Cork duo launch record after creating 'telepathic lockdown tapes'

Two pieces of longform sound, recorded at the same time at different ends of Cork, are merged together, as is, to form The Quiet Club’s latest record, following its debut as an installation at Lismore Castle Arts Gallery in Waterford.  Mike McGrath-Bryan talks about the process and end result with Danny McCarthy and Mick O’Shea.
Cork duo launch record after creating 'telepathic lockdown tapes'

The Quiet Club: Potential for creativity lies in any situation, including a pandemic such as the one caused by Covid-19.

The Quiet Club (Danny McCarthy and Mick O’Shea) may do more Telepathic Lockdown Tapes, and inviting others to collaborate.
The Quiet Club (Danny McCarthy and Mick O’Shea) may do more Telepathic Lockdown Tapes, and inviting others to collaborate.

It’d be very easy for a music hack to talk about the Quiet Club on the surface level: a collective (or ‘entity’) based in Cork City, revolving around veteran sound-artist Mick O’Shea and performance-art pioneer Danny McCarthy, the outfit and their collaborators specialise in using both traditional instrumentation and found objects to create longform, improvised sound installations for the surroundings in which they find themselves.

This could be anywhere from the library of the Shandon Guesthouse, home to the group as well as ongoing residencies in experimental music and sound, to international excursions, including as part of a residency at the Rauschenberg Foundation in Florida, where daily improvisation sessions in a shed led to their 2018 ‘No Meat, No Bone’ record.

Summarising the end result of their collaborative creations, however, is quite the opposite. It is something that is most keenly felt by listening, slowing one’s own self down, being present in the room as they are performing. Listening to each other, and the ambience of the world in and around themselves at that moment, every slight change in sound becomes increasingly important, and the interplay between performers is made even more compelling as each improvisation unfurls and concludes at its own distinct pace.

It is its own beast - sound-art is best appreciated with the idea that it’s a thin line between gentle musicality and jagged experimentation - but it’s one that distinctly of Cork, rooted in the so-called ‘fringes’ of its modern musical and artistic history. Such is the familiarity and ease between the Quiet Club’s constituent parts, that McCarthy and O’Shea create in the moment - a singular rule between them and among their collaborators is that the details of their collaboration are never discussed beforehand.

Which makes a lockdown-recorded release even more of a compelling prospect: new record The Telepathic Lockdown Tapes saw the duo agree to their usual accord for 20 minutes at the same time, but performing and recording miles apart at their home studios, each unaware of what the other would play. Taking separate pieces and joining them together unedited, the record is as much about documenting a specific period of time, as it is about listening for points of difference, as well as convergence.

The album was unveiled as part of an artistic installation in the tower of Lismore Castle Arts Gallery.
The album was unveiled as part of an artistic installation in the tower of Lismore Castle Arts Gallery.

Following its unveiling as part of an artistic installation in the tower of Lismore Castle Arts Gallery, Co. Waterford, Telepathic Lockdown Tape No. 7 and its accompanying works are seeing collected release on download via Takuroku, the lockdown label offshoot of prestigious London avant-garde/experimental venue Café OTO, where the group has previously performed live, as well as on cassette via Dublin sound-art outpost Farpoint.

McCarthy talks about how the record’s release via the label came about, and places it in proper context.

“In our line of work, playing Café OTO is to us what playing at the Royal Albert Hall is to a rock band: it’s the great venue for experimental music and sound art. We saw they’d started a label, and that some of my idols were on it: Thurston Moore, of Sonic Youth, Otomo Yoshide.

“I’d come up with the idea and the title, which is a good lead-in to the idea. We’d been doing the work, and I suggested the idea to (label head) Fielding Hope, sent on samples of the work we’d been doing. They listened, and they liked it.”

The idea is as exploratory and noisy in execution as it is in theory - but the aforementioned points of convergence and difference are evident throughout, a commentary in itself on the nature and extent of the duo’s creative relationship.

“There weren’t the usual solutions or reactions to the other person playing,” says O’Shea of the process. “I knew Danny was playing at the same time, and that was important. You find yourself in the situation where you’re playing your piece, but you’re allowing space for the other person, but they might not be playing at that time also.

“We had very nice, interesting, intense silences, and there were some very interesting overlaps. It was very much thinking about the other person playing a certain way, but no way of telling until we heard both pieces.”

McCarthy’s recounting of his half of the recording process reads strikingly similarly: sitting down at the same time across the county from a friend and collaborator, he was conscious of what O’Shea might be playing, and of points where sounds and textures might either clash or complement each other. 

“Well, in my studio, I’d often be playing solo, maybe recording, maybe not recording. For this one, I was conscious that I was recording, and that Mick was performing and recording at the same time elsewhere, that I couldn’t hear. 

“Being very conscious of leaving him space to be heard, and having space to be heard. I would have used two or three turntables, radios… on any given day, I didn’t know what I would use. Twenty minutes beforehand I’d head down, play with things and set things up, but all the time being very conscious that there would be someone else (on the record).”

Sound-art is a thin line between gentle musicality and jagged experimentation.
Sound-art is a thin line between gentle musicality and jagged experimentation.

While sound-art might be an acquired taste in the context of sitting down to play back a record or longform piece, placed in the context of installation, it takes on a different life, cleaving to a venue’s contours, such as Telepathic Lockdown Tape No 7 did in the tower of Lismore Castle Arts Gallery, at the behest of curator Paul McAree.

“I was thrilled with it,” says McCarthy. “He set up the installation, and the acoustics in the tower are really quite phenomenal, it’s gotten quite a positive reaction online from people that have experienced it. I’d even gone in myself, not knowing where it was installed, saying to myself, ‘jaysus, that sounds nice’, not realising that it was our piece. Which tends to happen when you improvise, that you don’t remember everything.”

While McCarthy’s recent excursions have ranged from installation visits, to a harsh noise set for German radio station Salon Bruit Rerouted and video performance art for Dublin’s Museum of Irish Literature, O’Shea has kept himself in regular practice in the city, working with longtime collaborators in creating live, on-site improvisations at various Docklands locations, and providing Culture Night trailgoers with a new way to experience the Shandon Guesthouse venue.

“There were conversations among a few of us, where we said ‘we should play together’. Let’s just do it, y’know? The weather was so beautiful over lockdown as well, a lot of people love the area, though I’m sure it’ll soon be gentrified and all kinds of pansiness… but we’ve been playing since June, and it’s been amazing.

“In the Guesthouse, we did a thing called Fenster Klang: four of us played with speakers sticking out the windows, and we had a writer working away on a laptop, describing what was happening inside to the people below via projected text. That worked really well. We didn’t know what would happen: we played for an hour, stopped at 9 on the button, and there was a huge round of applause from the crowd outside.”

The ongoing circumstances have presented challenges across the arts sector, and while the restrictions have presented obstacles, The Quiet Club has come good in characteristic fashion on an old motto of McCarthy’s: that potential for creativity lies in any situation. It stands the duo in good stead for further sonic explorations as the wider situation develops, he says.

“Basically, we’ll just keeping working away. We have a vague idea to do more Telepathic Lockdown Tapes, and inviting others to collaborate, a third person to join in and listen telepathically! Just to keep pushing forward, and keeping up the practice.”

The Quiet Club album cover
The Quiet Club album cover

The Telepathic Lockdown Tapes, created by The Quiet Club, is available now as a digital download via Takuroku (https://www.cafeoto.co.uk/shop/category/takuroku/), and available soon on cassette via Farpoint Recordings.

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