Stars of the Lid at National Concert Hall, 9 October 2016
The objectives of the Perspectives series, to “broaden the musical mindset” and “push the boundaries of musical expression”, were certainly met this Sunday night, as the National Concert Hall is transformed into a colourful yet eerie wonderland that even Lewis Carroll would be proud of. The evening sees a convergence of talent from all over the world: The Stars of the Lid, Francesco Donadello, Bobby Donne of Labradford, Echo Collective, Luke Savisky and light designers MFO.
Easing us into this wonderland is one of Ireland’s own, Dublin native Caoimhín O Raghallaigh, whose experimental approach to fiddle playing has been showcased in his work with The Gloaming and frequent collaborator Brendan Begley. O Raghallaigh’s performance sets the tone for the later drone-heavy set. His opening piece focuses on creating looped passages and the sympathetic vibration patterns of his trademark Hardanger d’amore fiddle using (as he informs us) his recently acquired ChucK coding skills and a Raspberry pi computer. It is, however, his second offering that is the strongest, combining these effects with the tin whistle and traditional fiddle in a series of variations on Seamus Ennis’ The Easter Snow. The end product is a synthesis of the traditional and technological, a series of reverberating loops with the unmistakably tone and voicing of traditional fiddling. Additionally, there is something unfailingly charming about the sight of a man playing the tin whistle to his fiddle microphone.
After a short intermission, the spectacle begins. Through large clouds of smoke we hear drones emanating from the stage, the products of Stars of the Lid and friends, Echo Collective, beginning as subtly shifting waves of sound before taking on a hearty, organ-like resonance as they are joined by the Moog 55. Francesco Donadello, commander in chief of the Moog, wastes no time in illustrating its thunderous capabilities, creating a series of near overwhelming climaxes over the course of the evening. Focusing more on the creation of oscillator swoops and atmospheric drones, Donadello’s contribution is key to creating the unearthly atmosphere of the evening, but one cannot help but feel that the full versatility of the Moog is unexploited.
The otherworldly ambiance is completed by the juxtaposition of the interior aesthetics of the NCH with the kaleidoscopic projections of Luke Savisky and light designer MFO, which morph in sympathy to the sounds produced on the stage below. The string drones of the Echo collective and Donadello’s swooping oscillator manipulation combine to create a formidable pillar of sound, as the walls of the NCH are washed with images of blooming flowers.
The immersive experience begins to break down only as the performers leave the stage one by one, dismantling the sound that they had created layer by layer, until only the Moog was left. Although the extent to which the “musical mindset” of the audience was altered is unknown, it is safe to say that Stars of the Lid’s performance provided a spectacular and arresting break from the sounds of the everyday.