Place of Memory

Languages die surprisingly often, and for a multitude of reasons. It is probable that most of the languages that die are so remote that they do so unrecorded, and so will be forever lost. According to a 2015 article in The New Republic, of the roughly 7,000 diverse languages now in existence, linguists predict that half will die over the next century. More aggressive forecasters assert that 80 to 90 percent of existing languages will die in roughly the same amount of time. A National Geographic (2012) article claimed that a discreet language dies about every 14 days.

Some languages are relatively rare, but they hang in there. For example, in Great Britain, some 5,000 people claim to be conversational in Cornish, one of three Brythonic (Celtic) languages. (Welsh and Breton are the other two.) But Cornish may boast fewer than a thousand fluent speakers, and perhaps far fewer — only 400-500. (By comparison, about 6,000 people are fluent in the Lakota language.)


The artist Gwenno has released a wonderful new record called Le Kov, sung entirely in Cornish. You may be sure that its pleasures will not be missed because of a language barrier. Gwenno Saunders was a member of the 2000s pop group The Pipettes. She then released a debut solo record as Gwenno called Y Dydd Olaf (2014) sung mainly in Welsh, with one song in Cornish. Le Kov is her second record.

Her influences enjoy a broad range, and there is a pervasive wooziness to the production that compliments all these stylistic influences. Piano is up front on some songs, with tidy string orchestrations and horns joining the act, so there is a distinct and groovy Bacharach vibe.

Fans of Broadcast and Stereolab will be rewarded by the confident and laid back la-la vocals. Some of the more dedicated electronic instrumental backing would be right at home on a Boards of Canada record.

Welsh singer Gruff Rhys, who fronted the marvelous Super Furry Animals, joins Gwenno on a song, and several of the rhythmic elements on Le Kov are reminiscent of SFA, with driving bass and drums.

I love it when an artist can mix so many influences and come up with something that still sounds so original. The title means “place of memory.” This page obsesses with memory and music’s ability to act as a portal both for remembrances, and the building of new memories. There is much here to set us free in our memory, despite the lack of lyrical understanding. It is just beautiful and it is a testimony to the power of music to transcend the sometimes confining nature of language. Its passion shines. Below is a link to a song from the record, called Jynn-amontya:

Le Kov by Gwenno.

Le Kov by Gwenno (2018 Heavenly Recordings).

Slow Life from Phantom Power by Super Furry Animals (2003 Epic).

9 March 2018 

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