Go West (Again): A Second Irish Rum Music Special

What is it in the abandoned car parks and the landscape of the West of Ireland that, right now, makes it such a fertile place for out-there sounds? Ian Maleney reviews some recent releases, and previews upcoming live events in our second Rum Music West Of Ireland special

Out Throats, Like Valleys opens in grandiose fashion, with the pealing of primal war horns echoing and battling each other for dominance. What sounds like armies meeting on a vast plain is in fact three musicians recording in an underground car park on Ireland’s Atlantic coast. The car park itself is the site at the centre of I’m In The Abyss, a compilation of performances recorded there by some of the country’s finest underground musicians and released as the first emission from Declan Kelly’s new Abandon Reason record label. (Previously reviewed in the last Rum Music here.)

Out Throats, Like Valleys is the second release on the label and here Kelly is joined by Brigid Power Ryce and David Colohan. Once the horns have faded, Gorges slide into into deeper, more ruminative sonics, with Power Ryce’s wordless vocals keening over a blend of dual harmonium drones. Half way through the first side, silence approaches as the barest hint of a trembling dirge remains before it ceases completely and the horns return to pick up the pieces. Here is where the car park’s reverberant space becomes key as the horns are more distant now, more echo than direct sound, straining against the bare concrete surfaces on all sides. They fade again and exploratory whistles are sounded in the distance, moving about and searching for a melody that ultimately eludes them. Waves of discordant harmonium rise again too, lapping up in a slow crescendo until they too recede. The writings of C Wyville Thomson, detailing the findings of the voyages of HMS Lightning and HMS Porcupine, are a stated influence on this recording and nowhere is that more evident than in the closing half of the first side.

The underwater feeling remains potent on the second side, which sees the same sounds explored again but twisted into new shapes. It is more distended and oblique than the opening half hour, at least until ‘We Sink To Rise’, when Power Ryce’s voice begins to soar and swoop high above the droning harmoniums. It ends with a moment of restrained, stumbled-upon beauty, the tones briefly coalescing into harmony before fading away. After an hour spent in the dark of the ocean floor, a hint of sunlight is more than welcome.

As one-third of Gorges, David Colohan melds easily with the sounds of others. On his own, his sound is unmistakable. An intensely prolific musician, found in an incalculable number of groups and on-the-spot collaborations, Colohan’s Raising Holy Sparks project sometimes sees him working with others but most often he records alone. Beginning with The Unnamed Bay, a cassette released on fellow United Bible Studies member Paul Condon’s Fort Evil Fruit label, Raising Holy Sparks explores devotional music of all shades, which in practice seems to mean a confluence of drone, folk, secular hymns and ecstatic free jazz.

On Four Sacred Mountains, a double-cassette on the Awkward Formats label, Colohan expands these ideas to fill the grand landscape of the American west. Joined by regular collaborator Vicky Langan, Mike Gangloff of Pelt and his wife Cara Joyce Gangloff, Colohan moves between quiet, calm drones, expansive movements and string-led rasps over the course of 80 minutes. It’s almost too much to take in during a single setting, its length and breadth forcing a certain wavering of attention. As one drifts in and out, the melodies and chord progressions become like ghosts, echoing themselves throughout the individual tracks, appearing once and reappearing an hour later in a different context, triggering memories already half-forgotten.

When the Gangloffs join in for ‘At The Confluence Of The Colorado & Little Colorado’, the laboured micro-tonal fiddle bowing so reminiscent of Pelt becomes central. Like with Pelt, as the techniques and patterns of traditional American music are picked apart, the sound breaks down into tiny movements, focussing the ear on each distinct figure while the whole pictures comes into being around it, vital yet almost imperceptible. Langan’s approach to the fiddle on the final track is more European in nature with slow, soft, sustained notes blurring into each other and into Colohan’s even softer drones underneath. The result is similar to Richard Skelton’s explorations of the British moors and the coastlines on the west of Ireland, a breathless, tense atmosphere that switches at some indistinct point into the sound of calm acceptance of humanity in the face of an awesome nature.

Langan explores concepts of humanity and instinct in her work as Wolflinge, and has been bringing artists operating on the edges of their practices – in film, music and performance art – to Cork for the past few years with her night Black Sun. After a run of nights that has seen internationally respected artists like Okkyung Lee, Daniel Higgs, Crank Sturgeon and Josef Van Wissem take part (as well as a host of experimental Irish musicians), Langan is bringing the endeavour to a close this Saturday (July 27th) with the visit of Richard Youngs, his first in Ireland, at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork. Youngs will be supported on the night by Langan herself and Aine O’Dwyer. The show also represents the end of this year’s Avant festival, a month-long event which celebrates challenging and immersive art across the disciplines and which Langan helps to curate. Full details of that gig can be found on the Black Sun Tumblr.

O’Dwyer is a member of United Bible Studies and a solo artist in her own right. While her first solo tape, the beautiful Music For Church Cleaners (also released on Condon’s Fort Evil Fruit label), saw her improvising on a church organ, her latest release Anything Bright or Startling? sees her return to the instrument she plays most often in United Bible Studies; the harp. Released in May on the Second Language label, the album is the first release to prominently feature O’Dwyer’s voice. The nine tracks make up four separate song suites, encompassing poetic lyrics and long, lustrous instrumental passages. The harp and vocals are accompanied by tin whistle, piano, organ, glockenspiel and Aaron Martin’s cello.

While the combination of harp and swooping female vocals will no doubt give rise to comparisons to Joanna Newsom, such a link goes some way deeper than the surface. The sense of an almost Celtic sensibility, a pagan heart to songs so occupied by animals, nature and life, is shared between both performers, as is the ability to sidestep any new-age clichés through sheer dexterity and constantly inventive musical ingenuity. Nor are O’Dwyer’s narratives entirely pastoral, rather she maintains the darkness, the violence, the risk of the unexpected that goes hand-in-hand with any honest natural art. For this purpose, she uses the words of RWM Hunt on ‘Falcon’, a tale of untamed nature, unresponsive to human training. On ‘Albion Awake’, she uses the words of Chris Cutler, “Albion Awake!/Tumble you seeders/Owls begone!/Beaks, tear the fabric of the night to sparks,” for similar effect.

As the record dissolves into its final suite, the drones of the organ take over, the influence of Nico becomes clearer. You can hear it in her voice on the opening verse of ‘Hyperbolia’, the way the vocals are clipped of their traditional emotional signifiers, but by the time ‘Truant Crier’ comes around, the influence is running deeper, the frightening sustained tones of the organ washing out the chanted vocals. This ending, the cold, obstinate organ chords, the discordant choir of layered vocals, takes the instruments of sacred, religious music and twists them into something terrifying.

Nature also plays an important role in a new collaborative tape from Woven Skull and Core Of The Coalman released in June on Feathered Coyote records. Recorded deep in the Drumnadubber woods in Leitrim, Ireland’s least populous county, the tape sees the haunted, melodic drones of the Woven Skull trio joined by the damaged viola playing of US native/Czech resident Jorge Boehringer. The effect is something like the Velvet Underground with all the amps turned off and Mo Tucker forced to use random bits of wood, glass and metal instead of her usual drums.

The tracks on the tape are spliced with odd, short bits of field recordings from Woven Skull member Natalia Beylis. Beylis also runs The Sunken Hum, a found sound podcast where small snippets of daily life in the Irish countryside appear daily on her Soundcloud and are sometimes collected together for broadcast on Basic FM.

Beylis and her partner Willie Stewart, also in Woven Skull, run the Hunter’s Moon Festival in Leitrim in October every year and last month saw a fundraiser for this year’s festival take place in The Joinery in Dublin. A rake of of Ireland’s most primal (and often downright weirdest) bands performed in the space over the course of a sweltering June day and night, culminating in the powerful Kraut jamming of Sea Dog. Before that, Fern Floor’s prog-folk was a respite of harmony and beauty in the midst of an ocean of noise, dirt, fear and heft. The Feral Barbershop Trio (who feature one-third of Woven Skull, as well as Gavin Prior of United Bible Studies – who also showed up in Tarracoir on the day) gave a short set of their post-apocalyptic choral styling, all screams and insane murmurings. Cat Piss Brain Rot also impressed with their first live performance filled with seriously overwhelming, sludgy, noise drone rock. Admittedly, that description does the sound no justice whatsoever, but they’re the kind of band that need to be heard to be believed.

Beylis and Stewart just recently announced the line-up for this year’s Hunter’s Moon festival proper. Rhys Chatham, Consumer Electronics, Jennifer Walshe (whose stunning performance was a highlight of last year’s edition), Control Unit, Bird People and many more will all be making their way to Carrick-On-Shannon for the weekend of October 25 to 27 – more info here. The festival is a small but ambitious affair that makes the most of what the small town offers, using Dock Arts Centre (a former courthouse), the spartan interior of St. Georges Church and the more intimate confines of the Larder Cafe to host both Irish and international acts. Last year saw the likes of Gnod, Josephine Foster, Ludo Mich and Black Sunroof fly in. As good as those international acts are, there is simply no better place to get a sense of the fun and certain strangeness that constitutes a good part of the Irish underground, from Wolfbait’s violent and unhinged noise rock to Yawning Chasm’s melancholic folk to whatever the hell it is that Tarracoir do.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today