Song of Ungrounding - Selhurst Railway Station, Platform 2 (Excerpts)
To mark the release of Josh Philpott’s debut as Song of Ungrounding, Honor Ash delves into the 45 minute long album of remixed memory, altered place, and filtered reality.
Song of Ungrounding is a new project by artist Josh Philpott, previously best associated with visual and sculptural works such as 2015’s Parking Kerbs, or the series of recent explorations of algorithmic imitations of human drawing and digital reprocessing of such on his Instagram. Song of Ungrounding's debut release, Selhurst Railway Station, Platform 2 (Excerpts) is a diversion into the world of experimental music and sound art that sticks close to its roots as an artwork, living as a document, musing on existence, and a means of conveying a larger idea.
Reflected in the album’s source material is a desire to document and more deeply consider the mundanities of everyday exchanges and transitions, a theme which has long been a clear focus throughout Philpott’s artistic practice. As in Proposal for…, a series of beautifully rendered drawings of found notes, Platform 2 comes from a place of reverence for the everyday. The source - a field recording taken from the titular viewpoint uploaded to Soundcloud in its entirety - is remixed and distorted, reflecting recent developments in Philpott’s visual practice. Platform 2 walks an unclear line between which choices were made by a computer, filter or programme and which were made by the artist’s hand.
At first glance Platform 2 could appear to be a nod to liminality, however this is not where it makes its home. In actuality, the piece moves through a haze of aggressive and confrontational soundscapes, passing by fragments of the everyday to eventually settle with a dark, pulsating blandness.
Each track brings something different to the table; an incongruity reflected in their naming convention. The album feels very transitive, fitting given its subject matter, as we traverse innocent curiosity through to suffocating panic attack.
The opening track, Are We There Yet, operates almost as a trailer for what is to come. Like all of the tracks on the album it captures well the very essence of travelling on a train - there is a clear sense of motion throughout. Fading in almost glacially it quickly shifts gear and speeds into its next phase before cutting off abruptly, like a phone call going into a tunnel. This teaser sets the scene for the album - an onslaught of fuzz, distorted sounds and a foreboding sense of something building.
Hypoglycaemic on the 9:30 to Peckham starts as the most literal window into the world this work inhabits. It almost feels like the true opening track - the one most grounded in reality and full of recognisable signifiers, such as tannoy platform announcements. If Are We There Yet was the cinematic trailer, Hypoglycaemic is the establishing shot. This track transitions from a visceral and real setting into an all encompassing, yet comforting blur - pulling the listener in to the album as a whole. This track ebbs and flows like the ocean, drifting in and out of your frame of view in a way that reminds me of being half-awake on the last train home, desperately trying not to miss your stop.
The titular track of the album, Selhurst Railway Station, Platform 2 (Excerpt, stretched) opens on a blank, deserted landscape. A horn sounds through the fog - or is it a synth? Are we underwater? Has time slowed? We are well and truly untethered from the familiar comfort seen at the start of Hypoglycaemic. A rhythmic bang and clatter gives way to a distant moment of applause. A bass swell grows, almost unnoticed, like distant thunder. This track feels like living inside the moments in a yawn when your ears roar under the tension. Pop and crackle of electricity, and a sneeze to close.
SOU_LP1_04/untitled.wav is, like its name, free from ceremony and unburdened by poetic exploration - perfunctory and clinical. It trudges forwards relentlessly in a wall of pulsating noise. An engine idling perhaps. After a while, you start to hear or imagine patterns emerging from the fog. It speeds up, horns come closer. Like the rest of the piece it has an air of oppressive and ominous energy. A moment comes where you dare to believe it is finally breaking, yet the tension is releasing into another, harsher, soundscape. This moment breaks again and again, luring you in with the promise of relief into a wall of sheer agony and separation. The only solace to be found is that the nature of the pain is shifting.
Leaves on the Tracks starts quietly, in parallel with the opener. It’s as if we’ve learnt from what we’ve seen in the interstitial pieces, with a swell that builds forebodingly. The darkness is used constructively here, rather than as an assault on the senses. It feels as though we have learnt to live with it. There is a rhythm hidden amongst the drone, and to pick it out feels like winning a game with oneself. Small subtleties which could be extant or emergent begin to show themselves as you accept the fog. It’s gentle, almost, like a kid’s fairground ride. The occasional electrical crackle, present throughout Platform 2, is not absent here, feeling as comforting as a 10 hour loop of a fireplace playing on a Samsung Frame TV. Subtle vibrations being sent through the speakers and any surface they rest on feel analogous to the real life vibration of a train journey - reminders of the visceral nature of the track(s) and the speed at which you are traversing them. It’s easy to become lost inside this track - there are no real landmarks or frames of reference. I started to long for outside stimulus around the halfway point - feeling crushed by the emptiness and relentless drone. Give me the chaotic onslaught of SOU_LP1_04 over the silence of my own thoughts. It operates almost as a meditation, yet imbued with its own emotional landscape as opposed to the overtly neutral canvas of the Headspace app. The slow pulsing in the depths of the drone feels as though a warning siren in a storm; the wind is blowing, the rain is falling, and I am watching it all through a glass box. I feel a kind of sadness akin to reading a devastating news article and realising you don’t care because it’s happening too far away to feel real. Crackles burst forth as though rain on the roof and my ears run to them, thankful for the momentary relief. I look out the window, and the blue skies feel artificial in contrast. The rumbling falters, and I miss it. The silence deafens me.
This album is unified through its darkness. Returning to the opening section of Hypoglycaemic on the 9:30 to Peckham feels naïve and juvenile in comparison to the landscape traversed by the subsequent tracks. There is a curve of learning, of painful assault, of acceptance and coexistence with the darkness. It becomes not an opponent but a bedfellow, a constant companion on our journeys through nowhere but here.
Selhurst Railway Station, Platform 2 (Excerpt) builds on its foundation as a documentation of the everyday to become something which feels truly transitive yet rooted to the spot. It speaks to cognitive disconnect, exhausted autopilot journeys home, and the longing to be anywhere but where you are right now. It fits that the caption of the original Soundcloud upload notes that it was posted 1 year after Philpott began shielding at his mother’s cottage in Somerset - and was recorded in the winter of 2019, just before the coronavirus pandemic took hold. Platform 2 feels like a musing on, and longing for, a past which still promises to return with an ever postponed due date. Rather than romanticising through a nostalgic lens, Platform 2 remembers with a visceral realism, transporting the listener not only back in time, but further into their own grey memories of midnight commutes, anxious dissociation and endless cross country malaise.