Birds is a five track EP from the driving force behind Cambrian Records, guitarist/composer Toby Hay. The work is essentially an impressionistic depiction of four different birds and the tracks are simply named after them Starlings, Raven, Curlew (parts 1 and 2) and Red Kite. As Hay says “I wanted to try and capture something of each animal in the music. Often the encounters I have with each are fleeting. The Red Kite and the Raven I see nearly every day, but the Curlew and Starlings come and go with the seasons.”
The music does, however, form part of a larger artistic enterprise, a collaborative exhibition, shared between Hay, artist Keith How, and blacksmiths Nick Buchan and Tom Robinson of Gofannon Forge. The music , paintings and sculptures come together in an exhibition entitled Three Perspectives: Birds running at the Carad Gallery in Rhayader until 17th December. Even the EP’s cover art work was painted by Keith How during a live performance of the music in Bakewell.
On Birds all five of the pieces are played on a twelve string and the recorded sound is, quite simply, stunning. Twelve string guitars can be difficult to record but the sound on Birds provides a great balance between the bottom end and ringing trebles. Toby Hay’s control of twelve string dynamics is very, very good. In Starlings, the track opens with what I think are clipped harmonics, later on he uses the characteristic chime of the octave pairs but everything is clean, precise with no hint of the metallic crash which recalcitrant twelve strings can inflict on you…mine certainly does on occasion, even if I treat it ever so gently.
Whether the compositions work as intended is impossible to say. The work is impressionistic, the reaction to it inevitably subjective. I live in the country and have starlings nesting in a barn, they are birds seen every day. We used to see curlews regularly but they have declined dramatically over the past few years. I have never seen a red kite, nor a raven in the wild. All this is bound to colour my personal reaction. I certainly found something of the chatter and quirkiness I see regularly in Starlings. The two parts of Curlew did make me think of the loss of the birds’ flight and their tumbling call. Raven has a certain gravitas about it which might well suggest the bird which I think I’ve only ever seen at the Tower of London on junior school trip…aeons ago. As for Red Kite, both the harmonics which open it and the body of the piece have a lightness about them which might well suggest a bird at home in the sky… a skilful flyer. I have no mental image to test this hypothesis.
All in all, Birds is a fascinating attempt to do something very difficult. As suggested above, the twelve string technique is flawless; the music delightful. Whether it works as intended is totally dependent upon the listener. My only quibble…wish I’d seen the sculptures.
Birds Exhibition at CARAD Rhayader Museum and Gallery until 17 December.
Birds is out now via Cambrian Records
Order it here: tobyhay.bandcamp.com/album/birds-ep
DEC 16 FRI – De Koffie Pot (with David Ian Roberts), Hereford