Risteard Mulcahy

On the Survival of Humanity

On The Survival of Humanity is intended to be read at one sitting, where you will discover on each of the 52 pages, the ripeness of cogency and visionary thought which is the gift of age and sagacity – the author is in his tenth decade – and methodical observation, and yet for a treatise it is executed in a spirited English, and reminds me of E. M. Forster’s review of Twenty Years A Growing by Maurice O’Sullivan: ‘here is the egg of a sea bird-lovely, perfect, and laid this very morning.’

Mulcahy’s cogitation about the present state and future of the planet is based fundamentally on the premise of scientific evidence, which points to a dystopian (CHECK) future of diminishing natural resources, over population and rising sea water: as coastal cities flood, millions will migrate inland, and sardine claustrophobia will follow.

The author, in what is his twelfth and last book, revels in the forensic attention to detail of his former trade (cardiologist), but his dialectic is neither cumbersome nor over wrought by an over dependence on numerical facts; much of what he deduces is self-evident insofar as he is both an acute observer and active participant in the world around him.

The devil, as usual, is in the detail, but on quantifiable evidence Mulcahy is on terra firma: despite an estimated six per-cent fall in the fertility rate in the past half-century, he argues that it is unrealistic to think that the predicted increase in global population is sustainable, considering the planet’s struggle with 7.3 billion, and growing.

“We might understand that those who believe in God and a better world hereafter might be less concerned about our future here on Earth, but the godless at least should be cognisant of our criminal neglect of nature and the future of our children and the natural world, on which we depend for existence,” he writes.

Mulcahy is echoing sentiments which have been expressed with equal passion since the turn of the millennium: Brain McCallum and Alison Benjamin in A World Without Bees, argued that agriculture will collapse, followed by civilisation, if the world stands idle and allows the collapse of honeybee populations.

Photographer James Balog founded the Extreme Ice Survey in 2006 to create a memory bank of ice sheets that are sucked into oblivion, by using 35 solar powered time-lapse cameras to take up to 12,000 frames a year: the geologic clock ridiculously sped up global warming.

Is redemption out of reach? Mulcahy’s perfect storm is that the huge increases in population size – he urges the Pope to be frank and open on the question of birth control – are having a profound effect on the planet in terms of CO2 and temperature, and it remains unclear if political leaders are looking in the wrong places for the right answers. On the Survival of Humanity is a thoughtful and incisive work, intelligible and argumentative, with no loss of intellectual or emotional wattage in what is a compressed volume. You may contribute a verse, said Whitman, and Risteard Mulcahy has.

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Poems of 1916

Writing in a foreword to a new collection of selected poems by Padraig Pearse, which include half a dozen poems in English, three times as many in Irish and English, and half a dozen in Irish, (published by New Island Books), the playwright Eugene McCabe procrastinates about Pearse the writer and Pearse the man, perhaps because there are many contradictions to both, but finally, he quotes lines from The Wayfarer, when the poet was under sentence of death, and which remained with him all his life.

Thus moved, McCabe recalled an occasion, Easter in 1952, when he was among a clique of students at UCC who heard Sean O’Riada quote Mise Eire, again by Pearse, and for which the musician and composer would later write music. I suspect that McCabe’s questioning of his emotional response to both words and poems (‘Is there a word to describe that kind of emotion? Nationalism? Tribalism? Atavism?: whatever it means it’s something we should now be wary of (this was 1993); it can make wise men think and do very unwise things) is something writers have pondered approaching the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

The Peace Process in the North has since cleared the pitch for writers, artists and musicians to reclaim the aesthetic undercurrent which coursed through the veins of many of the architects of the Rising, from Pearse in Dublin to Robert Brennan in Wexford. Their alma mater was, certainly for Pearse and Thomas MacDonagh, the Gaelic League and the unfathomable well of ancient Irish myth. McCabe connects the root of myth with martyr, fable and sacrifice, a justification of the irrational and dangerous.

Oliver Sheppard statue of Cuchulainn in the GPO, unveiled in 1966, epitomises the commitment to self-sacrifice of the leaders of 1916. The Volunteers in Enniscorthy had less interest in killing people, than killing themselves. Pearse, in Aspects of Irish Literature, wrote: ‘For the story of Cuchulainn symbolises the redemption of man by a sinless God.’ Heavy stuff for someone who was just 18.

The prescient Yeats noted: ‘Pearse is a dangerous man; he has the vertigo of self sacrifice.’ Yeats’ A Terrible Beauty reflects how deeply he was affected by the Rising, and he reappraises the personalties of those involved. McCabe, however, writing 23 years ago as the North imploded, believed that the ‘terrible beauty’ had long since grown bitter and savage. ‘It is time to bury the dead things, dig it over and plant again.’

With Fuil Ar An Ros (Blood on the Rose), Poems of 1916, the patch has been dug up, fertilised and the harvest is in. The aforementioned poems scrutinised by McCabe are included in this recording of 21 pieces associated with the Rising, beautifully and sympathetically wrought by a trifecta of writers, actors and musicians, and each segued by Tristan Rosenstock’s understated production.

Take, for one, Cathal Quinn’s reading of The Wayfarer, the poem which so moved McCabe, and its deliverance is a rebuttal of a lazy perception of the poet. Leave aside the martyr marinated in an immovable vacuum, and consider the flowering of humanity (‘the beauty of the world has made me sad, the beauty that will pass.’) in a man hours away from whistling his way to summary execution.

There is reflection too in the pitch perfect delivery of Francis Ledwidge’s Lament for Thomas MacDonagh which, like The Wayfarer, was written in a sort of confinement, while the soldier poet was in barracks.  Seamus Heaney felt that Ledwidge’s Lament ‘vaguely belongs to the moment of 1916’ and his note plays in with poems like Joseph Mary Plunkett’s I See His Blood Upon the Rose, translated in this collection by Gabriel Rosenstock; the poet was seen as somebody ‘who sang to sweeten Ireland’s wrong.’ An alternative impression, mused Heaney, was one of political ambivalence.

Heaney’s poem, far too long for consideration for this recording, In Memoriam Francis Ledwidge, appeared in a Selected Poems volume, published also by New Island Books, and he captures the agonised consciousness of the age, an omniprescent shade – if you look for it – throughout Blood on the Rose.

 

I think of you in your Tommy’s uniform

A haunted Catholic face, pallid and brave,

Ghosting the trenches like a bloom of hawthorn

Or silence cored from a Boyne passage grave.

If you believe, as Auden said, that poems are better heard than read, and if you can conceive of the notion of the spoken word and music liberating the word from the bondage of the pallid page, and if you can go one step further and absorb both work and performance in Blood on the Rose as, admittedly, haunting, but also beautiful, you are a step closer to Wilfred Owen’s warmth which lulls the dreaming lids.

Blood on the Rose also refers to Plunkett’s poem, one of ‘exalted vision’, believes  Rosenstock, with a central image or metaphor which is, coincidentally, mirrored by Great War veteran and composer, Arthur Bliss, in his Morning Heroes, an oratorio with poems by Homer, Whitman, Owen and Li Tai Po’s translation of Virgil’s ‘the blood falls upon the white rose and turns it red,’ a new recording which has just been released by Chandos.

On Blood on the Rose, Irish-language writer and poet Gabriel Rosenstock translated some of the poems into Irish, while actress Geraldine Plunkett also recites some of the poems, alongside actor and voice coach Cathal Quinn and musician and academic Síle Denvir.

Musical accompaniments are provided by some of Ireland’s best-known traditional musicians, including Enda Reilly, Sadhbh Ní Fhloinn, Oisín MacDiarmada and John Blake.  The album was produced by Tristan Rosenstock and released by the arts collective Guthanna Binne Síoraí / Everlasting Voices

 

Vellamo

A first time for everything: a Finnish album scored by the duo of Pia Leinonen and Joni Tiala, a Lapland vocalist and a guitarist from the port of Kokkola.

You picture Finland and you think cold but Koskenkla is imbued with a surge of warmth from Tiala’s sumptuous guitar and the duo’s infectious lyrics.

Vellamo is led by Leinonen and Tiala, but behind them is a band with enough finesse to gild their bright and breezy lyrics with filaments of gold.

Though Scandinavian use and understanding of English errs on the side of caution and clarity, Vallamo get away with almost anything because the rhythm is joined at the hip to the lyrics.

While Koskenkyla opens inauspiciously with Tule kanssani sisar, which is sung in the mother tongue, there is an ebullience to the playing which suggests a band comfortable in its zone.

Colours of the Meadow, in English, fulfils the expectations of Tule kanssani sisar, and while the words meander, as they do also on Palmikko, Sina ajat and Elama on hauras, the journey is nonetheless worthwhile.

I am unfamiliar, for the time being, with their earlier albums, recorded in quick succession in 2013 and 2014, but I can only assume that the influences on Koskenkyla – Fairport Convention, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez – were prevalent then.

Undoubtedly, Vallamo, who have among their ranks a really great bassist in Janne Ylikorpi, is a tight unit comfortable in its skin, and the sound and freshness of the recording is akin to studio jazz.

Therein is its appeal: yes, the vocal is ethereal, but not always, and the guitar is virtuosic, if on the verge of retro, but there isn’t a single dull moment on Koskenkyla, an album which should be played loud in the garden on a summer’s afternoon.

Pia Leinonen and Joni Tiala are as light as driftwood, and it is Ylikorpi’s bass and the drumming of Timo Tikkamaki which curbs their drifting too far out.

Per Oddvar Johansen

 

 

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Let’s Dance is in-demand Norwegian drummer ’s most mature musical statement yet.Already the veteran of many recordings (including work with Trygve Seim, Christian Wallumrød, The Source, Solveig Slettahjell, Adam Baldych and Vigleik Storaas for ECM, ACT, Jazzland, Universal and others), he has assembled this trio with long standing collaborators pianist Helge Lien and avant-garde saxophonist Torben Snekkestad to record an album of his own compositions.

Although he has recorded on over 80 albums, this is his first as leader.
Meditative, beautiful, stately and austere, the songs on Let’s Dance are the product of a finely tuned musicianship, developing along an organic and entirely natural and unique path, each intensely satisfying and fulfilling.

Per Oddvar’s propulsive rhythms underlie each tune but never attempt to dominate. If there is a dance to be danced it’s a tranquil, dignified and sedate dance – a folk dance celebrating a grave and solemn moment.

Oddvar  wanted to try and compose music with a rubato (no set tempo), lyrical and open soundscape. To achieve this, he wrote long sheets and taking control over the whole structure and tonal landscape.

This allowed his musicians the possibility to shape and direct the music in the moment. Per Oddvar Johansen was born in Oslo on March 1, 1968.  He lived in Asker, and played in several rock bands in Bærum before attending the Jazz Program at Trondheim Music Conservatory. Here, he met among others Trygve Seim and Christian Wallumrød, and a long-lasting cooperation began.

In 1994 they toured with Kenny Wheeler and in 1995 The Source, a band that has left a profound mark on the Norwegian Jazz scene, performed with the rock band Motorpsycho at Kongsberg Jazz Festival.

In 2006 he played in a supergroup with Joshua Redman, Arild Andersen and Bugge Wesseltoft, and in 2011 joined forces with with Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Dave Holland, both at Moldejazz. He is the recipient of six Spellemannprisen – the Norwegian Grammy.