Seconds
Orbital: Halcyon + on + on



the 5.22 from Exeter St David’s, rolling alongside the Exe, the estuary touched with light, a thousand moon-kissed peaks rising and falling on their way to the sea, the rhythmic trundle of the train’s engine and the hum of wheels on rails, parallel steel lines kept cool on stacks of ballast, and the lunar glow outside, dancing on the surface of the water, going home…

This makes me believe in angels…

The Hartnoll brothers wrote “Halcyon + on + on,” if I remember correctly, for and about their mother, who was prescribed the drug for, well… you know the things which Halcyon is prescribed for. The piece itself, like the drug, is a mood-manipulator, a bringer of calm, a place of almost impossible serenity hidden deep within the mechanisms of modern life. Like “Belfast,” with its sunrise piano chord and heavenly voice arcing light across the present, it is the sound of being lost and alone at 4 AM when the crowds have long since broken up and floated home on the breeze, sitting on a kerb or roadside somewhere, one last melody and one last beat existing at the instant before dawn, waiting to be evaporated with the waking day and coming sun.

Orbital don’t create alternate universes for the listener to inhabit, as much as they find space and peace for us to inhabit within this universe, calling on us to open our eyes and minds and recognise the sublime potential of the everyday, the magic of the commonplace, the beauty of the mundane and the familiar. As such “Halcyon + on + on” is less abstracted escapism than it is a pause to look around and appreciate the now. As beautiful and ethereal as the melodic content may be, the rhythmic strength and insistence of the song prevent it ever becoming ephemeral. The kiss may not last forever, but the memory of it will.

There’s a gentle vent that sounds like a factory sighing, a mayfly whisper of piano, four, five, six notes carried on the draft… and this girl, this most beautiful girl, luminescent and transparent and golden with love, she whispers out to you above the breeze, exhaling bliss across your eyes and face, and you fall in love with her, with her impossible sadness and beauty and her place outside of time. This voice is organic yet intangible, and when the bass drops in the juxtaposition accentuates the beauty of that voice tenfold, because this bass is so electric and synthetic and so present that it threatens to overwhelm the voice. And then the beat… oh the beat… 4/4 and how, the most 4/4 beat ever, mechanistic and metronomic, tapped out by a computer, an industrial device. It’s so strong that the guitar and voice and piano vanish for a while, they have to, and we’re left alone inside this machine that would be uncomfortable were it not so perfect. I don’t know about dancing, but…

And of course the angel returns, placed inside the machine, and the combination of the two factors, the divine and the man-made, puts beautiful doubt in our minds, makes us ask which is real, where the divine comes from, whether we can create and manufacture beauty ourselves, whether that’s what we were doing all along…

Oh Nick, you’re doing it again. Shut up and dance.


By: Nick Southall
Published on: 2003-09-18
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