Formed in 2014 and based in Dublin, Slow Moving Clouds is a contemporary Irish trio comprised of Kevin Murphy on cello and vocals, Finnish multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Aki on nyckelharpa and Ultan O’Brien (who replaced founding member Danny Diamond in December 2018) on fiddle and vocals. The band seamlessly juxtapose influences from the Irish and Nordic folk traditions to interpret old tunes and new compositions which blend a modern classical sound with post-rock and drone-based music.
Following on from their 2015 début Os, Starfall is the trio’s second album. Released in CD format on 21 September 2018 last and available from the band’s website, Starfall is also available digitally on PEOPLE/37d03d, the artist-led collective co-founded by Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner.
The Slow Moving Clouds project originates from two distinct partnerships. Formed in the early 2010s by Danny Diamond and Aki, the fiddle and nyckelharpa/accordion duet Danny & Aki set about to explore an Irish and Nordic repertoire, finding a common ground between the two traditions. The duo released “Music from the Irish, American and Nordic Traditions” in 2012.
In parallel, Aki also became a regular live performer with Kevin Murphy’s modern classical and cello-based band Seti the First with multi-instrumentalist Thomas Haugh. A magnificent cinematic crossover project fusing classical influences with contemporary rock sounds, Seti the First have released two albums to date in digital format – Melting Cavalry in April 2012 and The Wolves of Summerland in November 2016.
Loch na hEala
Music for Swan Lake/Loch na hEala is also a project that informs to a large extent the recent compositions of Slow Moving Clouds. An adaptation of Swan Lake set in the Irish midlands, Loch na hEala was written, directed and choreographed by Michael Keegan-Dolan, founder of dance and theatre work company Teaċ Daṁsa. Borrowing from the original ballet as well as from Celtic legends like The Children of Lir, the contemporary choreography premiered at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2016.
New music was commissioned by the company and 15 pieces were arranged or composed by Slow Moving Clouds to illustrate the show. Since the premiere, Swan Lake/Loch na hEala has toured the world to visit London, Stuttgart, Wellington, Sydney, Seoul, Toronto and Moscow with the trio performing the music live on stage.
The trailer for Swan Lake/Loch na hEala featuring “First Breath” by Slow Moving Clouds
Music for Swan Lake/Loch na hEala was released digitally on 28 January 2018 last, and five pieces from the soundtrack – “Downfall of Paris”, “First Breath”, “Droghedy”, “Swansong/Starfall” and “Party Polskas” (as “Trin”) were included in Starfall.
People turning things upside down
Born during a first gathering of artists in Berlin in 2016, the PEOPLE platform was officially launched in August 2018. “We are a steadily growing group of artists”, reads the collective’s manifesto, “freely creating and sharing our work with each other and everyone. We call it 37d03d, or a collective of people. People turning things upside down.”
Sonically, Starfall edges a lot closer towards the post-rock and experimental soundscapes of Seti the First while perhaps also channelling the energy of the live performances for a modern and multi-disciplinary choreography. While still revolving around a Celtic/Nordic axis, the Slow Moving Clouds sound has a more urban feel, as the two official videos for the album released to date seem to indicate.
Superbly recorded and arranged, the bass register provided by the cello is much more prominent and the vocal layers on almost every song were brought forward in the mix.
Opening the album, the pizzicato-driven “First Breath” exudes a fantastic urgency and eventually morphs into a quasi-anthemic post-rock chorus. Two songs with nonsensical lyrics that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Sigur Rós record, “Under the City” and “Drops” are underpinned by a superb string ostinato. The traditional “Ash Plant” reel gets a post-modern treatment with exquisite harmonies on cello, fiddle and vocals while “Droghedy” looms as a drone-based ambient theme.
Backwards to go Forwards
The music of Slow Moving Clouds also features on two recent documentaries – Myles O’Reilly’s Backwards to go Forwards (2018) and Lomax in Éirinn (2018). The latter chronicles the visit to the west coast of Ireland in 1951 by American song collector Alan Lomax with piper and singer Seamus Ennis as his guide.
Before Lomax arrived in Ireland, there had been very few recordings of Irish music made here. If he hadn’t made the trip, we wouldn’t have this really precious store of music from that time. Danny Diamond
New emerging technologies like the tape recorder and the LP record helped the making and worldwide broadcasting as an LP record of World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Vol. 2: Ireland (1951) – the first recorded survey of Irish traditional music. All interviewees acknowledge the importance of a record that sparked the folk revival of the 1970s which continues to this day.
With its integration of a centuries-old traditional repertoire with contemporary compositions and its introduction of the nyckelharpa in a unique line-up, Slow Moving Clouds thrives splendidly alongside several Irish-based bands also “turning things upside down” by digging deep into the riches of the tradition in Ireland and elsewhere to promote a novel sound. The Gloaming of course with its spellbinding blend of sean nós singing and traditional dance tunes with the sound of the Hardanger d’Amore and contemporary piano. Ensemble Ériu mixing jigs and reels with clarinet and marimba in a minimalist setting. This is How we Fly also exploring a Nordic/Irish/American repertoire with a step dancer taking centre stage. An Tara revisiting the repertoire with an Indian sarode.
A traditional Swedish instrument which is both keyed and bowed, the nyckelharpa is mainly used to perform a baroque or Nordic folk repertoire. But as witnessed by recent projects like the Inventio duo of Marco Ambrosini and Jean-Louis Matinier, the instrument becomes prime material for the sonic innovations of an open minded, experimental and post-rock-inclined string-based trio like Slow Moving Clouds.