Cue Dot Records (CUE DOT 007)
I was sent the full press pack for “Shunyata: Emptiness” by Leeds based artist Toby Wiltshire in advance of the albums release on Cue Dot Records. That was after I had pre-ordered the album, a decision I made without having heard a single note of any of Wiltshire’s recordings. I made my decision based on the work of another Cue Dot artist, Moth Effect which, along with the work of one or two other artists in the world of New British Electronica had helped re-connect me with the joy of electronic music. I have, studiously, avoided reading any of the information contained in the press pack because I am always keen to write about art free from any external noise…the artists I like best, be they musicians, authors, painters, filmmakers, are those who create with the same approach.
Before his arrest and crucifixion Jesus retires to a high place to pray to God the Father. The Mount of Olives is also where, following his resurrection, he ascends to Heaven. So the story goes. Throughout the bible there are mentions to seven mountains, each playing a key role in an important part in the story of God’s relationship with his children. In Buddhism there are four sacred mountains, each of which are places of pilgrimage for followers. Islam too has sacred sites which are high places, notably Jabal al-Nour where the Prophet received his first revelation.
Life, death, meditation and revelation.
“Shunyata: Emptiness” draws its title from the Sanskrit “Sünyatå” which means “emptiness” or “voidness” but is the description of a concept in Buddhism that can relate to the “non-self”. It’s getting a bit heavy now, right? But this, I think, is important. Wiltshire has created an album that is bigger than itself, where there is form but where, crucially, there is space…emptiness… voidness…and it is in that space where there is time to allow the music to work, and weave, it’s magic.
On opener, “Mist Clearing on the Mountain”, we are taken to exactly that place. High on a mountain top. The mist clearing, the sun rising. I can hear water and bird song. I can feel a breeze brush across my face and limbs. My eyes are closed but I can see far off into the distance. It is peaceful and hopeful.
With “Sakura” (the Japanese word for cherry blossom) I found myself back on the streets of Kyoto. In 2007 I spent some time there and, on one occasion, I found myself caught in a torrential downpour. I was ill prepared, wearing flip-flops which, eventually, the rain simply washed from my feet. I picked them up and placed them in a bin and spent the rest of the day walking barefoot around that beautiful and alien city. A strange man in a strange place behaving strangely and yet I was entirely comfortable. At home. The gentle wash of this piece made me feel exactly the same way…at peace with my own peculiarity.
Water runs through the album and it is found, again, on “Floating”. It seems, at times, on this album that Wiltshire is using music as a tool through which he can physically change your relationship with your environment. As I sit on a little wooden bench in my sitting room listening, I feel lifted from that same bench. I am floating. Not in water or in the air, but within myself. It is an unsettling and comforting experience.
The fifth track on the album, “Karuna”, takes its name from the Sanskrit word for compassion/ mercy but the word has another meaning; spiritual longing. On this track and “Glimpse”, which
precedes it, there is a very definite sense of just that. The music is full of yearning on both pieces, one can almost feel Wiltshire’s own desire to find some meaning or reason for…something, perhaps everything. That desire could be for illumination and that may well be why the penultimate track on the album is called “Orange Light” with orange being the colour associated with illumination in Buddhism.
The album closes with “The Wave and the Water” and, again, that recurring theme of water is placed front and centre in the piece. Water is often used in film to symbolise both life and death as well as a cleansing agent. In Christianity the act of baptism is symbolic too of death and rebirth…particularly baptism by immersion where the act of falling beneath the water is representative of death and then re-emerging as one who is born again, washed free from sin. It isn’t possible to listen to “Shunyata: Emptiness” without being forced to think about such things, it is a work of immersive beauty and profound spirituality.
This is not an album of “anthems” and “bangers”…thanks be to whatever Gods there may, or may not, be for such a small, but tender mercy. It is, instead, an album of profundity and aching beauty. If you are desirous of the profound and seeking beauty, then this is the album you need.
'Shunyata : Emptiness' is released on Friday the 2nd of July.