Live Reviews: Improv at the Printing House Festival

Saturday 23 April / The Printing House, Trinity College, Dublin

During the interval of the afternoon session of the first Improv at the Printing House Festival, I suddenly found myself listening intently to the gurgling of water in a pipe against the steadier hum of a hand-dryer. It is in the nature of the music to which I had been listening to attune the ear to minute gradations of sound, of tone, of pressure.

Because the musicians work with a deliberately limited language – a soft bow on open cello strings, stutterings or washes of sound from a laptop, the rhythmic stroking of a drum – they challenge themselves to create a coherent sound-world, one that hovers on the edge both of silence and of random noise. Intense concentration and focus is needed if the process is to lead to the creation of what might be called a sound-poem. If the kind of listening involved is a challenge for the musician – not least in the renunciation of ego where group-creation is involved – it is equally a challenge for the listener, who must lend an active, creative ear to the sounds that are proffered. The questions asked can be asked by almost any other form of music-making, but here they are confronted in particularly naked form.

If all this risks sounding a little penitential, it should be said that the programming ensured both variety and quality of performance, and the sizeable audience appeared to react very positively. Whether playing solo or in a very fine trio with Welsh brother and sister Angharad and Rhodri Davies (violin and harp), the Greek cellist Nikos Veliotis drew intense drama from minute variation of gesture. The patterning of blips and blasts that Jerome Noetinger drew from a reel-to-reel tape-recorder (solo) or from a mixing-desk (in a quartet with Denis McNulty, David Lacey and Paul Vogel) was louder and more overtly dramatic. There was visual drama in Fergus Kelly’s latest ‘cabinet of curiosities’, in an accordion more bowed than played by Alfredo Costa Monteiro – an extreme case of a near-addiction to bowing in the area? – or in the uses to which various musicians put plastic bottles, egg-slicers, pieces of styrofoam, cardboard boxes and so on, but it was the music that mattered in the end.

Building on their work both as musicians and as event organisers over recent years, McNulty, Lacey and Vogel can be more than satisfied with their inaugural festival.

Published on 1 May 2005

Barra Ó Séaghdha is a writer on cultural politics, literature and music.

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