When We Think of a Loved One
Even if one lacks any supplementary knowledge or basic press release about My Mother’s Star, [Indistinct Chatter]’s latest album, one can guess at the provenance of this collection of pieces from the cover image alone.
While such artefacts as album sleeves and cover art have become intangible to many consumers of music in the 21st century, that very lack of physical presence is ‘embodied’ by the ghostly image adorning the album’s artwork. It’s an image that speaks to the imponderable mysteries of loss and remembrance, a faded family photo, presumably portraying the young artist, with the silhouetted figure of his mother. The silhouette is the result of a digital manipulation process that renders her as a star figure reflecting the cosmos.
[Indistinct Chatter] is the ambient music project of Myles O’Reilly. For the past decade or so, O’Reilly has made a name for himself as a filmmaker specialising in music-related projects and song promos under the name Arbutus Yarns. But before that he was involved in musical projects such as Blotooth and Juno Falls. The arrival of lockdown ushered him back to the studio where he did a lot of experimenting with generative modular patches, looking to create happy accidents.
The past year has been particularly productive for O’Reilly in that regard, having released three albums of ambient electronica in the past nine months. O’Reilly relays that this process eventually led his thoughts towards his mother, to such a degree that he eventually began creating sounds informed by the feelings that surfaced. With the pandemic and ensuing lockdown, the idea of such a collection of songs resonates with the feelings of loss and grief many have had to process.
However, I feel I might not be alone in raising a shudder at the prospect of a third concept album from [Indistinct Chatter]. His first, Tall as Houses, was comprised of a collection of drones he used to bridge sections together and to underscore interviews in his music documentaries. It very much felt like a score in need of a film. His second, Cabin Lights Off, tapped into the idea of a nostalgia around air travel. But even bound within the 5km limit as most of us are, perhaps too many of us have travelled enough times to bleach the romance from it and render it a banal experience, an impression not countered by the choice of some very literal and forced sounds and samples.
It is with great delight then that I can report that My Mother’s Star, which once again sees Seán Mac Erlaine assist him on mastering duties, is a bounteous and textured collection of pieces. Bereavement and grief are universal, but also deeply, personally felt. The current feelings of loss and disassociation due to the pandemic create a greater resonance but they are in no way requisite for the enjoyment, if such a word is not too gauche, and certainly not for the immersion into this sound world.
There are none of the pat samples here that permeated Cabin Lights Off. The creaking we hear at the beginning of the title track is elusive, but it speaks to something durational. Its steady rhythm suggests something that is striving, that may be in discomfort yet has resilience. Could it be a rocking chair? Or perhaps an exhausted staircase announcing the comforting and reliable descent of a mother in the morning? Accompanied by a crystalline drone, it is buoyed by what sounds like an accordion and an organ, which swell to begin the album on an elegiac and uplifting note. The track ends, surprisingly and delightfully, with what sounds like fireworks and applause. The steady glide of ‘Family Holidays’ continues this trajectory with its gently tapped percussion, excited repetition of chimes, wavy theremin-like lines and soft underscore of strings.
A sense of momentum permeates My Mother’s Star. From there, the delicately plucked electric guitar on ‘Villa Cypris’ leads into a more echoey and reverberating rolling guitar sound on the appropriately titled ‘The Conservatory’. This gives way to the muted propulsive clang of ‘Your Excitement’ as the album becomes more fuzzy and minor key. Thoughts of mortality and commemoration are never too far away. Before wandering down its own introspective path, ‘Kingsriver’ appears to briefly quote the funeral hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’.
It may have not been O’Reilly’s intention, but it’s curious how the idea of travel is realised more evocatively here than on his previous release. A motorik rhythm underpins most tracks and each one is bridged by a field recording, be it a maritime space signified by the screeching of gulls or a sylvan spot punctuated by the cawing of rooks, as well as riverside sounds. These may be as much about the places we go to in our mind when we think of a loved one, and perhaps the places where their spirit may still exist.
There is a sense of this record being a navigational tool, that O’Reilly uses his mother’s star as a guide to calm and comforting shores. That is never more palpable on the penultimate track, ‘The Peace You Gave Me’, where its rising hymnal strains evaporate, transmuting into a more airy celestial sound.
I am reminded of a remark O’Reilly used in relation to what he does as a filmmaker. He described himself as a camera pointer. A curious remark that posits him as some kind of channel and one that would put him at odds with photographer Ansel Adams’ dictum that ‘you don’t take a photograph, you make it.’ With My Mother’s Star, and as distinct from my impressions of his previous two albums, he hasn’t merely captured something, he has put himself deeply into something and he’s made it.
To purchase My Mother’s Star, visit: https://mylesoreilly.bandcamp.com/album/indistinct-chatter-my-mothers-star
Published on 21 April 2021
Don O'Mahony is a freelance arts journalist based in Cork.