In advance of Sinéad Gleeson’s much anticipated interview with Jan Carson on 24th March, we are delighted to publish her reflections on the Covid lockdown and a playlist which has distracted her during this time.
For one year, from September 1978 to September 1979, Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh locked himself in a wooden cage. It measured 11.5 x 9 x 8 feet and contained only a sink, a bucket, a single bed and lights. While living in the cage, Hsieh did not write, speak, read, listen to music or watch television. A lawyer oversaw the project, bringing him food, removing waste and taking a daily photo to document the project. Art does not seek comfort, or answers. It has a broad spectrum of purpose, subjectively delineated by the artist or audience. During the current pandemic, I think regularly of Hsieh’s confinement and his attempts to record the passage of time; challenging what constitutes passivity in art and human experience.
With time, there is always too little of it. A constantly tipped scale. Now there is a surfeit, but not the idealised kind of time we crave. I begin to dream of clocks, an army of ticks tapping in my head at night.
A bird hit the window yesterday; a soft, violent thump. No hint of beak, just the sound of plumage, of feathers splayed. Then another one today. Perhaps this is just what happens when I’m home more, or starting to pay attention to these things. Or that birds have also lost their way, attuned to all the uncertainty. Maybe another bird dared him to do it, just for a laugh.
People are talking about how birdsong is louder these days. But it was always there, drowned out by the diesel belch of buses, the Greek chorus of schoolyard kids. A kind of sonic pointillism.
All week, Venus has hovered over the house, looking brighter than it ever has. At night, 10pm feels like 4am, and you remember the walks home from parties when you felt in cahoots with the city. You long for a packed pub, peering through the triangle gap of shoulders at a gig, dancing, a group dinner, the smell of someone else’s skin.
Where do you miss most? The looped walk under the green shoulder of Ben Bulben, the steep gradient up to the Hell Fire Club and the view over Dublin, the final bend in to the road to your parents’ house. The sea, the sea.
Every few days, I talk to a friend in New York, our calls sound-tracked by the wail of sirens. She has rarely been outside and really feeling the loss of touch, of another person, of desire. Perhaps there are others out there, wishing they’d made their move, pressed the object of their desire against a wall and kissed them until lips were raw, their breath heavy?
The hills will still be out there. So will the blue foam of the coast, the concussed birds, the art – lonely as hell in galleries – the people you long to see. They’re waiting, marking time in their own way, willing it onwards.
Sinéad’s Belfast Playlist
Denise Chaila – ‘Chaila’
It’s been brilliant to watch the rise of Denise over the last year and her Choice Music Prize win is well-deserved.
Peter Broderick – ‘A Snowflake’
This song is from Float, one of my favourite composers and always listen to it when traveling or trying to quieten my brain.
Gemma Dunleavy – ‘Up de Flats’
I curated an event at the NCH recently and invited Gemma to take part and she brought a harpist. The mix of styles and beats worked so well.
Nas – ‘N.Y. State of Mind’
My teenage son has recently been impressed (a rarity) by the fact that I own lots of old hip hop on vinyl, so we’ve been rediscovering albums together.
The Go-Betweens – ‘Streets of Your Town’
Am reading Tracey Thorn’s new book about her friendship with TGB’s drummer Lindy Morrison. They were the support act for my very first gig – (REM on the Green tour in 1989).
Dorothy Ashby – ‘Action Line’
I’m currently obsessed with Afro Harping, a 1967 album by harpist Ashby. This song is on Shout Sister Shout, a playlist of women I posted on Spotify.
Mount Alaska – ‘Terrain’
I’m collaborating with my husband Stephen Shannon and two artists this year, and he makes music as one half of MA, and I love this new song.
Aim – ‘Good Disease’
Recently, I rediscovered Aim’s Hinterland, an album I played to death in 2002, and it stands up so well (and reminds me of such a great year).
Max Richter – ‘Mrs. Dalloway: In the Garden’
I love modern composers like Jóhann Jóhannsson, Hildur Guðnadóttir, and Richter. The album ‘Three Worlds’ are his compositions of Virginia Woolf’s novels, and he even includes the only existing recording of her voice here.
Kate Bush – ‘Them Heavy People’
Kate is my musical hero, and I’ve been lucky enough to interview her. Everyone knows her big singles, but her albums are full of brilliant, complex songs.