Operating firmly under the radar but picking up a legion of admirers along the way, composer and multi-instrumentalist Richard Wileman’s Karda Estra have been tinkering away at the outer limits of music for more than 15 years.
A master of wildly cinematic instrumental esoterica, Wileman is an archetypal studio nerd and arch collaborator, with an impressive roll call of aiders and abetters spread across 13 albums. His latest release, Strange Relations, is the most beguiling Karda Estra creation to date and a tantalising entry point for newcomers drawn to his idiosyncratic world of sound.
“I got my own studio and home recording set-up in 1998, because suddenly everything became affordable,” Wileman recalls. “From that point I was free to do all the things I like to do. Sound effects and library music are a great inspiration and I’m a huge fan of composers like Morricone and a lot of the Italian Mondo composers, along with Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith. The cinematic component is very important, but I’m inspired by a lot of things like literature and paintings, too. It’s lovely to be able to paint pictures with sound.”
I like to make music that leaves a few questions, and leaves a sense that maybe all is not well.
Although Karda Estra records are seldom redolent of anything specific, they undoubtedly dwell in the same hazy, faintly menacing territory once occupied by the likes of film-score composers John Carpenter and Angelo Badalamenti, with Wileman’s lush arrangements often harbouring a sense of unease.
“I like to make music that perhaps leaves a few questions, and leaves a sense around the corner, that maybe all is not well,” the composer explains. “There are happy bits too, of course, because you want to give a full picture, but ‘melancholy’ is something that’s mentioned a lot, and I’ll go along with that. I was brought up on films like Alien and Hammer Horror… and Karda Estra is actually a voodoo chant phrase from a Hammer film called The Plague Of The Zombies.
So all this stuff is wired into me and it just comes out this way, whether it’s playing conventional instruments or scraping garden rakes…”
Drawing from his beloved soundtracks but overseeing endless mutations within that highly evocative format, Karda Estra has enabled Wileman to join forces with all manner of oddball virtuosos from the rock periphery. Strange Relations features contributions from Paul Sears, drummer with veteran US jazz rockers The Muffins, and the seemingly unstoppable Kavus Torabi of Knifeworld – who is also responsible for releasing the album via his Believers Roast imprint.
The results veer from creepy to serene and back again, with sublime skill and great elegance; the threat of hidden horrors softened by the beauty of Wileman’s harmonic ingenuity. For those who like to dive into music headfirst and to hell with the real world, there is an opulent catalogue of this stuff awaiting your attention. Just don’t hold your breath for live shows…
“I’ve not done any live stuff with Karda Estra because I think of it as an aural equivalent of a painting, and taking it out would be the sculpture version, if that makes any sense…” Wileman laughs. “I do so much experimentation and cheating with sound, it just wouldn’t work on a practical level – logistically and financially, I’d rather spend the time and money on a new studio recording. It’s in the studio that a project like this really flourishes, but you never know what’s ’round the corner.”
Richard Wileman (guitars/keyboards/samples/percussion/zither/rastrophone)
The bastard love child of Morricone, Badalamenti and the gods of prog, painting dark pictures with a dazzling array of instruments, moods and atmospheres
Strange Relations is out now via Believers Roast