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The art of learning on the hoof

It’s October, the miserable summer is behind us and the pumpkin harvest is impressive, a fine collection of squash that should see us through the winter. Thank god, or more correctly Ultan, for that. As much as he loves Crowns, he’s experimented heavily with Hubbards this year, hoping they will give the same quality of dense pumpkin flesh with a better adaptation to the Irish climate. The man is never happy unless he’s pushing the possibilities a little harder.

But right now, and I don’t think it’s unconnected, my mind is buzzing coming home from an amazing gig that somehow made me think of kitchens, food and possibilities. Juana Molina, an Argentinian musician and singer, played to a small but enraptured audience in Cypress Avenue tonight. She was here two years ago, playing on her own, but this time she brought two musicians, a drummer and bass player, though those tags hardly describe their roles in augmenting her peculiar and deeply idiosyncratic approach to music-making.

Her ‘schtick’, as I read it described recently, is to build up loops of sounds from her guitar, keyboards and voice to create a complex pop music grounded in the Spanish/Latin tradition. Her recorded cds are impressive but you could mistake them for the work of a studio whizz. But to see her do it on stage is to witness a very brave soul who prepares only as little as possible beforehand and forces herself to create the magic of her art in front of her audience. Rarely relaxed and always working hard to make the connections, she communicates the thing she loves, making her art in public, the hard but incredibly rewarding way.

I’m making no analogy with Cafe P, we’re not that out there, though we do push it as far as we are able. But watching her create her weird, personal, but incredibly beautiful music on a stage 6,000 miles from home in front of 80 people, made me think about food and cooking dinner in a restaurant. As much as it might seem practical to be over-prepared, the magic is in the almost-chaotic cooking to order. Don’t pre-record that guitar riff, don’t plate up the starters and don’t blanch the greens. Both will come off with your own signature when you do it live. Yeah, it wrecks your head a bit at the time but you know too that you couldn’t do it as well under easier conditions. Maybe that’s why cooks often make good music and vice versa.

Posted on: 12 October 2008

 
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