Asking, not answering

The newest release on the Proost label (the folks behind resources such as the Labyrinth Kit and CD’s such as Spirit of the New), is ‘Dubh’ – a CD that has come out of the Belfast-based community Ikon. We chatted with one half of the composing team ‘Stray’, Paul Hutchinson.

Let’s start with this ‘darkness’ thing – not the rock band, but the title and vibe of the CD. Was there a concious effort to create something different to the usual christian happy worship music?

Dubh pronounced Duv is Irish for Black (and not dark as the sleeve note states). But the title is intentional. like the cloud of unknowing, sometimes what we experience is the absence or darkness of God, certainly the inexplicable and unreasonable.

Re mood/vibe :It wasn`t a question of trying to be different, to be alternative to something other than happy tunes . Rather, the CD is a flawed attempt at trying to capture the spirit of an Ikon service: full of questions, fragmented, fragile. And contemplative. Still passionate but also incomplete. Its also important to note that our ikon services are all held in a dingy pub, with the bar open to all. Its hard to see in there sometimes !

So the black could also be for Guinness… 🙂 (the rear of the CD packaging has a shot of the bar in which Ikon meet – with Guinness pump clearly displayed. Surely a first for a Christian album…)

I’d like to ask you about belfast and how big an influence the city is on ikon and the music on dubh. ‘Belfast beats me up’ is one of the tracks on the cd that really grabs me because it feels fragile and honest and brave. Do you feel that ikon could have happened anywhere or is it uniquely part of the fabric of belfast?

Well, half of the core group of Ikon (the Syndicate) are not from Belfast, so there is a strong international feel to the material. This provides a critical distance and creative melting pot.

Also, people who attend the services come from all over the world.

However, there is something about Belfast that is a major influence on us. Belfast is a town full of `religion`, church buildings, killing in the name of God, fundamentalism of all breeds. Ikon emerges out of this (in reaction and response), and looks at alternatives to the normal orthodoxies, alternatives that are life-affirming and dynamic. Ikon services are also quite wordy: we have the Gift of the Gab as they say. There is a strong oral story-telling tradition in Belfast.

So Belfast has certainly created what i think is a unique blend of searching souls.

Specifically, the song Belfast Beats Me Up tries to look at the notion of a place that is your home, your burden, your place of struggle, and a place where God can still be encountered. It is also linked to the situation of the homeless/people begging on our streets.

For me, the overall ‘feel’ of the cd is one of expectation. several of the tracks feel as if they’re about to burst into something else, but just when you’re expecting that to happen you’re suddenly given a different flavour, a new track, something else to think about and the sense of a signpost remaining in the background that can be followed another time. I wondered if the music was composed to do that, either specifically for the CD, or perhaps if that’s sometimes the pattern of ikon – providing leads and further options rather than obvious neat and tidy endings?

Ikon are regurlary critiqued as a crew who prefer to ask questions than to answer them. This is deeply intentional. Not out of wooly thinking. Not out of trying to evade hard issues. Not out of lack of intellect. But we find that things are much more honest if viewed provisionally. How to remain passionate about God, whilst knowing that our experience of God, our intellectual constructs can never contain God. And we have that post-modern fear that bold assertions of truth can be cover ups for wanting power and control. This is the philosophical basis to the music.

on the creation of the music, we wanted to reflect the Ikon services/spirit. The pieces build and never fully deliver. Offer maps, then question the compass. It is fragmented broken music. For fragile creatures to hear their own private monologues suddenly uttered in a public place, and in a drinking den of all places. We could easily have composed an easy listening 70mins of chill out vibes. We stumbled and stuttered on another path…..

Also, its the kind of music Jonny and I (StrAY) wanted to make and listen to. So its our taste coming through as well.
Because Ikon is always questioning Iimagine that makes it something with the potential to constantly evolve and reimagine what it is, so i wondered if you’d tried to imagine what a CD from ikon 5 years in the future might sound like? Would it even be a CD?

An Ikon cd in five years time? well, if we still existed, I would hope that there would be a more refined set of questions to ask. I think issues of community and how we live/work/struggle/fail together would be on the agenda. The difficulty of becoming more well known or even just to exist (as a happening) for more than a year also has its baggage: you need to constantly ask why and who you are doing something for. Its easy to become a parody of youself: moody does not always mean meaningful.

Personally, id like us to try and do a CD about joy, about celebration, about beauty.
material that my two daughters can contemplate or jump around to. I don`t think much work has been produced for families in the emerging church scene. And whatever is emerging should be more than just for young trendy disaffected intellectuals.

But what would it sound like? was your question. probably vocal chants sung in Irish/english, more live instruments (but still abused and treated by our weird technology), and a series of very long ambient tracks to fall asleep to.

Are you guys were working on anything else or planning to?

StrAY have a whole other set, comprising up-tempo sample-based music with satirical/political spoken word stuff sprayed all over it. We`d like to record that in the near future, get people dancing and sweating at Greenbelt.

soundtracks for stumbling saints…..

[Dubh is available from]