- 30 Aug 21
Limerick-based electronic musician Paddy Mulcahy discusses his latest EP, 'Tidal Oscillations', anxiety, and his synth obsession. Photo: Shane Vaughan
The last time I spoke with Paddy Mulcahy, the electronic musician was getting ready to perform a show in Dublin's Unitarian Church. Of course, it didn't happen. A little pandemic got in the way.
"We rescheduled for my birthday later that year, and then we just couldn't make it happen. I think it's on the back burner, for maybe springtime next year."
Like so many musicians, the lack of gigging has been tough on the Limerick-based composer. "Even with gigs coming up in the next month or two that have already been rescheduled once or twice already," he says. "Just when there's a glimmer of hope it's kind of taken away. That's pretty upsetting.
"It also makes it hard to plan ahead. Like for certain gigs I have to book a hotel, and then the train, and the train costs me 20% to cancel. So I'm already down money on that.
"What can you do?" he shrugs. "You just have to try and do your best and stay positive with it."
Mulcahy is certainly doing his best. His latest EP, Tidal Oscillations, was made in partnership with XXIM Records at Sony Masterworks, as the first instalment of their new XXIM:EXPO.
The label invited young artists from across the whole spectrum of progressive instrumental music to curate and release an EP, to share their unique vision with as wide an international audience as possible.
Mulcahy's offering hinges on explorations of his own consciousness, anxieties and dreams, beginning with 'A Dream, A Sequence', which plays with a simple, six-note piano motif, and moving through 'Patterns Evolve' to 'Runway', an ambient track that charts his fear of flight.
"Anxiety is a theme that's applicable to all of the tracks, which would have been written around the same time," he says. "I suppose I was trying to convey that sense of unease or uncertainty without the use of vocals."
Anxiety was never a problem for Mulcahy, until he found himself in a toxic relationship. "I started to experience it a lot more then," he recalls. "It obviously went away when the relationship ended, but it comes back when I go on a flight."
Drawing from his own experiences, Mulcahy tries to link dreams, emotions, and the ephemeral with tangible, real-world experiences. The final track, 'Tidal Oscillations,' is a study of this synthesis. It ebbs and flows beautifully, easing the listener out of the immersive experience.
"It was interesting to draw that same feeling from a different situation, and it was more just trying to address or acknowledge that in myself, and link those two things together. I'm generally not an anxious person," he says, before adding wryly: "but obviously if you're getting in a metal tin that's going to fly across the Atlantic..."
Most of the other tracks on the EP were born when Mulcahy was living in Montreal in 2017.
"I'm very inspired by my interaction with the sound of my instruments. I often allow them to dictate where the music goes. I'm just a vehicle, and it's a working relationship," he says. "That's why I make the joke that they're my band members.
"I had built a new synthesiser when I was in Montreal. For the first track, I was playing a mini-piano I had rented with a six-note, repetitive sequence.
"I had this idea to make the sequence happen on two pianos, but they overlap. So they both clash and the rhythm changes, which is typically the phasing phenomena scored by Steve Reich in the 1980s, but this is my conversion of it. Because I'd got that modular synthesiser built and had been starting to use it, I programmed that sequence into the synthesiser and started to explore that idea in an electronic context.
"It totally went in a different direction, but that was pretty much the building blocks for 'A Dream, A Sequence'," he concludes.
While he explains synthesisers to me, it strikes me that Mulcahy - like many other electronic musicians - comes across as a bit of a mad scientist when he talks about music.
It makes him laugh. "There's a great photo of one of the members of Tangerine Dream - I always quote Tangerine Dream as one of my inspirations for this EP - but there's a great photo of Klaus Shulze dressed as an astronaut in the middle of a studio floor, surrounded by these wooden diffusers. It just looks like a spaceship. I always thought that was pretty funny, and exactly as you said, like mad scientists.
"There's also a company called Analog Solutions who are releasing a synthesiser for 25, 000 pounds. Every time somebody buys it, they get a white lab coat with the synthesiser. So you're not wrong at all," he chuckles. "We're all crazy scientists."
Tidal Oscillations is out now.