Martin Byrne's instrumental score for the harrowing Prime Cut theatre production stands strong even when removed from its dramatic visual context
A play set in a bathroom, on the anniversary of a stillbirth, when a husband and wife, traumatised by loss, experience their marriage painfully disintegrating.
Such is the scenario of Jack Thorne’s harrowing two-hander Mydidae, which received its Northern Irish premiere last October courtesy of local theatre company Prime Cut Productions, in the Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival.
The solemn mood-music for Rhiann Jeffrey’s staging was provided by Belfast composer Martin Byrne, whose soundtrack is now available commercially as a 20-minute E.P. release on iTunes and other digital platforms.
Byrne is a highly eclectic musician, performing as vocalist, guitarist and keyboard player in a range of styles including electronica and heavy metal, while also producing, engineering and editing. He also recently completed a Masters degree at the cutting-edge Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queen’s University, Belfast.
Some of that technical know-how is deployed in 'Mydidae Theme 2' and 'Drowning Part 1' from the album, where the sound of gurgling pipes and slushing water commingle with sampled beats and swaths of synthesiser in a complex collage, mirroring the multi-layered psychological murk in which the characters are floundering - 'dark and emotionally fraught', as Byrne himself puts it.
Darkness, and what Byrne calls 'something sort of dazed and confused, with an air of melancholy', also suffuses 'Drowning Part 2', where a musing acoustic guitar theme is underlaid by the subterranean thrum of electronic pulses.
The contrast between the two iterations of 'Mydidae Theme 1' is particularly striking, the tune confident and warmly cossetted by string treatments on its first appearance.
It’s stripped of comfort, though, in the reprised version, a ghostly 'Third Man' zither-shard contending with heaving vocal overlays - a gasping for breath, possibly, or the struggle of a voice to cut through layers of long-suppressed feeling and achieve expression.
'Theme 2' is also bleaker on its reappearance, the melody spat out on a forwardly balanced acoustic guitar. Its jagged edges - perhaps emblematic of the species of stinging flies who give the play its title - are raw and menacing, while slashing electric chords deeper in the mix scythe through the emotional undergrowth.
'Leaving Flowers' marks a solitary moment of partial respite amid the concentrated intensity of Mydidae’s action, its layered acoustic guitar textures suggesting that a residual tenderness and sense of normalcy might still be possible, even as the husband and wife’s relationship is slowly imploding.
That this was merely an interlude is confirmed by the uneasy harmonies of 'Mydidae Ending', a wordless chorus keening its disquietude as the curtain falls on Thorne’s bathroom-bound drama.
This is not Martin Byrne’s first music for a theatrical production, and it shows in his ability to swiftly distil the essence of a dramatic mood or situation in economical musical gestures, and cloak them in psychologically revealing instrumentations.
The fact that Byrne plays all the instruments himself, and did all the recording and production in his own Belfast studio, adds further coherence to the finished product.
Relatively few soundtracks bear scrutiny beyond the visual context of the action they’re meant to illustrate. Byrne’s Mydidae does, and makes you wonder what he might be capable of given an even broader canvas to work on, in film or documentary.