Listening Post

Hannah Peel’s ambitious new LP is a journey into outer space – listen to the LP, and read Hannah’s guide

Hannah Peels third album ‘Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia’ (out today, 22 September) is an ambitious piece of work.

It follows the story of Mary, an elderly stargazer from a Yorkshire mining town who sets off on a journey into outer space. The electronic composer does this with a collection of experimental songs which team electronica with the sounds of old British brass bands.

As Guia Cortassa wrote in her review of the album for Loud And Quiet, “Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia’ is one of the best spacecrafts ever built.”

Here, Hannah talks through each of the pieces on the album, and explains more their origins. Listen to the album, and read about it all below.

Goodbye Earth

It all started off as some fun in the studio really. I would don my glasses, whip out a Casio keyboard, play these tango or polka beats and dance like a wild space lady… but from there, Mary Casio was born. Ironically no Casios have made it onto the record.

The sound began after improvising two layers of Juno 60’s. Each was muted against the other but when I accidentally unmuted the tracks they magically worked together and so this became the first track created for an unknown then album.

This album in the end was created firstly on analogue electronics and then scored to try and find the most subtle blend between the two sonically different worlds. Something that wasn’t purely electronic or purely just brass band. Trying to find a path into a world unknown. We found a way by recording the band live and keeping all the noises of the room – a squeak of a foot or the page turn of a score and with barely any reverb in the mixing (something brass band recordings have a lot of) – added to the ‘breathing’ quality of the vintage synths and their nuances. Mixing the record manually too with the channel faders in the studio also added to the excitement and felt like lift off!

Juno 60 synths arpeggiating up into the atmosphere, sounds of planet earth marking the departure as full colliery brass band and timpani enter at the climax as the rocket launches… Wave goodbye to the terraced houses marked black by the years of coal mining, the cobbled streets and broken satellite dishes, the corner shop and the local Spray & Paint Car Garage.

Sunrise Through the Dusty Nebula

This is my favourite track to perform live. The unassuming soft beginning of the muted brass and mellow synths don’t give way to what is to come.

Imagine waking up in space alone and for the first time ever in your life, looking back through a small hazy window at the horizon of Earth and seeing the crest of the sun start to rise. As the sub bass of the Moogs kick in and the brass swells into an almighty power that booms deep inside your chest and makes your innards sob – that feeling of something being incredibly huge but also making you feel so very small hits you in places that I had never experienced before and never thought might be possible with this collision of two very different musical worlds.

Deep Space Cluster

A homage in the title to my favourite all time krautrock band Cluster. It started as a purely electronic track but as the album started to piece together I had to give those parts away to the brass band. The gliding Moog seemed to fit well with a sliding trombone.

Nearly each part played in the piece is the same as all the other parts. The same notes either sped up or slowed down, jumping octaves or reversed.

I thought the tuba players might kill me when they got this music… they repeat the same line throughout. Pulsing their breath solidly like a slow home made engine trying to navigate around a giant meteor storm.

Andromeda M31

Halfway into the record, I imagined that Mary started to hear noise on the airwaves like lost voices from earth through the dark matter and this is her last contact with hearing something from home. The voice sounds like it could Russian or English and maybe something not human at all.

Back on Earth, “I found an old Virgo star sign birthday card in a drawer. Inside is a little record with a pin as it’s a needle. You place the pin on the vinyl and use your fingertip to turn the record. A man’s voice speaks telling you your character traits”

Life is on The Horizon

A broken Korg Monopoly created this track in the beginning. The unedited Apollo 15 landing on Youtube was playing in the background and somehow during that hour the most beautiful sounds came out of that volatile Monopoly that I haven’t been able to re-create since.

The flugal horn captures the solo line with a sincere melancholy as both the synth and it duet together. It felt like the first time a calling for home and Yorkshire might be pulling on Mary’s heart and that the deep loneliness of being up there alone had finally caught up with her.

Archid Orange Dwarf

That 60’s era of synthesisers being born into the industry and manipulated by musicians to create sounds to reflect their acid trips or emulating the space travel boom and hype. Hypnotic melodies and rhythms to let your mind wander were all part of that scene so here I tried it with a brass band.

This piece was fun trying to find ways to let the brass take over the electronic parts I had written. I remember thinking ‘there is no way this can be possibly matched live’ but with sore red lips and tight diaphragms, they have managed it.

Planet of Passed Souls

My Grandad, was a pianist and conductor in Northern Ireland for all of his working life. He only recorded one song and the sample at the end of this piece is it. I don’t have an actual copy so ripped it off Youtube. Nearly 100 years old now, this song was recorded in Manchester Cathedral. He was 13 at the time and one of the first choirboys to make a record. It’s a Handel piece called ‘Angels Ever Bright and Fair’ and seemed like a fitting piece to include on this planet that Mary finds.

I imagined her stepping out onto a planet to feel an Earth-like weather storm. She starts to hear voices she recognises and the longer she stands there, she realises that familiar sounds in her memory are eerily drawn out of her mind and carried into the wind and rain lashing around her.

Once this piece was written I couldn’t continue the journey. Something inside me wanted to stop. So we never find out if Mary reaches Cassiopeia or not. Maybe she imagined it all, or maybe this journey was her final breath passing into another realm of life…? I’ve left that for you to decide.