Irish HighsFebruary 8, 2007
So a few days off work and a good time had. I booked this week off of work months ago, and very good fortune meant that several gigs fell together at the same time.
At the weekend then, I flew over to Dublin on a cheap flight to catch a concert of The Sealed Knot at the Project Arts Space, but also to catch up with some good friends.
As my last post (genuinely sent via smartphone from the airport at 4AM in a tired, somewhat melancholic mood) suggested, the airport was very empty, which was also the case on my flight, on which there were bizarrely more stewards than passengers, as the latter numbered only four!
Sitting on a ‘plane under these circumstances made for an odd listening experience. Every sound the aircraft made seemed amplified further around the empty seats. I never successfully mange to listen to music on aeroplanes at the best of times, so I took the option of reading a book (Murukami’s Kafka on the shore at present) and just listening to the deafening roar around me until the air pressure changes stopped my ears from working anyway. The flight is only just over an hour, and we touched down in a misty Dublin at about 8AM. With only four people on the ‘plane, identifying your luggage on the conveyer belt in the arrivals lounge was the easiest I’ve ever known!
I love Dublin. I’ve only been there the once before, last year, but it already feels like a second home. This is partly down to the relaxed atmosphere of the place, but also partly down to the good friends I have there now. I stayed with Paul Vogel, laptopper, clarinettist, owner of as many CDs as me and one of the organisers of the Sealed Knot show as part of the i and e: organisation.
Before the show Paul played me some of the work in progress he and David Lacey are working on, and very excited I am about that too.
The gig in the evening was very nice. The support came from a young Irish pianist called Rob Casey who played a solo improvised set for half an hour or so that seemed to contain influences from just about every source imaginable, beginning with some very Tilbury-esque Feldmanisms with occasional inside piano scrapes. After about ten minutes there was a notable change in gear and a more aggressive urgent playing appeared, reminding me of Cecil Taylor, yet still falling back into little melodic patches every so often. As the set ended things seemed to have slipped all the way into more jazzy playing, with tiny fragments of tunes seeming to appear, though this could have been my imagination. Overall, Casey’s playing was assured and he looks like he has a lot of good music in him, but in this set I would have preferred a little more focus and structure rather than the mix and match of styles and pace that we heard.
The Sealed Knot have been playing together for an awful long time, longer than musicians in this area of music usually play together, but the international nature of the group means that opportunities to play together are infrequent, and plenty of time to reflect on the direction of the music can be found between shows.
The last time I saw The Knot (as we cool people call them) was in London back in October when they played two sets at the Red Hedgehog. On that night the first sound that came from the group was Mark Wastell attacking the bass with a frantic thrashing bowing that took most of the room by surprise. Things settled down into a darker, more brooding style as the set went on, but the mood was set from the off. The second set saw a return to the clockwork-like, almost mechanical forms that the group have developed and made their own down the years, but taking this to new levels. I was sat with Alastair at that gig and he compared the music to The Necks, the cyclical nature of the music pointing that way.
So I was a little surprised when the music the trio made in Dublin showed a marked return to their reductionst past. Right from the start the group (Burkhard Beins, percussion, Rhodri Davies, harp and Mark Wastell, double bass) played very quietly, but also very slowly. They work with a grey, textural palette that is mostly noteless, but with a lot of overlap between the sounds made by each of the musicians.
A lot of silence was allowed into the set, which was a tense, austere affair all round. I was sat front row centre with my nose about two foot from Rhodri’s harp and even then at times I was struggling to hear the sounds they made, the movement of a bow or a brush across a string or a drum becoming almost silent gesture, particularly during a section near the end of the performance when it felt like time had stopped, with each of the trip bowing the frame of their instruments yet exerting as little pressure as possible.
It would be wrong to suggest that the music was of Sugimoto proportions however as there was also a lot to be heard amongst the hush. Beins made use of his now familiar automatic firelighters and Davies put an ebow to use in places, but in general the music was formed from the bowing and caressing of the acoustic instruments
The Sealed Knot have developed an incredible sense of timing over the years, and this grows stronger with every performance, an ability to produce the right sounds out of nowhere at just the right moment and then repeat them with precision to form the revolving, rhythmic patterns in their music that settle for just long enough before they are altered and sent off in a different direction.
The Dublin performance came straight after two festival concerts in Europe, and whilst fatigue had begun to take its toll on the musicians the benefit of having played together during the preceding days seemed to result in a closeness in the music that was even more profound than I had witnessed before.
The Red Hedgehog concert has just been released as part of the Performance Series of CDRs on Mark’s Confront label. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org to get a copy. I thoroughly recommend that you do.
After the show much merriment was had in the bar of the Central Hotel, and after an aimless wander around the city at 2AM trying to find somewhere that would let us in proved fruitless the night was over. I flew home the following morning after spending a little time with my camera in the city. A few of the pics can be seen here:
Thanks to Paul, David, Dennis, Burkhard, Rhodri, Mark and Miso for a good time.