The next time I drive through Swindon I will find myself scanning the horizon for a Gothic mansion high upon a dark hill above the town. Why, you may ask? Well, I’ve just had the darkest corners of my overactive imagination stimulated by some extraordinarily compelling music from Karda Estra’s album Weird Tales.
Karda Estra is the studio project of musician and composer Richard Wileman. I can see him sitting by a dusty grand piano in that gothic pile leafing through a long forgotten volume of classic literature. These gothic tomes are, however, just one of the sources from which he draws his inspiration for the musical soundscapes he creates.
In fact, he is inspired by a whole host of equally strange and mysterious sources. Not only does he delve deeply into the world of the gothic novel but he also explores surrealistic art, gothic horror film, science fiction, the universe, and its many mysteries.
Let us start by going back in time. Not as far back as you would expect, after an introduction like that, but to 1998. This is the year that Richard began his musical quest to explore these dark places and put them to instrumental music intended to capture the very essence of their fascination.
In 2001, under the Karda Estra name, he released the album Eve. It was inspired by a short gothic story entitled The Future Eve, written by French novelist Villiers de L’Isle Adam in 1986. Two years later the album Constellations explored space and the universe as he followed one of his other paths. 2004’s Voivode Dracula saw him return to the gothic creating musical scenes from the Bram Stoker novel.
He has also released soundtrack pieces and music inspired by surrealistic art. You know that Karda Estra has got under your skin when you find yourself searching for long forgotten French novels, looking up paintings, or watching classic Hammer House of Horror films. Richard’s knowledge on all of these subjects gives the whole project a breath of authenticity which makes the music of Karda Estra so disturbingly intriguing.
The cover of Weird Tales, designed by Richard himself, indicates what lies within. Read the opening note and you are already trapped within its web.
"I wanted a host to open the proceedings, rather like in an Amicus portmanteau horror film." He continues, "I’ve been looking for an excuse for years to do a piece dedicated to the wonderful actor Peter Cushing, watercolourist, vegetarian, beheader of evil Karnsteins, and so finally with this album I’ve been able to give him the starring role as master of ceremonies".
This dedication introduces us to the opening track “The Whitstable Host”. Whitstable is the town in Kent where the grand old actor lived in a house on the seafront during the latter part of his life before dying in 1994 at the age of 81. The piece opens this extraordinarily powerful album with similar scene-setting atmosphere to that of a Peter Cushing film set.
The seven minute soundscape that is “Skulls In The Stars” is inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Soloman Kane stories that appeared in the magazine Weird Tales from which the album takes it’s title. Richard is joined by a cast of guest musicians who add violin, a range of wind instruments and, of course, the ubiquitous organ. Meanwhile the multi-instrumentalist composer plays classical, electric, and bass guitars, keyboards, percussion, and more.
Cloyingly dark, Karda Estra’s ethereal music provokes powerful visual images as we are prompted to journey deeper and deeper into the recesses of our minds. “The Eye Of Silence”, inspired by the surrealist painting of the same name by Max Ernst, perfectly captures the mystery of the artwork itself.
For “Green Dog Trumpet” Richard explains that on his way home from Art College he bought a book by Ian Miller. Full of intriguing, often bizarre, sometimes gothic illustrations the first story depicted a huge dog like creature with a box shaped body with a trumpet on top. It remained set within his mind and provides the inspiration for this track.
“The White Rose” is taken from Sheridan Le Fanu’s short story The Room In The Dragon Volant. It’s haunting but doom laden beauty captures a tale of fatal love by an author renowned for Victorian ghost stories.
“The Atom Age Sense Of Impermanence” is, Richard informs us, a line from the Kim Newman novel Dracula Cha Cha Cha. Combining this book, his fascination for Dracula, and Edward Burra’s magnificent painting John Deth, he has produced a striking composition.
“Island Universes” sees Richard venture off into the stars once again. Maybe it’s my own, now actively stimulated, mind that has the music seemingly exploring the very essence of the word ‘space’ itself. Who hasn’t looked up at the night sky and asked ‘how can it never end’? This piece somehow captures the mystery behind that timeless question, the answer to which remains beyond our comprehension, and the sheer wonder of the universe itself.
“There Is No Finished Word” ends the album with a journey into the mind of surrealist painter Andre Masson. Mirroring Masson’s ‘automatic drawing’ techniques and transferring the same method to music Richard delivers a memorable ending to a highly effective album.
I challenge anyone to lie in a darkened room and listen to this album on headphones. Within seconds of the opening of “The Whitstable Host” and for the remainder of this exquisite yet disturbing set you will be transported to places that normally only exist in your deepest sleep.
If however you do, you will no doubt find yourself in dusty secondhand book shops seeking out the various novels, paintings, and people that inspired this collection. Transferring these powerful sources to music and creating such a labyrinth of visual images is a remarkable achievement. Combine both and you have the perfect recipe for superb cinematic composition.
Explore the music of Richard Wileman and Karda Estra by visiting his official website, if you dare.