Sean MacErlaine – Long After The Music Is Gone

…the result of viewing an idea from every side, with each track changing the angle and enlightening us all a little more…” Ian Maleney reviews the new album from Dublin composer Sean MacErlaine.

Space and silence are often misunderstood elements of music. In most music, silence is something to be filled, to be acted against and to be overcome. It’s the artist against the void. In contrast to that approach, many forms of meditation encourage a sense of oneness with whatever is in opposition. In this case, to become one with the void would allow a greater depth of engagement and clarity of vision. To make the apparent negative a positive removes it as a problem and opens up the scope to engage with the positive (i.e. the work of art that you are attempting to create) in a more rounded way. To see it from a different angle and gain a more detailed understanding.

With that in mind, the title of Sean MacErlaine‘s new album for woodwind and electronics is particulary evocative. Long After The Music Is Gone suggests a time when noise has given way (once again) to silence and the tracks here each have silence at their heart, built into their structures and textures. Notes echo slightly in the distance, coming back to the ears moments after they first faded, straining the surface of the quiet from which the album is birthed. The title track is one of the most densely-layered pieces on the album, filtered chords blowing out over a steady pulse that rises and falls like a wave in the distance. The lead line flits between these two elements, swinging notes into unexpected rhythms while a cymbal is beaten and bowed high above it all. As the album pertains to landscape, the piece is particulary successful in its evocation of scene, weight and atmosphere.

A series of tracks entitled ‘Clayography’ (numbered one through three) operate as pauses or diversions within the album, figures that explore a single idea over a brief time span without ever reaching an easy conclusion. ‘Amhran Na Labhair’ echoes around the bottom of a well, a low gurgle in a resonant chamber marked by a doleful melody that shivers with melancholy, memory and a distant look at the horizon. The tiny blips and loops that sit underneath at the beginning get a moment in the moonlight before another sharp melody line emerges and takes the piece further into the woods and darkness. 

Long After The Music Is Gone makes for an engaging exploration of a small set of instruments, with the playing ranging from clean and pure through to breathy and on to the deeply effected and layered. This variety is counter-balanced by a tonal and textural focus which makes the overall mood relatively inescapable, except perhaps on the last track, ‘Basement Lullably’ which is considerably lighter in just about every way. MacErlaine’s playing is refreshing and vibrant, even when the mood is dank or heavy and the balance of light and dark is well-judged throughout. An impressively exploratory work that never feels half-baked, Long After The Music Is Gone seems the result of viewing an idea from every side, with each track changing the angle and enlightening us all a little more.

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