The Other Side of Knowing
I’ve always experienced music as a way to access another kind of reality.
My earliest musical memory is of falling asleep in the back seat of the family car, drifting through the Northern suburbs of Brisbane.
Enveloping Darkness, the hum of the engine, the radio playing, soft orchestral music, timpani drums, cavernous reverb, drifting into dreams.
I’ve spent most of my life searching for musical experiences of that access profound wonder, the ephemeral and transcendental.
It began with guitar. First, five years of classical guitar tuition followed by an inevitable turn to the dark side. The Blues. Rock N Roll. Grunge. Punk. Indie. Lo-Fi and Post-Rock.
Eventually, I succumbed to the lure of drum machines and samplers. IDM. Trip-hop. Drum N Bass. Ambient and Glitch. Then, inspired by the work of John Cage, I gave up making music altogether and worshiped the primal vindication of noise. Tape Loops. Junk Ensembles. Free Jazz. Avant Metal. In my mid twenties, I got involved in Zen and took lay Buddhist vows. I was enchanted by Zen’s focus on the elusive dichotomy of sound and silence. Reciting sutras. Drumming on wooden blocks. Clanging Bells.
Following the footsteps of the historical Buddha, I went to India.
Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Kushingar, Kapilvatsu.
Enlightenment was the plan.
But while in a monastery in Bodhgaya, I had an argument with the head abbot.
He told me that I wasn’t allowed to play a small wooden flute in my room at night.
No music in the temple.
So, I packed my bags and went in search of music.
Then, in Varanasi, I heard the sarode for the first time.
I was hooked.
Luckily in 2003 I met my first teacher, Sougata Roy Chowdhury in Kolkata. Through him I found a channel to that inexpressible world of the profound. I became obsessed with learning Indian Classical music. For five years, I kept returning to India for talim (learning) with my teacher. I practised like a demon. Soaked up the Kolkata vibe. Drank loads of chai, smoked biddies and ate far too many biscuits. Eventually, I became competent on the instrument. With the blessings of my teacher, I began to perform and settled in the West of Ireland.
While living in Ireland, I became aware of the idea that there was some sort of connection between Irish traditional music and Indian culture. I wanted to explore how Irish music might sound on the sarode but I also wanted to avoid it becoming a gimmick relying on cliches. So, I undertook a four-year structured PhD (Arts Practice) in the Irish World Academy at the University of Limerick. During these four years, I apprenticed myself to a number of traditional musicians in an attempt to learn Irish music in somewhat of an authentic manner. Through Ged Foley I began to learn tunes on the fiddle and learnt how to behave at a session. Steve Cooney put me in touch with something deep and ancestral and Martin Hayes guided me into a world of feeling.
The Sound of a Country
Moving to East Clare, I was lucky enough to find a common bond (and neighbour) in legendary percussionist Tommy Hayes. With our project An Tara, we began to explore the spaces in-between Irish traditional and Indian classical music. We experimented with different rhythms, improvisation approaches, tonalities, timbres and new compositions. Eventually, this partnership became less about being Irish or Indian and more about us becoming authentically ourselves. Playing with Tommy gives me an incredible freedom because I feel like I am supported no matter where I go, that Tommy is really with me, both aurally and in spirit.
Through the freedom and support given to me by many other musicians previously mentioned, I began to feel more and more confident to ‘compose’ my own music on the sarode. What came out was a music that was neither Indian nor Irish. Sometimes tunes. Sometimes not. Over the last few years, I have become very interested in going deeper into this creative space which is not just in between cultures but perhaps pre-cultural, pre-cognitive and intuitive.
Then lockdown happened.
In April 2020, I moved myself into a small wooden cabin surrounded by woodland in Faha, East Clare. I setup my recording equipment. I left my instruments laying around. I watched the sunrise. I listened to the morning robin song. Watched the stars. Shook with the wind. Absorbed the rain and sun. Then let my intuition guide me. The result is my third solo album The Other Side of Knowing. Everything on the album came in the moment. Captures something of my knowing or more accurately my unknowing in that moment. The tracks were then sent to be mixed and mastered by the wonderfully talented Seán Mac Erlaine. When I listen back to it now, it all feels like a dream fragment.
And I am reminded again of my childhood, being in the back seat of my parent’s car with the radio on. I feel into my memories of my parents; my father’s sense of humour, his love of the blues, soul and sixties rock; my mother’s intuitive creative world view, her deep empathy and thoughtfulness. I think of my sisters; two mischievous identical twins, one of them outgoing and gregarious and the other quiet reflective and loyal. I remember myself as a quiet curly haired kid who lived in a world of fantasy amongst the backdrop of noisy, yobbo beer drinking men, spendings hours down at the creek or in a make believe world in our backyard pool. Then, I am back again, here in Ireland, in my middle aged body, the feeling of damp and the sound of rain. And I wonder what I have learnt from the musical journey of my life so far. The honest answer is, I do not know. And yet, when I sit with my instrument and listen; to my own body, the room, the rain, the sound of breath, the gentle scraping of a string, I feel that something can come which is beyond me and my experience. An Other Side of Knowing. I can’t put anymore words on it than that.
It’s probably best just to listen.
Link to Download Album