Premiere: Robert Curgenven ~ The Boatman’s Shadow [video]

A Closer Listen is honored to premiere Robert Curgenven‘s “The Boatman’s Shadow.” This film by Alex Eve was originally produced in 2006 on the occasion of Curgenven’s performance of “Wisla Reorientations” for 24Hr Art  in Darwin, Australia. Quarantine spent on a remote Irish island has given Curgenven opportunity to revisit past work, including “Wisla Reorientations,” made over more than 15 years of global wanderings, collected on cassette as Ar Ais Arís. Like the sounds on this tape, “The Boatman’s Shadow” is also the result of transnational wanderings, combining footage shot in Inle Lake, Burma and in the Northern Territory, Australia. While the core “scenes” are mostly static in terms of composition, both are constantly moving (on the water, on the road), making an interesting juxtaposition to field-recordings captured during during a 170km canoe expedition from Krakow to Sandomierz. Eve used an intentionally slow frame rate, working with visual artifacts of digital video that may seem even more apparent today in contrast to the way the technology has developed.

Curgenven is no stranger to isolation. In anticipation of the shit show of the Sydney Summer Olympics in 2000, he moved to the Northern Territory of Australia, one of the most isolated places in the country. Our readers might recall They tore the earth and, like a scar, it swallowed them (2014), which was comprised of field-recordings made in more than 30 remote locations between 1999 and 2010. In recent years Curgenven has been based in Cork, Ireland, but due to the pandemic he ended up on an island in Connemara on the Atlantic coast. Connemara is home to one of Ireland’s largest communities of native Irish speakers, and in recent years has become a center for the study of the Irish language. So perhaps Curgenven has gone from using sound to study the impact of British colonialism from one isolated corner of the globe to another. While Connemara’s language immersion program has been paused due to the pandemic, Curgenven is flexing some of his new Irish language proficiency with the title of his cassette, Ar Ais Arís (pronounced ‘ar ash areesh’ – “back again” in Irish).

Released in the final hours of 2020 by the Irish label Fort Evil Fruit, Ar Ais Arís is Curgenven’s first release since 2016’s Climata. This cassette compiles five works from limited releases, installations, reworkings and unreleased tracks spanning the last 15 years, from various locations in Australia and Europe, traversing a non-linear history of Curgenven’s global wanderings. Field-recordings made in multiple sites, presented live somewhere else, and remixed and reworked again in yet another location. (Read the details at Bandcamp.) These five diverse works demonstrate the breadth of Curgenven’s sound practice, in which his use of field-recording is augmented by the use of sine-wave or organ tones, while also bringing his core artistic interests into starker relief. While a piece like “Wisla Reorientations” presents these as discreet but connected, “Air+Electricity” leans into a more physically pummeling amalgamation. Particularly in his live performances, Curgenven focuses on minute fluctuations in resonance. This is demonstrated on Climata, which was born out of recordings made in fifteen of artist James Turrell’s Skyspaces.  The tones were produced by heterodyning, using the opening of each space to turn the entire structure into a Helmolz resonator. By generating tones according to the specific resonant frequencies of each Skyspace the architecture comes to act as both filter and instrument. When performing live, for instance with a pipe organ, Curgenven has to take into account changes in air pressure and temperature resulting from crowd size, affecting his playing in subtle ways to ensure the generation of the effects he is after.

I mentioned that Ar Ais Arís is his first new music since 2016, but in fact it was his first physical release. December also saw the release of Bardo (shortform) for Three Turntables, Pipe Organ & Piano for the excellent Longform Editions series. As one might suspect from the title, a 60-minute “longform” version of the piece is forthcoming as part of a 3 CD set of 3 albums, going deeper into the spatial aspects of the work. Barring pandemic related delays, that triple album should be released this autumn. And if that’s not enough, Curgenven will also be releasing a pipe organ EP of live performances at Cork Midsummer, scheduled to coincide with the 2021 summer solstice. (Joseph Sannicandro)

About Joseph Sannicandro

writer | traveler | sound organizer | contrarian | concerned citizen

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