This Is How We Fly: a gravity-defying Irish-Swedish adventure
This Is How We Fly fuse traditional music from Ireland and Sweden with elements of Appalachian clog dancing, jazz and electronica. They look set to take off
This Is How We Fly: from left, percussionist Petter Berndalen, percussive dancer Nic Gareiss, Dublin reed player Seán Mac Erlaine and fiddler Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh
Fiddler Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Dublin reed player Seán Mac Erlaine performing with This Is How We Fly. Photograph: Fiona Morgan
There’s a telling moment in film-maker Myles O’Reilly’s atmospheric film about This Is How We Fly’s trip to Sweden last year to record their debut album. Fiddler Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and percussionist Petter Berndalen are walking through downtown Stockholm talking about the band’s unusual name and how it relates to their sound.
“I can feel in the music,” says the Swedish percussionist, “that we are levitating, all of us. It feels like we are flying.”
“Yes,” agrees the fiddler from Dublin, “The way you play, it feels very related to physical movement. Rather than clock time or metronome time, it’s gravity time.”
Berndalen, with his improvised kit of drums, tambourines and bells, and Ó Raghallaigh with his customised 10-string Scandinavian fiddle, are two-quarters of this high-flying new group that fuses traditional music from Ireland and Sweden with elements of Appalachian clog dancing, contemporary jazz and ambient electronica. The quartet is completed by Dublin reed player Seán Mac Erlaine, best known for his experiments with sound processing in a jazz context, and Michigan-born “percussive dancer” Nic Gareiss, who uses his dancing shoes and a small wooden stage to turn the vocabulary of various dance traditions into musical rhythms.
It’s a melting pot of styles, at once ancient and avant garde, which has won This Is How We Fly a strong following in the short time they have been together.
It was never meant to last. Róise Goan, outgoing director of the Dublin Fringe Festival, simply asked Ó Raghallaigh to put something together for the festival in 2010. “She said she wanted something that no one had ever heard before,” says the fiddler, “so I rang up the three lads and asked them if they would be interested in doing a one-off gig. They were all people I had wanted to work with, and I felt it would be an interesting combination, but I don’t think I expected us to do more than one concert.”
That concert, in Dublin’s Grand Social in September 2010, was packed to the rafters, and the audience’s response to this new, gravity-defying hybrid was positive.
“That’s when we knew we were on to something,” says Mac Erlaine. “And it’s pretty much been like that every time since. It’s very much a live band, particularly with the dancing. There’s a strong visual element, and people say that we look like we’re having a really good time on stage. So we try to project that out into the room, and hopefully we get the same thing back, and then the level of the experience escalates for everyone.”
For all the high-tech sound processing coming from Mac Erlaine’s laptop, the group’s sound is firmly rooted in tradition, thanks to Ó Raghallaigh’s mastery of the Irish fiddle tradition, which he found was enhanced when he discovered the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle.
“I remember the first time I heard it,” says Ó Raghallaigh, who now plays his 10-string instrument with Irish supergroup The Gloaming as well as This Is How We Fly. “To me it was a very similar experience to hearing Tommy Potts for the first time, where you’re absolutely flattened by the music. It kind of came sideways at you, so wild and beautiful and unexpected. I would have heard a hell of a lot of music, but this was something completely different coming from Norway. ”