“We are better together than apart. It’s always something that is close to my heart. Clarinetist and scholar Dr Paul Roe sees the irony of his words amid a pandemic that has put distance between so many of us.
Over the past few years, Roe has actively collaborated with an eclectic mix of equally curious people from the worlds of music, science and medicine, with roots in Ireland and Iran. At the heart of this group, named Tulca by violinist Ultan O’Brien, who sees their collaboration as a flood or a deluge are Shahab and Shayan Coohe (both members of the experimental group Navá).
Roe taught Shayan at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and Shayan and his brother have long collaborated as classical Persian musicians whose musical traditions are rooted in improvisation.
I have a very strong bond with Shayan and Shahab. With Shayan, it was a teaching relationship that turned into a mentoring relationship, and I felt I had learned more than my students, to be honest.
“I have a very strong bond with Shayan and Shahab and I’m curious about their cultural references,” says Roe. “I have always been very interested in their story. As a Shayan teacher for the past seven years, it was a teaching relationship that turned into a mentoring relationship, and I felt I had learned more than my students, to be honest. .
Roe had also collaborated with another member of Tulca, bagpiper Mick O’Brien, who was learning classical flute. O’Brien, for his part, was teaching Roe to play the traditional whistle. The symbiotic relationship between each of these Tulca members is at the heart of their alliance.
A few years ago, Roe contacted Professor Jim Lucey, a consultant psychiatrist and former medical director of St Patrick’s Hospital.
“I love working with people,” Roe says, “because it’s the people that matter, not the discipline they do. I’m not interested in a generic psychiatrist or a generic musician. I want to work with Jim and Shahab. I was interested in staging something that is emerging and spacious and that invites curiosity.
Tulca’s debut album, Just Be, is a vast yet intimate collection of new compositions and traditional melodies drawn from Irish and Persian lore, with a meditative piece of Lucey’s spoken words within it. Mountains of the Mind is an invitation not to listen, but to hear; revealing ideas shared by two of his patients.
“This collaboration is very important to me,” says Lucey. “Collaboration is not limited by particular disciplines, but it requires invitation and openness. I have admired Paul for many years. When we first met and chatted it was a breath of fresh air for me. I was going through a period before Covid where I was absolutely open to having access to another world and another conversation and then being able to participate only with my voice, it was really exciting for me.
Lucey is also keen to point out the modest political aspect of their collaboration, and its total interweaving with his latest book, A Whole New Plan for Living, which he describes as “psychological first aid in these difficult times of Covid.” For him, Tulca embodies a crucial aspect of his own career.
“We want to have momentum in our lives,” he says, “and I like to hear musicians when they talk about the transience in their life because I think we have to talk about the evanescence of things as well. As we found ourselves locked in, we talked about the project for this album. Then I started my own journey in this area, because that’s what collaboration creates: a kind of willingness to look in and out, and it became my book: A Whole New Plan for Living.
“It seemed only natural to me that this exciting new adventure would become the result of this plan,” Lucey continues. “We talked about what it’s like to be individual, what it’s like to be authentic, to have hope, to be political, and I found myself allowing the experience of the collaboration of pulling myself out of consciousness, and of the volatility, complexity and uncertainty in many parts of our lives, at this point where each of us has revealed himself to each other, in many very interesting ways.
Roe is quick to point out the essence of creativity as something that defies the laws so often set in the life we lead these days.
“We want to mix Jim’s book with the CD in one way or another,” he says, “because they reflect everyone’s aspirations, that is, they are an invitation. to create your own story. It’s an invitation to tolerance: different styles, which are definitely left hemispherical instead of right hemispherical. It is a matter of imagination, color and form, and not prescriptive or specific. ”
For Lucey, Tulca’s invitation to “just be” embodies the fundamental ideas of what well-being is in a world that so often seeks to commodify our very beings.
“This project is about appreciating well-being as an amalgamation of social, emotional and intellectual choices we make about our lives,” he says. “It’s about the collective as well as the individual.”
The dervishes sit together and play a transforming, ever-changing drone. They have rallies in Iran where they would play the same thing for two or three hours, and they would go to another world
One of the tracks on the album, Always Be, resonates in different ways, depending on whether it’s seen through the prism of Western or Eastern philosophy, as illustrated by Shahab and Lucey.
“In Persian music my father was a dervish,” Shahab says. “These are people who sit together and play a transforming, ever-changing drone. They have rallies in Iran where they would play the same thing for two or three hours and they would go to another world. If you didn’t know them, you would have thought they had taken ecstasy, but it’s just repeating, exploring the same note.
“Always be; it’s always written on the B note because we always explore that B note with harmonies, but we always come back to that B note. Iranian music is about being able to go beyond music; to be present. but being in another galaxy at the same time. Not caring about the weather, but caring about how you feel. If you are a clean or pure person on the inside, you will appreciate it and people will appreciate it. experience with you. This is the concept of oriental philosophy and oriental music. ”
“Be fair: this is the question: can you present yourself and be, as you are, without artifice?” Lucey said. “It’s a tricky thing, because we identify so strongly with our own expertise. But when you let go of expertise, all of a sudden there are a lot of other things possible. Suddenly musicians are talking and thinking and suddenly psychiatrists can become musicians.
For his part, Shahab approached this collaboration with a mixture of passion and apprehension.
“Writing the music for this album was a big challenge for me,” he says. “I have a background in Persian classical music, based on improvisation. As a kid I used to improvise with my brother all the time, and when we play together we have that sense of collaboration. Once on stage, the quality of the chemistry is as if we are reading each other’s brains.
“Writing music for this group of people was a challenge because I had to adjust my skills and listen to the musicians in the group,” he adds. “To write music for Irish musicians is to give them a space to develop and explore on their own. I often spoke in color when writing and describing music to them, but that’s what happens in Irish music. When you listen to someone like Martin Hayes, every time they play there is a different quality in their music and different colors.
“I guess getting together is ultimately loving each other,” Lucey says. “But it’s very difficult to love yourself unless you try to love yourself. In our culture, we don’t have a way of expressing it as clearly as Shahab just did.
For Roe, it’s about being authentic to the world.
“I don’t want to go back to playing classical music where I’m nailed to the chair and playing exactly what’s on the page all the time,” he says. “It’s the same with traditional music. Shahab don’t wanna play the tunes like Martin [Hayes] plays. It is about being respectful of tradition but also about bringing to it the possibilities that we are evolving all the time and the music is evolving with us.
Just Be by Tulca is now available: tulca.bandcamp.com/releases. A whole new life plan by the teacher Jim Lucey is published by Hachette Books