The title of Aidan O’Rourke’s Music For Exhibition & Film comes with the intriguing suffix of [E.P. Series 1.0]. It offers the first clue that this is the first of what will become a series of collaborations and commissions that, on the strength of the music it offers, add new and exciting opportunities and outlets for his creativity without limits. Of course as one third of the groundbreaking trio Lau Aidan is already part of a unique blend of musical talent that delights in pushing musical boundaries. Yet even armed with that knowledge the contents of this EP are still surprising and challenging, but then arguably that’s what makes music great, and if you’re up for it, the rewards are manifold as the four tracks cast a seamless spell of entrancement that gets stronger each time you press play.
It helps to know that this work started life as the soundtrack for an installation by internationally acclaimed Scottish artists, Dalziel and Scullion. It opened at the An Lanntair arts complex in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis last July and was jointly commissioned by the centre and Edinburgh’s Dovecot Studio. The work formed part of a national programme called GENERATION, celebrating the work of Scottish artists who have come to prominence in the last 25 years, which also perhaps chimes with a new found cultural awakening and national confidence that has much wider implications that reverberate post referendum.
Dalziel and Scullion’s work itself was called Tumadh: Immersion a Gaelic and English word that mean roughly the same thing and two of the tracks here, the 15 minute Tumadh and the following four and a half minute Immersion, directly reference that. I asked Aidan how it came about and he explained, “I’d worked with the artists Dalziel and Scullion on a film called Wolf a couple of years ago and they asked me to make a soundtrack to this film installation. Their work is nearly always related too nature and they’re totally great to work with.”
He offered some insight into how the work came together telling me, “Most of these began as long improvisations by me and my pedals. I built up layers and layers of effected loops, which I then edited into a listenable form. I had the Dalziel and Scullion film playing as a template and inspiration.” He continues, “I set up at Heriot Toun studios south of Edinburgh and worked away for a few days in total isolation. I like to work like that, away from the hustle, with room to think and make a lot of noise. The drums and guitar were added after this.”
I ask Aidan about his musical collaborators for the recording and he tells me, “John Blease plays drums on the opening track Tumadh and the closing Feel The Pulse Of This Place. The guitarist, who also plays on those two tracks, is Graeme Stephen originally from Aberdeen and now an Edinburgh jazz stalwart. He’s an incredibly lyrical improviser who I love to work with.” Aidan continues, “John worked with Lau on a project called Parallelogram some years ago and I’ve had him on a few things since then. He’s an incredibly musical and imaginative drummer who’s worked with many people including The Heritage Orchestra, Ghostpoet, Tricky and Massive Attack.” He concludes with further promise of more to come explaining, “I’ve just spent a week with him in rural Aberdeenshire recording tracks for my next EP.”
In the midst of our exchange he also revealed, “Some of the music was also used on a couple of referendum Yes Campaign shorts made by Craig MacKay from Brora.” Before that ignites controversy, however, it’s worth noting Craig’s description of, “A small art film about independence, devoid of, politicians, financiers, business tycoons, blue chip companies, banks, statistics, greed and money.” He’s referring to his work
Shorag, which as he explains, “Shorag is a Pictish Shamen figure, she represents transformation, the elimination of existing, the creation of a new blank canvas, a transition, depicting a journey, starting with small steps expressing the trepidation and fears related to the journey and the future of standing alone, of being self sufficient but also considered about the past and the future.”
It’s an intriguing piece of work and Craig’s website is full of strange, surreal and often challenging imagery, with a soundtrack to match. To a degree this EP occupies similar territory with it’s heavily treated sounds, although it’s much easier on the ear than the sometimes bleak, sometimes jarring and nervy, unsettling, yet utterly compelling collage of experimentalism in sound and vision that the site combines.
Immersion is the only way to approach this CD, which although called an EP, runs to nearly 37 minutes. It takes at least a couple of plays to start to find your bearings, but it’s as you dive in headlong and surrender to the depths that the structures emerge. It’s not the music is formless, it’s actually strongly rhythmic, but it still owes more to Eno’s experimental Editions series than it does to Scottish fiddle music. But that Eno reference is not to call it ambient either as it is music for listening to and a decent pair of headphones really will pay dividends.
The point about Eno’s music is that much of it revolved around heavily treated sounds, delays, looping and the repetition of the minimalists, or otherwise a slow evolution of sound that has the aural effect of fractal patterns and this CD does all of that. It was also about stimulating the senses in different ways, trying to trigger imagery with sound and his Music For Films in particular tried to make that synaptic leap. Perhaps the title Music For Exhibition & Film is what brings that to mind, but there is something filmic going on. To facilitate that the default position for listening to the opener, Tumadh, might be sat back with eyes closed, but it will be with head nodding to the underlying pulse and possibly even with hands tracing the decay of the gently echoing triplets. In its quiet way, it’s a downright funky piece of music, once you latch onto the circling riffs.
The tracks alternate long, short, long, short and Immersion is a short one that creates an almost womblike environment of sound, as if the noise is coming in from outside. Yet with it come ripples of agitation above a gentle heaving breath, in some ways it reminded me of Tangerine Dream in the early to mid 70s, before sequencers and soundtracks turned them into a laser-lit, commercial force majeure.
Back to long and it could be said that the start of Infuse My Eyes With Molten Grey Skies, it what we came in for. The lonesome tones of the fiddle play a mournful air, instantly evocative, but the heavy rumbles of dissonance that cut across, again at time picking up a fluttering, nervous ripple, but also lurking as a deep, persistent thrum, cast us into stormier territory. Layers of fiddle, some with an almost cello depth and other’s light with a dizzying dance cross and fade, while the core of the sound washes across in tight repetition, almost like the driving rain, adding a constant to the billowing and blustery scene.
Feel The Pulse Of This Place, carries the more obvious presence of the fiddle through, although as the title suggests also finds more of an underlying heartbeat to follow, albeit one that has a lot of layers to rise through. Still the more rhythmic patterns bookend the CD.
This is music to file under electronic meditations and could be described as visionary in that it plays on your mind’s eye and promotes visions and as such lives up to its title admirably. The question is what movie will be playing in your head? Whatever it is, it will stand any amount of replays as it will change with each re-run. Where Aidan will take us next is anyone’s guess but as the first in a series of EPs, Music For Exhibition & Film sets down a serious marker, it’s extraordinary stuff.
Review by: Simon Holland
Released April 27th via Reveal Records
Pre-Order it here.
Photo Credit: (c) Genevieve Stevenson