Beat-boxing in church? There was a time when you’d get your ears reddened for that but as the sweet tones of Elaine Mai rang through the Unitarian Church on Dublin’s Stephen’s Green they only served to soothe. Mai is a young girl from Galway with a striking voice, accented and melodious; her songs are cute and in time they will match her potential. She normally performs a cover in her shows and upon deciding that ‘No Diggity’ mightn’t suit the serenity of the venue she opted for a gorgeous rendition of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’, the musical layers and instrumentation facilitated by that tool-du-jour – the loop station.
For many a loop station – as well as being playful and presenting a certain skill – is primarily a tool of economy and logistics; allowing for multi-facetted performances from a solo performer. For others it is so much more. For Julianna Barwick it is integral to expressing the voices in her head. Her second LP The Magic Place is a vocal tapestry – wordless songs with transporting powers – and with the tools of her trade she recreated that place in a venue that seemed to bend under her spell. Candles flickered and shadows danced, as darkness drew the remaining light hugged the audience in a comforting glow. An audience already wrapped up in Ms. Barwick’s lulling blanket, and its textured weave. Majestic regal choir (‘Cloak’), contemplative slow chants (‘Envelop’), wraithlike ghostly cries (‘Flown’) that were also earthly – like those of a soaring hawk and swimming whale, both at once (‘Keep Up The Good Work’). Minimal in instrumentation, there’s nothing limiting about the human voice – well, certainly not Julianna Barwick’s. The complexity of the layering is apparently effortless, there’s no evident counting, her songs just flow with meditative grace.
To the soft electronic pulse of ‘Prizewinning’, Julianna stood alone though sang like a choir of angels. Behind her, engraved in marble, read: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Religion aside, a performance so elemental can’t but be spiritual.
Photos by Damien McGlynn