Here are the sleeve notes I was invited to write for Other Worlds, a duet recording by pianist Peter Urpeth and vocalist Maggie Nicols, issued on compact disc in 2017 on the FMR label, although from the look of the website it appears to be out of print—copies are still available from Squidco and other distributors, I think. The music deserves wider circulation, and it was an honour to write this brief piece.
These duo improvisations were originally made for the development of the soundtrack for Seán Martin and Louise Milne’s 2011 documentary, A Boat Retold. A few short sequences made the final cut. Fortunately, we can hear on this album something close to its initial and fully realized form: a pair of aqueous, intimate and mesmerizing extemporaneous suites. Maggie Nicols, I’m told, came to the title—or the title came to her—after re-listening to the recordings. The music she and Peter Urpeth share combines the exploratory and the attentive, shifting between moments of assertion and accommodation, of provocation and conversation, of sounding out and listening in. The phrase Other Worlds suggests not only a combination of allure and unknowing, of the worldly and the strange, but also a search by the duo for its own nascent, unfolding narrative, sound-tracking their mutual reach toward each other’s sound-worlds and outward, together: an opening up to the textures and audible flows of the living worlds around them. There are moments, at the beginning of the second piece, when the vocalist veers on her own into what seems like a kind of ur-Gaelic patter, syllables contingently and playfully feeling their way into what might be meaning, but never quite arriving, never quite coming to ground.
At least that’s what I hear, since I don’t speak Gaelic. She offers us something just the other side of words, distilling a ludic alterity that’s sonically palpable in the edgy grain and in the throat-singing overtones that come and go along her sometimes fierce, sometimes yielding melodic fractals. The piano functions as resonant accompaniment, drawing out and layering harmonics, supporting and deepening their exchange. But as each improvisation unfolds Urpeth quickly becomes co-creative collaborator; piano and voice variously merge and diverge, unknitting temporary concord into contrapuntal banter, then stitching threads and coaxing excursuses into newly discovered intersections and emergent, evanescent alignments. What I pick up on, as I listen, is the pianist’s decisive, responsive and protean touch, the haptic give-and-take of a genuine reciprocity—the point being, I think, to attend on their itinerant and vitally otherwise communion, a collision of quickened but separate attentions, and to follow where they go.
The sound of this particular recording is capacious, yet close. I overhear their shared and mutually shaped space, as notes seem to bounce and scatter along the walls of The Vortex on an empty afternoon. I find myself proximately immersed in their interchange, amid stream, virtually part of it. The music of Peter Urpeth and Maggie Nicols remains warmly open and consistently welcoming: an invitation. The poignant release that the closing minutes of the second piece enacts, as they let go of each other and as their lines come apart and dissolve into ambient sound—the voices of children playing outside the club, an outer world that has been present throughout the recording—offers a deeply moving enactment of what their music accomplishes, here: a lyricism of possibility, an open-hearted grace.