Telepathic Document at the Edge

Danny McCarthy and Mick O’Shea – The Quiet Club (Photo: Robin Parmar)

Telepathic Document at the Edge

Danny McCarthy and Mick O’Shea (The Quiet Club) have recently released 'The Telepathic Lockdown Tapes' on Cafe OTO’s Takuroku label. Anna Murray reviews.

The Telepathic Lockdown Tapes is the latest release by Cork sound art/improvisation duo The Quiet Club (Danny McCarthy and Mick O’Shea). It is an ideal fit for Cafe OTO’s Takuroku – a Japanese phrase meaning recording at home – digital label, which is showcasing music created by artists at home during lockdown. The Quiet Club’s contribution captures this moment in a unique way: unable to work together, they chose a moment in time, and each recorded their improvisation, simultaneously but independently. That moment was 29 June 2020 at 4.33pm, and their own point of connection was John Cage. 

The recording is an unedited combination of these two recordings, and is the ninth in the Quiet Club’s series of telepathic tapes, some of which will be released later as a limited edition cassette. That it does seem on first listen that O’Shea and McCarthy must genuinely share some kind of musical mindmeld, or spooky sound action at a distance, should probably not come as a surprise. The pair have been playing together as The Quiet Club since 2006, with a dedicated focus on close listening. 

The result is a twenty-minute exploration of sound, first and foremost, but also of chance and intentionality; it is a sound collage that is immediately arresting, almost begging the listener to figure out which sounds are whose, how they relate to Cage, and how they relate to each other. It could be easy to conclude that they are simply random, devoid of any textual or material connection at all, though this would not be a criticism. The confluence of these sounds is interesting enough in and of itself not to demand anything more than to enjoy the aural experience. And yet, it is difficult not to play the game of searching for possible, probable, or just fully accidental connections. 

That is not to say the album, or its material – which includes birdsong, electronically generated clicks and drones, instrumental recordings, vocal samples –  is not without a discernible logic, though it is certainly not predictable. Specific sounds, like a reverb-laden drip, or what appears to be a voice from a British nature programme, repeat like some sort of refrain. No warm instrumental drone is allowed sound for more than a few moments before it is interrupted by something evidently electronically generated, or metallic. Perhaps this is a result of having the shared inspiration of Cage to focus their playing, or perhaps just experience. 

Either way, it is fascinating how light both performers’ touches are. It would be easy to imagine a situation in which this work becomes a constant stream of sounds as each, performing by themselves, fill in imagined gaps. But yet both performers’ stream of consciousness occasionally share moments of stillness that can be really quite beautiful. 

Even as the material constantly shifts and moves, both in their internal logic and their relationship to one another, the primary impression left by The Telepathic Lockdown Tapes is one of liminality. While listening, you are exploring a kind of other space, between real and present sounds, and those more etheric. A water drip sounds as if it is echoing in a cave, while a tape-recorder plays birdsong in a living room, while an electronic glitch flickers from ear to ear. By the end, you don’t necessarily feel like you have been anywhere specific, or been able to hold anything solid in your hand, but you certainly feel like you have been elsewhere or felt something

Because of this, The Telepathic Lockdown Tapes is at its most intriguing at those moments when there is a confluence of sounds that are just at the edge of recognisability. This is particularly true of some of the small scratching, humming and knocking sounds that seem just at the limit of our hearing.

One of the most surprising moments occurs twice, the first time after just two and a half minutes, the second at almost three quarters of the way through: a brief pulsing low guitar note (though a version of it also seems to reappear as a low drone a few times throughout). It lasts merely seconds, but gives an almost shocking sense of something solid, tangible amidst the fleeting thoughts that constitute the whole. It is so simply present that it is like a wrench from that liminal space into one more clearly defined, and one which magnifies the rest through this contrast. 

It may only be a short work for a standalone release, but The Telepathic Lockdown Tapes is fulfilling enough and merits multiple listens. It captures not only what The Quiet Club do so well but it is also a tiny document of a moment in time, and a hopeful reminder that boundaries can lead to new ways of creating thoughtful art. 

To purchase The Telepathic Lockdown Tapes, visit: www.cafeoto.co.uk/shop/the-quiet-club-the-telepathic-lockdown-tapes/

Published on 8 December 2020

Anna Murray is a composer and writer. Her website is www.annamurraymusic.com.

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