The ABP Journal
Fall 2008, Vol. 4 No. 1
ISSN 1939-4578

An Occurrence Remembered
 


"The Escape," track #4 from An Occurrence Remembered

   
Tracklist:
1) You Hold My Heart
2) Peyton’s Dream
3) Hanging by a Thread
4) The Escape
5) Was it Something I Said?
6) Abbey
7) Warmth
8) Was it Time for Me to Go?
9) Will You Follow Me My Dear?
10 ) The Battle
11) Lifeless Crawling Shells
12) Does it Change Your Mind?
13) Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the vocals add an invaluable dimension to the work’s sonic quality, often the writing seems to lack focus. On several occasions I found myself wanting a stronger tie to Bierce’s work.

 
 

music review

An Occurrence Remembered, a concept album by Lorin Morgan-Richards (2001; re-issued 2007).

ONE OF AMBROSE BIERCE’S most important legacies to us is his short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” about which students and scholars have penned innumerable pages since its publication in 1890. Lorin Morgan-Richards has added an interesting dimension to the analysis of the famous story; his recently re-issued concept album An Occurrence Remembered offers a musical interpretation of both “Owl Creek Bridge” and “Chickamauga” (1889).  

An Occurrence Remembered is Morgan-Richards’ 2001 sophomore effort, following the success of the concept album ENKI in 1999. Both albums are entirely electronica, reminiscent of the more recent efforts of the well-known Norwegian unit Burzum. In fact, Morgan-Richards’s website remarks that he is “an author of dark literature and music. . . . that is, the lights are often out when he writes” (www.lorinrichards.com), a tart statement Bierce himself would have admired.

Contrary to Morgan-Richards’s analysis, however, An Occurrence Remembered is upbeat to a point. In fact, several songs (notably “Was it Time for Me to Go?”) could easily find their way into a TGI Friday’s, providing the pleasant background music to which diners voice their own stories. Morgan-Richards’s vocals are frequently distorted, always gentle. Wisely, the artist does not overpower listeners with his vocals.

This feature is both a strength and a liability. The distant, echoing vocals offer the dreamlike quality Bierce wove into “Owl Creek Bridge,” and they are eerie enough to capture the surrealism of “Chickamauga.” However, the singing is often blurry enough that one cannot discern the words without a lyrics sheet, which is not provided in the cover slip. Morgan-Richards was kind enough to provide me with the lyrics on request.  

The music is just as befuddling at times. On first listen, the CD is smooth, soothing. It is roughly fifty-five minutes of fluid ambience. The synth and keyboarding flow well, Morgan-Richards taking his time to keep the same chimerical quality present in his voice. The percussion is excellent, with the pace brisk like a war march, but not cacophonous. Musically, the album is well done. However, often the music is barely (if at all) connected to the album’s lyrics. The most glaring instance is “Was it Something I Said?” The song is almost cheerful, certainly uplifting, but the lyrics are cryptic and gloomy. Note the refrain:

Was it something I did that made you hate me?
I see behind you there’s a doorway.
Sitting silent now the paper says;
“Hours we laughed in vain and cried all over and again.”

Morgan-Richards’s lyrics are regularly scattershot like these. “The Escape” is an excellent rendition of Peyton Farquhar’s swim as he evades the Union troops, for instance, but for every well-written song, there is a ditty like “Was It Time for Me to Go?” that reads like the highfalutin rambling of a high-school poet.

I also spent the entire instrumental track “Warmth” wanting at least a brief verse, perhaps making it similar to the pseudo-instrumental “Alone in your Presence” on Vehemence’s 2004 album Helping the World to See. The latter song has a scant four lines, but those few words magnify the song’s meaning a hundredfold.

For me, the lyrics were unfortunately the album’s weak point. While I am not in favor of erasing the vocals, as they add an invaluable dimension to the work’s sonic quality, the writing often seems to lack focus. I have no idea what the song “Abbey” is about, for instance; there are no clear cues connecting it to either of the relevant short stories, and it does not tie in with the surrounding tracks at all. I realize that Morgan-Richards was not adhering strictly to Bierce’s work when he wrote the album, but on several occasions I found myself wanting a stronger tie to the literature.

I was hoping for a work like Mastodon’s 2004 release Leviathan, which is more or less Moby Dick set to music. Before I read the lyrics to An Occurrence Remembered, that is what I expected. Contrary to Morgan-Richards’s linguistic experimentation, Leviathan bursts out of the gate with

I think that someone is trying to kill me
Infecting my blood and destroying my mind
No man of the flesh could ever stop me

The fight for this fish is a fight to the death

White whale - holy grail

and never misses a beat, right up through the haunting closing instrumental.

I cannot fault Morgan-Richards too extensively, however. Before I read the lyrics, I thought the album did a fantastic job of conveying the moods of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “Chickamauga.” Moreover, the music captures the plotting of the respective stories, with titles like “Peyton’s Dream” and “The Battle” showing a logical progression from the beginning of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” to the end of “Chickamauga.”

For fans of concept albums, An Occurrence Remembered is a good choice. Just don’t try to sing along.

KYLE ZAFFINO
Penn State Erie, The Behrend College
Managing Editor, The Ambrose Bierce Project          [journal table of contents] [top]


Copyright © 2008 The Ambrose Bierce Project and Penn State University. All rights reserved.