“We didn’t plan anything, we just started to play…”
Cormac Byrne and Adam Summerhayes release their début record ‘Stone Soup’ in May 2019. It is the result of the collaboration between two extraordinarily diverse and celebrated musicians: BBC award-winning Irish percussionist, Cormac Byrne (“startling percussion work” – The Guardian) and internationally renowned UK fiddler, Adam Summerhayes (“astonishing, all-out virtuosity” – The New York Times). Together, they create astounding music for the 21st Century that defies definition. Combining elements of their own deep musical traditions, their music is both “utterly compelling” (BBC Music Magazine) and “bridges the gap between Ireland and the world” (The Sunday Business Post).
New album: Stone Soup
Label/Cat No: Extinct Records/ Nimbus Alliance N16373
UK release date: 5 May 2019
Sun, April 28 Cormac Byrne & Adam Summerhayes
Costa del Folk, Ibiza
Mainstage from 2pm
Folk Club from 10.30
Mon, May 6 Cormac Byrne & Adam Summerhayes – supporting Show of Hands
Greenwich Cutty Sark, London, UK
Fri, May 10 Cormac Byrne & Adam Summerhayes – supporting Show of Hands
St Laurence’s Church, Ludlow, UK
Wed, May 22 Cormac Byrne & Adam Summerhayes – supporting Show of Hands
ARC, Stockton-on-Tees, UK
Thurs, May 23 Cormac Byrne & Adam Summerhayes – supporting Show of Hands
The Civic, Barnsley, UK
Fri, May 24 Cormac Byrne & Adam Summerhayes – supporting Show of Hands
The Stables, Milton Keynes, UK
“It was a simple idea, born out of an engaging conversation one night around a farmhouse kitchen table in the picturesque Derbyshire Dales. We talked through the night, far beyond the dawn chorus. It was never meant to be more than just a chat. But as we talked and spiralled into a frenzy of shared ideas, philosophies and passions, a seed was sown and it formed an idea, which in turn grew into an experiment. This album is the result of that experiment.
Our goal was to create something from that very sacred space that lies between composition and improvisation. Fascinated by the unique energy generated live where performer and audience are lockedin a moment of unplanned creativity, a moment where anything and everything can happen, we vowed to delve into this pool of creativity and unleash its energy onto record.
We booked the studio dates but planned no further. Our intention was to create an album of Bodhrán and Fiddle music. The night before the session I called Adam (Summerhayes). I had been practising late into the night and was overcome with a strange sensation. It was a sense of somehow being un-prepared for the challenge that lay ahead, coupled with a slightly unsettled feeling about the unfamiliar process. The normal pre-recording procedures of planning ideas, learning charts, practising tracks and memorising notes had been relinquished. The tracks did not exist yet. There were no notes to learn. There were no charts to follow. Adam shared the same apprehensions, much to my relief. Could we possibly succeed in producing a coherent album in this way? Perhaps it was over-ambitious! We were both engulfed by a nervous excitement for what was about to unfold and decided to abandon ourselves to the process, accepting that this experiment may not work. We were driven to complete it regardless. Whatever would happen, we were certain to gain valuable insight by doing it.
Unprepared? We pondered. Perhaps we had never been more ready. Perhaps the preparation was formed in every single note we had ever played up to that moment, every performance, every studio session, every experience we ever had both good and bad, conscious and unconscious.
As the recording session grew ever closer, it became clear that making an album of solely bodhrán and fiddle music would somehow not tell the full story. Why impose those limitations anyway? Artistically we had more to offer and could enrich this music with diverse flavours. Inspired by the folk tale of the ‘Stone Soup’, we began to assemble raw ingredients. I scanned my rehearsal space for the appropriate additional sounds, seeking to include instruments that I had yet to experiment with in recording. I grabbed my berimbau and marimbula – enhancing new flavours to add to our ‘soup’. Energised by the idea of incorporating exotic and disparate tuning systems, Adam packed a very special fiddle: an alluring old instrument he found in a junk shop. It sat alongside his most cherished fiddle with sonic ease.
We stood facing each other in the studio. The microphones were live. The red light was on. We didn’t plan anything, we just started to play. I lifted the berimbau and, with stick and caxixi in hand, began to play out a series of long notes, transforming into a simple phrase. Adam’s bow eased onto the fiddle and entered with a curiously matching tone. The process had begun.
Each track, one by one, found its feet and fell into form. Often a track flowed from beginning to end in a single take. Other times we’d record a segment, listen back and feel where to go from there. Each idea informed the next: the keys, the rhythm, the time signatures, the modes. Adam might play a short phrase on the fiddle and I’d tune ether the bodhrán or berimbau to form a bass drone that could underpin the tracks to give a sense of harmony. Other ideas might ignite from a simple spark such as a bodhrán rhythm, sound or feel and we would embrace it. Everything happened fast and in a state of free flow. There was little time to think. We did not follow a set recipe rather each track was created from the starting point of improvisation. The tracks would rise and fall in the moment and pause for breath when that was needed. They would simmer when it felt right or come to the boil as our energies rose. We’d take stock of the improvisations and garnish with diverse sounds and techniques to add flavour. We experimented greatly with our instruments, using everything from hand scrapes on the Bodhrán skin, to brushes and pipes, diverse fiddle tunings and percussive effects on the strings. Each idea infused the sound with a rich aroma. We put a microphone inside the gourd of the berimbau, getting a huge resonance to flood the palate with flavour. We’d taste and then season until just right. Some tracks needed special attention to perfect the balance of flavours. With others, we let the raw ingredients speak for themselves.
The order in which the album appears is almost identical to that in which it was recorded. The process took us on a journey and the order of tracks reflects that. We spent only two days recording. That was the intention – all the music was created in this very short timeframe. We played for hours and didn’t stop until the sun came up each morning. We barely slept. We just kept playing. Track by track, the music flowed. The more we played, the quicker the process got. By the end of the second night, we were still recording as the dawn chorus blared outside. It was reminiscent of that fateful night when we sat conjuring up this very idea, back in that kitchen in the Derbyshire Dales. We opened up the studio
windows, pointing a microphone outside to capture the beauty of the dawn chorus. We listened through headphones as the birds sang and we began to play once again, very gently. As we heightened our intensity, the birds got curiously quieter as though they were engaging with us. When we faded, slowly, the birdsong got louder. We got to the end, stopped and just listened.
We didn’t quite know what to expect from this whole experiment. But the results surprised us. Far from a series of meandering improvisations, it became what we’d like to call ‘live reactive composition’. It is a musical conversation that creates its own structure, an interaction between the melodic and rhythmic impulses that pre-dates spoken language and perhaps transcends it. It accesses mental processes that we are yet unable to comprehend, bypassing considered judgement and decision making to allow each successive creative impulse to instinctively and simultaneously build upon each other. The result is strangely coherent: linked improvisations that appear almost as a pre-meditated, through-composed work – one mood as antidote to the previous, a gradual emotional journey, a story felt but not told.
It forms an album in the traditional sense: a work intended to be listened to as a whole. The individual parts function as tracks in their own right but to best appreciate the journey we highly recommend that you sit back and listen from start to finish without interruption. We truly hope you enjoy this album as much as we enjoyed making it”.