While Cork has a long history of improvisation at its musical outskirts, the last decade or so has been a particularly verdant time for the artform. A large part of that is due to the emergence of Dan Walsh’s Cork Improvised Music Club, a series of gigs that provide a live and recorded platform for Cork musicians to come together, jam and experiment in different genres and lineups.
One of the regular gigging outfits to have emerged from the club has been MueseuM, the duo of Arthur Pawsey (Arthur Itis) and Darren Keane (Not Earth, Culture Night and other local bands). Carrying on in the project’s spirit, the pair record synth and instrumental improvisations directly to tape, with the goal of capturing once-off musical moments and interplay.
Fifth long-player ‘DONTNOD’ comes about as a result of the current circumstances, pulled together from sessions recorded prior to the Covid crisis and assembled over a number of months, involving drum pads and vocals for the first time, a new layer to their process.
“Most of it is from a session we had after we got a tonne of new gear and didn’t know how to use any of it,” deadpans Keane. “That’s where we get all the vocals and looping stuff from, because we were swapping loop pedals and teaching other how to use them.”
“It’s an amalgamation of that and some other sessions, spread over three four-track tapes, and each of those are on a different buzz, but tied together by similar sounds, and the warmth of being recorded to tape, that it sort-of works.” adds Pawsey.
“The title track is a really long, droney song, and when Arty and I were editing it together from the tapes, we nearly fell asleep because it was so relaxing, which is where ‘DONTNOD’ comes from,” Keane expands, as Pawsey lets out a chuckle.
One of the striking things about the album is its title, as well as the titles of all of its tracks, are palindromes. It’s not very often that your writer gets to ask about wordplay, at least this explicitly, and happily, the pair are more than obliging in talking about the importance of it to themselves and the project.
“The band name is a palindrome,” Keane says. “It was suggested by (singer-songwriter) Elaine Malone, and it kind-of took off.”
“I think palindromes have always been knocking about for me,” Pausey ventures. “Elaine was also working on this project, like a play, that would be a palindrome, with a middle word from which the action would go in reverse, it was a really cool idea. A few years later I was still thinking of it, that eventually we might do some music that’s palindromic, even if it’s just titles. I suggested it to Darren, and sent him one or two, and he just sent me loads of long ones in succession.”
“The most famous palindrome in music is Miles Davis’ ‘Live Evil’, so I just went from there,” explains Keane. “We like to play with language, and ever before we started playing together, we’d have long text message conversations of titles we’d come up with. Language is endlessly malleable, and it’s another way of thinking around stuff. ‘Satan Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas’, I have no idea where I got that.”
The album released last month on tape and digital formats via UK label Disintegration State. Formed by the denizens of the former message board of UK music site Drowned in Sound, the label has played host to the duo have in previous compilation releases, but DONTNOD is the band’s first release on the label. Keane talks about the ongoing relationship, getting a tape out amid the lockdown.
“It was bouncing around the forums for years, and it was known that I make music. A few of us started a discussion about starting a label, and about 13 or 14 of the members said ‘yeah, let’s do this’. It went from one compilation, that we were on, and just took off so quickly, that it took a long time for us to put something together to release on it. But we did, we set aside these sessions for this release.”
“We’re very different for the label - we’re the only band. Everyone else, until last year, was a solo project, and up to 2019, none of them had played a gig, anywhere. They were all home producers, and they played this gig in Manchester, including one lad’s first gig ever. Whereas we’ve played hundreds of gigs between us in different bands. I keep getting questions off them, like ‘wow, you’re improv masters’, which is mad, because their stuff is crazy good. It’s lovely we’ve found a home for ourselves.”
Lockdown has been different for everyone for the past year - Pawsey and Keane have been busy to varying degrees, on personal and professional levels, but with lockdown changing our relationships to time and creative exploration, MueseuM are no different, keeping busy with putting a shape on this album, and assembling the next step.
“Because of the amount of time, first lockdown I was banging out tunes,” says Pawsey. “Then I decided to space things out for a bit, but it got to a stage before Christmas where I said, ‘Jesus, I’m not really doing anything, putting a lot of stuff off. So I’m pushing to be more creative: I’ve started writing screenplays, there’s another album cooking, and I’ve been working to keep occupied, so I can fall asleep at night.”
As discussed in these features over the past few months, the Cork scene will be a different place on the other side of the Covid crisis, in many ways, and collectively, we’re faced with a job of work in rebuilding the city’s music infrastructure. Products of the community on an individual and collective basis, the pair discuss what they’d like to see change as the post-pandemic picture becomes clear, and what needs to happen on a wider scale.
“We were complaining online about the development on Horgan’s Quay, a mixture of facadism and modern architecture at its least beautiful,” opines Keane. “We’d be giving out, but someone said, ‘take your pick, one of those offices is where ye’ll be practicing in the next ten years. Because there’s too much in the city.
“We’re badly served in the city, in terms of rehearsal spaces, and if that’s not addressed, it’s going to be trouble. Regarding venues, there’s always going to be someone taking a risk on people buying pints, and getting rubes like us in to play music. That’ll happen.
“The other thing, which will be crucial in the next decade, are publicly funded arts spaces. Capital and the arts are totally opposed. The market is not solving this problem, and those who are, are the people disavowed of that notion in about 18 months when they open a pub. We’re going to need publicly funded spaces, because people aren’t being provided for.
“The Events Centre isn’t going to happen, the Triskel caters to an older age group, so we’ll need a space to avoid the ongoing turnover of venues. And wouldn’t it be great to have it? There’s so much goodwill for public projects and people aren’t listening.”
‘DONTNOD’ is available now for streaming, download, and adding to your Bandcamp collection here, along with the rest of MueseuM’s discography.