Monday, December 05, 2011

Just Listening - Ireland Calling CD Now Available

Just Listen - Ireland Calling
Despite the fact that I am one of the participants included on this CD, it has suddenly become one of my favourite releases of recent years. Just Listening - Ireland Calling has a cumbersome title, but is in all other ways an effortlessly pleasing release. Recorded live in Limerick this past April, this disc documents the Just Listen showcase of contemporary Irish experimental improvisation. And it is a rich scene indeed!

Organised by The National Sculpture Factory, the concert invited curators from across Europe (and beyond) to check out the best in local talent. Though the bulk of the festival was in Cork, the concert itself took place in the Church Gallery at the Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD).

Farpoint Recordings has presented this disc in a lovely minimal design (courtesy Doreen Kennedy). Notes by Bernard Clarke, host of Nova on RTE Lyric FM, provide a historical context. The sound quality is excellent, and the fact that each performance has been distilled to five minutes helps keep interest over the duration. Normally I find it problematic to listen to an excerpt of a longer performance, but here I only occasionally sensed that a longer musical structure has been curtailed.

Indeed, the sudden conclusion to "{Glow}" by Sunfish only adds to the drama of the track, already one of my favourites on the disc. Starting with growling tones that sound like pitched-down cello, skitterings of itchy tension are joined by a shimmering drone, to form a complex sound world that simply does not need an accompanying film. Harry Moore and Tony Langlois are masters at filling the spectrum with finely articulated musical material.

A second effect of the recording process is to both smooth out some rough edges and render clearer the detailing evident in the performances. Paul Hegarty and Vicky Langan, trading under the name La Societe des Amis du Crime, were loud and percussive in the flesh, which was a fine thing to witness. But here one can get a sense of the arrhythmic clusters of metallic tones with much finer acuity. The cognitive interference pattern generated by these two interpretations is a bonus effect.

On the other hand, merely listening to Katie O'Looney's piece loses an important performative dimension. It's impossible to imagine "Open Eyes Of Themis" was all created in real-time. Sitting amidst a custom-built instrument assemblage, Katie simultaneously played synthesisers, percussion and other sound devices like some twenty-first-century "one man band" (sic). But if you are in Cork on Tuesday, 13 December 2011, you can see for yourself. She is performing at Stet Lab.

It is not only for this reason that I find the fixation on "just listening" inappropriate. Listening is insufficient to apprehend the gestural components of electroacoustic improvisation, and hence limits what one can take from a performance. If this were not so, would we bother to attend a live rendition at all?

This is doubly true in those cases where sight appears to contradict sound, or at least calls into question where the sound is coming from, how it is being generated and so on. I am likely unique among the performers in that, not only was I exclusively using a laptop, I was neither using external sound sources nor pre-recorded samples. And yet my performance was just as much an improvisation, just as likely to fail, as the most experimental acts on the day. Maybe more so.

Those attending my performance were presented with these same ontological and epistemological questions. But in this instance they were generated by the very fact that my performance rig is more commonly associated with pre-recorded, sample-based or loop-centric music. Live you couldn't tell what I was doing, and the sensory disparity between sight and sound generated tension. On record you can't tell that you can't tell what I am doing. And so the very fact of this lost connection is lost.

For those present at the concert, this CD highlights such contradictions. Taken as an entity sufficient unto itself, the disc (far better than most) conveys a powerful account of contemporary non-notated musical practice. If you've read this far, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy and put it on infinite repeat.

Postscript: It's too late to mention the launch party last Saturday (3 December), except to thank Stephanie, Dobz and the rest of the Sculpture Factory for organising it. Held as part of ArtTrail 2011, the launch took place in the otherwise disused Elysian building, candidate for Most Ironic Place Name Ever.

Here is the full artist line-up. I only had the space here to touch on a few of the intriguing tracks. Apologies to the other artists.

Ed Devane & Amanda Feery
Ellen King & Tim O'Leary
Neil Quigley
Liam Slevin & Kevin Tuohy
Francis Heery
Katie O'Looney
Eileen Carpio
Sunfish (Harry Moore + Tony Langlois)
Robin Parmar
Linda O'Keeffe
Artificial Memory Trace
Anthony Kelly & David Stalling
La Societe des Amis du Crime (Paul Hegarty & Vicky Langan)

Farpoint should be selling the disc by the time you read this.

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