD Festival: Hannah Peel & Tubular Brass, Malmesbury.
Ticket details: http://www.hannahpeel.com/live/.