Belfast’s Úna Monaghan is a harper, a composer and an exponent of electronic soundscapes – her description – and she combines those talents on her debut solo album, For. The title incidentally comes from the fact that most of the tracks are written for someone. Needless to say this is not a conventional solo harp album.
The opening track, ‘Tubaiste Agus Taisceadán’, is a set of jigs and for the most part is conventional enough, although I thought I heard the odd “wrong” note, before dissolving into ‘Réalta’. This is a harp improvisation played over Úna’s first electro-acoustic composition, itself made up of manipulated harp sounds. ‘Mammy’s’ is a pretty tune – maybe we are being led gently along – and so are ‘Nanny Nora’s And The Clean Player’. Except that the second half is played over a jumbled soundscape that seems to me to represent the rough and tumble of a hurling match – the clean player of the title was Úna’s grandfather and a county hurler.
‘The Choice’ is where Úna really starts to go to town. The piece is about addiction and it rapidly descends into chaos with all thoughts of music obliterated until the harp suddenly bursts through like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. It’s a brilliant depiction. ‘An Dearcadh’ is another major piece; three tunes played over a melange of field recordings, everything from kids in the Belfast streets to ships’ horns sounding on Belfast loch. This is sandwiched between two laments, I suppose we must call them, ‘For Her’ and ‘For Mary’, both written in response to deaths. ‘Ómós Do Sheamus’ is melody that emerges from discordant notes over the sound of the sea, as though the player is searching for a tune.
After the lovely ‘Half Moon Lake’ comes the longest track. ‘Naomhóg’ is a suite comprising a jig, an air and a reel, a virtuoso performance – recorded live, remember – and finally we come to the real hard-core soundscape that is ‘The Bodélé Project’ which Úna describes as an installation piece which should involve radios, weather systems and morse code transmissions.
I almost resent having to analyse this album, although by doing so I’ve almost certainly played closer attention than I might otherwise have done. I’d much prefer to play it and let my thoughts follow the music wherever it leads.
Artist’s website: www.unamonaghan.com