Mmmmm, where to start with this record?
Well, I guess the best starting point would be to side step a little and make a comment on how seeing music performed live really can dramatically change your perspective on somebody’s work or a specific piece of music. By this, I simply mean that I was really struggling with this new EP until I went to see Rafael Anton Irisarri play on Sunday evening in Glasgow. It’s weird how hearing music in a live setting, at volume, can really change your relationship with an ep/album.
I think this is especially true with this style of music and I’ll tell you why. Watching ambient music live really is a strange experience. Normally, at gigs you have both the aural and visual experience to engage with. Bands tend to have a lot to watch on stage. There’s a lot to drag you in to a performance if you know what I mean? I guess the key word in all of this is performance. Quite simply, although on Sunday Rafael Anton Irisarri was literally performing, there’s not much visually to drag you into the music at an ambient show. So it kind of leaves you at the mercy of the aural. However, such is the power of this music live that equally as important as the ability to hear, is the ability to feel. The music quite literally starts from the ground and builds its way up through your body layer by layer until your heart is rapidly pounding and your head is spinning. Sometimes it can be too much, it can make you feel a little on edge, a little sick. Now, I know that it’s true that at most gigs you will feel the vibrations of the music through your body, but I think with ambient music it is even more pertinent simply because you have more to grab hold of when there are vocals or when there are 5 or 6 people on stage creating a visual spectacle. I mean, Irisarri did have a visual element to the performance with a digital projector firing images onto a screen. However, these were located on the far side of the stage away from him and really acted more like a distraction than as an additional element to the performance. In the main, he stood on stage with only his laptop and an electric guitar, black hoody up over his head, barely moving for the 35/40 minutes. In this time, he created something quite brilliant, completely moving and something which has made my appreciation of his new EP increase greatly.
My biggest criticism of the EP is that it’s hard to hear the changes in tone, atmosphere and texture when you listen to it at first. It’s very droney and repetitive without ever shifting dramatically or giving the listener something to break up the noise. Electronic motifs subtly modified, without ever changing pace throughout. On first listen, it lacks the sprinkling of something different, which his previous work, which I am familiar with, has had. However, within a live setting, the subtleness of the EP is really brought to life. With the large sound system of Sleazy’s to work with the music has a stage from which to perform and it really starts to breathe. You could hear and feel every nuance of change in the music, especially if you shut your eyes and let the music wash right through you. There is noise and there is build and there is real definition of tone and content and structure. It’s all there. It perhaps just needed a better stage from which to be heard than my ipod headphones! So yes, my initial reaction to this record was lukewarm but the fact the man is a brilliant artist and brought the whole thing to life in front of me the other night has really changed my opinion and relationship with the record, and I love when that happens.
Anyways, Rafael Anton Irisarri is well worth a listen, which you can do here. Enjoy.