Birchville Cat Motel. With Maples Ablaze. CD


The Birchville Cat Motel Orchestra was formed by Campbell Kneale inviting some likeminded souls to contribute source material from which he has created a singular, and moving album of sunburned guitar drones, and iridescent NZ folk.

+ 10 untitled tracks

:| design by Campbell Kneale, Cataract Press

The Birchville Cat Motel Orchestra:

Campbell Kneale : junk, field recordings, baby monitors, percussion
Bill Wood : electric guitar, radio, microphones
Richard Francis : contact microphones, field recordings
Bruce Russell : fire
Ben Spiers : piano accordion
Antony Milton : violin, field recordings, harmonica-guitar
Rosy Parlane : electronics
Peter Wright : electric guitar, field recordings
Ralf Wehowsky : tapes, electronics
Neil Campbell : loops, tapes
Stefan Neville : drums, diseased cdrs
Reynols : reynols
Rob Hayler : synth, electronics
Kuwayama Kiyoharu : metal, feedback
Kohei Nakagawa : boiling water, shibaki electronics
GFrenzy : vocals
John Weise : electronics
rhBand : pulse and drone
Simon Wickham-Smith : singing, electronics
Stephan Clover : harmonium
Jonathan Coleclough : tones
Glenn Donaldson : field recordings, bowed guitar
Lovely Midget : broken amplifier
Tetuzi Akiyama : acoustic guitar
Peter Stapleton : drums
Jan Anderzen : electric guitar, electronics
Sami Sanpakkila : synth, electronics


The collected works of Campbell Kneale, a.k.a. Birchville Cat Motel, stand proud and tall among the endless re-negotiations that constitute New Zealand’s underground. Kneale works as artist, motivator, and curator, and his label Celebrate/Psi/Phenomenon documents an increasingly widening crop of outsider art. As an outreach project, it’s mesh-work supportive in design and always a good conversation piece.
With Maples Ablaze feeds the C/Psi/P curatorial axis back into the host outfit. Kneale sent out a call for contributions during 2003, trying to enlist as many under-the-radar artists as possible into his Birchville Cat Motel Orchestra. (A moment of full disclosure: I was invited, but was too temporally challenged [i.e. flaky] to produce the goods.) While the Orchestra is constituted of artists from all round the world – Ralf Wehowsky, Tetuzi Akiyama, Neil Campbell, Jan Anderzen of Kemialliset Ystavat, and Reynols are among the contributors – most of the artists involved are from New Zealand. It has the feel of a community document, with Kneale as benevolent despot, marshalling the ranks and sculpting their contributions into signature Birchville sound.
What’s impressive about With Maples Ablaze is Kneale’s sensitivity to the materials provided. He approaches these disparate sources in a painterly way, forming great abstract shapes and waves of pointillist daubings. As with Kneale’s other recent, excellent disc, Beautiful Speck Triumph, there’s no desire to force any sound or structure into restrictive parameters. These most recent recordings from the Birchville Cat Motel axis have all hinted at a kind of transfiguration, a transference of energies, composition as slow and steady route to transcendence: thus With Maples Ablaze appears to charge through several phases, with the early part of the recording a slash-and-burn of nature play and muted disruption, before the middle of the record strikes a warbled, unsettled crescendo.
But the most affecting part of With Maples Ablaze is the final third. Slowing the record’s progress down to snail’s pace, Kneale unfolds a clutch of drones and liminal electronics, letting them slide through the recording equipment like rich, dense passages of mud. If Kneale is aiming at resolution, this is where he nails it. The sidereal presences that etch away at the very limits of audio – small scrabblings for toys and buzzing monitors, field recordings of farm animals and flickering birds – somehow reinforce the music’s elegance.
Jon Dale. Dusted Magazine

Wind whips the wires, somewhere a guitar is strummed as it's eaten. The air is filled with tiny mechanical insects. The garden is alive with birds, all singing in their distinctive tones while a low organ tone throbs slowly as church bells merge with music boxes. Space and time are displaced by a house of mirrors. A subway rolls under a city and we go along for the ride, a children's gamelan orchestra leads a hallucinatory parade. Vast cold emptiness of space, or heat, tumult and weight beyond the imagination; a tiny island of life pulses in the void, inhabiting a warm wet bubble sheltered by a thin skin of air. Chaos plays footsie in the dark with blissful natural order, and the flow remains unbroken. By my count there are around thirty members of this edition of Birchville Cat Motel; which is primarily built around the noisy visions of New Zealand's Campbell Kneale, but here he is assisted by a summit meeting of modern exploratory music, including: Simon Wickham-Smith, Neil Campbell, Peter Stapleton, Glenn Donaldson, Bruce Russell, Lovely Midget, Reynols, Antony Milton, Jan Anderzen, Sami Sanpakkila, and many more. There are only ten tracks, so undoubtedly we are hearing multiple cross-pollinations of the artists involved. At one point, listening with headphones I thought a large truck was revving it's engine in my front yard; but instead it's quietly raining. A slippery combination of sounds and musicality standing on it's head wearing a paper mask and eating cereal. Very ambient and cave-like, with a strong NWW influence in places perhaps. This is undoubtedly the most beautiful thing BCM have ever done; which is not to denigrate his/their previous work, but this feels like a rather sublime event.
George Parsons. Dream Magazine #5

“With Maples Ablaze” is another fuzzy blast of could arctic winds and warmer summer breezes from everyone’s favorite dream noise architect. It’s been a good year creatively for Campbell Kneale with releases as Birchville Cat Motel, collaborations and side projects with like minded noise makers, much of which can be found on his Celebrate Psi Phenomenon imprint. On this far reaching collaboration under the BCM name, Kneale’s noise-scapes, comprised of homemade electronics, sculpted feedback, the sounds of his house, and much more, are augmented with what appears to be half the international noise underground lending support. Kneale’s been delving more deeply into the mixing fold on recent albums like the expansive “Beautiful Speck Triumph” (Last Visible Dog) and the hounds of hell noise scourging of “Waste” by his glitch/doom alter-ego Wardagger, but “With Maples Ablaze” fully engulfs the listener into his cybernetic sound language via a collage of primitive industrial resin, field recordings and the further embellishments of his collaborators.
The list of performers in The Birchville Cat Motel Orchestra is inspiring: Antony Milton (violin, field recordings, harmonica guitar), Lovely Midget (broken amplifier), Tetuzi Akiyama (acoustic guitar), Peter Stapleton (drums), Jan Anderzen (electric guitar, electronics), rhBand (pulse and drone), Glenn Donaldson (field recordings, bowed guitar) Richard Francis (contact mics, field recordings), Simon Wickham-Smith (singing, electronics), Jonathan Coleclough (tones) to name but a few. Kneale’s raw recordings of homemade electronics are the starting skeleton on which he carefully drapes a wide assortment of chirping found sounds and ethnic skins, creating a living, breathing noise Frankenstein’s monster. The results vary in trajectory and tempo, yet at the center of each piece there remains at least the faintest glow of a pulse. One track is based around the field recording of a locomotive pulling into station. Another feels like the mic was placed inside a burning metallic cylinder. Every nook and cranny of the mix is rife with animation--percussive clatters and bass rumbles, bird songs, voices, chants and more--all beating with the pulse of collaboration. Kneale exposes a common rhythm that drives a larger, though widely dispersed, community of like minded individuals to search for harmony in a world that can often be described as anything but harmonious. Besides, how can you go wrong with an album that credits Bruce Russell with fire?
Lee Jackson, foxydigitalis

On With Maples Ablaze, two dozen members add distinctive noises to New Zealander Campbell Kneale's “junk, field recordings, baby monitors, and percussion” on this 70-minute, episodic travelogue through ten untitled tracks. Contributors include Bill Wood, Jan Anderzen, and Peter Wright on guitars, violinist Antony Milton, and drummers Stefan Neville and Peter Stapleton, plus electronics from Rosy Parlane, Ralf Wehowsky, John Weise, and Rob Hayler, and field recordings from Richard Francis and Glenn Donaldson (not to mention Bruce Russell on, ahem, fire, Kohei Nakagawa on boiling water and shibaki electronics, and Kuwayama Kiyoharu on metal). Given such a large pool, one perhaps anticipates a dense and cluttered result, but in fact Kneale integrates their contributions restrainedly, allowing ample wind to blow through these spacious, panoramic soundscapes (one exception, though, the humungous drone that emerges midway through). Kneale solicited material from the participants—many fellow New Zealanders, it turns out—and then meticulously wove their sounds into an extremely personalized sonic fabric. While With Maples Ablaze might be formally classified a drone piece, there's nothing unvarying or one-dimensional about it, even if a core pulse is never too far from the surface; indeed, there's an evolving soft-loud-soft trajectory that's easily discerned. The initial stages are relatively peaceful—an ambient overture of cloudy swirls, industrial rustlings, and bluesy guitar scrapings, followed by a mutating drone of bell tinklings and machine din—with an array of string scrapings and field noises in the fourth section that strongly resembles the aural psycho-geography inhabited by Set Fire To Flames. This haunted episode of dreamier guitar ruminations turns noisier when machine-like rumbles grow into an avalanche of train track clatter and industrial clamor. The album's climax appears in the sixth section where warped voice babble escalates into a hellish cacophony, with razor tones sometimes piercing too painfully. In its last third, the piece quietens, the focus shifting to distant wind rumblings and glistening, string- and organ-heavy drones that dramatically arch and swoop. Like a fully alive organism, a natural aura pervades the work, as it seems to stretch across broad, sometimes desolate vistas. And organic is the key word, as Kneale encourages the material to develop and unfold in unhurried rather than forced manner.
Ron Schepper - textura

On this collection of ten unnamed tracks Birchville Cat Motel goes a step further than it has dared so far, by inviting a big number of underground sound-artists from all around the world to contribute and then sculpturing a unified piece of art from the there. And it works. “with maples ablaze” will take you on an exciting, challenging but also soothing ride, that has jumps and loopings, but also longwinded parts where you can relax and watch the landscape drift by. Staying off from any extremism or genre-attributed music, BCM manages to stray between the definite points in the musical landscape and find a more interesting path on its own. “Only he who walks his own way, can’t be overtaken” I read yesterday in an ad. As if it was all about being the fastest. I’d say, he who has reached timelessness is freed of all sorrows and sadness. This one has been around for some time now and judging the usual foray of work-progress that Birchville Cat Motel is known for, I guess there’ll be some more records available by know. 2004 saw a handful of releases and also something of a “hype”, albeit on a very minor scale, for BCM. Well, it takes some time to really get to the core of things like these at times. Moreover, on the one hand, this is not the Wire or any other publication dedicated to covering the most recent affairs and releases (that would be music journalism and god behold we ever become music journalists…). On the other hand, “with maples ablaze” is a little different than the other releases by BCM, because on this one Campbell Kneale has invited about two or three dozen likeminded souls to contribute to his music. This includes John Wiese (Bastard Noise, Helicopter Records), Reynols, Bruce Russell, Tetuzi Akiyama, Peter Wright, and lots and lots of others. Mostly from New Zeeland, where Kneale hails from, but also from all over the world. Actually, this should be called the Birchville Cat Motel Orchestra, to be honest. And finally, after some years of following musical trends, you should have wisened up and realised that there is no necessity to know things first or know everything there is. Don’t let them fool you. Thinking of New Zeeland, don’t you get the impression of green woods, cool but refreshing air, cuddly animals (like the Kiwi-bird) and friendly people? Usually people forget that the downunder end of the globe hosts the most deadly and venomous spiders and snakes around. Insects as big as seven inch singles that can jump into your face and bite of your skin with one single leap from two meters away. Snakes who will kill a whole village by biting one person, so deadly they are. Well, this two-sided approach to Kiwi-island is way too simplicistic to give truth to the matter (and I wonder what New Zeelanders will think of mid-european nations that live on Mozart and skiing alone). Because New Zeeland has been known worldwide for its wide-ranging underground/rock-music-scene. Is BCM a part of that? I guess so, though it’ll definitely inhabit the outmost fringes of that scene. As soft guitars and chirping noises soothe the ears, harsh sounds will invade and blow like a cold wind in a summer evening. Somewhere along these ten unnamed tracks of differing length (why the distinctions, they all run into one another anyway) some metal cans will clank and crank with deep echo, some ambient will emerge, some frenzy and chaotic whirlwinds of noise will wipe through your aural space, then some more noise supported with some more rhytms, vocal samples. At times it is hard to judge where all of this will lead to. Especially during the longwinded excursions as in track #4, one that makes me shudder with cold walking up my spine, but that evolves into a finely crafted piece of chamber-noise after six minutes running time and falls into a sea of washing noise towards the end. Or the chaotic, dark ambient and weird noise of track #6, with its warbled children’s (?) singing and mad sounds. This one is another 10-minute excursion into parts of the mind you never wished you visited. And some time after its all back to lying in the sunlight by a small river, listening to the water splashing by peacefully and the lulling hum of a nearby highway. To be honest, all tracks on here are finely crafted. It is remarkable how, disregarding the diverse sources and artists who provided the original material, every track on “with maples ablaze” sounds so solid and fitting into a bigger confinement. Nothing seems arbitrary or fallen into place by accident. Nevertheless we go from Pita to the Dead Husbands to Black Dice and back to Psychon within a cool hour plus a few minutes. The slow, “monotone” drones emerging from almost nowhere at times should be mentioned as well, e.g. in track number nine, where a gentle humming sound sets stage for some roadside work in the background and a screeching guitar in the other background. In the end of that we get back to the birdsong and the sunlight. In comparison the sawing, gnawing single-frequency pitch of track number seven (or was that eight?) is a lot harder to stomach, because it sounds absolutely like someone drilling a hole in your forehad. But all in all “with maples ablaze” is a comforting collection of aural architectures. Of course, any record to be really good has to be challenging at times, forcing the listener to really listen to it. And so it is.
Cracked Zine

An amazing record, a precisly crafted trip with ten pieces that flow into the each other but have no track titles, composed of incredible instrumental and environmental ambient. 'With Maples Ablaze' is a vibrant, heady, everchanging mixture of location ambient, delicate strings, winds and tones that exudes a sort of concrete mysticism. Electric guitar, violin, loops, tapes, voice, harmonica, drums, synth and among other things fire (yes, fire), are involved in this. At times, a bluesy guitar in the distance is underscored by scraping sounds, a tugged barrel and chimes. The feel is tense and delicate, heading towards something. Another piece has strained bow whine, over birds chirping, a building wall of drone, some heavy wind comes in. A carnival atmosphere dissolves into this monstrous, wide, awe-inspiring texture and drone piece, total drift among the clouds, with chimes and mile-away violin strokes, almost quiet. Too much to describe here, so it's very hard to give a really concise review.
Manifold Catalog

A beautiful and quiet symphony of environmental recordings with droning electronics and assorted guitar, percussion, and radio noises, With Maples Ablaze sketches and strokes a calming and spacious soundtrack of depth and introspection.
The effort of over 2 dozen contributing musicians, Brichville Cat Motel peacefully melds natural sounds with highly processed ambient musics; the effect is like gazing at a slow moving thunderstorm or fields of wind-blown wildflowers through thick, ever-unfocusing glasses. This is a work that impresses at first, and then continually grows on you, as you discover the delicate details that have been etched into the sound with great care.
A unique recording that navigates and fuses sounds of natural beauty with human musical performance and electronic sonorities.
Static Signals 03.2004

The formula of getting together a few dozen musicians to work on a one-off project reminds Günther Schroth's Six And More. But this is where the parallels end. The head figure behind Birchville Cat Motel, Campbell Kneale, has managed to convince to collaborate over 20 artists from all over the world - Richard Francis, Peter Wright, Ralf Wehowsky, Neil Campbell, Reynols to name but a few... it looks like it was mainly a mail collaboration consisting in delivering sound material to be worked on further. Kneale must have the reasons to feel satisfied with the results! “With Maples Ablaze” brings ten untitled tracks that are put in order to make for a single long composition. A great work it is! A wide range of field recordings melted with subtle electronics, ionising sounds, and gentle humming. Both natural, and artificial sounds dissolve into one universe. A sound carpet of delicate nature shows BCM both as a skilful sound engineer, and as a sensitive artist. This sound work has something of an audio journey, although nothing seems to imply the author had in his mind a concept of making a diary when composing the album. One wonders how big the contribution from particular participants was. Put this record next to Kiyoshi Mizutani, Ytuey...
krzysztof sadza, Eld Rich Palmer

This has to be the biggest cast of underground noiseniks ever assembled. In fact, pretty much every past and present AQ favortie is represented in this extended BCM lineup. Let's see. Bruce Russell of the Dead C, Antony Milton, Rosy Parlane, Peter Wright, Ralf Wehowsky, Neil Campbell of Vibracathedral Orchestra, Stefan Neville, Reynols, John Weise, rhBand, Simon Wickham-Smith, Jonathan Coleclough, Glenn Donaldson of Jewelled Antler (Blithe Sons, Skygreen Leopards, Thuja etc.), Lovely Midget, Tetuzi Akiyama, Peter Stapleton, Jan Anderzen (Avarus, Kemialliset, etc.), Bill Wood, Richard Francis, Ben Spiers, Rob Hayler (who runs the amazing Fencing Flatworm label), Kuwayama Kiyoharu, Kohei Nakagawa (aka Guilty Connector), and all Stephen Clover contribute junk, field recordings, baby monitors, percussion, radio, microphones, synth, electronics, broken amplifier, metal, feedback, bowed guitar, pulse and drone, boiling water, tones, harmonium, singing, shibaki electronics, diseased cd-r's, reynols (guess who?), loops, tapes, violin, piano, accordion and loads more. Phew. You think with that many cords plugged into the ol' 4-track, With Maples Ablaze would be a serious mess, but surprisingly, whether due to the contributions themselves or Campbell Kneale's deft handling of all the bits and pieces, this is a gorgeously expansive and surprisingly cohesive bit of ambient clattery drone. Most of us thought that Birchville's recent double cd Beautiful Speck Triumph was perhaps as good as it could get (in fact even Kneale mentioned something to that effect recently) but the more we listen to this one, the more it holds up as one of BCM's best. Twittering birds over far away organs while cellos creak and groan, muted underwater melodies drift lazily through a syrupy sonic haze while high end overtones ping and shimmer. Someone shoveling imaginary snow on hot concrete in a cloud of shimmer and buzz while baby mewls are morphed into twisting, sweetly inhuman melodies. Probably THE moment on this record is the epic sixth track, a stuttery drone constructed from an endless snare roll, tinkling chimes, and processed baby cries.
Completely mesmerising and surprisingly 'rocking'.

This modern evolving electronic ensemble is a large cast of over 25 characters including Richard Francis, Rosy Parlane, Tetuzi Akiyama, Jonathan Coleclough, John Weise, Ralf Wehowsky and Reynols among many other talented musicians and composers. This is veritable acoustics vs. electronics big band. Over ten blended, untitled tracks, the blatant minimalism baffles with such a cast of sound aestheticians in the house. I'm not quite sure how they put all this together but can attest that the outcome is formally plotted, well balanced and sparsely furnished. From warped clanging metals and shovels hitting cement to deeply enforced drones and open-air field recordings, this is a truly experimental listen. Besides for candid moments found in selected Crawl Unit material and some of what Stilluppsteypa is doing, there isn't much else to compare this jangly jamboree to. You may think that when a mass exodus of people wielding instruments such as boiling water, broken amps, diseased CDRs, fire, baby monitors and a whole stack of acoustic strings and thing, not to mention all the electronic gizmos you could fit in an amphitheatre, that it could be an immense chaos of the sound stratosphere. This is absolutely not the case on With Maples Ablaze - quite contrary, the atmosphere is quite calming, with a harmonious drone, and the combo of organic sound meets industry at every turn. From spaceflight to crash and burn, this is one of those recordings that is so purely rooted in its layers of weightless atmosphere you may have a hard time imagining your own personal space - so it is recommended to play this in a comfy nook with low light. There are crackling recordings of rough wooded brush, metal on metal and the capture of incidental daily sounds that make you feel like you are right there in the moment. As a subway train passes by, rivets are soldered, and certain sounds of industry produce double meanings. Then there giddy outsider sounds of what could be bluegrass spun backwards, resulting in something that could be described as Bulgarian chipmunks playing gamelan. The percussion is intermittently something resembling a marching band warm-up routine to that of a reverie call. Streaming waters mix with bowed guitar interpreting a form of salvation in the midst of implied malevolence. It is pretty impossible to isolate what artist is playing where on this disc, but this isn’t USA for Africa or even Alexander's Ragtime Band! No, Birchville Cat Motel is a physical ensemble that uses its passionate interconnectedness to ring out cold case untold truths with a proclivity for virtual trance.
With Maples Ablaze gets a huge nod for its superb production, editing, conducting as it is obvious that the artists involved truly worked together in a mystical way to complement each other rather than stand out like soloists - Birchville Cat Motel is a real amalgamation of co-op sound power!
TJ Norris. Igloo Mag Microview Volume 8

Using unorthodox sound sources akin to speckles of paint being scattered before your eyes, Birchville Cat Motel leaves the listener to forge them into whatever images and meanings they may. Nevertheless, there is method behind the madness.
Similar to Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Past, the opening wish-washy tape loop of With Maples Ablaze grabs you by the hand and carries you into a world of sounds you’ve most likely been reluctant to wander through often, if at all. This wish-washy, almost celestial, opening gambit, is abruptly interrupted by an abrasive screeching of metal, followed by disembodied guitar plucking fed through a broken amplifier. The threatening storm clouds clear abruptly, shafts of sun returning in the form of harmonious birdcalls and chirps. This is only the eye of the storm, however, as what was a light drone grows more pensive until it drowns out the unsuspecting bird’s altogether. The drone begins to sound similar to a vacuum cleaner sucking up all the surrounding life. After all the dirt has been cleaned away, the contraption retiles the remaining shards of the bird’s voices into a mosaic of noticeably cold bleeps and pings. What follows is a rich, wavy drone of multi-tracked tones, which echo into the distance until the crackle of a fire takes centre stage, with soft bells flickering in the background. Here, BCM seem interested in showing just how interchangeable polar opposites are. Opposing notions separate the unnatural from the natural, yet here they are, meshed so finely together that one seemingly becomes the other, until touching, both notions seem arbitrary.
At this point the rising action of the album takes place. The industrial scrapes and twisting of metals, which occurs throughout, imply harsh overtones of violence. The theme is further etched by high-pitched, moaning violin, which drunkenly wanders in and out of the sputtering percussion. With the inclusion of train track noise and people scurrying through and breaking garbage, the piece is intentionally difficult, though absurdists, as well as Set Fire To Flames fans, should appreciate its anarchist charm.
The final denouement unfolds into somewhat less than enthralling results. The oscillating, less saturated drones, make for a pleasant change in pace, yet they pale in comparison to the similar work of others, such as Keith Fullerton Whitman and Phil Niblock, who have been mining these territories for some time now. Even the rocking climax of endless snare rolls and crying children (altered to sound like warbling aliens) bears resemblance to Basil Kirchin’s landmark album, Quantom. Finally, tinkling chimes lapse into shibaki electronics, slowly fluctuating, swinging languidly from one tonal base to another. With Maples Ablaze is not an everyday recording. But, as a vacation, it’s worthy of a visit.
Max Schaefer. Stylus Magazine

If I understand correctly, Birchville Cat Motel's main person is Campbell Kneale, but on this CD there are exactly 27 people who have contributed to the music. Some of them contribute with strange things, like Reynols who are credited with 'reynols'! Other names I recognize are Bruce Russell (fire), Tetuzi Akiyama (acoustic guitar; that's a bit simple for him, if it's without a sabre?), Ralf Wehowsky (tapes, electronics) and others who are credited with: electric guitar, field recordings, loops, tapes, boiling water, pulse and drone, harmonium, tones, broken amplifier, drums, synths, vocals, metal, feedback, diseased cdrs, violin, piano accordion, contact microphones, radio (that's almost everything)... Campbell Kneale plays on/with junk, field recordings, baby monitors and percussion. Too much things but don't let that full you. The sound of this release is mostly quite silent. In a drone areas, maybe low-drones, sometimes made of stretched distant atmospheric sounds and field recordings, sometimes with percussions culminating in fury and adding a bit of tribal... It's quite good. Mostly it's coming from a distance and I like that. Distant drones well combined with field recordings that add a natural even rural moment there. The combination is good and it sounds interesting.
Vital Weekly 448