Ambient/minimalist composer and multi-instrumentalist Seamus O’Muineachain on his sixth studio album and his hometown of Belmullet
“HOW can less be more? More is more.”
The unapologetic words of the bombastic Swedish guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen, a man whose super-human shredding took guitar playing to a whole new level when he burst onto the scene back in 1984.
But anyone who has laid their eyes on barren beauty of Erris will tell you that less is definitely more.
And few know this better than local composer and producer Seamus O’Muineachain, whose sixth studio album is one that is as close to his feet as it is to his heart.
The theme is given away in the title, ‘Isthmus’ – a geographical feature recently defined in these pages by John O’Callaghan as “a ‘neck’ of land connecting two larger land masses”.
An ‘Isthmus’ is the only thing standing between the town of Belmullet and the great Atlantic waters o’er which she looks. It was by these shores that Seamus O’Muineachain was reared and resides to this day. And it is by these very shores that ‘Isthmus’ begins and ends.
The sound of footsteps by the sea introduce the opening track ‘Two Bays’, a number that is as serene and calming as the gentle waters lapping against the bays of Blacksod and Broadhaven.
Likewise, the last 25 seconds of the album’s closing track ‘Haar’ contain nothing but the sound of rushing water.
The sea recurs like the rise and fall of the tide throughout this piano-driven, largely stripped-back instrumental compilation that places the listener right in the heart of Erris.
“A friend of mine referred to it as background music, because you don’t really necessarily need to give it your full attention,” Seamus explains to The Mayo News over a Zoom call.
For an even better description of his brand of ambient/neo-classical instrumental music he refers to British musician Brian Eno, who says that it must be ‘as ignorable as it is interesting’.
Sounds of home
For its part, the wild, unspoilt majesty, of the Erris landscape is hard to ignore. Little wonder then that it provided the material for Séamus’s latest work, which was inspired after he returned home from 18 months in the Czech Republic.
“Every time I come back from kind of travelling around, I always see Belmullet in a new perspective, this time especially,” he explains.
“I don’t know why. I guess maybe after lockdowns and everything… and the whole turbulent nature of our today’s society, coming back to Belmullet in 2022, it was very peaceful and serene.
“I was at a point in my life where I didn’t really know about what I was doing either… Belmullet is a good place to kind of stop and reflect on things.”
As well as the plain, enchanting triads and melodies that Seamus composed during walks through his hometown, peppered throughout the album are mobile phone recordings of trickling water.
Recording nature is something Seamus has done for previous albums, albeit cut and tweaked to near perfection. Using his phone allowed him to capture the sounds of his seaside home in their most natural form.
Bar the occasional cello and some warm gentle synth, the final mixes are minimalistic and spacious in their production, so much so that you can even hear the piano keys being released on tracks like ‘Meet Me at The Pier’.
This effect is intentional, Seamus explains.
“I’d be out, and I’d hear something nice and I used my phone [to record it]. In the past I thought ‘I can’t use my phone, it won’t mix into the music, it won’t be releasable’.
“But I think now, in this day and age with the way the music is going, especially, all those kinds of rules have fallen away. It’s more about using what you can use to kind of make something that represents what you want to represent.”
Foremost on his mind when composing his latest album was to capture a sense of ‘space’ – of which there is plenty in the Erris region.
Seamus does this to perfection throughout ‘Isthmus’, which is sonically modest but never so bare bones as to disengage the listener.
Belmullet runs through the entire record like the waters of Blacksod Bay, making for an album that is something of a musical homecoming for Séamus.
He muses out loud when asked if this was a particularly personal record before giving an interesting and thoughtful answer.
“I think when you bring something down to its simplest kind of root level, which is just melodies on the piano maybe and mix it in some guitar or whatever… I think that’s probably more of representation of who I am,” he says.
“I am a simple person, I like simple pleasures, especially in communication with people. I like emotive communication and I think that the piano helps me to express that.
“I’ve been single for a year, and I find when I am single I tend to write kind of more introspective music, because it’s like I want to communicate my sensitivity in a way,” he adds.
“So this music is me kind of communicating my sensitivity - I don’t have a partner at the moment, so I’m putting it into music. I suppose it is personal in that regard.”
It turns out Yngwie Malmsteen was wrong. Sometimes less is definitely more, in life and in music.
Seamus O’Muineachain’s sixth studio album ‘Isthmus’ will be available on all good streaming platforms on October 1.