Kate Arnold – Rota Fortunae II

Kate Arnold – Rota Fortunae II

Kate Arnold is a multi-instrumentalist with her main instruments being the hammered dulcimer, violin, drum and vocal, often live-looped and put through real-time effects. The first three tracks here are Kate’s compositions with the fourth being an arrangement of Picforth’s (circa 1570-1580) In Nomine for a consort of viol, the only known piece by this composer. A consort usually consists of at least one of a treble, a tenor, and a bass from the viol family of instruments. More familiar composers would be Dowland or Purcell.

Tooth & Claw opens with a solo hammered dulcimer until it is joined by violins, possibly cello, and voice. On this track I find Kate’s voice akin to Thea Gilmore, so no bad thing. I hear only acoustic, although there may be some electronic loops in there. The hammered dulcimer always strikes me as an under-used instrument, a forerunner of the piano, but with a sound that is both earthly and unearthly. Every element of this track maintains a balance and space, it is busy and yet open and clean sounding. The lyrics are clear and thought provoking, a beautiful piece that ends too soon.

[Skeleton Key from Kate’s previous EP demonstrates some of her technique]

Clockwork Man begins with a haunting choral element, added to by the vocal, again haunting but I am unsure of the language used. I think it is Latin, but then I doubt myself, hearing what I think are words played backwards. At around three-and-a-half minutes, the dulcimer joins, followed by some electronic noises and I think a bodhran. It is different from Tooth & Claw but holds the interest with its own charm. My curiosity eventually got the better of me, so I asked Kate Arnold about the track. She told me:

“This is inspired by an early sci-fi short story from the 1920s by E.V. Odle, which features a clockwork/robot man who has travelled back in time from 8,000 years in the future. The main lyrics are in English, but I start by singing them backwards into the looper and then reversing it so that they sound forwards, but a little strange. Like backwards masking but the other way round – I hope that makes sense?! The lyrics in the final section are in Old French (Medieval French literature is one of my interests and I draw on this a lot in my music).”

Just Born is my favourite of the Arnold composed tracks, phrasing is not dissimilar to Peter Gabriel – again good company. I sense more experimentation here, but it is delightful to hear a hammered dulcimer put to fine use in a modern composition. Due to a slip of the finger, this track was heard through all the speakers of my surround system, it is an interesting take on the sounds. In a ‘Meet the Artist’ interview with Frances Wilson (‘The Cross-Eyed Pianist’), Kate expressed a view that her ideal venue would be a Medieval church with a good sound board. This comes close.

Last is In Nomine, a short instrumental piece possibly similar in styling to that in which it was originally heard. It is quite moving, and from an instrument that I feel deserves more use in modern music. Kate provided this insight:

“An interesting piece that I have been a bit obsessed with for many years. The ‘In Nomine’ form was quite popular in English music in the late 16th Century. It was a type of ensemble piece that used the Gloria Tibi Trinitas Medieval plainchant in one of the parts and then built the other parts around it. A large part of the skill lay in how well the original plainchant could be ‘hidden’ among the other parts. Picforth’s version is extraordinary because each of its five parts uses only one type of note value – so in the top part all the notes are one beat long, in the second part one-and-a-half beats per note, third part two beats, fourth part four beats, bottom part three beats. It’s an extremely mathematical way of composing which is almost algorithmic or like a modern minimalist piece. Mysteriously, it also seems to be the only piece Picforth ever wrote.”

Rota Fortunae II is a second part to Rota Fortunae I which was released February 2020, RF II coming out one year later. Both are available on Kate’s Bandcamp individually, but more economically as part of her complete discography, which you can get for £15.30 at present. I have listened to the complete discography, and I can highly recommend it. Kate Arnold also fronts the punk baroque band Fear of the Forest, also available on Bandcamp.

Kate Arnold

01. Tooth & Claw (4:56)
02. Clockwork Man (5:38)
03. Just Born (6:34)
04. In Nomine (2:25)

Total Time – 19:33

Kate Arnold – Hammered Dulcimer, Violin, Cello, Drums & Percussion, Vocals, Electronics

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 4th February 2021

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