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Under the Island: Experimental Music in Ireland 1960 – 1994

The mission to track down all traces of an Irish avant-garde has received a boost with the release of this delightful compilation, compiled by Nyahh Records. The label has left no dusty attic unexplored in its efforts to drag subterranean Ireland to the surface, providing documentary proof of free-thinking at a time of joint church/state hegemony.

This experimental impulse could apparently be found at all levels of society. Take the aristocratic UFO hunter Desmond Leslie, who created electronic soundscapes in his Monaghan castle and took his place with the Meeks and Derbyshires of the world.

Outside the country estate, there were pioneers like Roger Doyle and Danny McCarthy who used bedrooms and arts centres as their labs, radio broadcasts as source material, tape loops and even stringed hurling sticks as their instruments.

Some even went beyond pure sound, using it as just one element in a multimedia set up. Nigel Rolfe brought traditional elements into the modern art realm, creating a dense thicket of bodhran and a woman’s keening lament to soundtrack one of his installations. The sublimely unsettling ‘Lake Waters of Sorrow’ is the result.

These are just a few highlights from a compilation that tells a compelling alternate history of Ireland in the late 20th century. File it beside Mangan and O’Brien in the canon of great Irish experimental art and let’s hope for more excavations in the near future. Pádraic Grant