Dublin’s Pepper Canister church is a little gem of a venue. Hidden away, almost right in the centre of town, it’s as atmospheric as they come. For tonight’s show that atmosphere is put to full use, the light so low each passing car outside seems to light up the space.
That minimal lighting doesn’t change much once the show starts. Taking his seat at the piano, Michael McHale waits a long moment before turning to light the lamp at his shoulder. That sense of deliberation marks the whole show, slightly theatrical and minimally staged. Written in eight parts, What Is Living and What is Dead alternates McHale’s piano with the synth sounds of Simon O’Connor and Paul Smyth.
Each of those parts takes a small motif, repeated and stretched, though little altered. McHale’s piano, rich and resonant in the old building, is allowed to ring, each repeat given space. As McHale comes to the end of the first section, he turns and kills the lamp by his side, as a red light comes on behind the ranked synths. The same approach is taken with the synth sections – long, slow oscillations, gradually built sweeps of sound in the dark space, until the last note is let die and the light by the piano returns.
That formula is repeated – each move from piano to synths and back introducing subtle variations. The carefully built atmospheric of each section are broken somewhat by shifts in volume, the synth movements have a richness of sound that make the repeated returns of the piano seem a little flat. That big synth sound is let loose a little as the work progresses, their stereo sweep and rhythmic textures signalling some interesting possibilities.
That’s what they remain though – neither piano nor synth ever really seems to build on those possibilities, each movement offering glimpses of what may be about to come, not quite realised. For all that, though, as the last of the work is played out, it’s hard not to become somewhat taken in by the atmospheric textures, as O’Connor and Smyth’s synth’s bring the evening to a close.