untitled. ANNA PLANETA
-Andy Jarvis, Joincey, Mikarla Jarvis, Phil Todd-

(Betley Welcomes Careful Drivers 1998)

I can’t remember the exact year, but I was working at a large hospital in Nottingham, England and living in a tiny room in the staff accommodation block. I had a lot more time to listen to music in those days. I found myself forever searching for something, something I hadn’t heard before that didn’t involve tired old electric guitars, synthesizers and drums and that came from somewhere else. I didn’t know what it was, yet I felt sure I’d know when I found it.

In order to stay plugged into the matrix of truly incredible music that was filtering through from New Zealand at the time (SEHT, Surface of the Earth, RST, Dead C, Flies Inside the Sun etc.) I was sitting on the bed reading through a printed distribution catalogue that dealt in such strangeness. It was before everything went internet and paper still existed. The catalogue was from Fisheye distribution and contained hundreds of descriptions of exotic and beautiful sound artefacts, but one in particular caught my imagination.

Recorded at a derelict boarding school called Cotton College, near Alton Towers in Staffordshire, Anna Planeta was a double CD released on the wonderfully titled Betley Welcomes Careful Drivers label. I think part of the write-up alluded to the fact that the label considered this release tantamount to commercial suicide. Obviously I sent off the cash and in due course a small package appeared in my pigeon hole in the communal post room.

The two CDs came in a rough cardboard envelope with a black, fairly indistinct print of a photograph of something dark and closed in. I was shocked to find that the ink was actually water soluble. If you wet your finger and rub it a bit you can smudge it, thus adding a new layer of consumer participation to the packaging design. Surely a concept that calls for further exploration?

Anna Planeta were Dan Bird, Andy Jarvis and Phil Todd, who ran the record label and also operated under the name Ashtray Navigations. Clutching their battery operated and acoustic instruments, they entered this dilapidated, abandoned school building and proceeded to interact with the fabric of the space. The result is a compelling document of what could be a ritual to tease ghosts from out of the masonry.

Although instruments play a part, they never detract from the location. The central characteristic of these recordings is the sense of an empty, debris strewn interior. Particularly on the two long tracks that comprise disc one, the musicians work with their surroundings as a resonating chamber and never fill the emptiness. It is always left to ring and echo down corridors and long disused classrooms.

The track titles in themselves serve as indicators of mysterious depths: The Galley, Our Lady Carbonate, Flowerfruit of Life, The Creak in the Wood, Bleakest Tea Bottle, and of course the classic S. Freud, C.G.Jung and W. Reich Cast Wide Along the Oedipal Axis. The latter being the noisiest track of the lot and a pretty speaker wrecking finale.

So finding Anna Planeta was a revelation to me. Playing these tracks late at night, with their extremely quiet passages of gentle creaks and groans suddenly punctuated by loud, percussive crashes, I started to think that places as well as events could be recorded. Atmosphere and the personality of a location could be conveyed in sound waves as well aspictures and text. I wanted to start a bit of self-education, and a door into the classroom had just swung open.

Phil Todd has a few copies of this still available, some of the tracks can also be previewed on YouTube. Unfortunately it seems to be no longer available as a download, but who knows what might happen in the future? Maybe it’ll be conjoured up into the realm of the perceptible once more so we can all enroll into the academy of dark vibrations again.

[CD images and booklet reverse art work, courtesy of Discogs]

-Chris Whitehead

Anna Planeta discography
Betley Welcomes Careful Drivers discography

Chris Whitehead

Sound artist.