Music

Harmony with the Irish Feminine: An Interview with Colm Mac Con Iomaire

Photo: Sachyn Mital

Colm Mac Con Iomaire is currently collaborating on dancer Maureen Fleming's Wildflowers performance in New York City.

Irish musician Colm Mac Con Iomaire is focused on his music. He's constantly working, whether it be on a new project for himself, scoring a film or playing shows. In the summer of 2018, Mac Con Iomaire released his score for the Vivienne De Courcy's film Dare to be Wild. In September, he performed a gig or two with the Frames, the renowned band he founded along with Glen Hansard (who later came to fame with the film Once and as part of the Swell Season).

This fall, Mac Con Iomaire came through New York City to accompany dancer Maureen Fleming for her performance Wildflowers - A Feminine Genesis (presented by La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club and Irish Arts Center). Fleming physically carried the unique performance with the utmost grace and an unyielding poise. Her stage is pretty minimal in terms of decor, the most prominent is a reflecting pool, and lighting, though there are occasional large-scale projections of her. It was a mystifying and enjoyable work.

This minimalism makes the music accompanying her all the more integral -- the score has to live and breathe with her movement. Mac Con Iomaire's 2015 album, And Now the Weather, must have caught her attention (as it did mine). Fleming incorporated many of his songs, including the opening track "The Finnish Line", straight from that record likely because she recognized how he manages to coax a welcoming, idyllic vitality from his violin.

Before Wildflowers came to an end, Mac Con Iomaire spoke with PopMatters about the development of Wildflowers, his recent score work and some of what he's got cooking for the future. There is also the collaborative charity cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound" by Street Lights, a group of Irish musicians including Mac Con Iomaire, Bono, and more. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Wildflowers sounds like an intriguing collaboration. How did your inclusion in the project come about?

Back in 2017, Maureen Fleming had recently arrived in Ireland on a Fulbright Scholarship. She was introduced to my music and was moved enough by it to get in touch regarding a potential collaboration. I was familiar with her work as one of her pieces was included in a documentary (Dearghdhúil) that I had contributed some music to a few years previously.

As it happens, I had just been speaking to my manager of my desire to work with a dancer. It was a very timely connection -- and what a dancer!

Although you have done thorough rehearsals for the project when accompanying a live performer, what precautions will you take?

It has been fascinating process. It took me a little while to learn the vocabulary of Maureen's movement. An early epiphany for me was to understand Maureen's sequences of movement as her body-melodies. Once I caught that, we were in.

In a live context, we're all on the high wire together, so it's important that we all share the same intention.

The performance is a celebration of "femininity" -- how did you go about tapping into that creative well?

I have long been told (and I am inclined to agree) that my music is quite feminine.

Creatively, in a way, Maureen was drawn to my musical well as she felt that it expressed something that she responded emotionally to. This project has been a very harmonious and deeply empathetic experience.

Wildflowers is all about the sacred feminine in Ireland. Ireland (Éireann) is named after the Goddess Éiriú. All of our rivers, bar two, are female. Many Irish artists, like William Butler Yeats [an inspiration for Wildflowers] are hooked into the Irish Feminine. You could say that it's encoded in our DNA.

Gotta ask, was there any thought towards including a female musical performer(s)?

A good and timely question indeed!

Ultimately that was Maureen's call. On paper it would certainly seem counter-intuitive to have three male musicians expressing the sound of the Divine Feminine, no? Perhaps whether or not that was the correct decision will be better parsed and measured after one sees the show.

The power and deep forces that Maureen channels in her movement is humbling to witness and to participate musically in.

Since another theme of the performance is immortality, what are your thoughts on immortality or that of an afterlife?

Immortality must be exhausting?

As for afterlife, I am as interested in where we're from as I am in where we're going. While I am quite sceptical of most organised religions -- I see them as 'God-franchises' -- reincarnation makes a lot of sense to me. I think that we all live many lives. The wheel of life turns round and round again and we strive to share and to raise the vibration each time that we're here.

Turning to the Dare to Be Wild soundtrack. How did your collaboration with Mulatu Astatke come about? I wouldn't have naturally connected both your music.

I must admit that I wasn't that aware of Mulatu before recording with him.

Which I think saved me being star-struck! Half of the Dare to be Wild film is set in Ethiopia, and Mulatu was introduced as a potential contributor/collaborator.

It was such a musical delight to spend two whole days in the studio together. It was fascinating to work with such a master!

This is your first film score to see release (it is from 2015). Are you involved in more film work?

I'm currently working on my third movie score at the moment which is set in Northern Ireland - the movie is called A Bend in the River.

Listening to the soundtrack, is the track "Let it Go", as it has been released, complete? Marketa Irglova's [half of the Swell Season with Hansard] voice seems to fade out too soon. Is it a film edit that is on the album?

That is what one would call a "rookie mistake". We only recorded as much as was needed in the film without a thought to a potential soundtrack release. Unfortunately the personal and geographic calendars didn't align subsequently to facilitate a revisiting and completion of the song.

Last month, The Frames had a gig. Given that the Frames aren't regularly touring, what general sense do you have when you hear that the band is getting back together?

It's always a pleasure to spend time with my friends! While that only happens once every two years or so these days. It's always a deep and concentrated reconnection.

To be honest, though, the Frames is something that I associate more with my past rather than with my present or future.

The last Frames album was released 11 years ago. The river flows on.

Have there been any discussions to have the Frames tour outside Ireland (at least the US) again?

While I wouldn't rule it out, most of the rest of the Frames still play together as Glen's touring band. They all tour enough as a group I reckon, for a Frames-tour not to be as unique a proposition for them as might otherwise be the case. Who knows what might happen in the future.

Where are you going in the future? Are you collaborating with other artists? I think I saw you posted on social media about an artist Susie Q?

Susie Q is great. I recorded some strings on her debut album. I also did some recording recently with an Australian based Irish singer songwriter called Áine Tyrrell.

What are some other up and coming bands you admire?

There's a great Irish band called Basciville, two very talented brothers, Lorcan and Cillian Byrne, who've been recording with me on my forthcoming album.

Hedge Schools released a beautiful record a few months ago.

I am not that knowledgeable on what's "hot". Mostly I spend my time in my music, and occasionally other music and musicians come and find me.

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