Writings about Mike


QuietKnot (2023), The Wire Online, March 2024

Full review here

QuietKnot (2023), BAMBOO (European Shakuhachi Society Newsletter) Winter 2023, p. 62 (Click to open)

The theme here is clearly hailstones hitting a roof, both in the domestic and cosmic spheres. Mike McInerney (shakuhachi) and Duncan Chapman (live processing) have created a satisfying album on an epic scale. Via electronic environments, the Japanese flute encounters vast spaces, bringing to mind the recording of Goro Yamaguchi shot into space on a golden LP aboard NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in 1977.

Opening track “Rain” is actually based on a recording of hail hitting a Devon kitchen roof. Chapman’s processed sound and massive drones are oceanic in scope and constantly in subtle motion. From time to time we hear the granularity of the hail, the spitting percussion contrasting nicely with the geological strata of Chapman’s synths. McInerney’s shakuhachi is a lone wolf baying at the moon, a slow wail in space. “Cassini Drone” also has granular textures, but this time they are the sound of tiny particles striking the dish antenna of the Cassini probe as it penetrated the rings of the planet Saturn. According to Cambridge University’s Carolin Crawford, scientists in Iowa converted these impacts into audible sounds “that resemble hail hitting a tin roof.” McInerney sits patiently singing amidst these vast soundscapes, till eventually he unleashes complex spirals of flute trills, looping into contrails across the sky. Finally “Echo Lanes”, a shorter piece, processes the shakuhachi sound in a web of loops and echoes.

McInerney and Chapman have four decades of musical history to draw on, having first collaborated on a Stockhausen piece in Liverpool while still teenagers. McInerney has also built analog synths, including his Humbox. There’s a beautiful live recording of him and Chapman both playing synths on their “Purple Sky” from spring 2023, also audible on Bandcamp.

McInerney’s first shakuhachi was hacked out from furniture bamboo in the Australian outback. Later he studied with Yoshikazu Iwamoto in York, and Véronique Piron in Brittany. He has also written a chapter for Kiku Day and Gunnar Linder’s forthcoming book (Shakuhachi Complexities), titled “A Sympathetic Resonance: towards a language for shakuhachi electroacoustic music.”

I’m not the first to observe that there’s usually something pleasing about flute plus electronics. The shakuhachi’s blatant physicality and humanity sit well amongst the humming machines. Quiet Knot, whether sat in the kitchen or traversing space at twenty kilometres a second, have produced aconvincing, even mind-expanding set of pieces.

Clive Bell 2023

Full review here

Piano:Forest (2015) - The Wire online March 2015 (Click to open)

The weekend closed with Mike McInerney and Shaun Lewin’s Piano:Forest – an interaction between a pianist, field recordings and the live electronic interpretation of five layers of geological data mapped from an area of woodland, from insects at ground level to the drones of an orbiting satellite. The audience is fenced in by speakers, as the composition moves through the layers of forest. Its sonic clusters drift past or menace the listeners, enclosed in an ecosystem subsumed by insectoid pressure-cooker swells, with swoops of crunching and ruffling foliage. An impressive combination of both a tech and data sublime, Piano:Forest is overwhelming in its multilevel sound design. The underlying suggestion of the surveillance architecture necessary to gather the bulk of data and coding powering the work adds to its vegetal attack. The performers here become both arch pagans and number-crunchers at GCHQ, and even then, the force of Piano:Forest takes over.

Emily Bick 2015

Full review here

From the Devil's Mountain: Listening for Lost Voices (2012) CD review 2013 (Click to open)

Michael McInerney is one of very few shakuhachi players pushing the boat out onto the choppy waters of live electronics. An example is his The Extended Shakuhachi (which you can hear at zlatko.hu/music.html), a set of pieces with the fragile bamboo sound surviving within an unstable environment, processing his flute via “accelerometers and pressure sensors”. This is a case of ‘dirty’ electronics, a dangerous soundworld, with the shakuhachi cast as a kind of Daniel entering the lions’ den.
Listening For Lost Voices is a much calmer, more spacious music. This time the agenda is not electronic processing but a duet for shakuhachi and Morse code. The chosen space is crucial: a spherical dome within the disused Cold War listening station of Teufelsberg (‘devil’s mountain’). This is a squatted ghost village in Berlin, officially opened up for two days in autumn 2012 for an arts festival.
McInerney plays in this resonant dome, conjuring an audio miasma of shifting echoes. The hypnotic sound dimly recalls Paul Horn’s flute recording from inside the Taj Mahal (the first LP I bought with my own money, if I recall).
Into this drifts the sound of Morse code, like a ship on the horizon, and drifts away again. Fierce blasts of noise erupt (presumably this is McInerney’s breathy muraiki), alternating with a haunted calm.
McInerney’s engagement with the Morse code, and with this extraordinary building, is thick with resonances – the swirling audio echoes are paralleled by the hovering memories of Cold War history and obsolete modes of government surveillance. A truly haunted performance.

Clive Bell 2013

Full review here

Descending the Bone Staircase (2011) CD review 2012 (Click to open)

Matt Lord And Mike McInerney
Descending The Bone Staircase
Setola Di Maiale CD (2011)

I came across Mike McInerney playing a version of “Tamuke” in December, at the 2011 Spitalfields Festival in London. He was part of an unusual event (devised by composer Duncan Chapman) that also featured a primary school orchestra of ambient laptops. Later in the concert “Tamuke” was remixed into a group piece, informally known as “Spooky Tamuke”. Afterwards McInerney gave me a copy of his new CD, on an Italian label which translates as ‘Bristle Of Pork’.
Descending The Bone Staircase is a set of improvised duets for shakuhachi and Matt Lord’s acoustic guitar. The playing throughout is gentle and delicate, creating a generally melodic, ambient environment and occasionally launching out into more noise-based atmospherics. Twice McInerney puts down his flute and takes up stones, struck or rubbed together. The recording is clear, but the space around the musicians sounds small and dry, not offering the atmospheric support that you find, for example, in a church in Spitalfields.
This type of duo improvising is not easy to bring off. You want the music to conjure magic, to generate something more than the sum of its parts, and for me this happens intermittently. Both players are strongly drawn to the key of E minor, an obvious comfort zone for guitar, less so for the shakuhachi, which seems constrained. Blues idiom is touched upon but not really explored. But more excitement arrives at moments when tentative melodic exchanges are abandoned and the pair start playing with sound itself.
McInerney studied shakuhachi with Yoshikazu Iwamoto when the latter was living in York, and composition with Frank Denyer at Dartington College. He now teaches at the University Of Plymouth. Another release due in early 2012 is Membranes by Poems In Stone: this is a noise/drone quartet run by guitarist Lord, with McInerney again, plus trombone (Alice Kemp) and the late Joey Chainsaw on noise guitar. I get the impression that this is more familiar territory for Lord, who releases south-west UK ecstatic no-fi projects on his Omcore label. McInerney also has his own interesting excursions into electronics, employing various devices to process his shakuhachi playing: The Extended Shakuhachi can be heard here: zlatko.hu/music.html

Clive Bell 2012

Full review here