Invisible Fields

Iarla Ó Lionáird, 2005

"This album was always going to be different," he says. "I did it in my own house, with a tight team that I trusted. There are no club beats. It's situated in the natural world, out of which I came and also where I live now. It started with birds. It was initially called 'Psalm for Birds'. It didn't work out that way finally, though birds are still in it. It goes out on birds. It's in part about the triumph of the natural world over religion. I've written new work for it, so there's a pushing forward. But there's also an archaeological aspect to it, a recovery of songs I'd long wanted to sing. It's more bespoke, more personal than other things I've done. I conceived it, wrote the new material, played on it, produced it. There's nothing on it that I didn't want, no pandering to anything. I wanted it to be experientially cohesive. I wanted to make the sound warm and fuzzy rather than clanky and mechanical. We worked hard at that. We used some synthesis but mainly real instruments, a lot of which I play myself. We were very careful about the microphones we used so that we'd get the right, warm sound.

"It's a very personal piece of work. It's about me, things I've felt and experienced. It's about children, how they can teach you and change you. Birds are there, stars too, things in the air, where sound is carried. It goes down into the darkness and back out. The first track is a key to it. It's about the transformative power of song and nature and how they hit me as a child, how I lifted off. You have to face up to what you are, and it was moments like that that made me a singer. The writing of it led to the writing of track five, 'The Day That You Were Born', a song for my daughter. I was thinking I'd be teaching her something, but she taught me. Track eight, 'Tuirimh Mhic Fhinin Dhuibh', is a lament we used to sing in the choir. I sang it for Gavin Bryars and asked him to imagine an arrangement with viola de gamba. It's dark as hell and he shines more black light into it. It comes back up again in track nine, 'Aurora', which derives from 'Ni Ceadmhach Neamhshuim' by Sean O Riordain, a poet from my village. It's about people's rights, their needs and the interconnectedness of life. My father introduced it to me. That's him and my mother speaking on the final track. I taped them from the radio. This is an abstract piece that goes back to where I'm from, where the album begins.

"The album is among other things a love song to the Irish language. I'm infinitely proud of this language. It has a beautiful, poetic sound. When I write in Irish it brings out a way of looking at things that I don't have in the English-speaking world. There's no need to refer to anything contemporary. When I listen to Darach O Cathain I think of the magnificence of the culture that produced that music and his singing of it. That culture is totemic for me. It's an anchor. Poetry and music can take you to it. Both were all around me in Cuil Aodha. Friends of mine told me they saw the Fianna walking on a hill. If you said that to someone in a pub in Dublin they'd think you were a fool. But poets aren't afraid to exchange visions. And music can blur the boundary between the real and the imaginary. It can get you to an exalted place. That's what draws me to it."

Reviews

  • Stetching the Sonic Limits Invisible Fields is one of those albums that's impossible to classify. Interspersed in the instrumentation and vocals are sampled voices, programmed loops, and unorthodox sounds. It's as if O Lionaird decided to combine Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds with an enigmatic Phillip Glass score and have Daniel Lanois and Sigur Ros orchestrate it. O Lionaird uses all of this to air out his amazing voice. Sonic limits are stretched to the point where he sometimes sounds as if he's on the brink of slipping into a new dimension. Sing Out (USA)
  • Heartbreaking balladry The listener is meant to hear that this is an ancient music, powerful and gut-wrenching. And so the listener does. All Music Guide
  • A remarkable dream of an album ...an album that perfectly encapsulates the poetic heart of Irish music....A remarkable dream of an album...O'Lionaird has created a masterwork of modern Irish music. Buffalo News (USA)
  • Mellow, ethereal and entrancing Mellow, ethereal and entrancing...Exceptional Sean Nos-style vocals conjoined with traditional and electronic sounds Maximum Ink (USA)
  • Countless reasons why you should own this album The ethereal voice of Afro Celt Sound System's Iarla O'Lionaird is only the first of countless reasons why you should own this album     O'Lionaird's compositions and interpretations of traditional songs map an Ireland both ancient and truly modern, blending a traditional Irish sung form with electronic soundscapes at once sweeping and stripped down. The meeting provides a bedrock for O'Lionaird's stunning voice, taking the listener on an almost filmic journey, plumbing depths of darkness, 'Oisin's Dream' and 'Lament for Black Finn's Son' and reaching mountainous heights in 'A Nest of Stars'. Imaginative constructions, bringing to mind those of Iceland's Sigur Ros are complemented with sounds of birds singing meet sampled voices whispering and synths, guitars, pianos. O'Lionaird sings in the sean nós tradition (a style of, usually, unaccompanied singing in Irish), and is generally seen as one of its most outstanding modern exponents, and he strays confidently from the formulaic; singing sometimes in English, sometimes in Gaelic, sometimes blending the two and adding accompaniment, without which critics of the form have been known to dismiss it as almost unlistenable. His distinctive, powerful vocals, chill in the lower register, and soar in the higher, and his passion for the Irish language comes through stronger than all other elements on Invisible Fields. Most of the instruments and arrangements are by O'Lionaird although he is joined by composer of renown, Gavin Bryars. O'Lionaird said of Bryars' arrangement of the traditional tune 'Tuirimh Mhic Fhinin Dhuibh': "It's dark as hell and he shines more black light into it," and of the album as a whole, the sparse arrangements augment well the potential of the lyrics, both traditional and original. Or you could forget all I've just written and listen to it as an outstanding chill-out album, either way it is truly superb. FLY Global Music Culture
  • The Force of Poetry From the first precise whisperings of "Gaelic" on track one, Invisible beguiles, mesmerises, surprises and sometimes stuns the listener. Its the sheer, unmitigated force of poetry that does it: Iarla Ó Lionáird's style of delivery makes you feel you understand every word, even if Gaelic is not your native tongue....If you thought Celtic music was fiddles, jigs and reels, this extraordinary album will be a platform for your transfiguration. If you are already an initiate, lie down in these magical fields of sound and prepare for the next Celtic Revival. www.bbc.co.uk
  • A 'Luminous.....Masterwork' "..a highly emotional record, with a vocal style that has an ecstatic abandon that is comparable to a devotional singer...The album's ten songs, many at their core traditional ones, are sung mostly in Gaelic, but the language is little bar to understanding. There is no time in "Invisible Fields". It's basis in sean-nos...is plain but O'Lionaird's orchestrations are utterly contemporary. He is aided in this masterwork by an intimate band of musicians....Listen closely and repeatedly for further rewards. It's that kind of album.: New Internationalist (UK)
  • 'Invisible Fields' is simply astounding, a dazzling series of soundscapes which marry Iarla's delicious voice to sensuous and redolent backing. All told, 'Invisible Fields' is a staggering melange of light and shade, thoroughly mesmerising, ever-challenging to the senses and emotions, and one which establishes Iarla Ó Lionáird as one of the most innovative forces in modern music. Songlines (UK)
  • ...otherworldly beauty. [Iarla] adopts an approach that combines modern magic with ancient mystery... his haunting voice is offset against the sort of electronic abstraction favoured by Iceland’s Sigur Rós. .... as Gaelic is one of the world’s most poetic tongues, literal meaning is rendered virtually irrelevant on a record of quite otherworldly beauty. The Times (UK)
  • Iarla marries the traditional sean nos style of Irish singing with modern sounds and instruments from the likes of Iceland's Sigur Ros and Royksopp. This is an album of rare beauty... Give it a try and prepare to be entranced. The Irish Post (Ireland)
  • Iarla Live at World Harp Congress, Dublin Iarla Ó Lionáird's superb reading of Carolan's Eleanor Plunkett raised the temperature perceptibly, his crystalline tone enveloping the tale in a swathe of velveteen, while his later contribution of Aisling Gheal was a timely reminder of his singular talent as his voice soared and swooped with the effortlessness only enjoyed by the truly gifted. Irish Times (UK)