Review: Fergus Kelly – Trembling Embers (Room Temperature, Nov 25)

Many musicians, especially in the area of experimental music, are indebted to or engage with visual art on some level, whether it gives them inspiration, provides a different creative outlet, augments their recordings or performances, etc. But a select few create beautiful pieces of visual art in the process of making music, intentionally or unintentionally. A personally significant example is the collection of tabletop setups utilized by improviser Keith Rowe, whose layouts of haphazard objects, modified guitars, and electronics seem to have an energy of their own, even separate from the music they help produce. Dublin-based artist Fergus Kelly takes things a step further with his complex arrangements of custom built instruments, arsenals of makeshift string instruments and transducers that are physical manifestations of the artist’s inner creativity. The full potential of Kelly’s inventions is explored on his new CD Trembling Embers, whose rhythmic title (this naming scheme continues to the track list, with names like “Vestige From the Wreckage” and “Spoiled Coinage”) foreshadows the agitated and unpredictable sounds found within. The first few tracks are largely unmanipulated improvisations, relying on tense clatter and metallic whirring to create a formidable atmosphere. As the album progresses, however, more elements are added; processing allows for the darkly immersive environments of “Plow a Flaw to the Far Shore,” and injected field recordings in “Paradox Lost” provide both a textural and thematic counterpoint. Though, obviously, listening to the CD doesn’t offer any insight into the visual aspect of what Kelly is doing, he masterfully communicates a profound concreteness, a tactility, that ensures even the most manipulated compositions on Trembling Embers feel up close and personal.