The Platelayer

Excellent solo item from Fergus Kelly, Irish performer and composer based in Dublin. He made Plate Spinning (ROOM TEMPERATURE RTCD 18) using just pieces of metal, a bass guitar, assorted percussion, and samples from a record collection.

We have enjoyed his previous outings A Congregation Of Vapours (2012) and Shot To Shreds (2016). Both of those made use of lumps of metal as part of the elaborate process, but were also somewhat noisier and more maximal than today’s outing. The general vibe I’m getting is that these pieces are careful and slow, exercises in simple bass guitar riffs punctuated with with deliberative percussive strokes, and although there’s plenty of musical activity to listen to, he doesn’t seem so concerned as he has been with filling every available space with textures and tones. Yes, we might almost mistake Plate Spinning as a “diagram” for an avant-garde take on post-punk music, or at any rate music from the extreme reaches of 1978-79 UK recordings (start with Dome and spread out from that point).

The use of samples, taken apparently from classical and jazz records (and post-punk records, as it happens), is one of the more ingenious features of the album; he uses them very sparingly, and only as needed. A frozen and fragile chord may appear on top of the minimal rhythms, to add just the right degree of terror or solitude. This abstemious approach sits well with me. It does make a change from trigger-happy sampler types who press too many buttons and throw everything and the kitchen sink (and garbage disposal too) into the mix, as they flail about with wild unmeaning movements. When Fergus Kelly brings in a sample, you get the feeling he’s thought about it long and hard, made a very judicious selection, and doesn’t attempt to conceal its artifice in the general construction of the music he makes. Kelly confirms in his notes that the bass parts are indeed carefully composed, and indeed were often the starting point for each of these 17 short pieces.

As to the post-punk subtext, not only are there samples of records from that genre included, but this album follows closely on his Dirt Behind The Daydream track (not heard by us, sadly) which was explicitly intended as a tribute to this fertile period in 20th-century music history. Speaking of continuity, there’s also a previous record called Plundered Lumber (again, no copy on our racks to hand) whose annotations explain more about the approach which he is using here in a more developed form. I wish I could elaborate, but it’s to do with “an emphasis on rhythmic interactions and melodic interplay”. From 9th July 2021; only 25 physical copies were made.

Fergus Kelly adds:

“The post-punk reference in the album statement is about a tribute piece I made shortly before I started work on the album. More info & track here. It got a great response when I posted a link to it on social media, especially from some of the original musicians and producers involved, which was nice ! Dick O’Dell was nuts about it. Hugo Burnham loved it too. Paul Kendall, sweet gent that he is, said “editing on a par with top blade man Holger Hiller” – can’t say fairer than that… thanks Paul! You might be interested in this essay I wrote earlier in the year for A Sound Map Of Dunlaoghaire, which traces key sounds in the landscape growing up, associated memories, post-punk etc (of course)…”