Ó Raghallaigh & Trueman

Composers conjure hypnotic soundscapes in north Belfast

The Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts in north Belfast, and promoters Moving On Music, seem tailor made for each other, as the healthy turnout in this magnificent new venue on the Antrim Road for fiddlers Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh and Dan Trueman testifies.

The pairing of Ó Raghallaigh and Trueman may seem a little left-field on paper but there is much that binds them. Ó Raghallaigh, from Dublin, is a central cog in This Is How We Fly and The Gloaming, two of the finest exponents of the reimaging of traditional Irish music.

American Trueman, meanwhile, is co-founder of the ground-breaking Princeton Laptop Orchestra and has collaborated with The Crash Ensemble. Both, it is fair to say, are progressive musicians.

Yet in the minimalist reverie of ‘Folamh’, which segues into the gentle lyricism of ‘Leathan le leathan’ it is evident that both musicans have drunk deeply at the ancient wells of folkloric tradition. The wide tuning intervals and different cross-tunings – scordatura – employed by the duo on their ten-string hardanger d’amore fiddles conjure ethereally hypnotic soundscapes – at once familiar yet beautifully exotic.

‘Gollywhopper’ is a slow motion waltz, sparse and elegant. This track, like much of the set, is drawn from the duo’s captivating debut recording, Laghdu, but it is a set peppered with material from diverse roots. The simple yet moving ‘Orten’s Ode’, which Trueman performed at his great uncle Orten’s 100th birthday party, evokes Norwegian folk and hymnal sources.

Four tradional Irish tunes of great contrast follow: session reel ‘The Earl’s Chair’ injects toe-tapping zest; the haunting ‘Aonar’, played as a ghostly sotto voce lament, instills total silence in the spellbound crowd; the march ‘Fead an Iolair’ (‘The Eagle’s Whistle’) is a delightful exercise in harmony and counterpoint; and ‘The Green Flag’ is delivered as a tender, harmonically rich ballad that is ultimately uplifting.

The intermission allows a major retuning for both fiddlers and they launch into the quietly dramatic ‘Laghdu’. Without pause, the duo continue with ‘Tuireamh na n-iolar’ (‘The Eagle’s Lament’), whose unusual tunings convey a vaguely Eastern European impression. The duo’s harmonized lines on ‘Caol le Caol’ weave a fascinating mosaic that veers between Apalachian cheer and angular contemporary mode.

‘Mausoleum’ is appropriately somber, but as in all Ó Raghallaigh and Trueman’s dialogs there is beauty inherent, no matter how slow, minimal or pianissimo the material. Trueman’s solo piece, a traditional song from the Norwegian repertoire known as ‘The Sister Songs’, entwines simple melodic motifs and complex multiple voicings to arresting affect.

The two fiddles merge on ‘Deiseal’ like the pipes of a slow air. This is followed seamlessly by the almost orchestral ‘Ghostwalk’ and ‘What What What'. Ó Raghallaigh must carry this latter tune around in his pocket as it appears on This Is How We Fly’s eponymous debut and the fiddler’s stunning solo album Music for an Elliptical Orbit, as well as on Laghdu.

With Trueman adding new depth and nuances, the song takes on added vibrancy. Little wonder Ó Raghallaigh keeps returning to the embrace of its seductive charms. The enthusiastic audience applauds and cheers the duo back on stage for a well deserved encore. The Apalachian ‘Jack of Diamonds Three’ runs into a Donegal mazurka that in turn melts into the Norwegian equivalent.

The idioms, as Ó Raghallaigh and Trueman demonstrate, are really but one and the same. The Dublin fiddler describes his feather-light bow as 'a paintbrush for things that are hardly there' – it seems like an apt metaphor for the magic artistry of Ó Raghallaigh and Trueman.

Visit the Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts website for information on forthcoming events.