Communing with the ancestors through trad
I want to talk briefly about art. I hasten to add that it is one of the many things I know nothing about. But I had an encounter with an artist and a class of an epiphany last Monday night at the National Concert Hall. In one way it was the last place I wanted to be, as I was gearing up for the first show in the new run of Cutting Edge and I prefer to be keeping the head down and focussing on work at these kinds of times. But the tickets had been bought ages ago and I love the Gloaming.
We couldn't get a babysitter either so I had to jettison the wife and bring a friend. He didn't really know the Gloaming and he's more of a rock 'n' roll type. I was concerned at his ability to sit still and to enjoy a concert in the absence of drum and bass.
But in we went anyway. There was the customary delirious welcome for President Michael D, the lights went down and off they went. When I say off they went, I mean that five blokes walked out and began playing what you might called traditional music. There were no explosions and the light show was mainly five simple lights half illuminating each of them, as if they were mere bands of light themselves, stripped to their essence as they lost themselves in the music. They played for a good 20 minutes without stopping initially. No talking. No hello. Just straight down to it.
The thing is this is not traditional music as you know it. It's been you could say put through a postmodern mangle that makes it simultaneously more authentic and less authentic. Vaguely familiar airs are contexted in atonal and minor chords and sometimes, instead of taking centre stage, the airs on the fiddles weave in and out like ghosts. Sometimes it feels like the ancestors trying to get through to us in the airs, and fading in and out like the child calling 'Mommy' from the TV in The Exorcist.
And we are all spellbound. The Gloaming creates the kind of musical experience that Radiohead dream about creating. Hypnotic, slightly spooky, melancholic at times, but always with flashes of tender beauty.
And off you go on this journey into your subconscious. At times you forget where you are and that there are people around you. My friend, who I had worried about because he's fidgety at the best of times, barely moved for an hour. All our savage beasts were soothed as the sounds stretched themselves out and doubled back on themselves, running rings around our rational minds. It was trance music in the best sense of the word.
And then Martin Hayes put down his fiddle for a few minutes and picked up a microphone and explained it all. He talked about how he is learning that less is more, that you have to get over the temptation to show off and keep paring it back, less and less notes until you get to an almost childlike, repetitive form. So, as I understood it, he was saying his ego had to get out of the way in order to create simpler and more primal sounds, and I thought that this perhaps, was why this music gave us this route into our subconscious, which itself pares everything down to basic archetypes and moods.
We had to leave early but we were both strangely calm after an hour and a half of this weird and beautiful experience. And I realise that I don't let myself go enough with art. It's all TV and books now, all rational, beginning, middle and end.
That's all very well and will give you the odd moment of transcendence. But you can't beat just letting your mind drift downstream into strange places while five shafts of light barely illuminate five guys who take you on a trip.
Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge is on Wednesday Nights on RTE 1 at 9.35pm
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