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Central And Remote: Conor Walsh

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“THE FRONT” E.P. PREMIERE & Interview with Conor Walsh.

“I feel like I have found my own sound.

— Conor Walsh

Words: Mark Carry


Conor Walsh is a minimalist piano and electro acoustic composer from Swinford, Co. Mayo, Ireland. His compositions draw from a variety of genre’s that span Minimalist and Neo-Classical to electronic and ambient worlds. On the Irish composer’s brand new ‘The Front’ EP – released today on the Irish independent label Ensemble Records – shimmering textures of atmospherics and subtle effects are masterfully embedded in the beautifully crafted piano-based compositions.

The delicate beauty of the title-track’s celestial piano notes immediately conjures up the timeless sound of ‘Felt’ by German composer Nils Frahm. ‘K Theory’ employs heavy use of atmospherics and looped voices that fuses acoustic and electronic walls of sound together, somehow foraging between shoegaze, drone and minimalism to wonderful effect. Gradual pulses of ambient soundscapes and returning motifs here are reminiscent of Kranky’s Christina Vantzou’s drone-infused ambient creations or Aphex Twin’s minimalist electronic works. A joyously uplifting feel permeates the closing cut, ‘One Swallow’ that feels like the return of Spring with its soaring, soothing piano patterns interwoven with warm, radiant electronic textures.


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‘The Front’ E.P. is out now on Ensemble Records.

Interview with Conor Walsh.

Please talk me through ‘The Front’ EP, it’s a wonderful collection of four beautiful piano works and particularly the making and recording of these songs?

Conor Walsh: It was recorded at home, in my home studio and it was co-produced and co-mixed with Enda Bates – Enda is from The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock and he is also a lecturer in Trinity – we worked remotely together; he was up in Dublin and I was down here in the countryside in Mayo. I did most of the work here and then got some of the heavy technical end expertise from Enda from his side.

I love the title-track and the different sections within the piece, especially in the final third where a more ambient feel comes in.

CW: The tunes all began as solo piano pieces and I suppose over the last few years, I honed my sound to include lots of layers and atmospherics. Those sounds are a big call because it’s very tempting to over-do it and very easy to over-do it I guess. I feel like I have found my own sound. The atmospherics seem just right now, it’s an interesting journey with the textures and atmospherics and eventually just knowing that is enough or a feeling that’s enough in the background. So I hope they are subtle enough at times and not too overpowering but they feel just right to me anyways.

A piece that typifies that is ‘K Theory’. I’m not sure if it’s a voice but I love how there are looped samples in the mix creating drone/ambient textures that work really well.

CW: ‘K Theory’ originally, that whole idea was like a non-tron kind of sound that morphs all the way through. So the idea was it’s almost like a synthetic voice that morphs back into itself. I guess it’s like a voice that sounds like a voice at the beginning but ends up returning to its synthetic form by the end of it.

It’s been a great time for music too and especially the whole world of neo-classical music with people doing a lot of similar things where it feels like there’s almost a movement for making this particular type of music?

CW: There certainly is an appetite now. ‘K Theory’ is four years old but there certainly is a scene there at the moment. One of the first guys I would have been interested in from the neo-classical scene was Dustin O’ Halloran. I’ve always had a real soft spot for awesome little piano tunes that just sound so good and there’s not to have any sort of huge complexity about the piano at all. Simplicity sometimes is the best and it’s like a return to the whole minimalist movement of the 60’s where it was almost like a counter response to serialism, just to go back to simplicity. It’s been great to know actually there seems to be an appetite for that in the world right now. I could namedrop tons of people like Nils Frahm, Olafur Ornalds, Dustin O’ Halloran but classically as well, from the turn of the twentieth century – from Erik Satie to now – there always seems to be a place in the music world for minimalist piano.

I’d be curious Conor, for composing music, is a lot of it more improvising and a lot of playing until you find a certain motif or pattern that you go back to then and hone in on or does it vary?

CW: No that’s exactly what I do. All of my stuff I guess is heavily reliant on repetition and making the decision as to what is enough and what is too much and what’s just enough with regards to repetition. From a compositional point of view, a lot of the tunes and melodies and motifs just come from literally playing over and over and over again. And very often I find happens with the compositional process is that I start off with an idea and I find a hook or a melody and I keep repeating and repeating. And what very happens is then another separate melody develops from that so something I wouldn’t have seen at the beginning will just develop. It’s quite difficult to explain but through repetition and playing something – a hook or a melody or a motif – over and over again, sometimes it just leads logically to another melody or another hook and what very often happens is the first one gets discarded completely and I stick to the second one.

Do you have plans for a full-length release?

CW: Definitely, yeah. I mean I guess in a way I’ve already started, I’ve been putting these collections of piano tunes together since I was nineteen really so I have lots and lots of tunes and I’m really anxious and really excited to get an album out there. I think the journey for me has been about finding my own sound and being happy with that. I think through the process of doing the EP I really feel like I’ve become comfortable finding my own sound and there is definitely a plan for an album on the way.

The artwork for ‘The Front’ EP is really beautiful and complements the music very well.

CW: The artwork was done by Louise Gaffney from Roscommon, from the band Come On Live Long. It’s been really great working with Louise and has been a huge part of the whole idea of the music and the minimal nature and its non-directive quality. With instrumental music and for my own music, it’s about being non-directive and allowing the listener to put their own thoughts on it so there is as little direction as possible. I’d like it to be like an emotional rollercoaster but not necessarily directing the listener, you know. So Louise was really, really good at listening and discussing it and I think it’s reflected in the artwork as well: the repetition and the minimal nature of the music. It was really great working with Louise in that we spent as much time talking about stuff than anything else so she really grasped the whole idea of the music really, really well with the ideas of repetition and minimalism; leaving stuff out is just as important as leaving stuff in.

I wonder growing up with music, did you go through the different stages of being in bands and stuff like that before finding your own voice with the solo piano?

CW: Well funnily enough, I would have started like most teenage guys in the 90’s playing guitar and singing and writing songs with vocals. I did it all the time, I used to record on tape. just on a basic twin deck recorder with a built-in microphone . What I did from the very beginning – when I was probably 15 – I always recorded everything because I was always afraid of forgetting something so I have a huge box of tapes at home with songs of guitar and vocals. But what happened when I was around 19, I started to play some of those songs on the piano and I really, really got stuck into the idea of this whole non-directiveness: not having lyrics, not having a story or a narrative and not directing the listener just appealed to me much more than writing songs and writing lyrics.

Have there been certain albums that really inspired you and making your music?

CW: One album that really changed my musical life was Aphex Twin ‘Selected Ambient Works 19851992’. I just consider that like a modern-day minimalist ambient masterpiece. It was just so simple but so beautiful and I couldn’t understand it at the time when I heard it first. It became an album that I got absolutely hooked on; I couldn’t understand how something could be so simple and so beautiful. I think Aphex Twin himself cites Erik Satie as an influence, from almost a century beforehand where he did pretty much the same thing to express this beautiful, beautiful emotion and really dark emotion through very, very little. So that was a huge, huge album for me.

More recently, I’ve even taken influence from the progressive rock band Tool, quite different but they have some amazing hooks and melodies that get repeated over and over and over. It seems like a really good time in Ireland and with the music industry at the moment, it’s almost like the recession had some benefit in the way it has probably given a lot of people time to write music that otherwise may have been distracted by a career. But even more contemporary artists like Clark and Evian Christ who recently got signed to the Warp record label – basically anyone on the Warp label I really love – and of course also everybody on the Erased Tapes label. One contemporary pianist I’ve been really, really blown away by the last couple of years is Lubomyr Melnyk from Erased Tapes. I’ve got to see him last year at the Unitarian Church, he came over for Homebeat and that was amazing. Again he uses repetition heavily but he’s also an amazing virtuoso pianist as well, it’s an interesting combination of the two.

What plans or projects do you have next or in the pipeline?

CW: Well one of my main ambitions this year in 2015 was – I did an interview last Christmas and I was asked what was one of my ambitions in the year – to score my first film so I actually got to do that last February. I worked with director Kamila Dydyna, she’s a Polish lady and I scored her first short film, ‘Testimony’ so that was a really amazing experience and it’s something I’m really interested in. I also did some work for TV3, some documentary work and I’ve had lots of my music used on radio documentaries and some stuff on TV too. I’ve also worked with a company called Twopair films in Clare and providing some music for their gorgeous short films. So I guess in a way it’s something I have just discovered that I really, really love and would love to pursue that further.

There is that whole cinematic quality to your music that would lead you to scoring music as well, in the much the same way as those names you’ve mentioned – Dustin, Nils, Olafur – do this too in addition to their own solo albums, it’s almost all the same thing in the end.

CW: I mean it’s kind of a weird one I mean you think of the conventional film composer having an orchestra and directing the orchestra and having a huge budget and going to London to record an orchestra but you can do so much from home now, from your computer. I think it’s an amazing experience for someone involved in minimalist neo-classical music, it’s the ultimate compliment really to have a moving story and have your music put behind it.





‘The Front’ E.P. is out now on Ensemble Records.


Written by markcarry

October 30, 2015 at 6:33 pm

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