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Posts Tagged ‘Petter Berndalen

Central And Remote: This Is How We Fly

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The idea of foreign fields appeals to me in both directions – the strangeness of the vast acres over there, but the memory too of every blade of grass back home, every ditch, gripe and clump of rushes.”

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh

Words: Mark Carry

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The live performances of contemporary folk quartet This Is How We Fly forever fill you with awe-struck wonder and inspiration. The gifted quartet of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (hardanger d’amore), Seán Mac Erlaine (clarinets and electronics), Nic Gareiss (percussive dance) and Petter Berndalen (drums) have created their own unique musical language – ever since their self-titled debut dropped in 2013 – with a deep understanding and rich chemistry forever inherent between its members. An evolution it seems is always happening between the players and the band’s latest sophomore release ‘Foreign Fields’ marks a masterful exploration into new sonic plains that delves deeper (than ever before) into enchanting realms of new possibilities.

The opening notes of  ‘A Man Of Few Words’ begins with hushed fiddle notes and delicate percussive dance, before warm textures of electronics and Berndalen’s drums ascend into the ethereal mix. Ó Raghallaigh’s deeply poignant and mournful fiddle notes brilliantly close the piece. Each breath, pulse and texture of ‘The Bittersweet March’ is a joy to savour: the heavenly blend of woodwind and strings amidst the soaring crescendo of drums and percussion (towards the final section) harkens to a symphony of celestial sounds.

Some of the band’s strongest works are beautifully captured on ‘Foreign Fields’ (which was recorded live in Dublin’s Fumbally Stables). ‘Ri Rua’ is an uplifting, heartfelt  lament with a vast array of colours and textures swarming across the sonic space: the duet between MacErlaine’s clarinet and O’ Raghallaigh’s hardanger d’amore is steeped in jazz, folk and classical flourishes. The way the piece transforms and continually builds is further heightened by the myriad of rhythmic textures masterfully supplied by Gareiss and Berndalen.

To trace the origins of the sounds unleashed by This Is How We Fly is a near-impossible task. One of the great hallmarks of their musical identity is the boundless nature of their musical framework: age-old traditions of Swedish folk music and Appalachian music, Irish tradtional are embedded somewhere deep in the foundations but most importantly, many experimental and contemporary sounds and nuances seep into the music, like the river finding its sea. I feel this becomes the essence of ‘Foreign Fields’ and a piece such as ‘Ti Mor’ epitomises the bold spirit of the quartet’s latest masterwork. The hypnotic, trance-like rhythms – which feels rooted deep in Africa – creates an utterly transcendent electronic exploration. The deep dialogue between Gareiss and Berndalen as the footwork and drums become one sound-world of dark, menacing textures. The brooding strings further adds to the cinematic brilliance of this piece, shifting between dub and electronic sound worlds.

The last couple of This Is How We Fly live shows I’ve witnessed, the group played in the round, so the audience and musicians effectively became one. The musicians – and audience alike – share the same experience, feeling each other’s heart beat to the sumptuous textures and sonic timbres to the quartet’s empowering musical journey. It’s precisely this image that encapsulates their remarkable latest full-length where each and every breath is shared, in turn by musician and listener alike.

‘Foreign Fields’ is available NOW.

http://www.thisishowwefly.net/

https://www.facebook.com/ThisIsHowWeFly/

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Interview with This Is How We Fly.

 

 Congratulations on the truly sublime sophomore release ‘Foreign Fields’, it’s such a remarkable and stunning feat. One of the aspects I particularly love about this latest chapter is how the quartet explores much further and deeper into more contemporary and experimental terrain as illustrated by the wide range of sounds and possibilities attained throughout. Please take me back to the three nights of live performances at the Fumbally Stables and your memories of the music-making process during this special time? Describe the space as a live setting and your live set-up in this space too?

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh: The Fumbally Stables is a small room at the back of the Fumbally Cafe in Dublin, just off Clanbrassil Street, which has built up a wonderful vibrant community around it over the last few years, and it is run by friends of ours.  We played three nights in a row in front of a small audience each night, maybe 40/50 people.  We played in the round, which is a real treat for us, and something that we had experimented with at both the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh and the Solstice Arts Centre in Navan.  It’s such a lovely way to play together, as opposed to being fanned out across a stage, much more intimate and easier to connect with and hear everyone.  We played pretty much acoustically, with a small Genelec speaker for Seán’s live processing, and also some reinforcement for Petter’s percussion.

Nic Gareiss: It was January when we recorded so we tried to create as warm and inviting an atmosphere as possible: ambient light, candles, people sitting very close to one another and to us. I think that’s really evident in the recording and in the video Myles O’Reilly of Arbutus Yarns shot for the single “Rí Rua”. The idea of crafting the space for an audience to exist, in addition to the actual music or movement they experience is something I’ve become really interested in lately as a performer.  There’s something quite rewarding about preparing the actual space in which the “event” will occur and realizing that it has a large impact on the way the sounds and dance steps are received!

Seán Mac Erlaine: The really big part of what we do in performance is to make a very real communication between the group and the audience as well as a constant communication between the four of us making the music. So with this second album it seemed important to try and capture that and to try and get away from the typical recording studio set-up where there is physical separation between musicians. At the same time we like to present our music in the best way possible so we didn’t want this to have one of those live-album-so-we-can-forgive-the-crappy-sound attempts, y’know those ones where the singer forgets some of the words and the bass player is a little out of tune sometimes… We hired in Mats Helgesson from Sweden who is an expert in live recording and who managed to make us sound like we were in a studio but with an audience (who remained amazingly quiet!!!).

Petter Berndalen: Just for these concerts I had to think of several different angles. I would both play the concerts as a musician, but I also felt a responsibility to create something that was afterwards formable to a sound that had evolved into my mind from the launch of our debut album and up to now.

With the thought that I would like to mix our new album, the thoughts fell sharply in Mats’s direction. Furthermore, Mats and me put together an audio equipment of utmost quality, the choices we made of, among other things, microphones, preamps, cables, created a first form of what we can hear on the album today.

I’d love to gain an insight into your discussions and creative aspirations – as a quartet – that you would have been sharing and discussing prior to the recording/live performances back in January? For instance, having the gorgeous debut album already under your belt and having played many live shows worldwide in support of that album, you must have had a whole world of ideas and avenues in which you all wanted to explore on this highly anticipated follow-up?

CÓR: I think we wanted to create some music that was more integrated, rather than one person bringing a tune that the rest of the band then subsequently arranges.  So finding ways of writing music together was definitely a priority.  We also chose not to follow the route of making arrangements of traditional tunes, preferring to focus primarily on music we write.

SME: All those live gigs really shape the band so we start to understand more what the group can do and where we might be able to push things forward in our sound. The new album does – thankfully – sound different to the first one and I think it represents how we have grown together. Having writing time together was essential to make that happen and there’s more of everyone, and everyone at once, on this new record.

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The title-track is a formidable piece of music, eternally mystical and bright melodies of rejoice. This piece is essentially in two parts and how the darker, inward patterns of part B fades into focus is a joy to savour. Can you talk me through this piece and the layering/construction of the various elements? It’s one of those incredible feats just how these intricate layers of achingly beautiful sounds fuse together so effortlessly, and these warm textures and motifs forever heighten and inspire. As a title also (and particularly as the album title), I’d love for you to discuss the significance or meaning of the title?

CÓR: The title ‘Foreign Fields’ comes from a poem my cousin Anthony Cunningham wrote for his father.  Sonny left Longford for New York when he was a very young man, and though he reached into his eighties, he never once returned home.  The idea of foreign fields appeals to me in both directions – the strangeness of the vast acres over there, but the memory too of every blade of grass back home, every ditch, gripe and clump of rushes.

SME: It’s an example of what happens when we get to write in the same space together. All the parts are written in the room at once so that they interlock and reinforce each other. I guess it’s this approach to composition that we were really seeking out rather than taking a piece which more or less exists and either just playing it or, worse, playing on top of it. It takes much more time to develop music this way but it’s been really satisfying for us and a nice challenge to play too.

PB: My favorite moment in the creation of this composition was when I and Nic suddenly found ourselves in the rhythmic dark texture that companions the march melody. The sound of that rhythm, the rhythm in itself and the way it fits in its context is the result of my and Nics un verbal common language, constantly evolving over the seven years we have been listening to and communicating with each other.

I get the impression that ‘Fjellvant’ feels like a piece that perhaps Petter brought to the table? The voice treatments and cinematic dimension that this composition inhabits unleashes a wall of raw emotion. I wonder as the quartet would often be split up, both geographically and being busy with other projects and musical incarnations, do you find yourself composing as solo entities and only once you join up as a four-piece, would you suddenly begin sharing all these ideas? Do you see the compositional approach to pieces such as ‘Fjellvant’ or ‘Ti Mor’ (for example) alter in a drastic way, or would the creative process be a more constant process?

CÓR: I think Fjellvant started with the little few notes I recorded on an iPad during one of the band’s writing days.  We spent a few days in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Monaghan, and would split up into pairs to work on stuff, so myself and Seán pulled Fjellvant out of the bag and he brought his electronics to the party.  When we brought it back to the boys, it already felt like a complete thing unto itself, so that’s how it remains!

SME: We’ve often played short solo sets so we thought let’s see if we can try duo material. Fjellvant (a Norwegian word pertaining to mountain walking) is one of the duos that made the cut. Also, hiking is something that Caoimhín and I really like to do and perhaps not on all of TIHWF’s to do lists! If I were to recast my life I might try being a singing contemporary dancer and sometimes the guys let me sing a tiny bit (I’m not going to bust out any moves with Nic beside me).

The album radiates the sense of a live performance where the band are playing live; sharing the same as the listener. The special, unique live shows of This Is How We Fly is ultimately translated onto the final album. Was this a primary objective for the band? Also, please discuss the aesthetic quality of your work and this space you travel deep inside when it comes to making music together? I love the solo pieces (however short!) that wonderfully bridge various pieces that form majestic interludes throughout (which again, brings you back to the band’s live shows).

CÓR: The audience has always been such an important part of how this band works, and we felt that perhaps we were losing something by going into studio to record.  We wanted to make this record in collaboration with our audience, from the crowd-sourced funding, to having their listening, enthusiasm and energy as part of the air around us as we recorded.

NG: We’ve experimented over the nearly seven years we’ve been performing together about how best to convey the way that live gigs seem so close to the heart of this project. As I mentioned, this has included work with filmmakers, including several collaborations with Myles of Arbutus Yarns and Donal Dineen, but also the creation of performances in unorthodox spaces, most notably a dilapidated Georgian House on North Great George’s Street in Dublin as part of Seán’s ongoing series The Walls Have Ears during the Dublin Fringe. The privilege and power of creating something in the moment, not only in front of an audience, but in response to them is endlessly invigorating for us. In this way, the in-the-round, mostly-acoustic, live format was the perfect avenue for us to try to share our interest in creating music as a practice of rapport.  This rapport is with the audience, with our own bodies, with the tools of our craft (drumsticks, fiddle bow, clarinet keys, dance shoes) and with each other.

PB: Sharing the same thing as the listener. To me, this is probably the only way I can or rather want to play music. I find no greater interest in sharing with a monologue. What’s interesting in a meeting with a listener, is the listener’s contribution back to the musician and the musician’s ability to take in this, do something of it and then share the next phrase with the listener, to hear what this one has to say this time!

The same is true of how we communicate with each other in the band. Just playing a song straight off just like it sounded last time, there are many others who find joy in that. But in the musical context I myself want to find myself in, I prefer to be 100% communicative in each phrase, every breath, every second.

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As solo musicians and composers, you have carved out unique solo paths with your own singular sound and musical identity. Please take me back to your earliest musical memories and the landscape that you feel has shaped and influenced your own individual musical paths? For instance, Nic, you have a really beautiful spoken word piece where you recount your memories of a teacher of yours in Limerick, the lyrics for which are truly inspiring. It is the way each member brings their own colours and rich language to the divine sonic canvas of the overall sound and how each one complements and further heightens one another, this must have taken you by surprise (in some ways) when you first came together and played together?

CÓR: I have so many memories from both listening to and playing traditional music that have shaped what I’m aiming for when I play.  Hearing Tony Mac Mahon stopping time playing ‘James Connolly’ in the Cobalt Cafe; fourteen hours non-stop playing with Dermy Diamond in Queally’s Pub in Miltown Malbay during the Willie Clancy, day after day after day, lit up by the man of the house throwing a step out of the blue; playing ‘The Rolling Wave’ by myself for hours upon hours on a New Year’s Eve, over and over again, until music became magic for the first time…

NG: Thanks! Often as part of our concerts, we each take a moment to allow one another to stretch out, allowing the audience to engage with our sounds individually. The piece “Scraping for Peggy” came out of this little band ritual and is dedicated to legendary Cork Irish dance teacher Peggy McTeggart. She said, “I’ll have no scrapers in our class”.  For her, “good” dance technique was adroit, crisp, and clean, resulting from a short sharp connection to the ground. This became a provocation for me to make whispery, gritty, hushed, or “dirty” sounds by sustaining my contact with the floor. There’s a playful sense of the joy of transgression, of doing what you’re told not to do, that honestly fills my heart with glee every time I get to dance the piece in her memory. For me, the connection to this older dancer and the way that tradition begs as many questions as it provides answers becomes a locus of performance but also of pleasure for me and hopefully for the audience as well.

SME: I’m not sure I have many early musical memories, I was into my teens by the time I got hooked on Bob Dylan and worlds surrounding that, but I don’t think you will hear much of that in my playing. Often the non-musical will inspire me as much as my listening habits. These days all I try to do is get out of my own way and let music flow and the direction I’m moving in is that the music has less and less to do with me than with the moment present, the players present and the people present.

PB: I remember that an early wish I had was the desire to possess the technical skills I have today on my instrument, but at the same time never heard of music of any kind before.

Today, however, I realize that my physical ability at my instrument and how it is intertwined with my wider musical understanding is the essence of what I do.

But to easily summarize how I have received my unique musical signature, I can say that it has arisen from many years of trying to translate Swedish folk music played on violin to same thing, but on drums.

An important question within my work is how central aspects of melody, such as hierarchical form and phrasing, melodic contour, ornamentation, etc. can be represented percussion playing on a drum kit where precise pitch transitions are not possible. Other important questions concern how to capture the rhythmic and metrical flexibility and ambiguity of Swedish traditional fiddle music on an instrument in which the rhythmic expression is precise and explicit.

Please shed some light on the Irish compositions ‘Ti Mor’ and ‘Ri Rua’. Can you recount your memories of the earliest versions of these pieces and how they bloomed over time? ‘Ri Rua’ feels like it could have originated between Sean and Caoimhin whereas ‘Ti Mor’ was a duet between Nic and Petter?

CÓR: Rí Rua was such an enjoyable tune to work on with Seán – trying to find ways of weaving notes, rhythms and phrases together on the two instruments.  I think the earliest version started with Seán’s phrases, and we worked out from there.

NG: Tí Mór began with a particular groove that’s created by a step known in Appalachian dance communities as the Tennessee Walking Step. The step is credited to Robert Dotson and was later modified and used by dancers in the US folk revival of the 1970s and 80s. It’s an insistent, bass-treble movement produced by stepping onto the floor and dropping one’s body weight through the foot (that’s the bass), then sliding backwards on the floor creating a sibilant brighter sound (that’s the treble part). Petter remarked that we rarely access this particular rhythmic pattern in our music and suggested we create something inspired by it. The piece winds up feeling like a track of Electronic Dance Music in which the beats are actually made by dancing!!

Lastly, the sprawling tour-de-force ‘Agus a hAon :: Mumpsimus :: Counterline’ spans the breadth of part B. I love this drifting, floating quality to the piece, how the woodwind dances its majestic dance amidst infinite colours of percussion and soaring fiddles. I get the impression this piece must have taken a considerable time to flesh out, so to speak and write the distinct movements inherent in this piece of music? Some of these melodies on the record sound at once wholly familiar and utterly unknown; perhaps one foot is steeped in tradition and the other is searching deep into new, unknown horizons.

CÓR: Yeah, I really love these three tunes! The second part of the first tune is really satisfying to me in its simple confusion. Mumpsimus is a waltz that initally made perfect sense to me but to no one else, hence the name, which means ‘a person who obstinately adheres to an idea in spite of evidence that they are wrong or unreasonable’.  And Counterline always feels SO good to play, again it’s very satisfying to me how the various parts interlock.

SME: There’s a mixture here of tightly written material and quite loose improvisation which feels nice, one moment we are in unison and then the atmosphere loosens and, as a player, you are free to contribute whatever feels just right for the piece. I know what you mean about the familiar sounding melodies, sometimes I wonder when we are writing, hey, surely someone has written this melody already, it’s so… simple! It’s hard to be objective but I haven’t heard anyone else playing them yet so I think we are in clear!

Your musical philosophy as a quartet. Can you somehow pinpoint what this is? Also, what you feel you have learned as a group over the past six (or so) years and what you feel comes next for the band, as you continually develop and evolve?

NG: I think Petter summed this up beautifully once during an interview we were giving at a French folk festival. He said, “You don’t need to practice to talk with your friends.” While we do of course see the value in rehearsal, the idea of being open to conversation in music-making – and being open to that conversation taking a radically different turn in performance than when you had it earlier in rehearsal, feels really crucial to this project. We want our performances to be very much about responding to one another and to audiences, wherever they (and we!) are affectually. As for what’s next: deeper rapport, perhaps an exploration of “home-ness” as opposed to the wonder and amazement of the “foreign fields.”  And maybe even an entire dance step-based EDM release!

SME: Yes, the essential philosophy would revolve around ideas of togetherness. Being together and listening. It may sound odd but listening is more important to us than even playing and there have been occasions where, on stage, each musicians stops playing but continues listening and we continue the piece without there being any piece left! In the seven years I hope we’ve learnt more about each other and, through that, ourselves. I think we are all pretty happy to continue as we started off with an openness to explore and push and learn and what that will sound like just depends on whichever moment you hear us.

PB: A dream I’ve been wearing for a very long time and which has become true with TIHWF is the fact that there’s no difference at all to just being together and playing music together.

‘Foreign Fields’ is available NOW.

http://www.thisishowwefly.net/

https://www.facebook.com/ThisIsHowWeFly/

 

 

 

 

Written by admin

October 12, 2017 at 12:23 pm