On Friday night last, the same day as that giant of anti-imperialism and leader of Cuba for the past five decades Fidel Castro passed away, I had one of those fun unpredictable nights were you end up first at a gig you didn’t expect to go to and then at a lesbian night in a small room above a pub from which all the gate proceeds go towards Syrian refugees.
An event, it must be said, strangely populated by men who are neither lesbians nor Syrian refugees (as they aren’t allowed into the country).
Earlier in the evening I had popped over to the Thomas House on Dame St for an after work Friday pint or two with my friend Tim.
While waiting on our pints of Guinness, Tim got a text from a music promoter he knows offering him plus one guest list for a gig that night in the Sugar Club, so we decided that after our pints we would head across town and check it out. Never look a gift horse in the mouth and all that.
By the time we arrived at the venue I was still in the dark as to who or what we were going to see other than it was apparently some sort of German techno/ soundscape/ ambient composer whom had been on seminal electronica label Warp for a while back in the day - always a good sign.
After apologetically falling over everyone’s knees as we tried to reach our seats we eventually settled in as the lights dimmed to almost sheer blackness. Before us the artist emerged, silhouetted from the light of the screen behind him. It turns out the artist in question is a German man called Wolfgang Voigt; Voigt is an artist, music producer and co-founder of the Cologne based ambient label Kompakt and tonight is his first ever appearance in Ireland.
Amongst many other things Voigt is hailed as one of the pioneers of the Cologne minimal techno movement and for more than twenty years now he has been pushing the boundaries between what constitutes techno music through his soundscape work that converges the disparate worlds of minimal ambient and electronica with what we might more normally consider more esoteric gallery work, indeed his art attracts audiences usually far removed from purely the world of electronica. Though there are many beards present tonight.
The work Voigt is presenting is entitled Ruckverzauberung. This most German and wonderful of words translates into the English as “reverse-enchantment” and it stands as a perfect description of the artist’s approach to his music: this can best be described as a parred back minimalist ambient work which involves the taking of musical sound sources out of their original context and playing around with them, changing their whole texture, thus rendering them in an entirely new and fresh new aesthetic light and context. Much like the YouTube videos recently produced by English actor and comedian Peter Serafinowicz wherein he overdubs the speeches of Donald Trump word for word in a camp, sassy accent thus rendering them both in a hilarious new light but also one that underlines the disturbing obnoxious ideas inherent in those speeches which is not so easily apparent when taken in their original context.
Voigt’s work in the past for example has included an album series entitled GAS were he used found sound from a forest and transformed them into sound pieces for “the disco”. This is the same technique and approach he applies to his visual art which plays throughout the performance on the screen behind him.
This is art at its most stripped back, in its starkest and most esoteric form and the results once you let yourself go with the flow is utterly hypnotic and mesmerising. The work presented here as a whole continuous piece lasting over an hour is unsurprisingly cinematic in nature too and it did strike me how Voigt’s work really does get to places less oblique verse-chorus-verse structured work is unable to reach. I won’t divulge now just where my mind travelled to while in my trance -like state but I will say I will be checking out more of this unique artist's work and you really should too.
I nearly missed my flight the next morning to the Netherlands where I was heading with Adrian Crowley and the Crash Ensemble. The great Irish songwriter and Ireland’s foremost contemporary music ensemble; a group of world-class musicians who play the most adventurous, ground-breaking new music around.
For the uninitiated the Crash Ensemble was founded in 1997 by Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy. Over the twenty years of their existence they have worked with many well-known artists from diverse musical backgrounds, including Steve Reich, Gavin Friday, Dawn Upshaw, Terry Riley, David Lang, Íarla Ó Lionáird, Julie Feeney, Gerald Barry and many more.
The Ensemble is committed to broadening the repertoire available to audiences by commissioning, producing and performing new or recent works by internationally acclaimed composers, up-and-coming composing talents at home and abroad and collaborating with culturally relevant artists. They have recently joined forces with the wonderful Adrian Crowley on some truly stunning pieces.
The results are performed here at the Explore the North festival in the northern Friesland province of the Netherlands in a picaresque town named Leeuwarden, along with some shorter pieces by contemporary Irish composers.
The work presented is melding together of all the things which make both Crowley and the Crash unique and the results are explosive. With the music and words written by Crowley, his deep baritone and baroque, gothic use of language being the perfect foil for the energetically experimental style of the ensemble.
Led by Kate Ellis on cello and featuring Alex Petcu-Colan on Marimba/ bass drum/ percussion, Deirdre O' Leary on bass clarinet/ clarinet Lisa Dowdall on viola and Aoife Ní Bhriain on violin, Crash have always seemed to this writer as closer to collectives like Godspeed you Black Emperor, Kronos Quartet and Do Make Say Think than the National Orchestra or a Night at the Proms and when their imperial powers are combined with those of one of Irelands greatest songwriters this is a truly special evening and one which neither we nor the Frisian speaking audience will forget in a hurry.
If you get a chance to witness Adrian and Crash perform together do whatever you need to in order to make it happen.