Review: Drawing from the Well

Last Sunday I was lucky enough to attend, for the Journal of Music, the Irish Traditional Music Archive’s gala concert for their Drawing from the Well series at the National Concert Hall, Dublin. It served as a stark reminder that I should a) spend more time engaging with traditional music, and b) learn to speak my native language better.

But the concert was terrific. The word “gala” comes from a French word for rejoicing, and this was a true celebration of Irish music, past and present.

If the night had a theme, the theme was conversation. Talk and story are almost as important to the tradition as anything else, but there was never a sense that the audience was there (as Schoenberg put it) for purely acoustical reasons. The audience was as exuberant as the performers.

But the conversations were musical too. Alone on stage at the start of the gala, Aoife Ní Bhriain played the beginning of the sarabande from Bach’s D minor violin partita, which after a couple of minutes morphed into the fiddler Tommie Potts’ version of the reel ‘My Love is in America’. Ní Bhriain managed the stylistic changes so smoothly it was like watching a lenticular image change with slight movements; as though at any time each of the pair of tunes was there, one visible, the other hidden.

On Fossil Fuels and Arts Sponsorships

Speaking of climate change, Toner Quinn recently wrote about how fossil fuel companies use arts organisation sponsorships they use to greenwash their reputations.

The fact that [Galway International Arts Festival] was at the same time presenting art works that highlight the peril of climate change only compounds the irony.

When I asked the festival about these issues, it said that ‘The festival is on a journey towards a more sustainable future and is making step changes to reduce its impact on the environment.’ It outlined many of the admirable steps it is taking: sourcing 50% of its total energy requirements from renewable resources and reducing current waste production by 55% by 2025; using reusable cups in bars; promoting behaviour among staff, volunteers, artists and audiences that will reduce their impact on the environment; and working with supply chains to help deliver more sustainable options. But all of this is dwarfed when they take on a fossil fuel company as a sponsor.

“Sure, we’re providing cheap advertising to fossil fuel companies, but have you seen our reusable cups?”

Fossil fuel sponsorship in the arts has long been contentious, but we’re past the point where it should even be on the table for debate. The harm that these companies do is immense, and no organisation—particularly any with impulses towards social justice—should be doing business with them. Recent years have seen major British arts bodies pull away from sponsorship deals, as reported by Francesca Willow on Ethical Unicorn in November:

Organisations such as the Tate, Edinburgh FringeThe Royal Shakespeare Company, The National Theatre and the Van Gogh Museum have all ended major fossil fuel sponsorships in recent years. Just last week, at COP26, BP or Not BP? joined forces with Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir to challenge BP’s partnership with the Scottish ballet (yes, the dancer pictured above is me). Less than two hours later, the Scottish Ballet announced they were reviewing all partnerships.

It’s clear that these companies are nearing their end, despite desperate attempts to greenwash and aggressively lobby their way into continued relevance. They have no place within the arts and culture sector, and soon they will have no place among wider society either. It’s time institutions like the British Museum, the Royal Opera House and the Scottish Ballet got on board.

I see no reason why Ireland—or anywhere—should be different.

Weather Forecasters Report Unprecedented Trolling

From the BBC, in the truest “Not the Onion” headline I’ve seen in a long time.

Most of the abuse seems to have been prompted as links were made between the heatwave and climate change.

The UK saw record high temperatures on 19 July, with 40C exceeded for the first time. Dozens of locations saw temperatures above the previous UK record of 38.7C and 15 fire services declared a state of emergency because of a surge in blazes.

The Met Office estimated the heatwave had been made 10 times more likely because of climate change.

Review: Chimp

I picked the wrong time to announce my return to blogging, as July is set to be my busiest month. Still, there’s more to come as I get a few projects moving and/or finished.

That said, I wanted to flag my latest review in yesterday’s edition of the Journal of Music, since it’s really just me finding as many ways as I can to say “listen to this album.”

[The third and ninth tracks] act as a portal into and out from the middle section of the album, a sequence of five songs that function almost as a nested EP. According to Dramm, the seed of the idea was a doctor’s waiting room. ‘There is a TV in the corner showing a National Geographicepisode about monkeys. During the middle section, we go inside the TVand hang out with them.’ There’s a self-contained flow to this central selection, as the songs bring us to a psychedelic space of metaphor and liminal connection.

An Un-Disappearance, and Personal News

I have, I admit, been a very bad blogger of late—which is to say this’ll be my first post in (ulp!) four years.

Not much to say today, but a little news upstate.

I’ve been quiet here, but busy elsewhere. In terms of writing, I’ve done a lot of reviews for the Journal of Music. Too many for me to link four years worth, but here’s a couple of quotes from the most recent ones.

On Louth Contemporary Music Society’s performance of Michael Pisaro-Liu’s Asleep, wind, voice, poe:

Music like this resists narrative implications. Each section of the work is not a journey but a place. A new note, which may arrive after a couple of minutes of the same chord, feels not like a change in direction but like a change in weather. And with music this slow and delicate, the appearance of a simple major third in the strings has a surprisingly pronounced brightening effect; the addition of a single dissonant note in the bass of the piano gives a heightened friction. Throughout, you feel like your senses are especially attuned to small changes.

I’ve covered LCMS’s summer festival for the JM every year since 2017—except for the cancelled 2021 festival—so I was heartbroken to have to miss out this year, as I was self-isolating with Covid.

Last month, I covered “Totemic,” a release from the excellent Irish label Ergodos, featuring duos for percussion and viola:

Ironically, given its title, and unusually for an Ergodos release, Totemic feels like an album pulled in four directions at once. The forceful gestures of the Berio, Schlepper-Connolly’s cool trance, the tightrope walk of Moore’s piece, and the nocturnal stillness of Wilson’s each works in isolation, and I’ve found myself returning to each one alone several times.

And also last month, I covered Irish National Opera’s production of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. INO’s approach is generally to stage radical performances of canon—or canon-adjacent—works. I’ve generally found myself impressed, though I think the ambition of this one exceeded its outcome, though the quality of the singing was extremely high (and Tara Erraught is always amazing):

I’ll always admire a production that takes risks and makes bold choices. This would have been easy to stage as a period costume drama but, while it may have been less incongruous, it also wouldn’t have given a deeper look at the characters. And for all the pomp of the show, it is Erraught and [soprano Anna] Devin’s commitment to their characters, to displaying their internal and external conflicts, and their extraordinary vocal prowess, that carries the opera to success.

If you’re interested in reading what else I’ve been catching, the JM keeps a list of my reviews here.

My other project lately has been writing music for games. I’ve got a couple under my belt, though unfortunately one was withdrawn from availability. If you’d like to check out my first, Haunted Bar, it’s available here.

I also wrote a track for the game String of Hearts. And I’ve recently finished work on an upcoming visual novel, My Grandmother’s Last Adventure, due for release soon.

Within the next day or two, I’ll have a new page on this site with music to listen to. Moreover, I intend to start writing here more regularly, so I’ll see you again in under four years.

Review: Emanating Sparks

My latest review for the Journal of Music was for a concert I particularly enjoyed: a performance arranged by Louth Contemporary Music Society of music by Karen Tanaka, Tristan Murail, and John Luther Adams, performed by Taka Kigawa and Russell Greenberg:

Kigawa’s playing was impressive – it had to be – but as extraordinary as it was to watch his fingers dance across the rapid, complex passages, the delicacy of his playing was even more striking. In quiet moments, he summoned the merest ghosts of notes, tiny pinpricks just a half-step above silence.

Maud Cuney Hare

Remarkable story, written by Emily Hogstad for Song of the Lark:

Maud Cuney’s cultural inheritance was no doubt a bewildering one to come to terms with. It consisted of rape, poverty, and oppression, as well as self-determination, wealth, and privilege. Ultimately Maud Cuney chose to use that legacy, and the advantages it offered her, to promote the achievements of African musicians.

Despite a lifetime of devotion to that cause, she is almost entirely forgotten today.

Song of the Lark is one of a handful of classical music blogs out there doing really stellar work in highlighting overlooked composers and musicians—in its case focussing on women.

Hitler’s Jazz Band

Terrific piece by Mike Dash for Smithsonian Magazine on the Nazis’ jazz band.

Goebbels knew he needed to engage—with an increasingly war-weary German public, and with the Allied servicemen whose morale he sought to undermine. This clear-eyed determination to deal with reality, not fantasy, led him to some curious accommodations. None, however, were quite so strange as his attempts to harness the dangerous attractions of dance music to Hitler’s cause. It was an effort that led directly to the creation of that oxymoron in four-bar form: a Nazi-approved, state-sponsored hot jazz band known as Charlie and His Orchestra.

The decrees by which jazz had to abide have to be seen to be believed; they’re listed in full in the article.

(Via Scott.)



In 35 yrs we have NEVER shown this! View the never-before-seen score of #DeepNote THX’s audio trademark 🔊 created by Dr. James A. Moorer

It had never even crossed my mind that there might be a written-out sheet for this. Very cool.