A Mendicant Hymnal

by Raising Holy Sparks

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about

Available from the label at www.dwacres.com/node/2689

' Ambient soundscapes with neoclassical and film soundtrack attributes, from the brooding and icy to soaring, uplifting pieces. Plaintive piano and harmonium meet sizzling, menacing noise in Within the Painted Desert. Meteors over the Mesa is an evocative soundscape incorporating a ringing guitar that sounds almost harp-like. At the Confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah is gentle, meandering psych-folk with swelling drones and tinkling piano like light playing upon the ripples of a river, giving way to intense, piercing noise guitar. We Will Rest Forever in the Fields of the Lord is a shimmering atmospheric piece, ambient meets instrumental dreampop. Shadow City, Missouri pairs neoclassical piano with gently thrumming drones.' Bliss/Aquamarine.

'A mendicant is a travelling monk — one who begs for subsistence, accepting what people and to world have to offer, in humility. The music on this double album could be a distillation of the world experienced in such a way: a flowing by of landscapes and visions, an endless sequence of steps carrying one to some unknown destination. This is the final act of begging and acceptance: to see where the journey leads you, always deferring to decisions made outside of the self; offering up the self.

Raising Holy Sparks is the project that rose from the ashes of Agitated Radio Pilot and saw David Colohan shifting from lo-fi and singer/­songwriter releases to something more instrumental, raw, and abstract. The division is far from clear-cut: Agitated Radio Pilot had its share of lush ambient improvisations, and the occasional harsh guitar solo, while Raising Holy Sparks has had plenty of songs interspersed on its earlier releases. All the same, there is a tangible contrast between the two projects.

A Mendicant Hymnal is part of a larger series of albums by the same title, all of them inspired by North American landscapes, but I feel that this album is the central one. Its size is imposing: over two hours of music, with plenty of tracks crossing the 10 or even 15-minute mark. Extended meditations on soil and sky, tapping into their history and prehistory somewhere between the Earth as experienced by humans and as it experienced itself over vast aeons of time. Perhaps it is the tempo: often too slow for any regular sense of musical comfort, too minimal to hold rational attention, furtively lived. The music, like the land, offers us something in a particular way, and we might have to shift gears to understand what is being said. Understand might not even be the right word: Earth does not speak to us in language, and neither does music.

Some tracks are closer to us: the perspective moves to meet that of the traveller. The opening track, “A Stretch of Haunted Road”, is short, overwhelmingly melancholic. It even has a sense of despair that would become overpowering if it lasted for too long. The solution is to let go of that perspective, and take refuge in a partly imagined wider perspective, to let go. “Rio De Las Animas Perdidas” is the first taste of what that shift brings. The River of Lost Souls flows serenely, at first, perhaps because it is there to embrace those souls and give them solace. At the same time, the track’s second half is darker: a throbbing bass pulse and more ambiguous melody make problematic the idea of a complete, blissful detachment from the human.

This impossibility seems to haunt the album: the mendicant can live on a different scale, change their relation to the world, but they remain human. One can stretch away from the human experience by communing with nature — it is possible to hear what it has to say — but we can’t let go of the human tragedy. The darker moments of the album bear witness to this. “Within the Painted Desert” ends in anger, just as the first track ended in despair. So do their mirror images on the album’s second disc: “The Credo of Dissolving” and “There Is Evil in His Machinery”. They stand in stark contrast to the peace that may be found elsewhere. Temporarily perhaps, but still. There are rivers to bathe in, to cleanse us of what ails us. At night, we can watch “Meteors over the Mesa”, and bear witness to the celestial glory that dwarfs us, our struggles, and our time.

Since it came out in late 2013, I’ve wanted to compare this album to one released six years before: Agitated Radio Pilot’s crowning achieve­ment, World Winding Down. It was similarly ambitious in scope: two symmetrical CDs that showcased some of Colohan’s best songs, with guest appearances by a ton of his friends and fellow artists. I wanted A Mendicant Hymnal to be that, but for Raising Holy Sparks. But sometimes symmetry and perfect analogies aren’t everything. This album is not the same kind of intricately wrought creation where every track is in its right place, where every piece of ambient enforces the melancholic guitar song that follows. Instead, A Mendicant Hymnal is what happens when you don’t think overmuch about imposing order, and listen to what (the memories) of the lands you travel(ed) have to tell you. It is raw, full of the organic structure that is more of nature than of art. And I mean that in the best way.

Behind the metaphor of mendicant journeys and Earth language, there is a very particular set of instruments. The album’s ambient backbone consists of an array of synthesizers, keyboards, and piano sounds — some straight-up, some sampled. There is harmonium, harp, guitar, and the occasional element of percussion and field recordings. A small cast of guest musicians (Richard Moult, Casey Denman, Michael Tanner, and Declan Kelly) take up some of these roles on some of the tracks, and the four final tracks are remixes of various materials found elsewhere on the album. All of it sounds organic, slightly hazy: a perfect aural metaphor for the sounds of the land.

Looking at the other tracks, I’m again tempted to force them into a system, but the album itself teaches us that some moments, some encounters, just come along unexpectedly. Among the plains and stretches and rivers, there is a place that this album calls “We Will Rest Forever in the Fields of the Lord”. Here, soft flows of guitar glide over the abode of crows. Out of nowhere, something glorious rises and makes a perfect, deeply hopeful note in this bleak album. I associate this track with the death of loved ones, but also with the spiritual hope — and it is a strong one — that they have found a peace that the wanderer on Earth is unable to wholly reach.

But here, these places don’t last. Before we know it, time has caught up with us and we must away. A piano-driven ride — do mendicants ride trains? — takes us through “Shadow City, Missouri” and we end up… I’m not sure where. “Monachus Mortuae Religionis” exists in a place where wolves howl to introduce the most minimal of synth chord progressions. It’s like something from “Wicked Game” or “Streets of Philadelphia”, stripped down to bare bones, and it is grand. Like ethereal waves endlessly crashing on a shore.

It is these loose moments, unforeseen, irrational, that are the power of this album’s strange journey. It exists somewhere between music, rooted in ambient and the evolved experimental folk of Northern Europe, and the North American landscape, the landscapes of the mind — and perhaps the universal experience of a human, given over to the universe. This offering of the self is at once the theme of this album, and a way of understanding it. Always temporary, but revealing something eternal. “Perenne Lumen in Templo Aeterni”.' Oscar Strik, Evening of Light.

'Raising Holy Sparks is the current musical venture of Terrascopic darling and a feature of last year’s Woolf Music festival, David Colohan (United Bible Studies/Agitated Radio Pilot/Deserted Village collective) and as such is sure to be welcomed with interests in our small but perfectly formed corner of the musical cosmos.

Joined by a strong supporting cast which includes regular collaborators Richard Moult and Plinth’s Michael Tanner (who also graced Woolf Music) Colohan’s “A Mendicant Hymnal” is a musical chronicle of our Irish Rover’s journey across 30 US states. It is a bewitching, subtle and deceptively gentle collage of sound which, not to put too fine a point on it, is in danger of giving ambient drone a good name.

Spread over two CDs, each more than an hour long, A Mendicant Hymnal is an aural travelogue which requires a little patience (and a couple of sittings) but which is quite majestic in its scope and masterful in execution. From the lifting “A Stretch of Haunted Road” through to “At the Confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah” CD 1 reaches out across the vast horizon of Big Sky America. Its centre-point is the 20 minute “Meteors over the Messa”, an awesomely constructed slow flowing glacier and one of two tracks featuring Tanner’s understated electric guitar. However other notable landmarks are the melodic piano of “Within Painted Desert” which overlays the long-notes of ambient sound and which is juxtaposed with some searing fuzz guitar, and the aforementioned “...Potomac and Shenandoah” which provides a temporary departure from the ambient drones and into more conventional musical fare of guitar and piano. At times a latter-day and even more spacious “Gymnopedies”, even amongst the great outdoors sound of A Mendicant Hymnal, this is rarefied air indeed.

On to CD two, then, and really it’s more of the same, which does beg the question as to whether this might have been an even more powerful work over just the one disc. No, let’s be greedy and rejoice in such works as “Plains of Kansas”, a portentous-sounding opening gambit and the achingly pastoral “We Will Rest Forever in the Fields of the Lord” featuring once more Tanner’s guitar (this time with star billing and to good effect) and some pumping 200 bpm techno (nah, only kidding). “The Credo of Dissolving” is also highly effective soundtrack material, the plink and plonk of piano playfully skipping around orchestral swathes (a mellotron, perchance?) and some amped up, crunching guitar at around 7 minutes – and no I’m not making that up. Finally we sign off with “Perenne Lumen in Templo Aeterne”, as ghostly and uplifting a bookend as “Haunted Road” was at the beginning. Time to roll the credits as the sun sets over cinemascope - Big Country, indeed.

I suppose one of nearest touchstones I can think of would be a Popol Vuh/Herzog collaboration which should speak volumes in its own right. The effect of Colohan’s latest endeavour is epic, profound and so disarmingly beautiful in places as to move this reviewer almost to tears.' Ian Fraser, Terrascope.

'David Colohan’s project Raising Holy Sparks have been quietly but prolifically creating affecting, bewitching music that has previously seen the light of day on various limited CD runs; however only recently have several of their releases have made it onto bandcamp for download. One hopes that a wider audience can now take notice; deservedly so as their music is both ambitious and widescreen in its intent. A member of Ireland’s finest wyrd folkers United Bible Studies, director of Agitated Radio Pilot and erstwhile collaborator with both composer Richard Moult (who returns the favour by appearing here and reworking some earlier tracks) and Plinth’s Michael Tanner (also present), Colohan is one of the underground’s busiest yet most unassuming musicians.
Originally released on the Deep Water Acres label, 'A Mendicant Hymnal' is deceptively gentle, quiet yet equally organic and powerful; indeed at times the songs are breathtaking in their sheer beauty. Essentially a soundtrack to a travelogue, the album opens with the creaking and scratched drones of ‘A Stretch of Haunted Road’, the open horizon of the land ahead buzzing with frayed guitar and strings. ‘Rio De Las Anima Perdidas’ melts sunset-like, the looped harmonium and glissandos providing an eerie loveliness that should really be soundtracking a Werner Herzog film; indeed Popol Vuh’s work provides a useful reference point for Raising Holy Sparks as, similar to Vuh, the music herein is almost religious in its solemnity and grace. This is a hymnal as the album title suggests; a prayer to the landscape and its sense of isolation. The ghostly ‘Within the Painted Desert’ echoes with tension; the strings crying out over Moult’s crescending piano, the insect buzz of distorted guitar growing until it consumes the track. The twenty minute ‘Meteors over the Mesa’ is a monolithic and melancholy piece that blurs into haze and wonder. This is music to dream by.
‘Bright Angel Trail’ is a heavenly choir of electronics and mellotron; its glacial sadness is genuinely moving. Raising Holy Sparks’ music needs space and patience but is ultimately rewarding; pay attention and this is some of the most delicate and heart rending sound out there. ‘At The Confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah’ is a hushed piano and guitar piece that allows for breath in between the shimmering and gliding drones of the rest of the album while the scraping and swelling of ‘Plains of Kansas’ suggests a dread and sense of unimportance in the face of the endless sky and watching universe. ‘The Credo of Dissolving’ echoes this feeling of smallness under the stars with its crashing waves of electronics and yearning piano and strings. ‘There is Evil in His Machinery’ and the glistening night sky of closer ‘Perenne Lumen in Templo Aeterni’ end the album with a vestige of hope, a hint of sunrise over the desert.
A Mendicant Hymnal contains so many layers and moments of beauty that it belies its complexity to describe it simply as a drone or ambient piece. Sounding universal and at times consumed by the landscape yet equally human and warm, Colohan and collaborators have composed the soundtrack to a thousand journeys. Music as emotive and unique as this should not be neglected; take a trip with Raising Holy Sparks.' The Active Listener.

'Gorgeous ambient drones here, slow moving beauty and a sense of vast space, in keeping with the American continent.' wearenoise

'By the loose standards, or paradigms, that seem to be developing, here’s a another one for the ‘goat-hair tent prog’ camp. Now, before I bury myself, let’s stop there briefly. That appellation came by way of a serious passenger, and though it might seem flippant at first, it cuts to the heart of the matter. Underneath the obvious sense of humor—and wink— to it, there’s a real honing in on what makes albums like Raising Holy Sparks‘ A Mendicant Hymnal a shimmering example. What it really means, for pilgrims like Raising Holy Sparks and outfits like Mountains, Anvil Salute, Date Palms, and label-mates Evening Fires … is that there are some serious, and traditional, knots in the tree rings … even when the songs seem to be effortlessly eschewing conventional form as much as expectation. There’s a decidedly rural (for lack of a better word and vocabulary) spine running through them, intertwining the humanist and the spiritual. Whether it’s the instrumentation, folk foundations and mutations, intent, execution or simply the bones of the song, there’s a definite leaning towards embers and smoldering over raging flames. Not that things aren’t susceptible to blazes at any given moment (check the slow ride out on Within the Painted Desert), but if there are you can be sure it will be accompanied with an intoxicating smoke that makes you breathe even deeper rather than choking. And as your lungs expand, so do the vistas that the music conjures up, dwarfed only by the panoramas blossoming between your ears. Open your ears and watch the Meteors Over the Mesa for those two environments to coexist, with yourself right smack dab in the middle of the overlap with a full 360° view. It’s all big music, even in the quietest of moments, yet full of space. Space you can breathe in, either here on grounded Mother Earth or up there where suspension replaces oxygen. That right there is a shared perspective, a perspective that can look up, deeply, and move into it without forgetting the view below of a starry night. Or the wood for the trees if the band is so inclined. Does this mean they sound alike, a singular soundtrack to a transcendental Groundhog Day? Hell no. Not anymore than anything else we cram into a requisite pigeon-hole. It’s a vibe that is both planetary and intimate, and one with endless tributaries, as well as confluences (As luck would have it, that’s a position you can take At The Confluence Of The Potomac & Shenandoah). Though not without willing and substantial revisits on our part. Ones that breeze through the doldrums easily, morphing and assimilating themselves as they make successive grasps to maintain motion without sacrificing drift.

Raising Holy Sparks is, fundamentally, David Colohan (United Bible Studies, Agitated Radio Pilot). In every way, A Mendicant Hymnal comes across as a deeply personal album, let alone journey. And in no way does that make it insular or impenetrable to passers-by. Colohan’s ‘epic slow-motion electro-acoustic soundscapes’ not only envelope, they embrace. Any feelings of mournfulness or longing that might arise through these deep devotional drones quickly dissipate through a sifter that scatters stars and spirits in equal measure. By the time the waters of the Potomac and the Shenandoah have been crossed, the enigmatic Plains of Kansas or A Stretch of Haunted Road walked, or the wounds licked, swaddled and healed in Shadow City, Missouri, A Mendicant Hymnal—for as intimate as it is—simply doesn’t belong to Raising Holy Sparks anymore. Whatever journey it takes you on, it’s yours as much as it is Colohan’s. The universality of it doesn’t just allow that, it encourages it. Contemplative, spiritual, and ‘holy’ transcendent, A Mendicant Hymnal is far richer than its order’s subscribers claim to be. Whatever amount you put into their hands or collection plate is returned tenfold, at the very least. Here’s to sharing the wealth.' mratavist.wordpress.com

'Raising Holy Sparks, meanwhile, is a 2CD side project by UB Student David Colohan, a couple of years old now, but so reflective in its ambient abstractions that it’s never too late to treat it as new. Released within a series of similarly titled albums built upon North American atmospheres and landscapes, its lush evocations of specific places and scenes are wholly instrumental – a silent road movie for the ears. Its visions are seldom overt, its voice is rarely outspoken. But still it conveys a sense of open space and uncharted desert, and though that’s not a unique notion, still its execution here is both flawless and unique. If wanderlust is a state of mind, then this is the justification it has always demanded.' Dave Thompson, Goldmine

'Raising Holy Sparks is the new musical project of Dave Colohan (United Bible Studies mainstay, ex-Agitated Radio Pilot), and it finds our peripatetic Irish monk journeying even further into long-form instrumental devotions of undeniably sublime effect, epic slow-motion electro-acoustic soundscapes deeply permeated by a sense of awe and wonder at the natural glories of the American continent. In the artist’s words: “Inspired by 7000 miles of travel across 30 states, A Mendicant Hymnal draws on the vast & ever-changing American landscape, from the mountains & deserts of the West through the empty plains & onto the endless forests of the East. The first in a continuing series, trying to get, in the words of Edward Abbey, 'close to the West of my deepest imaginings, the place where the tangible & the mythical became the same.'" Thirteen tracks, two discs, 135 minutes.' Deep Water

credits

released October 16, 2013

David Colohan - Autoharp, Electric Guitar, Harmonium, Shruti Box, Roland HP-600 Digital Piano, Drums, Field Recordings, Sampled Birotron & Mellotron
Richard Moult - Keyboards
Declan Kelly - Echo Harp, Casio Keyboard, Chord Organ, Leaves Of Grass
Casey Denman - Electric Guitar
Michael Tanner - Electric Guitar
Steve Lynch - Cover Photo

Tracks 10-13 are reworkings by Richard Moult of earlier pieces.

Recorded in Ballymahon, The Quiraing, Knocknacarra, Salthill, Eastbourne & Parkstone.

“All is Well, practice Kindness, Heaven is Nigh.” Jack Kerouac, Visions of Gerard

For Henri, under the dancing moon.

vimeo.com/59249184

A Stretch Of Haunted Road video.

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David Colohan Ireland

'An eerie loveliness that should really be soundtracking a Werner Herzog film; indeed Popol Vuh’s work provides a useful reference point for Raising Holy Sparks as, similar to Vuh, the music herein is almost religious in its solemnity and grace.' The Active Listener ... more

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