Birchville Cat Motel: Gunpowder Temple of Heaven

Pica004. CD. Released winter 2008. Audio sample

Birchville Cat Motel is the project of New Zealander Campbell Kneale, who has from his base in Lower Hutt since the mid 90-ies established himself as the leading voice of this generation of NZ sound artists. Gunpowder Temple of Heaven is a new highlight in his extensive discography. A single 40 minute long-form piece that keeps building and unfolding; heaven for drone-noise enthustiasts.

The CD comes with a booklet with a complete Birchville discography as well as liner-notes by Bruce Russell.

From the liner notes of Bruce Russell (The Dead C):
"I've been listening to the music of Campbell Kneale for more than a decade now. Recently I've been listening with a sense of increasing admiration as he stacks up monumental sound slabs in an architecture of audition - building a lofty tower of sound. Always a dedicated worker at whatever he does, Campbell had mastered the detailed work required to place many sounds accurately across each another. Often this kind of 'more is more' strategy backfires into murky sludge, where the increasing layers merely obscure each other. On the contrary, the more BCM puts into a piece, the more you hear coming out."


JPG of review from The Wire

Birchville Cat Motel
Gunpowder Temple of Heaven
Pica Disk PICA004 CD
In the illuminating and highly entertaining liner notes which accompany Gunpowder Temple of Heaven, Bruce Russell of New Zealand’s Dead C makes a comparison between the music of his fellow countryman Campbell Kneale, the man behind Birchville Cat Motel’s curtain, and the liturgical compositions of Messiaen. Both artists, he points out, possess a form of “majestic power” that goes beyond mere music, permitting them to create works that manipulate the relationship between sound and time. This CD is stark evidence of that assertion: a single 40-minute drone that sounds like a church organ blasted through a stack of Marshall amps. Whilst much of Kneale’s work has a “more is more” aesthetic, this album is a thorough exploration of every nuance of the featured instrument. By analyzing the constituent particles of the central sound source he atomizes a monolith. Beginning with a tentative shimmer and fidgety background static, Kneale soon allows the organ tones to build and gently oscillate like the breathing of a living organism, an ebb and flow that draws you in as it accumulates a transcendental power. As with many superior drone pieces, deep listening pays dividends. Listen closely and you will discern grumbling spectres and screaming mists swirling about the heart of the music, the sonic detritus of the air pumped around the ancient instrument’s belly. Beneath the piece’s meditative surface surges a chaotic sea of hotwire interference—random connections attempting to reach out beyond the heavens, before a dull thud kicks in and the organ morphs into a black metal choir, crying out for the souls of the departed. Bruce Russell was right about you, Mr Kneale—you have the ability to cure us of time, and that’s one hell of a gift.
(Spencer Grady, Singal to Noise)

Birchville Cat Motel
Gunpowder Temple of Heaven
[Pica Disk; 2008]

Having served two furnace blasts of outrageous din with Hijokaidan and Incapacitants, Lasse Marhaug’s fresh imprint Pica Disk counter-balances the aggression with celestial, zen-inspired drone. The first such release was by Fe-Mail’s Hilde Sofe Tfajord, and now we have Gunpowder Temple of Heaven by New Zealand mainstay Birchville Cat Motel. BCM is Campbell Kneale, and not to be confused with the UK sound artist Neil Campbell of Astral Social Club and Smell & Quim (though the two have collaborated). Kneale has been squelching away down under for over a decade now, coming dangerously close to earning the lifetime achievement award for excellence in the field of noise and experimental drone. From my perspective, he stands among just a handful of other noise heavyweights (Marhaug, Drumm, Menche, Wiese, Akita, etc.) as one of a small cadre of truly virtuosic noise artists out there.

Kneale himself proclaims Gunpowder Temple of Heaven to be “without a doubt, the most beautiful thing I ever made,” and though I can’t attest to listening to all of his prodigious output (which is lovingly laid out here in the liner notes), I wouldn’t doubt the claim. Gunpowder consists of a single 40-or-so-minute piece, commencing with a sputtering church organ that stumbles to coherence as higher-pitched organ drones work their way into the mix. As founding Dead C member Bruce Russell mentions in the liner notes, BCM’s work on Gunpowder is touching here on the compositions of Olivier Messiaen, the famous and influential French organist (Stockhausen, Boulez, and Xenakis were all under his tutelage). A church organist by trade and a devout Roman Catholic, religion was a major part of his work and his life. Not sure of which religious persuasion (if any), but Mr. Kneale’s music is assuredly not godless.

BCM is also similar to Messiaen in execution. Messiaen had an innate ability for synesthesia, a phenomenon usually experienced under the effects of LSD, in which senses are crossed (seeing smells, hearing colors, etc.), and he did in fact “hear colors” upon encountering certain harmonies, mostly ones he wrote. BCM similarly composes in a painterly fashion, amalgamating sounds like a painter would hues, deciding which colors/sounds worked best together. And much like Messiaen’s interests in ornithology, incorporating field recordings of bird songs into his recordings, BCM incorporates faint electronic chirpage to mesmerizing effect. Strongly visual, one could close your eyes to this CD and witness fractals dancing on the back of your eyelids, creating a psychedelic, fragmented reality that fucks with your sense of time.

In Campbell’s liner notes, he expounds upon the religious metaphors, drawing parallels from Gunpowder to the biblical story of Joshua and his motley crew of righteous trumpeters, who by the sheer sonic intensity of their group reveille, obliterated the Walls of Jericho. Like Messiaen, Kneale isn’t interested in depicting theological aspects such as sin and burning brimstone; instead, Gunpowder is a rumination on human redemption and divine love. If you’re looking for eternal damnation, you should look elsewhere. This is religious, shamanistic enlightenment. (

BIRCHVILLE CAT MOTEL – gunpowder temple of heaven (CD, picadisk)

Another month, another review about a release somehow related to Lasse Marhaug, and if only as release number four on his new found label Picadisk. Check out Hild Sofje Tafjord, Hijokaidan and the Incapacitants as well as one of his recent solo releases “it’s not the end of the world” to get an impression on the restlesness and workload of this man. But this review is not about Lasse Marhaug, but about another guy who has never spent a minute in his live leaning back and enjoying some time doing nothing at all, it seems. For some time I thought I had a pretty good impression on the work of Campell Kneale aka Birchville Cat Motel and that I was aware of the range of releases he has under his belt, but then comes “gunpowder temple of heaven” and there is a three page discography of Birchville Cat Motel in there, that lists 21 Compact discs, five full albums, a long list of 7 to 10 inch records, an even longer list of CD-R releases and where the heck will I ever be able to get some of those 15 tape releases mentioned here. Somehow I feel I need the “Chaos Steel Skeleton” 6CDR box release noted in here.

More to the fact, this discography shows that New Zealander Campell Kneale has been around basically forever and has done collaborations with many artists around the world, from Fear Falls Burning to Anla Courtis, from the Yellow Swans to Lee Ranaldo and from Bruce Russell to Guilty Connector. To some he is also known for his work in the band Black Boned Angel, who had a hype for two or three months around here, which faded when none of their music was available. In all this time and all this variants of musical expression Kneale has formed a unique sonar language that derives from the guitar and which he displays to perfect execution and emotional impact on “gunpowder temple of heaven.”

The disc contains one, epic track that seems to make time stand still. It starts with somebody turning on the switch and then nothing seems to move anymore. Taking a step closer into the dense, flirring wall of sound there is actually a multitude of dynamics and movement, when layers upon layers of sounds are shifted and shoved, manipulated and mingled. I just realised that Bruce Russell uses exactly the same metaphor – about time standing still – in his liner notes to the CD, so it seems that this effect is almost universal. Anyway, I will have to find a new metaphor quickly. Hm, I decide for immersion. The situation where emotional and physiological control is taken away completely and the human mind is sunken into a mesmerizing state of non-input that makes the subconscious go completely wild, but leaves the rest of the organism as relaxed as three weeks of holidays in the middle of nowhere.

The sounds shine with clarity and crispness like the sun on freshly fallen snow on an arctic spring morning. I think it has also been said before, but I don’t shy away from moving it: where other drone artists stack layer upon layer and thereby produce more and more mush of noise and compression, Kneale builds a fantastic site of sound that stands tall and invincible like a medieval cathedral. Hey, Russell also talks about cathedrals in his text! Is there nothing left for me? Does he have to take up all the good metaphors or what? It would probably have been better if I had just copied his text in here, would have saved me a lot of work, too. I guess it is my fault because I rarely read liner notes, except on those old jazz records, where mostly they don’t make any sense at all, but do a lot of talking anyway.

One more try and this time I will keep it simple: this is big. “Gunpowder temple of heaven” is a musical piece of enormous size and stature. Almost gargantuan. And it moves like the Leviathan does in the endless depths of the ocean, with grace and might, though slowly and careful. Sometime later on a reverb of something or other marks a distant bass drum going slowly all six of seven seconds. Compared to a lot of minimal music and droning what seems left out a lot and what seemed to make all those many releases bloodless and without energy is just that: size filled with energy. This release seems like it is filled to the brim with sound that pulsates and reverberates, that stirs and lives and contains enough energy to make a village last through the winter. (

Music by Birchville Cat Motel, a.k.a. Campbell Kneale only reaches me very occasionally, so the list of releases mentioned in this booklet certainly impressed me. If ever I want to collect it, I sure have a lot to catch up with, but it might be a worthwhile thing to do. Or so my thoughts were when hearing this release. Like I said, I don't always catch up with Kneale's output, but this new one certainly filled me with pleasure. To make things easy: Birchville Cat Motel plays drone music of a louder kind. One piece here, forty minutes in length. At it's core lies organ drones, that sound like a church organ, carefully layered to create miniature variation. That is the firm foundation of the piece. Somewhere a bass slab sound comes in, and somewhere later, the organ plays a three note melody, all of this while the fundament lies firm. Hold on, there is a cymbal played mechanically too. Or isn't? Such is the music of Birchville Cat Motel. Deceiving. Deceivingly simple from the surface,
but complex if you listen carefully. Things aren't what they are, elements are picked out and evolved, altered and put back in the mix. Not 'loud' as in the word 'noise' but forcefully present - the music is 'there', loud and clear. A very refined work of drone meets noise. Play loud and be immersed. (FdW, Vital Weekly)

Nyzeeländaren Campbell Kneale är mannen bakom enmansprojektet Birchville Cat Motel. Han är också en av de starkaste rösterna inom sin generation av ljudkonstnärer från NZ. Men som relativt okänd i hemlandet har han istället skapat sig en trogen publik utanför landet och han har turnerat runt om i världen tillsammans med artister som Lee Ranaldo, Yellow Swans och Matthew Bower.

Campbell Kneales musikutgivningen är enorm. Senaste tillskottet är ”Gunpowder Temple of Heaven”, en utgåva signerad Lasse Marhaugs bolag Pica Disk. Och det är här jag hittar diskografin; 21 CD:s, 35 CDR:s 15 kassetter och 20 skivor i olika vinylformat. Sammanlagt 91 skivor. Det är förstås nästan helt oöverskådligt, förutom för den mest inbitne kanske. Samtidigt måste jag medge att det är lite imponerande, snacka om starkt patos.

Jag har hört ganska få av de tidigare utgåvorna (sett till volymen i alla fall). Den utmärkta introduktionen ”Curved Surface Destroyer” lyssnade jag mycket på en period, speciellt under långa promenader. Men det är den organiska ”Beautiful Speck Triumph” och den mer instrumentpräglade ”Our Love Will Destroy The World” som är de skivor som passerat förbi den senaste tiden. ”Gunpowder Temple of Heaven” skiljer sig mycket från de två sistnämnda. Det är ett enda långt stycke på 40 minuter som har en betydligt mjukare karaktär. Musiken är en blandning av drone och noise, men utan att larma, och som fungerar bäst på hög volym. Musiken blir alldeles glasklar när jag höjer styrkan.

Stycket består av långa statiska delar som växer långsamt, minimala variationerna förekommer och ljuden harmoniserar istället för att röra sig i disparata enheter. Det är en stillsam drone som leder rakt in i ett tillstånd av tidlöshet. Och jag ger den fullt fokus.

”Gunpowder Temple of Heaven” är ett elegant stycke som befäster Campbell Kneales förmåga att skapa spännande musik i gränslandet mellan drone och noise. Här sparar Kneale på krutet och håller igen. De annars så tydliga metalinfluenserna har lagts åt sidan – vilket visar sig vara en utmärkt idé. Skivan kommer att bli ett fint sällskap på mina promenader i vårrusket.

(Jens Holmberg, Sound of Music,

Gunpowder Temple of Heaven
Birchville Cat Motel
CD (2008)
Pica Disk

Hellige droner
Church music was the first heavy metal... Tempelridderen fra New Zealand åpner porten til sitt rike.

For en tid tilbake slapp Lasse Marhaug/Nils Henrik Asheim platen Grand Mutation - en mektig opplevelse basert på kirkeorgel og elektronikk, innspilt i Oslo domkirke. I kjølevannet av denne følger Birchville Cat Motels Gunpowder Temple of Heaven som nok en kraftfull opplevelse som virker å være unnfanget og utarbeidet under store buer og høye hvelvinger. Dette er et voldsomt stykke musikk, katedralsk i all sin prakt, med en åpenbaring som strekker seg ut av det menneskelige og mot det religiøse.

Birchville Cat Motel er soloprosjektet til Campbell Kneale fra New Zealand, som må sies å være en av de mest etablerte og anerkjente i sin genre, også langt utenfor hjemlandets grenser. Hans diskografi er større enn det er menneskelig mulig å konsumere for de fleste, og hans musikalske utvikling er preget av utforskertrang. Det bør likevel være tillatt å si at stikkord som droner og eksperimentell støy av ulik art er gyldige for Birchville Cat Motel.

Gunpowder Temple of Heaven er fjerde utgivelse på Lasse Marhaugs nye etikett Pica Disk, og jeg vil umiddelbart sende en rose til utgiver for selve innpakningen som følger platen. Nydelig omslag, skikkelig innleggshefte og i det hele tatt en utforming som påkaller platekjøperen, ikke nedlasteren. Som tidligere sagt, til det kjedsommelige, dette må være essensielt for små (og store) etiketter for å klare seg i dag.

Det er Bruce Russell som har skrevet liner notes til denne platen. Han er grunnlegger av innflytelsesrike Dead C midt på 80-tallet. Russell har skrevet mer interessant om denne platen enn undertegnede nok har kapasitet til å gjøre med sitt stykke "Silver machines and stone henges: pumping the pipe organ of psycho-social mind control". Han griper fatt i nettopp "tempel"-delen av tittelen, og med det som grunnlag gir han en fornuftig forståelse av Birchvilles musikk. "Church music was the first heavy metal", skriver Russell. Han går fra Jerikos murer og psyko-akustiske eksperimenter til tidlig eksperimentell musikk (Xenakis, Messiaen), og leser en rekke metaforer i musikken til Birchville Cat Motel; både av språklig, historisk og musikalsk art. Les og lytt selv.

For en kort innføring så består altså Gunpowder Temple of Heaven av ett sammenhengende stykke på 40 minutter. Tonelaget er kontinuerlig og bevegelsene langsomme. Dette er en elektro-akustisk messe som sikkert vil virke urørlig for de rastløse, men som avslører sin styrke gjennom en smule mer konsentrert lytting enn til bilradioen. Det er heller ikke slik at stykket ikke endrer seg. Det bygger seg langsomt opp, og vi merker gradvis at det lever bak de massive orgelpipenes evige strøm.

Effekten av å høre på dette kan virke uklar ved første lytting, men Campbell Kneale har laget noe som er hevet over tid og sted. Det gir Gunpowder Temple of Heaven en altomfattende hypnotisk totalopplevelse som skaper en merkbar tomhet når det hele er over. (Bjørn Hammershaug,,

Birchville Cat Motel
Gunpowder temple of heaven
I Cd-häftet läser jag att nyzeeländska Birchville Cat Motel (Campbell Kneale) har släppt 91 (!) skivor och kassetter. Svårt att orientera sig alltså, men den här skivan (inspelad live i Oslo) fungerar utmärkt som ingång. Jämfört med konserterna som han har gjort i Göteborg skalas metalinfluenserna bort, ljuden surrar organiskt och sveper fram med små förändringar och det är i det närmaste en religiös upplevelse att ta del av 40 minuter dronemagi av en mästare i genren. En kyrkorgel som vibrerar i rymden. (Göteborg Posten)

Birchville Cat Motel - Gunpowder Temple of Heaven [Pica Disk - 2008]

Gunpowder Temple of Heaven finds Birchville Cat Motel in a more ambient, droney and growing harmonic warmth focus, though still built around Campbell Kneale distinctive guitar and sustained elements this feels more spiritual, calm and peaceful then much of his work.
It’s just one long forty minute track this time around which is built around held and drone guitar,possibly organ and synth harmonics, the track just hums and grows in power, warmth and harmony around you. Starting off with a distant guitar like charged heroic loop and unaudible dialogue snippets possible from the radio. Then over the rest of the track he builds up layers of unfolding harmonic dwell feeling like hundreds of flowers slowly opening up in the warming light.

I’ll have to say while I enjoyed and found this rewarding- it’s not one of my favourite BCM pieces thus far. I think there’s not enough going on to substain the 40 minutes running time and it all feels a bit too ‘nice’, I like it when he throws in more jarring and odd angles to his sonic unfold. Never the less it’s another side of his sound explored which in it’s self has to be commended.

This is one of the nicest presented BCM disk so far, coming in a nice double cardboard folder with an eight page book featuring an interesting piece about Gunpowder temple of Heaven and BCM in general by Bruce Russell (Dead C, Handful of Dust) and a full and handy BCM Discoraphy thus far. Another step and chapter in this highly prolific artists work, not a highlight but certainly worth a go as he uncovers new and different curls in his distinctive sound worlds.

birchville cat motel "gunpowder temple of heaven" compact disc

january 2008 release ; swelling, emo-heavy vibes from campbell kneale, akin to the more laminar tracks from neil campbell (ha ! neil campbell / campbell kneale ; they should do an album together ... oh wait, they already did ; carry on) ‘s recent astral social club output (a stray kick drum, set on “power ballad” thumps every couple of seconds ; the only element interrupting the rising/cycling organ/string-synth progression) ... quite a lovely piece, not something i would have ascribed to campbell prior to witnessing his new year’s eve 2007 set (materials culled largely from the mellow piece in question herein, albeit at monstrous volume) ; perfect for deep listening ... (



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