Like a Journey

Clang Sayne

Like a Journey

Laura Hyland's Clang Sayne band bring together a subtle range of influences for her song sculptures. Anna Murray attended their recent performance at Little Museum of Dublin – the first in the new season of the Ergodos Santa Rita concert series.

The alt-folk of Clang Sayne – now in its second incarnation with Judith Ring (voice and cello), Carolyn Goodwin (voice and bass clarinet) and Matthew Jacobson (voice and drums) – is built around the songwriting of Laura Hyland. Hyland’s music displays the equal patterning of Irish storytelling, contemporary classical music and twentieth-century folk revival. Her voice holds elements of Beth Gibbons and Nick Drake, with songs that manage to give the impression both of being intensely personal (this set included songs about her own loneliness while away from home, the birth of family members, and the death of a neighbour) and being somewhat sonically vaporous, incorporeal. 

On record these songs seem simple in their execution: a meandering but beautiful voice embedded in a floating soundworld and buoyed up by an ever-present but subtle rhythmic underpinning; when performed live, the skill and control of the performers expose that as a mere half-truth. Simple perhaps, always avoiding both over-sentimentalising and over-dramatising, but there is a compressed energy to the sound of Clang Sayne that, while not exactly set loose, is certainly palpable live.

Little Museum setting
The closeness afforded by a setting such as the Ergodos Santa Rita concerts proved only to enhance this effect. These candlelit concerts take place in the downstairs exhibition room of the Little Museum of Dublin, and their focus is always intimacy, on presenting exceptional music in a setting that encourages open listening. For this concert (27 September 2017) the musicians of Clang Sayne were placed in the centre of the room, with the audience seated either side, meaning that each audience member had a slightly different sonic experience, and in some cases were mere inches away from the players themselves.

 

The set opened with ‘Curse You Mocking Moon’, the lead track of the band’s recently released album The Round Soul of the World. Behind a melody that initially sounds as if plucked from the Celtic ether, there is a slow burn of unsettled guitar and drifting backing singing picking up fragments of sounds from Hyland’s vocal, and sustaining them for the briefest of moments before letting them fall gently away, creating a timeless space that was gradually filled by growling clarinets and frenetic drum rolls. 

Timelessness
There was something of timelessness to the band’s entire set, most of which – with the exception of the more upbeat ‘St Mark’s Rise’ – was drawn from The Round Soul of the World. The slow-burning pace, the deliberate side-stepping of climactic moments, the gently swaying folk melodies and the sense of freedom in the semi-improvised accompaniments created a sense of suspension in the concert as a whole. The sense is of a journey, full of processes of coming together and drifting apart.

The musicians of Clang Sayne are themselves a reflection of the influences on Hyland’s songs, from backgrounds heavy in contemporary classical, jazz and improvisation. In these songs Ring, Goodwin and Jacobson create sounds around the core of voice and guitar as if carving a sculpture of texture, varying from the juddering backing consonants on ‘Newborn’, or the cymbal swells of ‘Emptying the Ashes’, or rhythmic clarinet air-notes on ‘This Love’. At the same time, the personal nature of these songs were intensified by Hyland’s own open stage presence, discussing the songs’ subjects without self-consciousness.

 

Remarkable line
A particular highlight was the title track of The Round Soul of the World. Despite being the last song of the night (as it is on the album), the deep cello drone at its start seemed to mark a shift from the untethered feeling of the preceding songs. The song goes through a constant process of coalescence and dissolution, as the voices over this drone alternate between close harmonies and a confidently chaotic chattering. It even featured a bass clarinet solo, something that would have seemed unthinkable earlier in the set.

With the Little Museum proving the ideal canvas, Clang Sayne mixed the colours of contemporary classical, folk, improv and pop. The band draws a remarkable line between the folk song aesthetic of the 60s and 70s and the new music strands of today, perhaps in the search for a new, more direct form of musical expression. 

The Ergodos Santa Rita concerts take place monthly at the Little Museum of Dublin on St Stephen’s Green. Upcoming concerts include: Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (25 October), Sarah Davachi (8 November), Rue (17 January), Seckou Keita (28 February), and Maarja Nuut (21 March). More information and tickets can be found at https://goo.gl/rsT9wo.

Published on 23 October 2017

Anna Murray is Assistant Editor of The Journal of Music. Her website is www.annamurraymusic.com.

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