Helena Gough
Knot Invariants
CD (E140)

Rotated and submerged
Drawn tight below the surface
Remnants of hair, string and wood
Tied across and back.

Knot Invariants is Helena Gough’s third album.
It was created using source material derived
solely from recordings of cellists Anthea Caddy
and Anton Lukoszevieze.

Supported by EMS and Sound and Music

See also
Helena Gough (E38)
Helena Gough (E91)

Edition of 300 copies (out of print)
Second edition (2013; out of print)

Digital edition (FLAC/MP3)


On her third album, English composer Helena Gough carefully
transmutes the improvised recordings of cellists Anthea Caddy
and Anton Lukoszevieze into provocative set-pieces that retain
occasional traces of their origins. For some, a key question
might concern how much the instrument retains its natural
character, but in truth Gough’s approach renders such a
question mundane. If one instead focuses on the album’s five
pieces as pure sound works, one encounters computer-based
sound-sculpting operating at a highly sensitive level. In one
track, she moves granite blocks of sound around like a skilled
worker manning a construction vehicle; in another, spooky
goblin chatter quietly emanates from the depths of a night-
time forest.


Does sound leave a trace? When we cut a nick in record to
make a closed groove — a ‘cut bell’ — is the resulting sound
something new, or a fragment of the original? When a laptop
computer stretches and winds a sample like wool, or candy
floss, making a million tiny particles, do we still refer to the
original sound? And finally, can we always hear this process —
is the process and the medium transparent, or hidden?
  These are questions that musique concrète and its unruly
offspring are always asked, and when Helena Gough prints
“source material derived solely from recordings of cellists
Anthea Caddy and Anton Lukoszevieze” on the side of her
new album, Knot Invariants, they must be asked again.
  How then, to focus on these sounds without thinking of
their source? There are low washes, scrapes, moments
of harmonious tones, pin-prickes of electronic tones,
and a gradual, rising chord — and that’s just the first two
minutes of Chain Sinnet. To describe further, we must
think of the cello — the variations in tone from bow
pressure, the pops and stops of fingers on strings. In fact,
what we would normally identify as ‘laptop’ sound — and it
can have a signature, despite the apparent contradiction —
is not the central player here, rather the remnants of
identifiable cello sound form a backbone of sound — sound-
ing more like a quartet of lowercase experts, all long bow
strokes and creaks, than the single output of a glowing
screen. Either way, its measured, considered material —
never relying on easy tricks — the scrapple of sudden
register changes, the rush to climax — to deliver real depth.

John Boursnell at Fluid Radio

Everybody — except a few unlucky entities — knows that a
rhetorical question, by definition, is not an actual request for
an answer. If a normal question among a series of individual
reflections related to the creative act appears on an artist’s
website three years prior to the release of a CD, it is all the
more unlikely that a reviewer can even entertain the idea of
translating that fleeting snippet of an existence whose axis
reads ‘making meaningful music’ into an analysis of some-
thing linked to the current state of things. Incidentally,
saturation can be referred to some aspects of the physics
of sound or, I’m just hypothesising, correspond to the sense
of oppression rising inside a talented person when he/she
sees the fruits of months of research blatantly bashed by
incompetent simpletons whose verbal ejections may be
temporarily nourished by recreational drugs or bad personal
relations, and whose wisdom is usually built upon insignificant
records believed to be masterpieces only because they were
understandable enough on a first and, typically, only attempt.
  In this era of laptop-induced boredom, finding an object
worthy of keeping has become more and more difficult,
especially when the risk is that bell-and-whistle snacks get
highly praised and really significant works aren’t even really
listened to before babbling about things that were never
grasped in the first place. Coming in a classic Entr’acte sleeve
that required surgical acts for the item to be finally extracted, 
Knot Invariants contains such a number of layers and intriguing
revelations that confusing it with certain trash publicized by
certain journalistic vending machines denotes symptoms of
ADD at best, and the necessity of following an agenda at worst.
  The source for the five pieces are two cellos (by Anthea Caddy
and Anton Lukoszeviese). The instrument’s essence is percept-
ible in almost every minute of the disc, unless you start
wandering around the house, perhaps washing the dishes
while ‘assessing’ the material, the golden rule of many ‘writers’
endowed with the attention span of a mosquito. This music is
made of innermost vibrations and conscious assemblage, the
evident fruit of lengthy periods of systematisation of the sonic
substance and rethinking of the processes. Gough is a woman
who puts herself in discussion, and loves being alone. A skilled
audience will be able to understand this combination: intelligent
restraint and will to start from zero each and every time. But
there are elements that escape the limits of the compositions,
the intangibles that — under the shape of abnormal subsonic
resonance, dissonant partials or grating parallelism of pitches —
distinguish a serious composer from the mass of dime-a-dozen
  Entirely devoid of the safety net that joyfully ‘inventive’ dabblers
use after declaring war to the conventions in pre-decided inter-
views, Gough relishes her seclusion with the sureness of a being
that – deep down in the heart — knows that the path is right
despite the many doubts. Though she’s classically trained, not
a particle of her universe sounds vacuously intellectual or mentally
contorted. Indeed, in its beautiful colours, this is a microcosm
transmitting a type of inward-looking humanity that cannot be
conceived by people whose level of comprehension is comparable
to that of dozens of other equally meaningless purveyors of
acoustic illiteracy, a superficial sameness seriously disturbed by
statements that strike at unreachable levels. And no, mushrooms
are not going to help them.

Massimo Ricci at Touching Extremes

I have long admired Gough’s music, and find it a refreshingly
original and vibrant form of composition with the new techno-
logies we have today. For all of the music made with computers
in this day and age there are few that sound similar to this.
Gough buries herself for months at a time in her raw materials,
nudging every element into shape, tweaking every millisecond,
really coming to terms with every detail of every sound before
setting about them like a potter at her wheel, forming some-
thing finite and perfected through traumatic and skilful
manipulation. Previous albums have seen field recordings and
other found materials going in to the mix, but the cellos here
seem to add a new, physical and tactile edge to Gough’s music.
Directly dealing with everything that the computer is supposedly
not- i.e. an immediate, acoustic, classical instrument with a
long tradition, Helena is engaging as much with the limitations,
shortcomings of her own choice of instrument as much as its
potential. It is very much worth noting that Gough herself began
her musical career as a classically trained violinist, so her under-
standing of plucked and bowed strings was already considerable.
It is then, the essence of the cello that she has taken and fed
through into these five compositions. In places we hear the
unmistakeable sound of the instrument virtually unadorned.
Elsewhere, and wrapped all around the more familiar sounds are
the processed remains of the cello, sometimes still recognisable,
elsewhere little more than digital fossils hinting at what once
was there.

Richard Pinnell at The Watchful Ear