Drummer/composer/storyteller/producer Sean Noonan is among the most prolific and innovative musicians of his generation. Just a few months after the release of his punk-rock influenced Pavees Dance: There's Always the Night, which paired the 38 year old drummer with Malcolm Mooney, the original vocalist for the leading avant-garde rock group of the '70s, Can, Noonan will release Bruised by Noon, a solo drum CD and vinyl recording, with an accompanying print book, on August 26.
Bruised by Noon concludes the story that Noonan began to tell on his 2012 Songlines release, A Gambler's Hand, in which a man by the name of Finny Finnegan is trapped in a wall. The new album, which includes twelve bouts" that Finnigan has with the wall (eleven instrumental and one spoken word), in many ways coalesces the concepts that have driven Noonan's work as he has continued to evolve as a creative artist. He describes himself as an Irish griot,' one who collects tales, legends, and life stories over the course of his journeys and transforms them into the raw material that informs the entirety of the music he creates; however, on A Gambler's Hand, he created his fantastic yet original tale based on personal experience. Still, elements of folklore are present in that work: Finny is actually a Pavee, an Irish traveler and tinker similar to a gypsy. Pavees have existed in Ireland since before the fifth century, and Noonan revisited them for inspiration on Pavees Dance: There's Always the Night. After each of the 11 bouts on Bruised by Noon, Finny's body ever so slowly becomes a permanent part of the wall.
Accompanying the Bruised by Noon CD or vinyl is an exquisite book, with graphics by Eva Scheer, containing the poem captured on the CD's final track which is read by Noonan portraying Finny. The voice" of the wall is rendered by the drums. There are a lot of spoken rhythms that mirror my drumming, and vice versa," explains Noonan. That interplay is an important part of my musical concept. I try to speak like a drummer, and to drum words or say them from the drum set."
The cover of the limited edition book features what at first glance seems to be an abstract image in subtle shades of gray with a hazy vellum overlay. In fact, the image is an x-ray of Noonan's leg taken after a car accident while on tour in Italy in 2003 that left him with two broken legs and where he had a serious near death experience. The cover actually shows my shattered femur and the x-ray was taken when I was in a coma," says Noonan, but looking at it up close you can see a man shouting, as I imagine the man in the wall talking to Finny. To me, this image is powerful proof of the spirits watching over me as I was trapped in an induced coma; when I first saw the image that's the book's cover, I thought, 'Wow. That is some deep stuff I discovered: art can even come from your own body.' I kept the x-rays and decided to use them as artwork for the book,along with other images taken of every part of my body, like my lungs and my brain."
This album is a reflection of some of the many different musical ideas I developed after the accident as I went through rehabilitation and recovery," he continues. It was recorded in 2011 and wasn't' mixed until 2013, so I had time to develop and refine the concept - both musical and metaphorical - in the intervening years."
Finny the Gambler, as I imagined him, is an obsessive compulsive risk taker, who is trapped inside his own problem, his inability to break away from his gambling. The main idea of him being trapped in a wall is certainly a metaphor for being trapped inside our own personal struggles, our own symbolic walls."
As high concept as it may be in theory, Bruised by Noon is still a solo drum work, albeit one by an artist who consistently strives to expand the boundaries of his instrument. Let's face it, a drum set is not a tempered pitch instrument, nor is played as a melodic instrument," acknowledges Noonan. Yet on Bruised by Noon I have worked to create not only melodies with my drums, but harmonies as well, even though drums are nothing like a piano or a guitar."
A master collaborator (over the course of the 19 albums that he has recorded, the list of artists with whom he has worked includes Marc Ribot, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Tom Swafford, Mat Maneri, Alex Marcelo, Aram Bajakian, Abdoulaye Diabate, Matthew Bourne, Momenta Quartet and Susan McKeown), Noonan still managed to find a musical co-pilot for the solo flight that is Bruised by Noon. German audio wizard Simon Kummer, who also mixed and co-produced A Gambler's Hand, brought a Bavarian electronic music sensibility to the recording of Bruised by Noon, which was the inaugural project at his then-new NFO recording studio. Simon believes in my vision and is a great friend and strong supporter of my career," Noonan notes. Like me, he likes to try crazy things and take on challenging projects. For this album he mixed, mastered and also contributed sound processing, where the sounds created from the acoustic drums added even more color and texture to the album."
Having been given something as rudimentary as a pure drum set playing iterative and short but very well elaborated patterns, my main goal was to implement a distinctive acoustic fingerprint for every 'bout,'" remarks Kummer. Mostly I tended to create human analogies, like letting the drums whisper, moan or breathe, to translate Sean's playing and the book's text, as well as Eva's graphical adaption into an adequate acoustic concept that mirrors the ghostly and mystic spirit of the project."
Noonan is currently in the process of completing a another album: In the Ring, song cycles featuring him on percussion and vocals along with the Momenta string quartet - similar but more expansive than A Gambler's Hand - and has several other projects in the works to be premiered next fall. In one of those, he has literally traveled to the bottom of a coal mine in Bytom, Poland to study and collect Silesian folklore about Skarbnik" the treasurer of the mine. It will be premiered in part during an extensive European tour scheduled for the fall with a Polish string quartet.
A seemingly tireless creative spirit drives Noonan to continually explore new terrain and blur the boundaries between music, art and poetry. I always feel a natural need to re-invent myself and not to use the same concept more than a few times such as the relationship with A Gambler's Hand and Bruised by Noon," he concludes. There are no limitations in to what boundaries I might establish and also influences that inspire me, but at the same time I find my vision to be more authentic when I truly follow my own musical instincts and to create art from my own voice."
ABOUT SEAN NOONAN
In 1999 Sean Noonan first came to the public's attention as the drummer of The HUB, one of several bands that emerged as the next generation of cutting edge music from the Brooklyn underground scene. Since the birth of his band Brewed by Noon, Noonan has created original musical concepts from Afro-Celtic Punk-Jazz to composing downtown avant-garde chamber music and improvising stories from his drum set.
Noonan has produced 19 albums in a diverse career featuring fine artists such as Marc Ribot, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Mat Maneri, Susan McKeown and Abdoulaye Diabate, and Malcolm Mooney.
As a composer, drummer, producer and storyteller, Noonan is unafraid to take risks with his creative output. He has developed distinctive concepts, such as working with an amplified string quartet on his 2012 Songlines release, A Gambler's Hand. On that album, Noonan presented his ongoing interest in treating the strings as an extension of the drum set. His inspirations combine the aesthetics of modern chamber music, improvised new music, storytelling and experimentalists ranging from Henry Cowell to John Zorn.
While A Gambler's Hand owes much of its inspiration to the string quartet tradition of Beethoven and Bartok in particular, Noonan's songwriting now, as it was then, is rooted in literature and folklore - ancient invocations, cautionary tales and psychedelic nightmares - collected from experience and various cultures and retold from the perspective of a 21st century Irish-American punk/jazz downtown New Yorker who'd fallen in love with storytelling and African music.