In the legendary Irish tale Táin Bó Cúailnge, foster-brothers and beloved friends Ferdia and Cuchulainn are coerced by the manipulative Queen Medhbh to battle one another to the death. After a three-day battle that neither wants to win, Cuchulainn slays Ferdia and lets loose the most powerful, guttural cry imaginable, the cry known as olagón. Using the rich and conflicted notion of olagón as a starting point, composer/fiddler/electronic-musician Dan Trueman, sean-nós singer Iarla O Lionáird, and poet Paul Muldoon are collaboratively creating a new evening-length work with chamber ensemble eighth blackbird, to be directed by Mark DeChiazza.
NOW QUEEN MEDHBH HAD BROUGHT ME IN
AR SCATH A CHEILE A MHAIREAS NA DAOINE
AND MADE ME TEA OUT OF HER WEE TIN
These, the opening lines from the text Muldoon is creating for this project, give a sense of the rich possibilities presented by the interwoven languages. The second line translates literally as “we live in each other’s shadows,” but also has the broader meaning that we all depend on one another in various ways. The actual sound of these words is at once lyrical and rhythmic, full of musical and vocal possibility. Surrounding this line are two that invoke the Táin, but also reference a nursery song from Northern Ireland. In the sentences that follow, we discover Medhbh drinking martinis, suffering drug addictions, and ultimately collapsing in the parking lot, marked off by traffic cones. The sobbing cry ochon agus ochon o comes and goes throughout. This is an edgy, intense, trans-historical text, at once evocative of ancient myths and also the contemporary struggles of the post-Celtic-Tiger Ireland.
Both love story and allegory, this 85-minute work is wide ranging in tone and affect, at times drawing on elements of the traditional music of Ireland, Norway, and America, and other times engaging the raw urgency and sonorities of contemporary classical music, while avoiding nothing, including colors and grooves of popular music.
The stage will be augmented with visuals to aid in the intelligibility of the text, and will center on the acoustic instruments of Eighth Blackbird’s six virtuosi, Trueman’s 5-string Hardanger d’Amore, and Ó Lionáird’s incomparable voice, while extending this world with pre-recorded voices of Ó Lionáird’s brothers, the Renaissance vocal consort Gallicantus, and the legendary sean-nós singer Treasa Ní Mhiolláin, and also electronic instruments that extend the piano, the harmonium (which Ó Lionáird will play), the fiddle and the voice.
This will be a rich world, both sonically and visually, one that will range from near silence, through whispering keening and impassioned song, to explosive rhythmic walls of sound.
Take a Tour of Olagón, as a work in progress.