Tor Lundvall and I both share an interest. I reside on the border of Surrey Quays and Deptford in South-East London, an area brimming with maritime history – a topic that Lundvall carries a fascination for. Lying bang on the curve of the Thames before it winds round the Isle of Dogs to Greenwich, the old Surrey Commercial Docks once thrived here, in high use from the late 17th century until their closure in 1969, but in spite of their redevelopment the local council have been thoughtful enough to preserve the fixtures used by the docks in their day, with many of the mooring cleats, hydraulics and capstans still left in their original fittings. Most of the ten docks have been filled in now, but a couple of wet docks still remain. Two minutes to my north-west lies the South Dock marina, and its active accompanying shipyard is, I’m sure, something that Mr Lundvall would be all too interested to take a look at.
Back in the Winter of 2009 Tor Lundvall began to involve himself in portrait studies of maritime themes, an obsession which gradually began to cede musical inspiration. Using his studies of nautical history and the emotions evoked by his old 90s track “In a Shipyard”, he started constructing an entire album based around the same theme, employing various samples and tape loops, and creating sounds from scratch specifically for the album.
The Shipyard is not a work of field recordings, but association. It is a highly personal piece of dark ambient which doesn’t want to immediately place us into its namesake, but to give us hints so we can conjure our own interpretation of the locale. All too often dark ambient albums do most of the work and thought processing for us, but The Shipyard is intentionally vague with the lines that it throws us, making the listener work for the associations, enabling us to generate a personal picture of what – and indeed where – The Shipyard is. Lundvall doesn’t want us to see exactly what he sees, but to feel the same level of personal identification with the theme that he’s presenting. The rest is up to us.
The album is very much a day in the life of the eponymous Shipyard, beginning with the misted grey opening of “The Shipyard at Dawn” and “Morning Smoke” after which the place crawls to life with the pump and churn of “Tugboats in Fog”. Soon the calmer, more routine work carried out by the “Angels at Sea” takes place before the culmination of the working day arrives with “The Shipyard at Night”. The final two tracks, “Blue Rain Ships” and “Grey Rain Ships” seem to refer to the standing ships left in the yard while the rain batters down from the inky darkness before another day awakens. Even though Tor Lundvall is keen to map things out for us temporally, visually and emotionally it’s a whole different matter. There are many sounds on the album which are calming, stirring, unsettling and disturbing, from the whine and grunt of anonymous engines to the swirling of warm mists and the ghostly whine of unknown voices at night, all of which contribute to the experience of presence. In spite of being in the Shipyard when it’s both active and inactive, it still feels like a solitary experience: we do not affect the Shipyard in any way – nor vice versa – it is entirely indifferent to our presence and carries on with its business with or without us as it has done for decades.
An exact understanding of The Shipyard will only come over time. It’s a work which demands we pay attention to it in order to build up not only a personal understanding, but a connection with it as well. As The Shipyard gradually gains shape in our subconscious it will become increasingly important to us as listeners, to a similar degree that it has done for Lundvall. While most dark ambient albums hand us our imagery on a platter, The Shipyard merely doles out the ingredients and allows us to make what we want of them, and we’ll form more of a connection with the product when we’re finished. Not content with purely being “background music”, it’s a clever, intricate take on the genre with a theme that’s nowhere near as exploited as it should be. Lundvall has realised that the time has come for the cathartic baton to be passed from the artists to the listeners: now we are the creators as much as them.
01. The Shipyard at Dawn
03. Morning Smoke
04. Tugboats in Fog
05. Under Snow Conditions
06. Angels at Sea
07. The Shipyard at Night
08. Blue Rain Ships
09. Grey Rain Ships
The following pictures were taken specially at South Dock shipyard with respect for this album.