Review: Sean McCann – Music For Public Ensemble

r22fullcoverLGThe narrative is meaningless or meaningful.

This quote refers specifically to McCann’s book Pacifics, extracts of which are recited throughout Music For Public Ensemble. Frankly it applies to all aspects of Music For Public Ensemble. In the same way that landscape is an abstract splatter whose meaning arrives later ­­– shone through the lens of a perceiver, who brings colour and outline to the shapes that dance with eachother before eyes and ears, knowingly and unknowingly – this record is a collusion of coincidence, capturing an arrangement of instruments and voices whose interactions feel accidental and momentary. I’m writing this review from a café in Bristol. As I walked here from the train station, I noticed how traffic noise arched over the bubbling mass of public conversation and pattering footsteps on concrete. Sounds passed in and out, driven across the frame of hearing as they pass me, just as I walk past them. McCann’s album is built from the same fateful fabric. I’m just passing through. Choirs, pianos and cellos engage in separate conversations that meld into a harmonious hubbub: strings creaking like harbour planks to my left and pianos cascading like conversation to my right, switching sides as I rotate, joined and abandoned by idle voices and idle woodwinds as I drift through crowds of people and things. Glimmers of opera and glacial hum. Garbled phonetics and whispers I shouldn’t have heard.

Initially I’m inclined to label it collage, but this word feels too deliberate. There’s something about McCann’s method that often renders him absent. Even his array of collaborators – Andrew Chalk, Ian William Craig, Sarah Davachi, Cameron Stallones, Nick Storring, Matthew Sullivan, Lillian Paige Walton, so many more – lay slack in the tide of time and space. Where there is air between the instruments, such as on the blots of melancholia on “Waterfront Rose”, I imagine walking through an intermittent rainfall, with chimes of piano splashing onto my coat and vocal sibilance forming puddles in the pavement. Elsewhere, coughs share company with eternally rising sine tones, but only because I reside in a position to perceive them simultaneously. And then there are those pangs of a bigger plan, where the orchestration transcends the bustle of colliding accident. The way the guitar and strings intersect on “Pockets Of Night” is like roads seen from above, forming junctions that are perfect like kisses, or crooked reassessments of filter roads and squashed elliptical roundabouts, doubled-back to fix, awkwardly, unforeseen counter-intuitions in traffic flow. “Waltz” is a brisk and awkward dance in ¾, like a puppet of metal and wood and thread, tugged haphazardly so that it convulses in reckless unison. “And why are you drawn to it?” asks one of the voices on “Pockets Of Night” (one of the voices I can actually hear above the muffle of resonance, given that many of these voices sound as though they were recorded from inside the mouth). I don’t know. Weren’t we drawn to eachother?