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This Weekend I’ll Mostly be Listening to… Roger Doyle – Operating Theatre. May 5, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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1983. Dave Fanning on the radio and the sound of an echoing keyboard chord progression before a rush of percussion and a straight from new wave central casting stern female vocal. And it builds up and then it goes quiet again. And there’s sampled voices. And what sounds like movie dialogue and a synthesised brass section. And then… Anyhow, it’s all great stuff, totally over the top and all the better for it. And if it sounds entirely unlike anything else in Ireland, and precious few further afield, are attempting to produce in 1983, that’s because it is.

This is Operating Theatre, led by Roger Doyle and Olwen Fouere. A new wave/electronic and art and performance art influenced outfit – which intriguingly fits into a not dissimilar aesthetic to that of Princess Tinymeat referenced a few months back.

The earliest material is inflected by shouty post-punk/new-wave, exhibit A being Austrian (although that’s got a spoken element that is a bit too clever for its own good even, or particularly, when it goes meta). Yet that’s softened, or leavened, by the electronic underpinnings which push the music forward, albeit it has something of the clunkiness that characterised a lot of electronic experimentation during that period.

Tracks like No Come use an underlay of synth sounds to good effect. A lot of instrumentals – some of which, Dragon Push being a good example, have an oddly Cardiacs like sound. Some of it is unashamedly theatrical, take Rampwalk, which is… er… appropriate and some of it is bombastic. But it is theatrical in an experimental and interesting way and therefore gets a free pass. And the electronica stands up surprisingly well at the remove of three decades.

Other reference points? Well, maybe it’s me but I hear a certain John Foxx in the mix early on. And definitely The Passage – in particular in relation to the vocals, though OT were always more melodic and more… and perhaps this is an odd word…romantic. But oddly enough there’s something there that seems to me to foreshadow 1990s IDM. Strip away the vocals, chop up the music and note how different passages appear to be performed on different sets of instruments. Black Dog used samples in a not dissimilar way in some of their work. Or perhaps it’s simply a similar dynamic.

OT were on the U2 linked ‘Mother’ record label, though it’s hard to know whether that was a blessing or a curse. They had two fairly distinct phases during the 1980s, and perhaps the second phase is better known – and unsurprisingly is best represented on YouTube – with near big pop excursions such as Queen of No Heart [which sounds uncannily like Propaganda in parts] and Summer is Coming with a Strawberry in the Mouth. The latter uses sequencers to good effect and there’s a real sense that had Doyle and OT chosen to continue in that direction they might well have wound up significantly bigger. But one also has the sense that that was never the point of the exercise.

There’s a website, apparently a work in progress. Here’s more information on them. Doyle himself has gone onto pastures new – albeit much of the aesthetic remains, but this retains considerable power even when removed from the context of its time. I’ve found since relistening to this for the first time in years that a lot of the music is staying with me. By the way, particular kudos for the none more new wave name.

Blue Light + Alpha Waves

Queen of No Heart

Spring is Coming with a Strawberry in the Mouth

Rampwalk and Austrian are available here…

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