Eoghan Neff is a fiddler, researcher and lecturer based in Ennis who has already performed extensively on the international stage either as a solo artist, as the NeffBros duet with his brother and piper Flaithrí or as part of the Riverdance band. Informed by a love for the physicality of the acoustic fiddle and for vintage analogue audio and video equipment, unrecalled is a series of experimental duets with like-minded “radical sonic explorers”. Based on fragments of traditional Irish tunes recomposed using live looping – a technique the musician already experimented with on his 2011 début Week One – the collection works also as “a dialogue about our relationship with memory”. Eoghan Neff’s unrecalled was self-released on 14 October 2021 as a digital album and CD art-box.

Eoghan Neff - unrecalled (2021)
Eoghan Neff – unrecalled (2021)

Based on a setting of Jenny’s Chickens reel, the extended opening track “masonic girls” introduces the overall concept of unrecalled. Eoghan Neff’s superimposed rhythmic phrases derived from the plucked, brushed, strummed or bowed fiddle strings are performed live and then stacked, reversed or played back at various speeds alongside Spanish drummer L.A.R. Legido’s prepared drums and found percussion. The concluding beats and chiming chords are then splintered further through various tape loop processing.

“caite” features the sound of a vintage brass car hooter from experimental jazz musician Seán Mac Erlaine’s arsenal of unusual woodwind instrument. “arú” beautifully pairs Eoghan Neff’s looping motifs derived from “Condon’s Frolics” jig with Germán Díaz’s prepared zanfona, the Spanish version of the hurdy-gurdy. Between the two instruments, the overlapping droning and buzzing strings generate hypnotic overtones and scratching-like rhythms in true turntablism fashion. Based on a song, “is cailín beag mise” becomes a slow air drenched in reverb alongside Sean Carpio’s processed drums.

As well as a sonic investigation – Foley artist Caoimhe Doyle, Anxo Lorenzo’s Galician Gaita, Atli Örvarsson’s modified Una Corda piano can also be heard on the recording – unrecalled is a reflection on memory and the process of remembering.

The physical version comes as a mini art-box with the CD mimicking a vintage View-Master reel. Originally designed as 3D stereoscopic slide viewers, View-Masters were popular in the 1940s and 1950s and were used as toys or to display popular tourist attractions.

There are also archival black and white photographs of early 20th century views of County Galway from the National Folklore Collection, postage stamps graphics, charcoal drawings, various scrubbed notes and guides, all pointing to various memory aids used over the years alongside sheet music, recordings and video footage to capture elements of what is essentially an oral tradition passed down from generation to generation.

All the music on unrecalled is performed live and processed in real time using phrase looping and analogue tape looping without any electronics, overdubbing or post production mixing. This particular technical approach mirrors the natural and cyclical nature of traditional Irish music which is entirely based on repetition – the repetition of recurring motifs within the tune as well as the repetition of the same tune over time in sessions, on stage, on recordings etc. Performing a traditional tune which has been played thousands of times before is therefore a way of remembering past composers. It also signifies a never ending “re-composition” of the piece for the present whereby the performer will add his or her own stamp depending his or her experience, cultural influences and the context on the day. This established and infinite feedback loop thus constantly generates new compositions which may or may not survive as they will go through the same filtering process.

Eoghan Neff’s unrecalled interrogates this process by stitching together all these multiple musical and visual strands. It also plays like a delightful sonic companion to Gerry Diver’s 2012 Speech Project, another tape loop undertaking focusing on the pitches and rhythms of traditional Irish musician’s voices from archival and contemporary interviews.