Archive for the ‘CENTRAL AND REMOTE’ Category
Interview with Ellen King (ELLLL).
“You have these moments where you lose yourself completely in what you’re playing.”
Words: Mark Carry
ELLLL is the pseudonym of Ellen King, a producer based in Cork City. Her music utilises heavily manipulated samples, resonant beats and dark textures, whilst also drawing influence from drone and noise crossed with vigorous techno leanings. The highly anticipated debut ‘Romance’ EP comes out soon via Sligo-based Art For Blind Records (pre-order here) and is available to download now.
The title-track – and glorious opener – contains a myriad of utterly transcendent moments distilled into one gorgeous cohesive whole. An array of luminescent beats serves the vital pulse as LA-based producer Laurel Halo; early sample-based works of French artist Colleen and the Modern Love roster all flicker into full-focus. ‘Romance’ forges a deeply immersive experience. The following cut ‘Pegasus’ is built upon many warped sounds that are masterfully assembled into a lo-fi techno-fused sound collage. The repetition and returning melodic motifs creates un utterly timeless feel, which continually evolve, looping forever into some blissed-out utopia.
Part B of ‘Romance’ changes and mutates once more, displaying the gifted talents of this Cork producer. Acid house beats and hypnotic vocal-based samples continually weave in and out of focus, creating a dense sound-world of melodic patterns and radiant textures which bring to mind the seminal works of Aphex Twin and the Warp & Kompakt label’s output. Closing cut ‘Tease’ blends vigorous techno, noise and drone soundscapes to tremendous effect. The near-tribal, pop-oriented vocal sample serves the track’s compelling main theme, which becomes mashed and transformed across a multitude of manipulations and treatments. Endless moments of complete transcendence are effortlessly embedded within these spliced treatments. ‘Romance’ represents the glittering first chapter in ELLLL’s music path.
Interview with Ellen King (ELLLL).
Congratulations on the sublime ‘Romance’ EP. Please discuss the space in time in which these formidable tracks were constructed and recorded? The many intricate layers inherent across these four tracks is a joy to savour and feels as if these loops could go on forever. I would love to gain an insight into the library of sounds you have collected – and the sources perhaps – and indeed the process of collecting these fragments and splicing the tracks together?
Ellen King: Most of the tracks were recorded between Dec 15 – March ’16. I’m a total hoarder when it comes to sampling. Pretty much anything goes. Old B movies, foreign films, field recordings, a lot of pop music from the 50’s/60’s. I’m a sucker for anything with the Phil Spector – Wall of Sound production.
In terms of splicing tracks together, I’m a big advocate of sound collage. Layering sounds, even things you think could never possibly work, tweaking and manipulating them in subtle ways. That being said, trial and error can be a big part of composing too.
Sometimes I’ll have audio that I’m desperate to use but it just never quite ‘fits’. I could be editing something for weeks. It’s tedious. Eventually, you just have to let it go.
Other times I come across a sound that feels so magnetic the piece seems to come together almost instantaneously. You have that light bulb moment where you just have to keep the momentum going and bang it out.
Most of my time is spent on chopping up samples and manipulating them. Generally, they’re very tiny fragments. I’m constantly trying to get the most out of the least amount of material. Imposing this limitation is important to my workflow; otherwise it becomes overwhelming. I’m constantly trying to scale things back.
I can imagine your live shows and testing material in the live context must have played a big part in the final versions and entities of these new tracks, Ellen. Furthermore, your live show has developed and evolved greatly over the last couple of years, which is reflected in the ‘Romance’ EP. One of the great hallmarks of the EP is the translation of your live shows – and particularly, the energy and transcendent nature – into the studio versions. Can you talk me through the equipment and tools at your disposal and how you feel you have developed as a producer (which is so clearly shown on ‘Romance’)?
EK: In terms of tools at my disposal, I don’t own a lot of gear. I’ve used a lot of different software over the years but these days I feel most comfortable using my laptop, Ableton live, a APC MK2 and decent studio monitors. Portability is for sure a concern too.
With regard to playing live, it has certainly been an integral part of the way I write music. When I started making electronic music most of my friends were in bands, none of them were DJ’s or producers; playing live was just a given.
At the time, I was doing bits and pieces of improvisation with friends, some noise and drone type gigs too. So, when I started playing live sets as ELLLL, they were fully improvised and meandering. A lot of the tracks I recorded were just that; recorded and unedited.
You mention the word transcendent, and without sounding cheesy or clichéd, it’s such a big part of making music. You have these moments where you lose yourself completely in what you’re playing. This can be on stage or in the studio. In the case of the latter I try and record everything I do, oftentimes these recordings serve as the basis for tracks (although, granted; there’s a lot of files that get scrapped too).
This approach has developed quite a bit, you get older, learn more skills, figure out what works and doesn’t. I’m constantly trying to improve as a producer. By large most of my tracks are still composed around improvisations, but now I’m much more critical about what remains in the final edit. A 30-min improvisation could end up being refined to a 6-minute track.
Now, in a live context, I have tracks to play, edits to consider, all these elements in post-production that I never had before. If I tried to stick to all that live I’d go insane; it would be so rigid and stressful. Instead, I’ve got integral components that I try and use in an improvised way. I’ve got a pool of effects I like to use and some Max for Live instruments too. Overall this makes playing live very malleable and fun.
The whole set is much more loose as a result and gives me more freedom. You’re never going to hear a track exactly as it was recorded, but honestly, who wants that anyway?!
There is a wide range of sounds and flourishes etched all over the recordings, calling to mind the vintage Warp output, pioneering producers, minimalist techno and imprints such as Modern Love, Kompakt et al. What do you feel are the sum of the inspirations and influences that have found their way on this particular musical chapter, Ellen? Did you have a specific set of aims or objectives for what sound worlds to channel into this batch of songs?
EK: I didn’t have any specific aims or objectives at the time of writing the EP, I wanted it to accurately represent my interests and skill set as a producer at that time. I didn’t set out thinking ‘I want it to sound like X’. I wrote some tracks, picked the ones I thought complimented each-other and went from there.
That being said, there’s an undenying influence of imprints like those mentioned that rooted themselves in my composition early on. Modern Love in particular; a lot of its output was a big catalyst for me to write more beat driven material, the style of production and the atmosphere resonated with me.
A minimal approach to writing electronic music has always appealed to me and is still something I gravitate towards. I like the challenge of trying to push the boundaries of a 4/4 groove in a creative way. Labels like Faitiche and Scape~ also had a huge impact on me, especially when I began writing electronic music. The juxtaposition of these with more experimental and noisy output from labels like Subtext, Prologue, Pan… then artists like Black Dice, Terrestrial Tones, Teengirl Fantasy. The list goes on and on. It’s a pretty mixed bag.
The title-track serves the perfect opener. The ambient loop and luminescent beats form this stunningly beautiful cohesive whole. Can you talk me through the construction of the layers of ‘Romance’? Again, just like the other tracks here, an infinite array of breath-taking moments come to the fore as the track grows, mutates and evolves.
EK: Romance was one of those rare moments where the whole track came together quite quickly. I think in a day or two. It’s mostly stretching and inverting the same idea and actually has quite few new elements bar the percussion. Most of the sounds are taken from the same source but are heavily manipulated and inverted to create something new each time.
As I started compiling samples for Romance, it began to come together as a vivid narrative in my head that I wanted to translate into a cohesive piece of music, almost like a piece of program music.
This sounds a bit intense and OTT for writing what essentially ended up being a 5-minute techno tune, but it’s what was going on in my mind at the time.
‘Bear’ contains such a monster groove and compelling techno soundscapes unfold throughout. I get an impression that the transitions within the songs are quite integral to the overall composition? For instance, I love how there is distinct phases or patterns embedded within a track, and where certain moments or motifs return at various points. I would love for you to shed some light onto your compositional approach and how you visualize music?
EK: ‘Bear’ features a lot of material that I had been playing for a while in various reincarnations live, so, when I was writing it I knew the sounds inside out. I wrote it at a point that I had finished a few live shows and was just really excited about writing music.
I had the luxury of playing much of the track through on some nice sound systems and wanted to make it come to life; give it some form and shape. It’s a lot of interweaving repetitions, ducking in and out, with these acidic bloops, chugging throughout, keeping a sense of movement and motion going.
Some pieces are incredibly visual for me and these narratives unfold, as I mentioned with ‘Romance’, ‘Bear’ was much the same. Everything about it reminded me of Baloo the bear from the Jungle Book. Not the story line. Just the Bear (ha!) I’ve no idea why. None of the sounds are even remotely related to the Jungle Book, I haven’t read or watched it in years, but once I had the idea in my head, that was it. This lucid bear sauntering through a lush green jungle.
Some of the music I write goes that direction, storytelling in some warped sort of way. On the other hand, it can be solely focused on one specific sound that I’m completely fixated on for a time, and I try to challenge myself to use it in as many creative ways as I can. A feeling, or a mood. Sometimes you just want to make something bangin’, obnoxious and unapologetic. I’m all for that too. I love that.
What records, producers, artists have you been enjoying lately?
EK: A lot of the music coming out on Don’t Be Afraid; Karen Gwyer and Herva in particular. Also output from BANK records, Enrique (Miguel Alvariño) and Via App especially.
I’ve been revisiting Murlo’s Odysessy from last year and that still gets me excited, it’s just such a good time. The new Pangea is really fun too.
Also, looking forward to get my hands on the new Andrew Pekler record, which I’ve only heard snippets, but sounds great.
It’s always striking chatting with you about music: you have a wide-ranging taste and love and appreciation for a wide range of genres and styles/periods of music – Delia Derbyshire & BBC Radiophonic; Colleen; Powell; The Soft Moon; Laurie Spiegel, Linda Perhacs etc. – it’s obvious from listening to your music that your collection does not only cater for techno/electronic sounds. Could you pinpoint key albums that influenced you as a composer and made an impact on you growing up? In terms of influences who would you most admire?
EK: Growing up I didn’t listen to much electronic music at all, not intentionally, it just wasn’t an area I was all that aware of. The major exception here would be Aphex Twin, both volumes of Selected Ambient works and also the Druqks record.
As a teenager, I was mostly preoccupied with metal and offshoots of that; alongside with psychedelic pop of the late 60’s and 70’s. The Mama’s and the Papa’s self-titled record definitely brushed off on me, I go back to it time and time again, catchy yet sometimes melancholic pop songs with a nostalgic feel. I love the story that they tell, the overall narrative. My mother was also very partial to throwing their best of on in the car as a kid, so even going further back, I’ve some nice memories attached to their sound.
In a big contrast, Ulver’s ‘Blood Inside” also had an impact on me, but in a completely different way. It was a drastic break away from their previous sound, which was a lot more black metal. The record is still really dark and moody, but has some many different elements to it regarding electronics, instrumentation and texture. It’s really interesting to listen to, their use of sampling especially got to me.
Fantoms ‘Suspended Animation’ is another one i’d include in this too, it shook me up. The juxtaposition of so many different elements, sometimes sounding quite frantic sometimes really beautiful.
I can’t really mention sampling without Musique Concrète and the music from RTF and Radiophonic Workshop. The composers involved have not only being very influential compositionally, but I’ve a strong admiration for them, women like Eliane Radigue, Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire in particular.
Likewise, I’m very fond of the Scape~ recordings label and the producers involved. It’s all very considered and beautiful production with some really precise components that seem to be a mixture of found and man-made sounds, yet still not withholding to any particular genre. Jan Jelinek – Loop Finding Jazz Records is a favourite of mine.
I also have to include Emptyset and their record Demiurge. The physicality of their sound is something I really appreciate; I find their music very compelling.
“You really don’t know if it’s day or night when you’re in there and that was more than perfect for me. Every now and then, you’ll hear the trains approaching and rolling above your head and it’s one of the most beautiful sounds.”
Words: Mark Carry, Photographs: Terry Magson
One of Ireland’s finest and most intriguing songwriters, Dublin-based and Waterford-born Katie Kim has two albums to date, beginning with the 2008 debut solo album “Twelve” and 2012’s seminal masterwork, the double album “Cover&Flood”. Also available is “The Feast”, a collection of ten previously unreleased remixes of songs from “Cover&Flood” while the “VALUTS” series compiles various unreleased songs. The highly anticipated third studio album ‘Salt’ will be released on the 14th October 2016 (500-limited heavy weight vinyl can be pre-ordered here). “Salt” was recorded in a self-built recording and artist space in Dublin called Guerrilla Studios which has become an integral part of the Independent Irish music scene. Since Cover and Flood Katie has toured the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium playing mostly sold out venues.
Katie Kim has supported the likes of Low and Slint to date and her influences stem from the realms of experimental, folk, post-rock, shoegaze, ambient and outsider folk. Kim’s distinctive sound is characterized by her fragile vocals, breath-taking lyricism and a constant striving for both purity and simplicity in her truly unique and utterly beguiling recorded output (akin to Grouper’s Liz Harris or early period Cat Power) casting a deeply profound spell on the listener in turn.
Delving into Katie Sullivan’s cherished songbook, the listener is catapulted deep inside a realm of raw emotion and blissful transcendence. The home recordings captured on debut full-length ‘Twelve’ shared the glittering spark of Cat Power’s deeply-affecting songbook (particularly ‘Moon Pix’ or ‘You Are Free’) where a lo-fi warmth and wonderful minimalism floats beneath the Irish songstress’s deeply-affecting voice. ‘Oak Tree’, the album’s towering penultimate track is a sparse folk blues ballad that could just as easily be one of Chan Marshall’s eerie folk tales.
The sonic envelope is pushed much further on the 2012 follow-up ‘Cover&Flood’, revealing soaring soundscapes and immaculate instrumentation. The introspective, slow-burning songs (twenty tracks across this defining double-record) and utterly hypnotic quality almost immediately felt like songs you’ve known all your life. The timeless nature of ‘Cover&Flood’ is exactly the reason why the soon-to-be-released follow-up ‘Salt’ comes with such feverish excitement and genuine anticipation. It is clear from the album teaser, ‘Salt’ sees the revered musician explore deeper into the ethereal dimension, for which she has long ago established.
‘SALT’ will be released on 14th October 2016 (500-limited heavy weight vinyl) can be pre-ordered HERE.
Interview with Katie Kim.
Huge anticipation surrounds your forthcoming full-length release of ‘Salt’, which reflects again just how special and wholly unique your sacred songbook is to so many people. I would love for you to discuss the making of the new record? In terms of the recording and sonic terrain explored on ‘Salt’, the songs go deeper and further than ever before and creates a most captivating experience in turn. Please shed some light on your priorities/objectives you had in mind for the new record? I can also imagine the simple factor of time (being on your side) – and allowing the songs to slowly evolve and blossom – also helped shape these new songs into glittering life?
Katie Kim: Before this year I was always writing or playing. At home mostly and then bringing new half formed songs to live shows and playing them for a while before I got bored and moved on to the next one. So I nearly always have all these little “things” hanging around sometimes getting played, sometimes not, sometimes I record them at home, sometimes not. So the ones that stayed with me, I made part of SALT. Sonically it was a partnership with John Murphy. He brought it to quite a dark place. I mean we had to trim a lot off the endings of many songs where he went deeper and deeper into great big guttural soundscapes because we wouldn’t be able to fit them on the vinyl otherwise. So we had to meet a happy medium. Regarding time though, it was never an issue. Well I suppose actually it is, because I can’t spend too much time on anything or it loses life. It degrades for me.
The recording space is vital to the (resultant) sound of an album. On previous releases such as the seminal ‘Cover&Flood’, I fell in love with that DIY aesthetic/home recording warmth that permeates throughout those sparse recordings. ‘Salt’ sees you recording in a self-built recording and artist space in Dublin. What were your first impressions of the space itself and what do you feel led you to choose Guerilla Studios as the recording space for the latest album? I would love to gain an insight into the studio itself and what were the equipment and actual set-up utilized for sculpting these new tracks?
KK: Well we all (meaning John, myself, Ian Chestnut and Elly from Percolator) were looking for a rehearsal space /potential recording studio for John, in Dublin and a project didn’t scare us. In fact, it was preferable. So a big one fell through and we came across the three arches on the North Strand road. Under a railway track. It was an old garage. Patrick Kelleher’s rehearsal space was next door. It was reasonable, so we took it and started the work. I can’t claim much of the hard graft mind! But I painted and cleaned and scrubbed to help until it was what it is presently.
So we had a place to play, John had a place to record, so organically SALT had to be created there. I’ve never felt so comfortable recording than I did there. John has a mix of beautiful vintage tape machines and a big old wooden analogue mixing desk along with some digital equipment, but the main feeling is one of quietude. You really don’t know if it’s day or night when you’re in there and that was more than perfect for me. Every now and then, you’ll hear the trains approaching and rolling above your head and it’s one of the most beautiful sounds.
The single ‘Foreign Fleas’ – released last year – gave a lovely taster in many ways of the new sonic explorations you’ve been gravitating towards. For example, the masterful production and beautifully sculpted layers of drone-infused sound conjures up the sound of Portishead or Grouper’s Liz Harris. Can you talk me through the production stage itself and indeed the collaborative process between you and John Murphy. I can imagine it must be very rewarding to witness how the bare bones of a song is transformed as a result of the subsequent happenings undertaken by the various music-making stages?
KK: It was very relaxed. John is part of my band, so I never felt like I couldn’t say anything if I was uncomfortable with the way things were progressing. I’m the first to admit I can be extremely particular. I know this has sometimes been problematic in the past when working with people in other areas but with John, we really understand each other, so it was fun and I learned from him and for him he was interested in the vocal production element so we bounced well off each other. It was a really fluid organic process.
I fondly recall your live show in Cobh at the Sirius Arts Centre last year. The hypnotic effect created by your looped harmonies unleashes an ocean of raw emotion, which belongs in its own realm of utter transcendence. This magic and sheer beauty is etched across the canvas of ‘Salt’, where an intimacy is forever captured. Can you talk me through the layering process and particularly for your voice? I also love the minimal nature of the music formed but just how much is obtained from a minimal framework. I imagine there are some challenges posed by adding layers and knowing when you have enough, so to speak?
KK: The looping began because I felt quite bare when I initially started playing live. When I recorded I would go down wormholes for hours adding layers upon layers of vocals and I missed that when I played in public. So I bought the pedal and it became an extension of the live show which I really had fun with. It’s the looping that people would really grab onto at shows and still do, but I’d hate for it to become a gimmick. So I’m trying not to rely too much on it these days, getting ready for the upcoming shows. It’s a little trickier now that I play quite a bit more piano, but I still like to use it for sonic reasons here and there. Knowing when enough is enough is purely due to technical reasons. After a certain point the sound starts to distort and although I don’t mind that, it doesn’t translate well in venues. Otherwise I could lose the run of myself. It would probably be horribly self-indulgent!
Collaboration is an important part to your music, Katie. I would love to gain an insight into the collaboration between you and Crash Ensemble for instance, who will be arranging your new songs for a special show? The new perspectives a collaborative partner must bring to your own music must always feel quite revelatory and as a listener, gives new insight into a musician’s music. I also love the many other collaborations you have been part of, not least the beautiful ‘Some Blue Morning’ – and subsequent European tour – by Adrian Crowley.
KK: I’m so excited for The Crash show. Sean Clancy is spearheading the arranging and he’s an absolute master. It’s good to collaborate when it’s right. Sometimes it doesn’t always fit. Even though all the numbers look right on paper, the solution isn’t always the right one. It’s happened a few time in the past, so it’s great when something works. Like Some Blue Morning. I think that’s such a beautiful album. When Adrian sent the songs over for me to hear and play around with, I didn’t have to spend any time sitting with them. I felt like I’d known them already, for a long time.
What were your earliest musical memories, Katie? I wonder how soon did you realize the importance music would have in your life? I love how each record of yours represents a special document – and distinct moment in time -yet each one very much belongs to one distinct realm of endless possibilities. Who were the musical voices that guided you on your own musical path?
KK: It’s been fairly well documented by me that The Carpenters, Mariah Carey and Queen were my childhood! But kneaded into all that I remember my sisters having the “Twin Peaks” soundtrack and Julee Cruise’s voice was the most mysteriously beautiful thing I had ever heard up to that point. Most young girls sing with the hairbrush in the mirror and I was no different, but I remember buying a little notebook when I was very young. Maybe 8 or 9 to write songs in. I had no instrument at that time but I would just make up melodies to go along with them, so that may indicate a deeper interest in songwriting.
Lastly, I’d love to know what records, films, books that have made a big impact on you, Katie?
KK: So many. The most formative time for me was around 14. I got my first guitar, me and my friends started smoking and drinking and discovering people like Harmony Korine and Larry Clarke. “Kids” was a mind blower when I first watched it. We were all deathly silent watching that movie together in my first boyfriends house. Watching that for the first time as a teenager in Waterford was eye opening. I loved documentaries. I watched Instrument repeatedly. There’s a beautiful Low documentary that follows them around on tour [“Low In Europe”, Plexifilm, 2004] that I had but was taken at a party and I could never find it again. Don’t Look Back and The Year That Punk Broke, Jean Michel Basquiat The Radiant Child. I wore tapes and CD’s out. Cocteau Twins Treasure, Radiohead’s Amnesiac, Elliott Smith Either Or, Low I could live In Hope, Cat Power – Everything. Stina Nordenstam – Everything. Sibylle Baier Colour Green, Beck One Foot In The Grave, Sonic Youth Evol, John Jacob Niles, John Lennon, Sebadoh, and I can’t forget Nine Inch Nails Downward Spiral. I listened to that record for 5 straight years.
Books – The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave (this was a big one for me and inspired more than one track on Cover & Flood) In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, and more recently The First Bad Man by Miranda July is weirdly wonderful.
Movies have probably inspired me musically more than anything else. I loved and still do love a well compiled soundtrack, whether it be an original score or otherwise. Big ones for me would be Gummo, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Kids, The Doom Generation, The Tree of Life soundtrack is heart-breaking.
‘SALT’ will be released on 14th October 2016 (500-limited heavy weight vinyl) can be pre-ordered HERE.
Katie Kim performs with Crash Ensemble at the Engage Arts Festival, Bandon, Cork on Friday 30th September at The Court House, Bandon (TIX & INFO HERE).
Fractured Air & Plugd Records present XYLOURIS WHITE (Greece’s George Xylouris plus Dirty Three’s Jim White) with very special guest KATIE KIM at the TDC, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork on Friday 28 October (TIX & INFO HERE).
Interview with Brigid Mae Power.
“What generally happens with me is that I seem to live life, soak everything in like a sponge and then after a few months everything comes pouring out.”
—Brigid Mae Power
Words: Mark Carry, Photographs: Peter Broderick
In the liner notes of Sibylle Baier’s treasured folk opus, ‘Colour Green’, the German songwriter’s son Robby Baier writes: “My mother’s music is simply amazing in its intimacy and closeness.” I feel these precise words perfectly describe the similarly magical and empowering music of Irish singer-songwriter, Brigid Mae Power and particularly reflected on Power’s (self-titled) masterpiece recently released on the prestigious U.S. label Tompkins Square.
A quality always vividly present in Power’s songbook has been how her personality shines through in the music whereby an honesty and purity simmers beautifully in her fragile folk explorations. In much the same way as Sibyl Baier’s ‘Colour Green’ LP, Power’s deeply moving body of work portray intimate portraits of life’s sad and fragile beauty.
Brigid Mae Power’s stunningly beautiful new solo full-length – and Tompkins Square debut – is an album drenched in reverb-soaked emotion and lament. Enchantingly performed and produced, the record showcases a songwriter of immense talent in a soundscape that naturally merges itself to Brigid Power’s engulfing sound. The magic lies in the songwriter’s expression of raw emotion, in all its delicate beauty. Themes include transformation, change, motherhood, acceptance, strength, courage and trust. In the words of Power, the album is about “trusting if you lose yourself or your way — you can come back.”
The seeds were sewn for the album after playing a string of UK & Irish shows with esteemed American songwriter and musician Peter Broderick during May 2015. Peter invited Brigid to record a batch of new songs in his Portland home studio, The Sparkle, along the Oregon coast. The Irish musician finished writing this collection of songs in June ’15 just before the recording sessions would take place in the early summer. The new record boasts an impeccable sound quality in which Power’s mesmerizing voice lies in the forefront of the mix. “I craved having my voice sound larger but more intimate,” Brigid explains. It is abundantly clear upon encountering Power’s newest work that there is a newfound confidence permeating throughout the songs, augmented by Broderick’s intuitive musical direction, which in turn helped the songs evolve. All songs were written by Brigid Mae Power, performed by Brigid and Peter Broderick and recorded, mixed and mastered by Peter Broderick at the Sparkle.
The album’s epic opener ‘It’s Clearing Now’ serves the ideal prologue to the record’s intensely powerful and moving journey. Initially recorded live with Brigid on guitar and Peter Broderick on drums, new layers of violin and meticulously crafted sonic elements were added by the American producer. Some of the songs such as ‘Is It My Low or Yours’, ‘Let Me Hold You Through This’ and ‘How You Feel’ were written very quickly, during the month before Brigid embarked on the transatlantic trip to The Sparkle. The others, mostly the deeply-affecting piano-based ballads (‘Sometimes’, ‘Lookin At You In A Photo’, ‘Watching The Horses’) – are comprised of old melodies the Irish musician had been playing for years but had never put lyrics to.
A wave of inspiration abounds the sprawling canvas of sound, mapping the rawest of emotion and deepest of fears. A mystical spell is cast by the meeting of these two kindred spirits: Brigid Mae Power’s songwriting prowess and Peter Broderick’s deep musical understanding. Asked about the creative process, Brigid explains, “It’s a mystical thing for me, I don’t usually remember when or where I write something or when I finish a song. It just appears.”
If ever the spirit of a record is distilled in one single song it is ‘Watching the Horses’, the album’s scintillating penultimate track. As Power’s achingly beautiful vocal refrain of “I am free” ascends into one’s heart and mind, the Irish songwriter’s masterwork chronicles brave new beginnings amidst a rejuvenated spirit. The changing of your whole outlook on life. Transformation.
As reflected in the lyrics of closing heartfelt lament of ‘How You Feel’, this deeply personal and intimate set of songs become a place of hope and solace where the path laid out in front you is filled with the light of day and sea of love.
‘Brigid Mae Power’ is out now on Tompkins Square.
Interview with Brigid Mae Power.
Please discuss these batch of new & delicately beautiful new songs, Brigid and indeed the space and time in which these songs blossomed from? Also, I wonder were the majority of the songs initial sketches prior to the Sparkle sessions or was it a mix where some were very much fully formed whereas others took on this life of their own upon the recording sessions?
Brigid Mae Power: I finished writing these songs in June ’15, just before I was to fly out to Portland, Oregon to go and record with Peter. Some of them, such as ‘Is it my low or yours’, ‘let me hold you through this’, and ‘how you feel’, were written very quickly and in the month before I went out. The others, mostly the piano ones, were old melodies I had been playing for years but had never put lyrics to them. I had been procrastinating for years with them and then in May I really buckled down and forced myself to finish writing them so that I would have them ready to record out at The Sparkle. So I had them all ready and written before I went out.
Writing at the moment, but maybe that might change, is quite a private process for me, so I wanted to have them ready to record for when I was out there. So yes they were all fully formed, lyrics and melodies etc. But Peter added a lot to them after I had left and helped them evolve.
What is the common theme or narrative that you feel bridges all these songs together on this record?
BMP: Hmm a theme or narrative. I guess I will just throw some words out here – Transformation. Change. Acceptance. Transcending. Healing. Healing from trauma. Not letting past incidences and feelings/ideas/judgements others and yourself have about you define you. Moving on. Strength. Courage. Trust. Moving past negativity and hard times. Trusting if you lose yourself or your way you can come back. Sensitivity. Getting rid of guilt. Being a single mother. Clearing out old things/habits/patterns before you start a new with someone else. Feeling connection with life. Appreciating being alive.
Following on from ‘I Told You the Truth’ ep, it’s abundantly clear the new music comes from a different place: new perspectives and a different outlook on all matter of life’s happenings seem to flicker across the horizon as a confidence and striking immediacy comes very much to the fore. What were your main concerns for this new record in terms of the sound and feel you wanted to create?
BMP: I guess my first and foremost intention was to have a good sound quality. I used to just record myself with a handheld recorder in a reverberant room. Which I do like the sound of but I craved having my voice sound larger but more intimate. My ears are sensitive to how I like a recording to sound, and sometimes I preferred it almost to sound of lesser quality than too squeaky clean. But when I heard Peter’s voice on his recordings I knew that he would instinctively know what sounded good for me and how to have my voice sound. I didn’t need to explain at all to him, he just knew, but even when I was trying to explain to him, sometimes through just a feeling, he knew what I meant, it was like he spoke my language. It’s hard for me to describe things in words a lot of the time, but especially creatively so I was really lucky to have Peter speak my language!
The epic opener is the ideal prologue to the album’s intensely powerful and moving journey. I recall Peter describing the many listens/playbacks of this track in order to get the layering right. Discuss the construction and gradual formation of this stunning torch-lit ballad?
BMP: Well, I can’t remember exactly when I finished that song but I remember I wrote it when I was sitting in my car staring at the sea and just had a strong feeling of leaving behind a feeling of being stuck. I had gone on tour with Peter in May and came back, and I felt hugely inspired from meeting him. It opened my mind to possibility, so much, and I saw how I had been limiting myself previously in my thinking.
When we recorded it, we just recorded it live me on guitar and Peter on drums. It felt really special when we were playing that song. But what he did after to it was just so incredible and how I had envisioned it to sound without expressing it to him at all. He worked on it when I had gone home. So I don’t know the in’s and out’s of what he added, but I think a lot of violins and a lot of tiny sounds that you wouldn’t notice but have a big impact.
The sparse piano ballads are some of the most poignant moments. ‘Sometimes’ is vintage Joni Mitchell or Marissa Nadler for example. The piano is an instrument I always wanted to hear more in your recordings so it was such a delight to witness the beauty unfold as the delicate piano notes meld with your voice. What are your feelings on these piano laments Brigid? Were there challenges as to how you wanted each song to sound e.g. the arrangements and how full or conversely how bare a recording should be?
BMP: These songs are the first I have written for piano and voice, I love playing it and singing. I guess I gravitated towards writing with guitar for a long time because it’s easier to play live!
I had those songs ready when I went out there… we recorded them in a guy named Corey’s studio in Portland. I made the guys stand out of the room because those songs were very intense for me to sing! I just wanted them to sound how they did live really; I didn’t necessarily want anything added but I was open to suggestion. Peter added a lot to ‘Watching the Horses’ after.
How bare a recording should be – I’m generally a less is more kinda person, and I prefer the feeling that is captured. But there is a place for everything and I like a balance of having some things bare, some things not so bare, some things with a minimal thing added. In ‘Sometimes’ Peter adds the tiniest sound in it that gives the song so much! So much that when I play it on my own now I’m missing that tiny little beepy sound whatever it is…
Can you recount for me the experience of working closely with Peter and the daily routines at the Sparkle & Portland itself? What are the memories you cherish and the proudest aspect to this stunning body of work you feel personally?
BMP: Well working closely with Peter never felt like work. It just felt very natural and easy. We actually got so much recording, we couldn’t believe how much we had gotten done as the whole time we were there we kept lazing around. So we only recorded a few hours a day for maybe 2 or 3 days. The whole time was such a special time for me for so many reasons. I kept kind of pinching myself to see if it all was real, I just loved Portland. I’ve always felt very at home in the states musically and just generally anyway. There’s this kind of openness that I love. And I hadn’t been back there since I had my son, so I was just soaking so much in.
The Sparkle was near the ocean and near forest. There were deer and racoons. Me and Peter sat out on the porch and a raccoon came right up near us. We drank a lot of coffee. Sat in parks. Swam in the river. It was really a pivotal moment for me. The last six years or so for me had been so hard and I felt just like all my trust and hoping that things would change had paid off and I was enjoying this great opportunity.
I’m most proud of just doing it. I think if it had been the year previous and that opportunity to go out and record there had come up that I probably wouldn’t have taken it up. I was way too shy and anxious.
Can you shed some light on the song-writing process? I get the impression that patience and allowing a song to slowly bloom is important to the process itself? Would you have any trusted techniques or rituals you feel important to the creative process?
BMP: For me yes it really is to do with patience. What generally happens with me is that I seem to live life, soak everything in like a sponge and then after a few months everything comes pouring out. I never try to create. And when I do its usually bad news. It’s the same with painting for me, I have to come across things accidently, if I am asked to draw something in particular I really struggle to do it because there is an idea about it. I see artists that can really work like that with ideas first and make really amazing work, but for me it’s like the opposite way or something. It’s also a mystical thing for me, I don’t usually remember when or where I write something or when I finish a song. It’s like that exact when I finish something doesn’t really exist. It just appears.
Discuss the singers and musicians that lie rooted in your own sonic canvas and musical landscape? I fondly recall you singing (acappela) several Irish traditional standards back in Galway and Cork in the past, which leaves such a hypnotic spell on the audience. Discuss (if you can!) the techniques and voicings you have developed when it comes to delivering this sort of cathartic vocal performance?
BMP: I think that I heard a lot of different types of music growing up and I sponged it up. So I heard a lot of Planxty, Dolores Keane, De Dannan as far as traditional music is concerned. And also in my family gatherings singing was a big thing. Then in my own development with singing – I always got a lot of inspiration from certain singers that went that extra bit further, and to be honest I don’t think it was the technique that grabbed me, it was the depth they went. So I drew a lot of inspiration from singers like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and of course Tim Buckley. But also I always found John Fahey’s guitar playing a vocal inspiration too because I felt like he played the guitar like someone singing. But basically I don’t think I developed much technically or in a “learning how to do something way” it was more like I allowed myself to touch on something that feels quite outside of myself and maybe ancient sometimes.
Lastly, the cover painting (of your own creation) that adorns the record’s sleeve evokes the delicacy of this remarkable album and batch of songs. There is a nice backstory to this particular artwork I recall you telling me previously?
BMP: Ah yes, my friend the artist Vicky Langan has this really sweet daughter called Sionnach which as you know is “fox” in Irish. I think she was four or five at the time and she made such an impression on me, she was so imaginative and funny. So then a few weeks later I found myself subconsciously drawing a fox so I named it “A Fox for Sionnach” and gave it to her!
‘Brigid Mae Power’ is out now on Tompkins Square.
Interview with Slow Moving Clouds.
“It was tricky to bridge the gap between the Irish and Finnish music traditions, which have a lot more differences than similarities. To effectively combine the two we had to come up with an approach and way of playing which was independent of both traditions…”
—Danny Diamond, Slow Moving Clouds
Words: Mark & Craig Carry
Slow Moving Clouds are an Irish-based three-piece who have recently released their debut full-length, ‘Os’ which beautifully draws inspiration from both Irish and Nordic music traditions. Slow Moving Clouds’ comprise the vastly experienced and critically acclaimed trio of Danny Diamond (fiddle), Aki (nyckelharpa, vocals) and Kevin Murphy (cello). Interestingly, the trio have worked extensively together in the past and have known each other for many years. Both Aki and Diamond have recored and performed as a duo (nyckelharpa and fiddle) under the moniker Danny & Aki while Murphy and Aki have performed together in the special cello-based outfit Seti The First (their debut LP ‘Melting Calvary’ is one of the finest albums to be made form Irish shores in recent years). Much like the Irish/U.S. ensemble of The Gloaming, both the personal and musical bond that exists between members is of paramount importance in both the genesis and results in forming such a collective, it is the basis for all the magic at work which shines forth clearly from each recording where each one seems to innately know and appreciate what each other can create.
Much like Murphy’s Seti The First project, Slow Moving Clouds in truth draws as much from the traditional as it does from modern classical aspects of music, in turn a vast spectrum of soundscapes are created which are at times expressively lush and orchestral while elsewhere drone and ambient-influenced works come into sharper focus. All the while, a breathtaking sense of emotion is held (and builds gradually layer by gorgeous layer) for the duration of the album’s eleven tracks. Like The Gloaming’s Iarla Ó Lionáird, a tangible sense of both history and time can be discerned from both the vocal delivery and use of very specific, time-honored traditional texts (the Finnish-inspired pieces here such as ‘Hiljainen Suru’ and ‘Os’ break all limitations and borders posed by both language and place, creating in turn moments of pure, blissful reverie). The beautiful strokes and tones created by the cello/fiddle/nyckelharpa axis is a joy to savor (the simple joy of witnessing such music where feeling overrides everything else recalls such special musical souls as Iceland’s Amiina or Sweden’s Tape).
This is an album – and band – who deserve the recognition for their extraordinary achievements.
‘Os’ is available now on Bandcamp HERE.
Interview with Slow Moving Clouds [Aki, Danny Diamond & Kevin Murphy].
Congratulations on the stunningly beautiful debut record, ‘Os’. It’s really quite incredible & contains such a world of sounds and traditions that crafts such a timeless, beautiful sound. Please discuss the inception of this trio (I know Kevin and Aki from Seti The First and certain fingerprints from this wonderful ensemble seep into the music here) and how the sound developed and blossomed over time? Also, both the title of the debut record as well as the band name are both intriguing before ever hearing a single note…
Aki: Thank you. Danny and I have been playing traditional music as a duo for awhile, and we released a duo album in 2012. I played with the live incarnation of Kevin’s band Seti the First, and had a duo project in development with Kevin. Instead of having two separate duo projects, we decided to try something with three of us. Most of our early dance music stuff (polskas) are complete rearrangements of material we had with Danny & Aki.
In terms of the aesthetics and flow of the record, the combination of instrumental and vocal tracks works so wonderfully. The diverse range of styles, from more polska/dance rhythms to achingly beautiful ballads and soaring modern-classical pieces creates a very enriching experience. Can you take me back to these particular recording sessions and indeed the challenges you may have faced during this stage? There is a real sense of this joy of making music together as a group of musicians that really radiates and shines brightly throughout ‘Os’. It feels that the recordings themselves were quite effortless? Also, I can imagine the arrangement aspect of the music-making process would have been the most intensive period?
Aki: We did a fair amount of rehearsing before going in to record. The arrangements were developed organically over time. Some of the arrangements changed during the recording process, even at the mixing phase. The songs were the newest material on the album. In fact, we had only played one of the songs (Hiljainen Suru) live before recording them.
Danny Diamond: We dealt with a lot of the aesthetic questions and challenges in the months before recording so that, as Aki said, most of the basic arrangements were solid before going into studio. It was tricky to bridge the gap between the Irish and Finnish music traditions, which have a lot more differences than similarities. To effectively combine the two we had to come up with an approach and way of playing which was independent of both traditions and then treat all the material material in that ‘third way’.
Irish music tends to often focus on the performer’s interpretation of traditional material, what the individual does with a tune. In the Finnish tradition the melodies, phrasing and ornamentation are much more defined, and are taught through a formal classical-based music education system. We didn’t buy into either of these very different mindsets, instead we took an approach that focused on arrangement, structure and atmosphere. Our way of working is (despite the difference in material and instrumentation) closer to a pop/rock band than anything else, writing intros, bridges, outros and defined parts for each instrument to play.
We thought a lot, talked it out, and tried different approaches to the material before settling on this approach. We were very conscious that the results would have to make musical sense and not end up an awkward or superficial exercise in cultural fusion. We’re quite happy with the results of the recording, which has achieved the result of not sounding directly like either Irish or Finnish music but like something completely new, albeit with both traditions still audible as important influences.
Kevin Murphy: While echoing what the lads have said I think that a key difference between what we did and what the traditions tend to dictate is that we simply chose to mix and arrange in a way which gave us the most pleasure. Frequently we were presented with dilemmas such as: do we need to find another tune to run in from the previous one or can we simply drop in an abstract instrumental part which tend to musically work better? Or should the instrument playing the lead melody always be the loudest in the mix? Etc. The answer to all these questions was what ever feels the best stays. Therefore hedonism often trumped tradition. Therefore odd musical bits appear where straight ahead tunes might be expected while in the mix the instruments tend to blend together in a layered and interconnected way rather than always having a loud lead part. In this we probably unashamedly borrow from My Bloody Valentine in trying to create a melodic mush from which barely discernable patterns occasionally emerge. It is however, unlikely that you will be left with any major hearing loss after going to one of our gigs.
Please talk me through some of the traditional material contained on ‘Os’ and discuss why you chose these particular songs and indeed your memories of first discovering the songs? I would love to gain an insight into the approach (and process) you used when deconstructing and reworking these traditional melodies?
Aki: ‘Hiljainen Suru’ (Quiet Sorrow) is a haunting traditional song that I have known for a quite awhile. I learned it from the singing of a friend of mine – Maija Karhinen. ‘Os’ (full title: ‘Os Fera Liluli’) is an unusual traditional song from Finnish tradition. It combines two ancient Nordic languages and Latin. I learned it from a recent recording by Arto and Antti Järvelä. ‘Suru Suuri’ (Great Sorrow) borrows the melody from an old Carelian call-and-response chant. The simple meditative quality of the tune caught my attention in the first place. The polkas on the album are from the Finnish fiddle tradition, mainly from the West coast of Finland.
Danny Diamond: As for the traditional Irish material, we stayed clear of dance music (reels, jigs, etc), as that repertoire didn’t seem to fit so well with the sound and atmosphere we were trying to create. Since the backbone of the contemporary Irish traditional repertoire is dance music, we had to look a little deeper to find material for Slow Moving Clouds. In fact, all four of the traditional Irish tracks on ‘Os’ are based on (obscure and very old) song melodies. For example, ‘The Conquering Hero’ is derived from Handel’s chorus ‘See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes’ from the oratorio Judas Maccabaeus. Aki found a version of it as a march in an old Irish tune collection from the 1800s, so it must have slipped into the Irish tradition at some stage. We took the march as a starting point, simplified and partly re-wrote the melody to fit our sound. So it’s a three-times-removed 18th century classical piece.
We arranged it in a verse-chorus fashion and set it in a simple but effective drone-based arrangement, hoping that the track would evoke a unique atmosphere. This approach, although straightforward, is very different to the typical Irish traditional approach of my background, where the individual voice of the performer(s) playing melody tends to takes precedence over almost all other factors in an arrangement. I personally found it very interesting to have to recalibrate my approach – gaining a greater appreciation for tone and texture, contributing to the overall arrangement and mood, rather than ‘playing the tune’ in the traditional fashion.
‘Suru Suuri’ is a heavenly Nordic folk lament. The arrangements are impeccable and the voice is beautifully melded with the string instruments. Can you talk me through this song? The strings evoke the magical spell of a Sigur Ros creation such is its brilliance.
Aki: This song really came together in the studio, although we had a basic arrangement in mind when going in. We wanted to keep the chant-like quality of the song, but also add a new layer of texture to add variety and a build up.
Please discuss your chosen instrument – nyckelharpa, fiddle and cello) and how your playing has developed over the years, inspired perhaps by the various collaborations and projects each of you have been immersed in these past few years? Certainly, SMC sees a perfect meeting point for these three unique voices in contemporary music.
Aki: Nyckelharpa is an interesting unusual instrument. I have developed my own style of playing that uses a lot of chords rather than single notes. The combination of the three instruments covers a wide pitch and tonal range. On one side we have a folk fiddle sound and on the other side we have a very organic experimental string trio.
Danny Diamond: My fundamental grounding is very deep in the Irish tradition, coming from a family of traditional musicians, working for nearly a decade in the Irish Traditional Music Archive, studying and performing traditional music since my early teens. Listening to solo fiddle players on archival recordings has hugely informed my style and approach to Irish music, a habit which has grown so extreme that the traditional material which excites me most these days are wax cylinder recordings from the very early 20th century.
In my solo playing and in the melodies I write I’m trying to connect to the roots of the Irish tradition, to the very free, expressive music you can hear in iconoclastic fiddle players such as Bobby Casey, Tommy Potts, The Rainey brothers, Johnny Henry and Máirtín Byrnes. I’m fascinated by a particular approach to intonation which is common to the players mentioned above, and heard a lot in the sean-nós singing and piping traditions as well. Non-standard and very expressive, it allows the musician to imbue their music with a huge range of emotion by bending notes, playing intentionally slightly sharp or flat at just the right moment. This expressiveness stands in refreshing contrast to the more codified/structured modes of playing that have grown in the traditional scene over the intervening generations.
In parallel to looking back into the Irish tradition I’ve been working on integrating influences from Nordic & American folk music into my playing- this mostly takes the form of alternate open tunings and rhythmic / phrasing patterns, I haven’t delved really deeply into the other traditions, just enough to pick up a couple of exotic techniques & accents here and there. This exploration was really kick-started back when Aki and I started working together as a duo in 2009 or 2010.
Another influence is the broad genre of music spanning avant-garde pop and minimalist music, running from John Cale to Eno to Gavin Bryars and Philip Glass. Music I’d been listening to since my teens without ever considering that there could be a way to combine it with the traditional fiddle music I was playing. Now with SMC there’s a perfect place to explore that combination.
Slow Moving Clouds is an exciting project to work on, for me it continually pushes and tests my musical boundaries. I’m looking forward to exploring further with Aki and Kevin as the project progresses, and I’m also conscious that the experience of working with them will come through on any future projects from here on. It has broadened my perspective and my capabilities hugely.
Kevin Murphy: Although the cello is certainly not associated with traditional music (Finnish or Irish) I have been involved with different trad bands for years. However, the expectation generally tended to be that the cello would hold down the root notes which were already pre-dictated by the guitar or bouzouki. I found this pretty limiting. Also the cello tends to be low in the mix on such recordings. I always felt this was an extremely limiting use of an instrument which could have a much more intense impact on Irish traditional music. With SMC there is scope for the cello to provide much more chordal colouring while we tend to have it much higher in the mix than would be normal giving the music a lot of aggressive intensity.
The title-track (reflected also by its placing in the record) feels like the glorious centrepiece: how it slowly builds, like leaves swaying slowly by the autumn wind. Did this song perhaps form the gateway into the rest of the record?
Danny Diamond: Actually the opposite was the case! ‘Os’ (the song) was very much constructed in the studio. We had only started working on it a few weeks beforehand, and didn’t have time to refine the arrangement before recording commenced. We tackled it relatively late in the recording sessions and it ended up coming together very naturally.
What do you feel is the essence of Irish and Nordic music traditions for you? What aspect of these musical worlds resonates most powerfully with you that in turn, gravitates you towards these spheres of sound?
Aki: Interestingly enough, the traditional music I like is the solo playing where you can really hear all the nuances and stylistic variations. What we are doing is clearly not traditional music. I’m interested in soundscapes and textures that can augment simple beautiful melodies. Danny comes from a traditional music background and I have a long history in traditional music as well, so those influences are naturally present in the music we make. Kevin and I have been playing both experimental and popular music for years. Slow Moving Clouds’ sound seems to combine all those elements seamlessly. Although the Nordic and Irish traditional music has been a strong starting point for our sound, I have a feeling that as our sound develops we will start introducing a lot more of original material.
‘Os’ by Slow Moving Clouds is available now on Bandcamp HERE.
“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.
‘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 1985–1992’. 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.
Interview with Iarla Ó Lionáird.
“So you manage to track the different phases of life through music which is also for me very important to realize that music could have a real function in society, a real place in everyday life.”
— Iarla Ó Lionáird
Words: Mark Carry, Design: Craig Carry
The Gloaming’s self-titled debut album has been gracing the earth’s atmosphere ever since its release back in 2013. The super-group features New York pianist Thomas Bartlett (Doveman, Anthony and the Johnsons, Martha Wainwright), Chicago guitarist Dennis Cahill, Irish sean-nos singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, fiddler and hardanger innovator Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and fiddle master Martin Hayes. A common thread that connects these gifted musicians together is the masterful use of language, sentiment and desire to elicit emotion of the truest and rawest kind. Ó Lionáird’s mesmerising voice blends majestically alongside the fiddle of Hayes and Ó Raghallaigh’s trusted Hardanger d’Amore. The opening ‘Song 44’ comprises of lyrics adapted from original poem no. 44 by poet Domhnall Mac Cárthaigh. An unfathomable beauty is unleashed by The Gloaming that utters, with every sacred note, to phrase a poet: “the godly-given prize” of true art and treasured music. ‘The Necklace of Wrens’ contains lyrics adapted from the original poem by Michael Hartnett. The piano line of Bartlett serves the aching pulse to Ó Lionáird’s fragile vocal delivery. Some moments later, Cahill’s guitar adds new layers of depth and elegance. The words and music of ‘Opening Set’ — the album’s longest cut — represents the crowning jewel of the group’s towering debut album. Distinct movements begin and end throughout the heavenly sixteen minutes, as the instrumentation of guitar, voice, fiddle and piano casts an everlasting spell upon you that further confirms the abundance and exceeding beauty of its native music.
I feel the beautiful poem ‘The Music or the Folk’ by Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil translates the sheer beauty of The Gloaming’s truly transcendent work into fitting words:
“From time eterne unto these living hours
They count their heritage;
And fresh as wood-bells wet with April showers
It wears its weight of age.
The stream of nature-song runs quick the-day
As it ran in the world of years away.”
One of Iarla’s latest projects is the special collaboration with American composer Dan Trueman, poet Paul Muldoon and American ensemble eighth blackbird, entitled Olagón. In the legendary Irish tale Táin Bó Cúailnge, two brothers are forced to battle one another for three days. Cuchulainn slays Ferdia, and lets loose a powerful, guttural, mournful cry, the cry known as “olagón”. The rich and conflicted notion of “olagón” is the starting point for a new hour-long concert work, created by composer/performer Dan Trueman, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, and ensemble eighth blackbird.
Interview with Iarla O’ Lionaird.
It would be wonderful first of all to talk about The Gloaming; it’s such a special album with all these incredible musicians and the result when you all come together and in turn, what you create is so magical.
Iarla Ó Lionáird: Well we don’t get to play together too often and maybe that’s why it works out [laughs]. But it is part of it I think that we don’t do it too often, funnily enough because I think when you do something very often – and you’re very good at it – the problem is you’re very good at doing the same thing. And I think the way The Gloaming is set up, you don’t get to do it so often and falling into an habitual way of playing so it always feels fresh and on the edge and at the risk of doing ourselves some reputational damage we’re always a little bit under-rehearsed as well but just enough to do the gig. And even the last time we played, we had an hour’s worth of new material – quite fresh and not totally understood maybe but we were going to go for it anyway – so I think there are some of the other things that keep things fresh for us and it creates a sense of adventure when we meet because you don’t know for example how long a tune is going to last or how quite to set up something; we just let things happen as much as possible. That is not to say we’re lazy about it, we do want to hit the sweet spot if possible and that’s the biggest challenge to stay fresh and to hit the sweet spot and to keep doing it.
The fact that you are all involved with your own projects as well, for example with the projects you’re involved with in the meantime and then when you go back and for the others too, it must give you new perspective when going back to The Gloaming and you may have a different approach than the last time?
IÓL: Yeah I mean I think a couple of things happen when we get back together that I really like. First of all, I’m always a bit surprised at how nice it is, how nice it feels you know and how powerful and emotional it is. I suppose it’s how good these guys are, I’m speaking just as a singer. These guys are so good, they’re able to do things on the fly and they’re so responsive to each other. I mean from the very early time, I was surprised by that, you know. I mean it’s an odd thing to say that I would be surprised by such a thing because I have worked with other bands and other groups but these guys are very instinctive and lead-footed and also they reach into emotional territory very quickly by the way they play, each and every one of them. So when you’re in their midst and you haven’t been for a while, I always get this powerful feeling you know. There is this energy generated and it’s a very emotional feeling, very emotional energy and I love it and it surprises me usually.
You’re right, when you’re away from it and you’re doing other things, some of the things I undertake when I’m away from it are very difficult – I find them difficult anyway – complicated and I end up outside of my comfort zone but when I meet the Gloaming, the challenge is different. I find it’s very comfortable but at the same time it’s edgy and I’m on the edge of my seat wondering what’s going to happen and also really enjoying the feelings that we generate with the audience, I think that also came as a surprise to me compared to other things that I’ve done which might be a bit cerebral comparatively. This stuff with the Gloaming especially as we don’t do it too often to become too self-aware, it always moves us a lot as well which is a huge bonus.
I love how the album itself – and it’s been a common theme from previous records in the past – takes traditional material and utilizing or adapting it to your own needs and into music. It’s something very powerful, even some of the specific lyrics on the album for example.
IÓL: Well the funny thing is of all of us in the band the only person who really decided to be a traditional musician was Caoimhín [Ó Raghallaigh] if you like because he grew up in Dublin that’s not to say that Dublin is any lesser of an area for traditional music. But Martin [Hayes] and I were born into it, do you know what I mean, we just didn’t have a choice. And Thomas [Bartlett] also comes from the outside but I feel that myself and Martin if we hadn’t grown up with traditional music, we could have become something else entirely even if we were musicians we could be other kinds of musicians. So I think there is a desire amongst us – certainly myself and I’ve discussed it with the lads many times – to bend the tradition to our will and to imagine ourselves maybe not even as traditional musicians. It just so happens that is the sandbox we find ourselves in and this area of play if you like and that’s the language we use.
To all intents and purposes I mean –I’ve often said it before – if you listen to the playlists that people have on their iPods in the Gloaming you might be surprised of the lack of traditional music through it [laughs]. It might be embarrassing but the fact is many of my colleagues in the Gloaming would spend much more time listening to other forms whether it be interpretative jazz or progressive alternative music in the pop area and then also mixing that up with very old retrieval stance when it comes to traditional music. So we try to bend it to our will.
I love old text sources. Just to give you the impact, I was down in the studio working on something for this group 3epkano who do movie soundtracks and I’m a guest vocalist with them and my usual aim there is I listen to the backing track and I have a bunch of lyrics and I just let things happen. I just see what pops out and then I start crafting that so there is no plan; whatever comes out is already inside but I didn’t see it. So, it’s almost like a question of I really believe it’s inside and I just let it out.
Even in this day and age, there are so many artists that can’t be pigeon-holed in the best way possible in the sense that people like yourself there is no boundaries and you wouldn’t know what project you’d do next which is obviously a great thing.
IÓL: Yeah I mean there is a certain amount of freedom, obviously there are some limits, I mean people would be shocked –perhaps horrified – if I did rap or something like that, I would be more shocked even [laughs]. But there are limits I mean there are aesthetic directions that we are drawn to but the interesting thing is these aesthetic directions, they superimpose, they overlord genre. That’s an interesting distinction I would like to make, these aesthetic choices musicians make today, they have an overlordship over genre, historically derived consideration. So that in other words, someone of my own background in traditional singing doesn’t have a philosophical difficulty with working in neo-classical or in realms of music that is more alternative pop or whatever or alternative rock or progressive modern music.
There are limits to my own creativity and my aesthetic is what creates boundaries for me more than anything else, things that I would like, things that would appeal but not genre so much funnily enough. But that also speaks to the truth that genre all over the world is opening up, not just our traditional music. In other words there is more permeability in the pop world to a degree, in the classical world to a degree and folk music has gone through a huge revolution in the last ten years. It’s very trendy to be a folk musician now [laughs]. I mean I even see on your own stuff online under Fractured Air, folk is there as well as these other forms of modern music. So like when I was growing up, folk was not trendy [laughs]. I’m not saying you’re trendy but it was very much in its own –I don’t want to use the word get-out because that would suggest people didn’t like being in it – but it was in its own zone and the freedom of movement between genre that we see now simply didn’t exist so it’s actually a great time to be creative.
I can’t wait to hear your newer project with Dan Trueman, Olagón, which sounds really interesting altogether.
IÓL: [laughs] That’s going to be very weird, I can definitely say that. One of the challenges with Olagón is that we went to Paul Muldoon with this rather nice idea you know, an idea that had a certain coherence: Cuchulainn’s lament for Ferdia upon killing him which in itself is rather Irish – I’ll kill you but then I’ll lament you [laughs] – almost thespian. We went to him with that idea and we came back with something really quite evocatively different. And then because he had done it and because he worked so hard on it and it was so good, we have had to mock-run it and one of the challenges for me in that piece which we’re working on at the moment with eighth blackbird, we meet every 3 or 4 months to workshop it, usually in the United States and right now Dan Trueman is working quite feverishly at aspects of it. I had to decide at one point how many Iarlas there are. Normally I could be one sort of character doing a show, you know the Gloaming or whatever but in this project I’m having to unpack what it is to be an Irish folk musician into many different and distinct parts. I’ve been listening to The Dubliners, I’ve been listening to traveller music, I’ve been listening to sean-nós all of them are finding a voice in me so that’s very odd for me and very good for me I think.
I suppose you crossed paths with Dan Trueman quite a while ago, Iarla?
IÓL: Oh I did. Actually the funny thing is when I first got to know Caoimhín O’ Raghallaigh, he’s a great pal of mine: I adore Caoimhín, he’s such a wonderful friend and such a beautiful presence in our musical lives and he is a true friend. And he brought Dan down to see me when Dan was visiting Ireland having spoken to me about him quite a bit. So ever since then Dan and I have been very good friends and he’s a wonderful man, he did quite a lot of work for me a couple of years ago when I was performing with the RTÉ National Concert Orchestra, he did three of my songs for orchestra and he did a magnificent job, a standout job. So I’ve been over and back to him quite a bit in Princeton where he works and it’s been very interesting and very challenging I hasten to add. Dan likes complex music, I think he is aware of my limitations but I suppose quite rightly he’s not making it easier for me either [laughs], sometimes I wish he did.
When you’re writing new works, for example the Vanburgh String Quartet earlier this year, you’re working away quietly and then when it comes to the performance and the touring; it must be very rewarding to see how an idea unfolds to the resultant music.
IÓL: It is, I mean you are quite right a lot of it is quiet backroom stuff for months and months and months and in the case of Olagón with Dan Trueman years, we won’t actually perform that to the public until 2017 having started talking about it a year ago. With the Linda Buckley pieces for the Vanburgh that was a very enjoyable experience for me. I felt that she wrote very beautifully for me, very knowing of what I would like to do but at the same time, bringing me somewhere I hadn’t been. A lot of it is because she is a singer herself and I remember listening to the mock-ups and I thought they were so beautiful and at one point I told her maybe I shouldn’t sing on them at all, she should do it herself [laughs] because they sounded so good.
You’re right there is an aspect of you’re sitting in the studio on your own a fair bit for long periods of time. And you’re always working closely with colleagues on imagining many different things: first of all, it changes from composer to composer, in the case of Dan Trueman I’m co-writing with him so I end up frequently writing a lot of the melodic lines I sing myself, in the case of Linda, I asked her to create something and I’m glad I did so it can change. There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing in terms of the fine detail and then there’s the rehearsal phase, which is very difficult sometimes because I don’t read music functionally and so therefore I have to learn things by heart and I have to find a way of being in the place I’m supposed to be with an ensemble and at the same time understanding their dynamic, their sense of flow and their sense of time and then at the same time performing and it really takes me up to the wire to get it. I mean in the case of Linda, I do remember the rehearsals being worrisome – that was the only worrisome part of it – the performances were just great and it’s beautiful when it comes together in the end, you get a sense that you created something that didn’t exist before which is very special.
Your collaboration with Gavin Bryars was very special as well and the setting of the old Irish text formed the basis of it I suppose. I just loved the instrumentation with your voice on that particular record.
IÓL: That’s right. We were very lucky that some academic work had been done on providing a collection of ‘Lon Anama’, which is Food for the Soul which was a spiritual text or collections down through the ages, going back 1500 years, a long way back. We’re uniquely positioned in Ireland because you can locate very ancient textual poetic works – by any standard very ancient in written form through the various phases in history, medieval, pre-Christian, Early Christian and through the phases of the evolution of the Irish language. It does change quite a bit, I mean early Irish is almost unrecognizable compared to modern Irish in its syntax and structure and sound. I don’t obsess over it every day of the week but I absolutely love being aware of our pre-history not just as Irish people but as human beings, our mysterious paleontology going way, way back to when we stood upright at all.
And our own story as Irish people is mostly overlooked really by people because it’s in a language that they’re not comfortable with, which is tragic but understandable. I remember I grew up speaking Irish – I made no effort to learn Irish – had I made an effort I wouldn’t speak it at all. So I’m very sympathetic to people who don’t share my fluency or my ease with the language but what it does allow me to do is to navigate through time at will and I absolutely have a huge yearning for that. I inherited it from my parents actually. And even with the Gloaming I was using very ancient text sources because they’re just so beautiful and they’re so poignant and they still speak very clearly to me today with absolute clarity they speak out and they do to most people who are interested in words if they could take the time to read them, even in translation and to sound them out in their own language is also very beautiful.
And the other thing I should say is I find the Irish language a very beautiful thing to sing. It just sounds great, it’s got a beautiful vowel-shaped structure and sound meaning in itself and I feel very comfortable with it and I feel blessed that I love doing it. There are those who would say you’re a missionary to bring it into the contemporary world; I don’t see it that way as such but having said that it’s probably inevitable because I listen to so much music from now and so my ears and my eyes they meet inside the text and inevitably then I make it contemporary.
I love also the aesthetic of The Gloaming’s album where there is obviously periods of instrumental music and then your voice coming in at the different parts, almost like a collage in a way. It makes it more poignant then when your voice returns.
IÓL: Yeah I suppose so, that’s the kind of band it is. It’s not a band in the sense that there will be a song followed by a song followed by another song. And curiously enough when you look at my career such as it is that was the kind of thing I was always doing even with the Afro Celt Soundsystem. Each album was pretty much a mixture of songs and instrumental work. I like it because in a sense although I listen to a lot of instrumental music and singing, the human voice is interesting because when you’re not hearing it, part of you is waiting for it and then when you hear it you get this massive –well probably automatic so it’s not always noticeable – but you do get this sense that there is a connection made. So in a sense the fact that I’m not always there is a huge advantage for me because when I come in, it’s audibly an additional, humanised message.
But having said that again I have to remind myself that to compare like Martin Hayes, he uses his instrument as though it were a voice: it’s so liquid and it’s so languid and he tells me that he feels like he’s singing and he breathes when he’s playing as though he were singing. And that’s also fascinating for me to consider and I never really considered it until I was with The Gloaming. But each instrument that these guys play is an extension of their human, physical desire to express and to emote and to feel. Each of them are saturated in this sound field that they create which is a feedback loop, which manipulates their intonation and every aspect of the sound that they’re making so that they’re satisfying a message they want to send out.
It’s a beautiful complex and to be in the middle of that in a live show, you know I often think that I’m cheating because the harmonium allows me to sit there with them; thank God for the harmonium because I don’t want to be walking on and off. Even though I do walk on and off as it were on the records, I’m there all the time onstage, I absolutely love it, it’s an incredible privilege. I’ve always wanted to be in sessions but I couldn’t [laughs] so I was very jealous at that. As a singer you wouldn’t be involved in the same way, you know.
I’d love for you to go back Iarla to the period of time when you were in a choir and the whole world of sean-nos and how you developed your singing voice.
IÓL: Well I was in a choir from the time I was a little boy and it was a great proving ground. I’ve often used the metaphor that it was like being in a little group of trees and there were little trees and there were big trees and the big trees shaded you and allowed you to grow. It was a safe place to be, you weren’t exposed and also there was great listening. I recall particularly being in listening mode whilst singing: hearing the different voices, the different colours and also there was of course the exploration of repertoire and the different things that asks of your voice all inside a sort of protected sphere that helps you to nurture your talents. And I’ll be honest as well, there came a time when I started imagining how would I do this where the “I” started to be more important than the “we” but that’s natural and that’s also a good place for that to happen: a choir. Many is the singer across the world have started their singing experience in choirs; it gives you a confidence, it gives you some knowledge of the range of what’s possible but it also is a safe place to expand and to grow.
I took a lot of lessons from Peader O’ Riada then on weekends – a small group of us used to go to his house – and that was really great where I started digging more deeply into very old songs. I was very young, I mean I started going there when I was about eight or nine and continued until I started recording my early recordings of these big vision songs. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been doing it when I was only a little boy but I was very drawn to them even though I didn’t understand really fully perhaps what emotional language they were trying to express because they were adult themes. But singing in the choir was a beautiful experience for me. I mean I do tend to idolize it but it was great craic as well, the Cuil Aodha people were great craic and there was great craic to be had travelling with them, a joyousness. Also we would sing of course in a cultural sense like in our own small society, we had a function you know: singing at mass, singing at funerals, things like that. So you manage to track the different phases of life through music which is also for me very important to realize that music could have a real function in society, a real place in everyday life as it does in many countries other than the west.
Like with any artist when you look through the different albums, I love how each album tells its own unique story but there is a certain special space in time for each one where there is that particular place that each one brings you to as a listener.
IÓL: That’s true I mean it’s almost impossible to make a record, in a way there would be something wrong with a record if it didn’t in somehow or other demonstrate the “now” of your life, you know even if you don’t want it to it will. My first recording with Real World [‘The Seven Steps to Mercy’], I was much younger – it was 1997 – I suppose they wanted me to do a record that had evidence of an older culture but at the same time, was brought into the contemporary world. The next record then I made [‘I Could Read The Sky’] – I made it here at home where I’m sitting here now – in my studio and that was a very personal record; very empowering because I was producing it myself and I had a great colleague with me, Kieren Lynch; an engineer for many movies and many different people, he’s a great guy from Donegal. And he worked so hard and he was so dedicated. On that record I was able to write about the fact that I had just become a Dad and so forth. My little son is in it actually, saying the word ‘hedgehog’ [laughs], it’s the only thing he says in it [laughs] because I actually liked the way he said it, you can barely hear it. There’s a song on there about my daughter.
Then the next record, ‘Foxlight’ I made with a really great English producer Leo Abrahams. I made that here and in London. I was a good bit older by then and really when you turn forty you start thinking in a different way; maybe I was suffering from tired Dad syndrome to some extent. These things track different phases of your life in an odd kind of way. I’m not sure if The Gloaming has done that funnily enough because it’s not that autobiographical but we’ll see what the next record turns out like.
As you say that Iarla, I wonder can you shed some light on the new music because there must be a considerable amount of material collected at this stage?
IÓL: There is actually. When we played last spring in Dublin we felt we really needed to start creating new material, so we did go into a studio for a while – or into a room rather – and we created about an hour and a half of new material including lots of new songs. We’ve decided we’re going into the studio sometime in early December, it’s all booked and we’re going to put those down. I mean some of them aren’t fixed yet. There is one song of my own which I have written myself which is not finished so I’ll have to sit down with Thomas one of these days [laughs] and get him to finish it with me. But there is a lot of new material and I like it I must say. It’s using what we have learned in terms of how to be together a bit better and it’s not throwing the baby out of the bath water because we don’t need to do that yet, it’s stepping further into the water of being together.
So when we made the first record it came together very quick. We may not have fully understood; what the first record told us was that there was so much we could do, you know. It only told us that afterwards really and this next record is just another step in that direction. But I have a fair idea about what it’s going to be like and I’m quite excited about it. There will be just a bit more integration with the songs and the tunes. The first record was like two people watching each other in a dance hall [laughs], wondering which one is going to blink first but on this new record they get to dance more.
One last thing Iarla, has there been any music, books or films you’ve been inspired by in the past while?
IÓL: I’m inspired by every kind of thing that’s the truth now. I made a distinct decision about less than a year ago to start listening to more music. When you’re a Dad with young kids for a period of time your life really changes and it takes a while to get back into sort of ‘me’ mode. But I have a new stereo [laughs] and I’ve been listening to a huge amount of music. One of the things I like very much is listening to all kinds of things and there is something to be got from everything. I’m buying a lot of vinyl now with my son – he’s fourteen – he’s into Godspeed! You Black Emperor and whenever I say that to people they say, wow, he’s cool; he’s a lot cooler than I am [laughs]. He found that himself and he listens to a lot of things himself online and he knows what he likes. But we’re buying a lot of vinyl, most of the vinyl came out in the 70’s and 60’s, we’ve been buying a lot of jazz from the 50’s and early 60’s, we’ve been buying a lot of American music from 60’s and early 70’s, everything from Marvin Gaye to Tom Waits. He’s very much into ambient music so we’ve been listening to a lot of that; everything from Roedelius to Brian Eno.
I have a huge collection of Brian Eno here, I’ve been listening to him for years. It’s a bit easy to say but it’s true, I used to buy his LP’s in Crowley’s in Cork when I was a young boy, as a teenager. I hitch-hiked to Cork from Ballyvourney when I was my son’s age. Now would I let him hitch to Dublin? I wouldn’t, I mean life has changed hasn’t it? But I remember buying ‘Music For Airports’ and God knows what else years ago. So it’s great having kids; I’m very fortunate my kids are into music and my son is just so into music, he’s so into listening to it and he’s a good piano player, he wants to learn the guitar and my girls and my wife, they’re mad into music – they love Lorde – I’ve been trying to get them into St. Vincent but they’re not biting – maybe they’re a little young, they’re like nine and twelve but they love Lorde. There’s a lot of good young women musicians out there now. I mean there always was, I was a huge fan of Joni Mitchell and people like that. I love listening to vinyl I must say, I don’t know why, I just like putting them on. I’ve been listening to Early Music for example and Early Baroque. I’ve been listening to The Books, I love their stuff.
The Gloaming’s self-titled debut album is available now on Real World (EU) & Brassland (USA).
For all the latest projects and releases from Iarla O’ Lionáird, please visit:
Interview with Seán Mac Erlaine.
“The aim was (and is) to develop a responsive electronic world which matches somehow the sound and approach I had developed with saxophones and clarinets.”
Words: Mark Carry, Artwork: Craig Carry
Seán Mac Erlaine is a Dublin-based woodwind instrumentalist, composer and music producer, recognized as one of Ireland’s most forward-thinking creative musicians. Mac Erlaine’s works intersects folk, free improvisation, jazz and traditional music. He also collaborates with a range of non-musical artists particularly in theatre and radio.
An accomplished saxophonist and clarinetist, Mac Erlaine holds a PhD in music (practice-led research around customised live electronics in solo woodwind performance), a first degree honours Masters of Music (Jazz Performance) and a Diploma in Jazz Performance awarded by The Guildhall School of Music, London.
Mac Erlaine has collaborated with a hugely diverse range of musicians and artists reflecting his own versatility and interest in cross-platform work. He has performed with leading musical figures including Bill Frisell, David Toop, The Smith Quartet, Hayden Chisholm, Lisa Hannigan, Frank Gratkowski, Ronan Guilfoyle, Iarla O’Lionaird, Damo Suzuki and many more. He has also performed as a special guest with Detroit techno legends Underground Resistance and The Gloaming.
One of the pinnacles of the Irish composer’s work are the two utterly compelling solo works already under his belt: the mesmerising 2012 debut full-length ‘Long After The Music Is Gone’ (recorded entirely in a small room in Leitrim) and last year’s eagerly awaited follow-up ‘A Slender Song’, consisting of live recordings of improvised performances around Ireland over a four-year period. The illuminating live performances took place across the length and breadth of the country (in turn somehow reflecting the Irish landscape and its unfathomable beauty) encompassing Cork, Dingle, Dublin, Galway, Laois, Meath, Mitchelstown, Skibereen, Sligo, Tralee and Wicklow. Both records are available on the innovative Dublin-based independent label, Ergodos.
The near-mythical Irish/Swedish quartet of This is How we Fly is a contemporary folk band with Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh – fiddle & hardanger fiddle, Seán Mac Erlaine – clarinets & live electronics, Nic Gareiss – percussive dance, and Petter Berndalen – drums and percussion. Their music sees Swedish folk music rhythms meet the texture of traditional Irish fiddle, percussive dance from America & improvised jazz and electronics. The band’s self-titled debut is a timeless gem: a distillation of contemporary music’s infinite possibilities as an emotion-filled mystical world is unleashed with each timbre and tone of incomprehensible sound cast by these four gifted musicians.
‘A Slender Song’ is available now on Ergodos.
Interview with Seán MacErlaine.
It’s a pleasure to ask you some questions about your otherworldly musical compositions. Firstly, congratulations on the stunning new album, ‘A Slender Song’; it’s a work of tender beauty. This record is a collection of live recordings of improvised performances around Ireland over a four-year period, which in many ways offers a snapshot into various moments in time; reflections on life and indeed, the landscape and trajectory of the Irish landscape. Please take me back to these live performances and the art of improvisation?
Seán Mac Erlaine: Thanks so much for asking, listening and the kind words. I started playing live solo shows around 2006/2007 but in 2010 my approach and tools changed fairly radically as I packed up my dozens of hardware pedals and acres of cables (it just got too heavy for the bicycle!) and started developing and using customised software and a computer alongside my woodwinds. This coincided with quite an increase in solo performances mainly in Ireland, and pretty much all over Ireland, and happy to say, mostly in really interesting spaces for people who (gave the impression) were listening! And being in a space with people is pretty much key to the improvisation thing for me. I’m doing my best to respond to the place and generate some form of exchange with an audience. It seems that to create new music afresh with no predetermined plan is an honest way of attempting that. I guess if you meet a friend for a chat you don’t want either party to really know what going to be said beforehand, to my mind that gets stale very quickly.
I was very interested to read that you see ‘A Slender Song’ as a sister album to your debut solo record, ‘Long After The Music Is Gone’. How has the process changed or technique altered since recording the debut record, Sean? The compelling sound of the woodwind instrumentation in addition to the innovative live electronics conjures up such a timeless and enchanting sound. I can imagine there is a close dialogue and sort of symbiosis existing between the acoustic and electronic worlds of sound for you?
SM: The first record was made in private, in a room in one location, Leitrim. In many ways in was about that location and drilling down into some ideas around that. While it’s full of improvisation there was also much deliberation and reworking and attempting to create a coherent piece of work. There was a lot of learning about the sound world I was presenting. With ‘A Slender Song‘ it was a case of playing with all I had learnt from the first record and bringing it to audiences in different parts of the country and really seeing if I could create new music from scratch every night from a type of solo woodwinds and electronics language I had worked on.
Since I started working with computers, this new set-up allows me to work with live electronics in a much more nuanced way than the guitar stomp boxes I had been using. The aim was (and is) to develop a responsive electronic world which matches somehow the sound and approach I had developed with saxophones and clarinets. I spent the years since then working with this new system (built-in Max/MSP) so that I can improvise with it like an instrumentalist would. Everything you hear comes first from the instrument – there’s no external sampling or prepared sounds, I think this helps bridge a gap between the organic and electronic.
Please take me back to your earliest musical memories? At what age did you begin playing clarinet and saxophone instruments?
SM: My predominant memories of really getting into music are through radio. Back in the day (!), Dublin’s pirate stations played many hours of 1960s chart music which I listened to for hours on end. I was playing piano back then and refusing to do the exams and buying the big book of The Doors arranged for piano was a major turning point. By that time I was playing a lot of guitar and was writing songs and playing Dublin’s singer-songwriter scene as well as terrible lead guitar playing in a band playing Velvet Underground tunes and the like. But for whatever reason I became fascinated with the saxophone, I was about 16 by then. To this day I listen a lot to those early song-making heroes but I ventured deep into the world of instrumental music and now my fingertips hurt when I pick up the six string!
In terms of influences, I would love to gain an insight into the composers and musicians you feel have inspired you – and continue to inspire you – on the path of creating new sounds and music-making?
SM: Well, the important early ones are Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Bowie (jeez I sound like a dad-rocker), when the saxophone arrived it was all Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Miles Davis and I practised everything I could understand from their music for years. I rarely listen to them anymore. I’m much more likely to listen JJ Cale than Bill Evans these days but maybe that’ll change. I’m really into guys like Arve Henriksen, Jan Bang, Toshimaru Nakamura, Jon Hassell, Joanna Newsom, Bill Callahan and heaps of other non-related stuff.
As a teacher of the Alexander Technique, please discuss for me the essence of this technique and the parallel that exists between this area of interest and music?
SM: Explaining the essence of Alexander Technique is quite the challenge, as it encompasses and influences really a lot of things and has been one of the most significant things I’ve encountered. One explanation is that it’s a training of one’s thinking, a development of a mental discipline which allows the student to improve in whatever they are doing. Another description is that I help to teach people how to think and move freely, easily and more efficiently. Music is something that I really care about doing, Alexander Technique allows me to do everything better so music falls into the everything net. It has brought much pure joy to me during performances perhaps sometimes in place of what might have been occupied by negative thinking or anxiety.
In terms of collaboration, you have been involved in many wonderful projects having performed with Bill Frissell, The Gloaming, Lisa Hannigan among many others during the recent past. I can imagine these collaborations must help your own development as a musician and performer? Please recount your memories of playing with some of these musicians? Do you have other collaborations planned in the near future?
SM: Absolutely. Music is a communication and getting to play with other musicians (and artists outside of music) of such a high calibre is really quite a spin. You can learn a ton of things from even watching someone great on stage and then sharing that stage really builds on that. I’m always collaborating with people so in the next few months I’m working on a new theatre piece with an amazing team of actors and dancers; I’m writing for a small improvising choir and setting (some of) Finnegans Wake for them; I’ve a gig with a monstrously good string quartet; and some more secret surprises that I can’t blurt out yet. But each one is a true privilege to be able to spend time and create with these folk.
You are also a member of the highly innovative and awe-inspiring Irish/Swedish group, This Is How We Fly. It’s one of those rare and magical events to witness This Is How We Fly in concert, and I’m glad to have witnessed your show earlier in the year. Please discuss the inception of This Is How We Fly and how each of you crossed paths? Please shed some light on the forthcoming record and what ideas you feel could materialize on the band’s follow-up?
SM: This has been a very special collaboration for me especially as I’m coming from a somewhat another world from the three other men who are steeped in traditional musics in a very deep, informed and ridiculously creative way. I was a big fan of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s playing for years – true story: I first meet him in my own kitchen at a party. And we had spent some time working on material and just playing before he put the group together for a once-off gig. Caoimhín was the only one who knew all of us individually so it was a gamble and we haven’t looked back since. We have been lucky to get to play as often as we do, to feel such support from audiences and to get our first record out there. The next one is slowly brewing, we are writing together and road testing the material live and bit by bit amassing new ways of creating together and listening together. Hopefully that’s what people will hear when album number two is ready!
‘A Slender Song’ is available now on Ergodos.