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Sean Mac Erlaine: A Slender Song

Ian Patterson By

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Multi-woodwind instrumentalist and electronics musician/composer Sean Mac Erlaine works in musical areas where seemingly disparate worlds merge: tradition and modernity; acoustic and electronic; improvised and structured sounds. These are the threads that run throughout his work. Slender Songs is a continuation of concepts that Mac Erlaine explored on Long After The Music is Gone (Ergodos Records, 2012), a haunting solo meditation inspired by the Irish landscape and its light. The ten selections here—culled from live performances between 2010 and 2013—range from two and a half to four and a half minutes in length and work their hypnotic charms best when absorbed in one uninterrupted sitting.

Ambient mood music only begins to hint at the essence of Mac Erlaine's craft, though there's dreamy abstraction in spades. Meditative drones and ambient sound-waves form the canvas for Mac Erlaine's minimalist woodwind colors though rarely follow the same course for long, either undulating or fading in and out. Breathy exhalations that whisper like breeze or rasp like lung death-rattle meet electronically processed sounds in striking symbiosis. Soprano and bass clarinets are Mac Erlaine's chief instruments, with loops and electronic effects equal protagonists in the mix.

The tracks are the equivalent of musical short stories. On "Balcea" low static drone and a quietly throbbing pulse provide a subtle backdrop to isolated, electronically filtered clarinet notes that chime like a distant train's horn; a kernel of a melody briefly flickers before evaporating. A pulsing note accentuates the sparse architecture of "Ripple the Pond," where a gently meandering melody with an EWI-type timbre is punctuated by intermittent electronic accents. Greater lyricism colors "All Sung a Slender Song," where braying bass clarinet gives way to a Jan Garbarek-esque rumination on alto saxophone. Lilting clarinets gently chart melodic highs and lows on "Turaghlan" -a tune best appreciated on headphones as ambient waves wash in and wash out.

Mac Erlaine's restraint and the spaciousness of his very personal soundscapes means that even the simplest melody is aggrandized, as on "Nun's Island" where two faint pulses—one from bass clarinet and a more percussive electronic pulse akin to a bass drum—provide the only accompaniment to a plaintive clarinet. Likewise, on the even more stripped down "Onstage Swoon" the clarinet's lament takes on a hypnotic reverie in the absence of all but the most subliminal electronics. On "Sheehy" a softly riffing bass clarinet lends juxtaposition to Mac Erlaine's yearning soprano.

An austere beauty inhabits both "A Sharp Fissure," where simmering sci-fi effects—like a steel drum submerged in water—underpin clarinet, and "Easty and Aster," a bass clarinet monologue. Greater lyricism still colors "Dingle," which closes the set on a tuneful, sweetly melancholic note.

Slender these tunes may be, yet in Mac Erlaine's hands small details resonate as much as bolder gestures. Texture and mood are key players in a sound world where dissonance and melody gently flirt. The overall effect is subtly hypnotic and ultimately rewarding.

Track Listing: Balcea; Ripple the Pond; All Sung a Slender Song; Turaghlan; Nun’s Island; Onstage Swoon; Sheehy; A Sharp Fissure; Easty and Aster; Dingle.

Personnel: Sean Mac Erlaine: soprano and bass clarinets, alto saxophone, live electronics.

Title: A Slender Song | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Ergodos

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