O Vis Aeternitatis

I only discovered Seán Mac Erlaine’s music a few months ago when I heard his version of “O Vis Aeternitatis” on the saxophone. It was one of those epiphanic moments when a piece of music resonates instantly. I was familiar with the piece from the 12th century mystic Hildegard of Bingen through the 1994 seminal recording by early music ensemble Sequentia Canticles of Ecstasy, but I had never heard it played on the saxophone. I immediately associated this particular track with Scandinavian reed players like Jan Garbarek or Trygve Seim. Or John Surman maybe? It turned out the song came from a recording by Irish musician Seán Mac Erlaine.

Long after the music is gone

Based in Dublin, Seán Mac Erlaine is an experimental saxophone and clarinet player composing mainly in the jazz idiom with live electronics. A versatile musician, Seán Mac Erlaine is also performing regularly with visual artists and is currently touring with contemporary Irish folk band This is how we fly. Released in August 2012 on the Ergodos record label, his solo recording is introduced as “a meditation on Irish landscape”. Composed and recorded following a residency in rural Leitrim in the summer of 2011, Long after the music is gone is performed on the soprano, bass clarinet and alto saxophone and is underpinned by restrained electronics. The cover’s artwork – ‘Buried Clay Sugar’ (2010) by Dominic Thorpe – and the title of tracks like “Clayography I, II & III”, “Buried Light” or “Quarried Light” all point to a recurring “earth” theme.

Sean Mac Erlaine - Long after the music is gone (2012)
Sean Mac Erlaine – Long after the music is gone (2012)

“The arrival of spring is a miracle of the richest colour” wrote late poet and philosopher John O’Donoghue (1956 – 2008) whose work is rooted in the contemplation of the Irish landscape and whom the three-part track “Clayography” is dedicated to.

Yet, we always think to forget that all of these beautiful colours have been born in darkness. The dark earth is the well out of which colour flows […] Think of the beautiful high contours of mountains lifting up the earth, the music of streams and the fluent travel of rivers linking the solid silence of landmasses with the choruses of the ocean […] Think of yourself and feel how you belong so deeply on the earth and how you are a tower of longing in which nature rises up and comes to voice. We are the children of the clay who have been released so that the earth may dance in the light.  John O’Donohue – “Eternal Echoes”, Bantam Press, 1998.

Amhrán na Leabhar

Beautifully illustrated by DJ and visual artist Donal Dineen, “Amhrán na Leabhar” (the song of the books) is a modern take on a 19th century song composed by Irish poet and schoolteacher Tomás Rua Ó Súilleabháin (1785 – 1848). The song laments the loss of the poet’s entire library of leather-bound books due to an accidental shipwreck in West Kerry and is often played as a slow air. Crossing over genres and centuries, Seán Mac Erlaine’s gorgeous version set to the refreshing sound of woodwind instruments is still lingering…“long after the music is gone”.