Based in Dublin, Úna Keane is a modern classical pianist who thrives on a multi-disciplinary approach to performance by blending classical instrumentation with electronics, spoken word and visuals. Collaboration between musicians of different backgrounds is a favourite practice and can take many forms – from extensive rehearsals of a common repertoire to off-the-cuff and impromptu live sessions. Performed and recorded on 5 March 2020 last, Úna Keane’s live album Collaborations belongs to the latter category and boasts a small ensemble of like-minded musicians.
Alongside Úna Keane on upright piano, electronics…and typewriter, the record features songwriter Lōwli on grand piano, electronic musician (and half of Mount Alaska) Stephen Shannon on pads, ambient composer Gareth Quinn Redmond on violin, singer Ronán Conroy on organ and Hothouse Flowers frontman Liam Ó Maonlaí on tin whistle, bodhran and vocals. Collaborations came out digitally on 27 November 2020 last and was subsequently released in a sumptuous vinyl edition in the summer of 2021.
The repertoire performed is either drawn from Úna Keane’s previous two solo piano recordings – namely As I wake, Still I Dream (2017) and In the Deep (2019) – or completely improvised. Each piece therefore immediately acquires “a new exuberance and playfulness” lent by the risk-taking nature of the live performance on the night. The sound of birds chirping on “Silvaticus/Sunrise” or of schoolchildren peeping on “When You Don’t Push” also anchors the set in a warm ambient soundscape throughout.
Pure in-the-flow improvisation […] I had suggested the key of C Minor, but apart from that, it was wide open, and the piece took a few twists and turns over the course of its 8 minutes. We listened to one another and responded in kind.
As epitomised by tracks like “Hollow”, “Rivers” or “As the Mood Takes You”, sparks start to fly when all members of the small cast start bouncing ideas off each other as they perform together “mostly for the first time”. As well as that, the minor key signatures, the sparse electronics and the nature theme pervading most of the album elegantly evoke at times the music of the late Mayo pianist Conor Walsh.
The concert venue itself and its unique acoustic qualities also play a huge part on the night. The show was held in St Stephen’s Church, a familiar Georgian landmark in city centre Dublin which features on the cover artwork of the album in a vintage black and white portrait. Still active as a place of worship for both traditions, the church is also a popular venue for regular live events – from classical music lunchtime concerts to traditional music, electronic or jazz gigs. Affectionately referred to as the “Pepper Canister” due to the unusual shape of its spire, the sacred space – and its 18th century organ – becomes an enchanting acoustic environment infused with a distinctive resonance in which the musicians revel.
Towards the end of “Seas Ascending”, the last collective semi-improvisation on the night, “I had my hands in my lap sitting at the piano and was just taking it all in” writes Úna Keane – just like the listener, clearly basking in the quiet contemplative and electro-acoustic delight of Collaborations.