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Roger DOYLE (b. 1949)
Time Machine
Chalant [9:15]
Voices Of Parents [5:14]
Back In Time [4:12]
Jonathan Prelude [2:21]
Coat-hanger Kisses [9:48]
Wassane [10:27]
Back From Hospital [2:33]
It’s Very Serious [3:09]
Salomé At The Gate [10:14]
Birth [3:55]
Departure [10:37]
rec. 2010/11
HERESY RECORDS 017 [72:00]

Irish composer Roger Doyle has not as high profile a name as he might have, considering his not inconsiderable reputation and output. Starting out as a drummer, he studied composition at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and also attended the Institute for Sonology when it was still in Utrecht – it has since moved to The Hague. Work for film and theatre, a mammoth magnum opus Babel and numerous albums provide plenty of material for further investigation.

The golden thread behind Time Machine is a series of messages left on a telephone answering machine, but the pieces are also “linked by recurring themes and chord progressions”, giving the whole thing a sense of unity and direction. The messages were collected between 1987 and 1989, and there is an inevitable poignancy in the fact that many of the people who left their mark in this way are no longer with us.

The opening track acts as an introduction. Chalant draws us in with the attractive sonorities of a dulcimer type of instrument, the cyclic ostinato of which develops into something with drums and ticking, moving towards a section with low and moody chords into which fragments of voice messages emerge and recede. This is elongated through a development of the bass notes into a gently syncopated bed of sound, through which the stage is set and the curtains can slowly rise. The blackness of the stage is penetrated by the opening piano notes of Voices of Parents. The piano is deliberately of the antique upright variety. The composer’s parents, Paddy and Gwen Doyle, are wishing him a happy New Year with the usual concerned comments about his well-being. The spotlight, searching through the misty aura of a lost past, finds the composer’s son aged 10 and 11 in Back In Time. Gentle chords see-saw onwards, the colour and timbre now conjuring something like a starry sky from which the younger voice descends.

Jonathan Prelude is an instrumental preamble to Coat-Hanger Kisses in which the late broadcaster and journalist Jonathan Philbin Bowman improvises a poetic “stream of consciousness message”, some of the words from which are printed in the booklet. The spotlight has returned to the pub piano, but the music takes on a relaxed lyricism which also has an improvisatory air to it. This gains substance and weight later on in what is quite a substantial and moving piece. Wassane picks up on the dulcimer sound and ostinato energy of the opening track, its shifting accents lifting attention away from a strong downbeat that expands with a minimalist and single-minded power.

The mood retreats for Back From Hospital, the messages from a variety of people expressing concern after a serious asthma attack saw Doyle hospitalised. Sprinkled with sprightly notes this track has the feel of an intermezzo, the driving beat of It’s Very Serious taking us into a darker place. The strange messages at the root of this track turned out to be prank calls, but were disturbing at the time as one can imagine. Salomé at the Gate uses messages left the morning after the first night of a production of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé for which Doyle had made a substantial musical contribution. A review is read out and there are other discussions and comments, including from the director Steven Berkoff, as the music weaves a commentary of its own.

Birth describes the tender and magical moment of becoming a grandfather – the messages a computer generated tracking of the event – a sequence of electronic telegrams that are strangely affecting. Departure is the instrumental counterweight to Chalant, a more reflective finale that carries the memories of what we have taken from the rest of the programme. Electronic treatment adds texture, and bell-like sounds take over at the close, the surreal side-effects of resonance playing their part in giving a vocal quality to the notes.

This is a remarkable release, the content of which is likely to haunt your thoughts long after you have experienced it. We’ve all had some experience of recorded voice messages, though in these digital times few of them are likely to be preserved in the way we used to with those old-fashioned cassette tapes. Time adds significance to such artifacts, and this is where part of the strength of these pieces comes from, the rest filled in by Roger Doyle’s expressive music. The lovely Irish accents are another part of the attraction here. If you are looking for something theatrical and contemporary that doesn’t bamboozle you with avant-garde angularity or batter you with tediously heavy dance rhythms then Time Machine is a wonderful place to explore.

Dominy Clements


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