The Many Sides of Erased Tapes
Last Saturday saw the National Concert Hall open its doors to Erased Tapes, the London-based modern classical, ambient and experimental music label celebrating 15 years in operation, following a similar event in London’s Printworks last November. The label, established by Robert Raths in 2007, has fostered a diverse range of artists and the line-up for the evening included Rival Consoles, Penguin Cafe, Hatis Noit, Qasim Naqvi, Anne Müller and Peter Broderick – an artist who has made the west of Ireland his home – as well as DJ sets from Crayon and Janus Rasmussen of Kiasmos.
Penguin Cafe, the chamber-jazz band led by Arthur Jeffes on piano accompanied by two violins, cello, double bass and percussion, opened the event on the Main Stage. The group continues the legacy of his father Simon Jeffe’s group Penguin Cafe Orchestra, established in the 1970s. Penguin Cafe performed an hour-long set that combined old and new material, his father’s composition ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ receiving a particularly enthusiastic response. Jeffe also introduced new pieces such as ‘Lamborghini’ and ‘Welcome to London’ from a forthcoming collection to be released on Erased Tapes
The band included a cover of the recording ‘Wheels Within Wheels’ by Simian Mobile Disco, which flirted with, while not quite arriving at, the energy of electronic dance music, still held within the tight framework of laid-back chamber jazz. To close the show, Jeffes switched from piano to harmonium to end with the classic ‘Music for a Found Harmonium’. The group managed to retain a sense of intimacy between the stage and the audience, despite the grandeur of the space, bringing a sense of the jazz club into the concert hall, and demonstrating the surprising flexibility of the room for hosting different styles.
Penguin Café (Photo: Kenneth O’Halloran of Julien Behal Photography for NCH)
From Fukushima to Hokkaido
Parallel programming meant that you had to commit to certain performances, so I decided to divide my time between the Main Stage and The Studio, catching the DJ sets by Rasmussen and Crayon when passing through the John Field Room, but missing a modular-synth performance by Pakistani-American composer Qasim Naqvi and and an Irish debut for Berlin-based cellist Anne Müller in the Kevin Barry Room.
The Studio filled up quickly for Japanese vocalist Hatis Noit’s return to the NCH following her performance at the Haunted Dancehall event last October. With many of the attendees sitting on the floor at the front of the space, Noit made final adjustments to her minimal technical set-up, consisting of two microphones and effects pedals. Dressed in a white dress with two feathers decorating her face, she maintained a strong presence on stage.
Noit’s performance made use of layered vocal recordings and extended vocal technique to great effect. Occasionally she would produce a looped kick drum-like sound by rhythmically blowing a burst of air into the microphone, making use of the sound system through such limited means on stage and demonstrating the power of the voice alone.
The setlist included a moving tribute to the people of Fukushima, the only piece in her performance that made use of pre-recorded sounds, which she had made on visiting the Japanese region. Moving around the stage, speaking and singing over the recordings, Noit’s performance was sombre and haunting. She followed with a densely layered vocal performance that seemed to summon an entire choir of voices singing in harmonies of close intervals, descending in pitch, filling the space with a tense resonance. Her final song was dedicated to Hokkaido in Japan, made to summon the natural landscapes and wildlife of her place of origin.
Hatis Noit (Photo: Kenneth O’Halloran of Julien Behal Photography for NCH)
On the Main Stage, Rival Consoles, the musical alias of Ryan Lee West, was sitting alone behind a table of electronics, a keyboard and a laptop, in an enclosed arrangement that looked like a make-shift nightclub lounge. Under an intense light show and surrounded by smoke, West moved through a diverse range of sounds and styles, underpinned with the tension and release of a big-room techno set, with some deep drones and jungle-leaning drum breaks coming through in the latter half, breaking up the melodic trance synth parts using a tremolo effect. Much of the audience in the hall were ignoring the limitations of the rowed seating and were standing up and dancing. You could sense it was a highlight for many concert-goers, a rare opportunity to hear the artist’s work in a space as visually and acoustically impressive as the NCH.
Rival Consoles (Photo: Kenneth O’Halloran of Julien Behal Photography for NCH)
Prizes and black cats
Closing the night in the Studio was singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick. After a delicate performance on electric guitar, finger-picking chords and singing softly, Broderick moved over to the piano to perform an instrumental piece that he refused to name, instead offering it up as a challenge to the audience to see if anyone would recognise it. Sure enough, there was someone in front of the stage who correctly identified it as ‘Eric’s Theme’ from the classic video game Final Fantasy Seven. Evidently delighted, Broderick searched through his pockets for a prize to hand over, first offering a twenty-euro note before finding a more sentimental gift – an arcade card from Portland, which the winner might find some credit on, should they ever make the trip.
The concert continued to shapeshift with each song and arrangement, Broderick’s eccentric and endearing dialogue with the crowd balancing the sincerity of his songwriting. He blasted through a version of ‘It’s A Storm When I Sleep’, a solo piano work from the Grunewald EP released on Erased Tapes in 2016, the piece exercising the sonic extremes of the Steinway grand piano. Returning to guitar for another set of songs, he invited Eoghan Higgins to join on bass guitar, half-jokingly introducing him as an impressive guest from the west of Ireland that those in the east should appreciate. The duo played an alternate version of ‘The Drive’ from the Greg Gives Peter Space record, a collaborative album by Broderick and Greg Haines, released on Erased Tapes in 2020. The version they performed tonight leaned into the humour in the lyrics, complete with a refrain from the crowd that Broderick had primed in his introduction: ‘What do you see if you see a black cat?’ ‘Spit!’ the crowd shouted. Broderick and Higgins’ comradery was infectious, their dialogue with each other and the audience punctuating longer jams, including one in which Broderick played a fiddle through a layering delay effect, creating the sense of being in a session somewhere in the west of Ireland when a visiting American somehow manages to tear through the space-time continuum. The duo closed their set with a song that had Broderick’s lyrics musing on keeping up with technology, ending on a line with the poignant message, ‘I hope we can let go’.
As a kind of encore, Broderick invited traditional singer Eithne Ní Chatháin, who performs under the moniker Inni-K, to join the duo on stage to form an a cappella trio, singing praises to a hawthorn tree in the Burren in three-part harmony. The tender moment brought the warm evening to a close, the crowd dispersing out through the halls and on to the steps of the National Concert Hall once again.
The whole event presented a stimulating cross-section of acts on the Erased Tapes label and left audiences with much to converse about on heading home. It also left a sense of hope that these evenings are a sign of more to come, that the gates remain open to such experimentation from international and local acts, and the labels and communities that congregate around them.
Published on 25 May 2023
Drew Stephens is a musician and writer from Connemara.