Invisible Fields

Iarla Ó Lionáird

Released 22 August 2005

  1. A Nest of Stars
  2. Cu-cu-ín
  3. Taimse Im’ Chodladh
  4. I’m Weary Of Lying Alone
  5. The Day That You Were Born
  6. An Buachaillín Ban
  7. Oisin’s Dream
  8. Tuirimh Mhic Fhinin Dhuibh
  9. Aurora
  10. Scathán Na Beatha

Liner notes

This album was always going to be different. 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.

Photo credit: Perry Ogden

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 Ó Riordain, a poet from my village. It’s about people’s rights, their needs and the inter-connectedness 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. Iarla Ó Lionáird

When I listen to Darach Ó 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.

Iarla Ó Lionáird, 2005

The Sullane. Photo credit: Iarla Ó Lionáird

Miss Peg O’ Donoghue (Peig Ni Dhonnchadha – Peg Ni Ghonochua), about 78 in 1914. Illiterate. Has lived latterly in the English speaking end of the Parish. The best natural musician I met in the district. She can hum a tune without the words, and sing through a long verse in short sections, pausing, and even repeating sections, and scarcely ever alters the pitch in the process. She is infirm, emotional, excitable and I seldom could get down more than one short song at a sitting. When singing a complete song she becomes ecstatic.

A.M. Freeman, 1920

Reviews

  • [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)
  • '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)
  • A highly emotional record, with a vocal style that has an ecstatic abandon that is comparable to a devotional singer The New Internationalist (UK)
  • 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. BBC (UK)
  • Iarla marries the traditional sean-nós 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 (UK)

Listen

Credits

Iarla Ó Lionáird: vocals, harmonium, keyboards, samples and synthesisers; Kieran Lynch: guitars (1, 5), basses (1, 5), keyboards (1), programming (5); Graham Henderson: piano, harmonium (2, 3), hammered dulcimer (3, 7), guitar (6); Caroline Dale: cello (2, 7); Dirk Brauner: piano (9); Yungchen Lhamo: vocal sample (9); Tommy Lanigan: bodhran (2); MJ Carroll: guitars (5); Paul O’Byrne: drums (5); Ken McHugh: programming (1); Concordia: Mark Levy, Joanna Levine, Reiko Ichise, Susanne Heinrich, Emilia Benjamin: viols (8), directed by Mark Levy, session arranged by Jill Davies.

Vocal sample (2): Mrs Mairín Wiseman interviewed by Peadar Ó Riada, recording courtesy of Jeaic Ó Muircheartaigh, Raidio na Gaeltachta. Spoken word and atmospheric recording (9) of Esa Trunen, Head Scientist at Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory, by Anna Hill, Inaari, Finnish Lapland, The Arctic Circle. Vocal samples (10): Paidi Ó Lionáird, Micheal Ó Lionáird, Mairead Ó Lionáird, Micheal Ó Sé, recording courtesy of Jeaic Ó Muircheartaigh, Raidio na Gaeltachta.

Produced by Iarla Ó Lionáird. Produced by Kieran Lynch for Smalltone Productions. Recorded by Kieran Lynch at my home in County Kilkenny, December 2003 – December 2004. Track 8 recorded at Real World Studios, Wiltshire. Assistant Engineer: Marco Migliari. Mixed by Kevin Killen at Sevonay Sound, Chelsea, New York City, January 2005. Mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering, Portland, Maine.

A Real World Design by Marc Bessant. Portrait photography by York Tillyer. All other photography by Iarla Ó Lionáird.

Special thanks to Kieran Lynch for his dedication and vision. To all the musicians whose talents contributed so much to me and to the making of these recordings: MJ, Graham, Tommy, Caroline, Ken, Paul, Dirk, Yungchen Lhamo, Gavin Bryars, Mark Levy, Joanna Levine, Reiko Ichise, Susanne Heinrich, Emilia Benjamin, thank you all so much! My wife Eimear and our children Liam, Éabha and Iseult. My parents Micheál and Mairéad Uí Lionáird. Kevin Killen for his humour, generosity and wise counsel. My manager Mary Hickson. Randy Ezratty, Sevonay Sound. Amanda Jones, Sue Johnson, Sophie Beck, Owen Leech and Peter Gabriel at Real World. My publishers Rob Bozas and Annie Reed. Dirk Brauner for his continuing support. James McNally for the generous loan of his guitars and harmonium. Tim Goulding and Ivan Pawle. Donal Lunny. Pete Havard and Gwen Alexander at Korg UK. Douglas Dougherty at DACS Audio. Michael Browne and Oron at Bigbear Sound in Dublin. Eamonn and Fearghal at Digidesign in Dublin. Peter Moloney Pianos, Midleton, County Cork. Micheal Ó Sé, Radio na Gaeltachta Baile na nGall. Mairín Wiseman, Peadar Ó Riada, Paidi Ó Lionáird, Liam Ó Muirthile who, many years ago, introduced me to the ‘Laoithe Fiannuidheachta’ text which inspired the track ‘Oisin’s Dream’. Jeaic Ó Muircheartaigh, Raidio na Gaeltachta. Caoimhin Ó Marcaigh, Sáirséal Ó Marcaigh, Dublin. Anna Hill. Dr. Sean Ó Suilleabhain, Irish Department, University College, Cork. Special thanks to Barrow Nore Suir Rural Development Agency for supporting the making of this record.

Also thanks to Paul Scully, Steve Cooney, Noel Hill, Chris Stout, Jens Uhl, Donal Dineen. Nicholas Carolan, Joan McDermott and all the team at the Irish Traditional Music Archive, My Brother Tim.

Further Listening

  • Foxlight

    Iarla Ó Lionáird

    Released 26 September 2011

    For his third solo album, Foxlight, the acclaimed singer Iarla Ó Lionáird delivers an impassioned and sublime set of personal songs, combining the twin urges to write more new material and yet also work with an intriguing set of collaborators including guitarist and producer, Leo Abrahams.
  • Acoustic

    The Breath

    Released 11 August 2017

    Recorded at Real World Studios, these are four acoustic interpretations of tracks from the The Breath's debut album Carry Your Kin. Stuart McCallum's stripped back guitar beautifully frames Ríoghnach Connolly's moving vocals —at times heartbreakingly sad, always deeply moving.

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