Formed in 2010 and featuring The Gloaming‘s Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (Hardanger d’Amore), Seán Mac Erlaine (clarinets & electronics), Nic Gareiss (percussive dance) and Petter Berndalen (drums), This is How We Fly is a contemporary folk group sometimes venturing into jazz and electronica whose centre of gravity lies somewhere between Ireland, the United States and Sweden. With each musician bringing his own musical experience to the mix, This is How We Fly’s music is a startling new brand of instrumental inventiveness. The band’s second album Foreign Fields was released on Petter Berndalen’s label Playing With Music on 15 September 2017 last in digital, CD and limited 12’’ Vinyl editions.
With a line up equally divided between melodic and rhythmic elements, the band seem to function at times as two intertwining duets. But what makes This is How we Fly’s sound truly unique is how composition takes place. A lot of music traditions around the world have evolved along a dance music repertoire. Often as a separate entity, the dancers are there to express the rhythm of the music with a sequence of figures, sets or solo steps.
In an interesting reversal of roles, This is How we Fly’s rhythm section takes centre stage. Petter Berndalen’s polyrhythms lead and shape the tunes in conversation with the percussive step dancing of Nic Gareiss (“Duck Egg”). Fiddle and clarinet provide counterpoint, harmony and colour. The dancer then visualises the movement and lift of the music in a magnetic fashion – hence the importance of live performances for the band.
Foreign Fields was recorded live in Dublin’s Fumbally Stables in front of a small audience over three days at the end of January 2017. The recording captures to perfection the thrilling urgency of live performances. Each take is also a snapshot of how the band interacted with each other and with the audience on a particular night – the improvisational nature of the music naturally bringing huge variations from performance to performance.
Expertly recorded, a careful listening of the album quickly reveals an incredibly subtle and rich soundscape which captures every rhythmic, melodic and tonal variation. Constantly emphasising the role of Nic Gareiss as a fully-fledged musical contributor, percussive tracks like “The feet” and “Tí Mór” almost venture into glitch electronica and even jungle mode when coupled with the cadenced loops of Petter Berndalen.
With its five sympathetic strings vibrating below the five fiddle strings, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s signature Hardanger d’Amore is a three-dimensional instrument. Paired with Seán Mac Erlaine clarinets, both draw from Irish, Scottish and Scandinavian traditional elements. Yet, creativity and originality remain the modus operandi within the band, and bar one traditional air (“Lonesome Road”) which is a live reprise of the same track concluding their début release, all tracks on the live album are new compositions that on the whole have a Nordic slant.
Four short solo interludes (“The Feet”, “The Drums”, “The Clarinet” and “The Fiddle”) point to the individual visionary work of each four musicians – Nic Gareiss’ original commission work, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s quasi avant-garde solo records, Seán Mac Erlaine’s ambient and immersive improvisations for woodwind instruments and Petter Berndalen’s quest to interpret the fiddle-based Swedish folk music on drums.
With the standout title track and “Rí Rua” both encapsulating This is How we Fly’s visual and high wire balancing act between rhythmic and melodic improvisation in a live setting, Foreign Fields is a remarkably original endeavour.