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Influential Musicians: "Nightnoise" (1983-2003)

Dealing with a review concerning “Nightoise” is a fascinating experience. This ensemble was active during the 1980s and 1990s with an original blend of Celtic, jazz, and classical chamber music that actually inspired myself and many others. These musicians brought together different strands of musical styles from Irish folk, modern jazz, to new age, though they always refused to be labeled under any style at all. Triona Ni Domhnaill (vocals, keyboards) tells us that “it is difficult to label a music that is original. As for the instrumentation that we use, it has elements of all that once we have heard, since we all come from different musical roots.”
Brian Dunning (flute and whistles) is trained in a classical/jazzy school and yet, there is some sort of Irish mood on his music. From the beginning “Nightnoise” was a strange mix, but with an own sound, with Bill Oskay (violin) who came from classical to American folk roots; afterwards replaced by John Cunningham, who had all the essence of scottish folk, along with other Celts like Michael and Triona. According to Dunning,"the Windham Hill catalogue (label which published their works) now contains a vast musical spectrum, yet many of us relate to it’s origins as a new age seal. We run music, or better said, we do not perform music. What we do is "Nightnoise”. We do not care in what style we are labeled. We just feel happy if the public believes in our music''.

According to Cunningham, "is one of the most challenging projects in which I have undertaken musically. It is too simple in melody and in turn too consistent. But when I started playing at the beginning, it was difficult, because stylistically I had to rethink everything in a different way. "
Let us remember that John was part of the legendary Scottish band Silly Wizard, and afterwards follow up Relativity along with Phil Cunningham, his brother (producer of Connie Dover and Wolfstone among others) joining also Triona & Michael O Domhnaill (Irish brothers, ex-members of the legendary Bothy Band and Skara Brae). John says that his first day of recording with Nightnoise was a nightmare "at the end of the day I had not a single track over, and I had to retire to rethink how to approach a style for Nightnoise.”
Nightnoise was founded in 1983, when Bill Oskay asked Michael O'Domhnaill (guitar and vocals) if he was interested to join him and record some tracks in his home studio in Portland, Oregon, USA. They had been there previously known, since Michael had been installed in that city, and although their styles were different, there was an immediate connection. Oskay was always (son of a maker of violins) jazzist possessed of the styles of Django Reinhardt / Stephanie Grappelli on the violin. Michael was just tired of playing traditional Irish, and had begun to compose. Both were interested in the way they sounded on their experimental tracks, and decided to pass a demo on to some publishing companies. An encouraging response came from Windham Hill Records, and soon after was issued in 1984 their first album “Nightnoise”, title taken from one of the tracks on the demo. On the shows they were accompanied by a keyboardist and a second violinist, but a duet with guest musicians could not function as a band.

Mícheál Ó Domhnaill had met flutist Michael Dunning in an Irish festival in Alabama two years before, in 1981. Dunning was attending as part of the featured Irish jazz artists. Mícheál was performing along with Kevin Burke (ex Bothy Band fiddler who edited a couple of albums) as part of the Irish traditional artists. “We had an evening of flute and guitar”-quotes Dunning-“, simple fusion, no melody in particular. It was interesting because it had the same freedom when it is not jazz, but with a hint of Irish.” After the meeting they both decided to play together and even edit. Their paths cross repeatedly, but without anything concrete.

Dunning begins to compose some pieces and knows the bodhran player Tommy Hayes (member of the Irish band Stockton's Wing), and together they form the duo “Puck Fair”, which still plays occasionally. Puck Fair has the expertise to combine the power of rhythmic Celtic music along with the freedom and spontaneity of jazz , a merger rather from the Irish to jazz. They issued on 1987 the album “Fair Play”, coincidentally under the Windham Hill label, now out of print.
In 1985, Dunning attended at one of Mícheál Ó Domhnaill’s shows in New York, who already had an entire album that was released alongside Oskay and decided to join them on their next album. Dunning was summoned to record in 1987, the same as Triona who had also emigrated from Ireland with his brother and lived by those days in North Carolina. At that time lined-up the group Touchstone, performing pieces with Irish influences with whom released two American albums between 1983 and 1987.
Let us recall that during this period she recorded two albums with Relativity; a quartet difficult to held as Phil Cunningham lived on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, his brother John was based in Boston, and Michael in Portland. After touring USA, Triona defined her return with her brother and joined “Nightnoise”.
The first album as a quartet, “Something of Time”, was released by Windham Hill in 1987. It was followed by “At the End of the Evening” (1988), “The Parting Tide” (1990), and the compilation “A Windham Hill Retrospective” (1992). This would be the last album to feature the playing and writing of Billy Oskay, who began to work to establish his own recording studio, Big Red Studio.
The inclusion of John Cunningham gives a Celtic closing on their album "Shadow of Time", which includes two traditional pieces, while the rest is composition itself, something that the band appreciates and used as target crossing influences and styles.
It is interesting to note briefly what each member of the band comments when composing ...
· *Triona: "Before being in Nightnoise I wrote less pieces. It's nice to find a receptive place and discover that you can live in it becoming aware that the public can take advantage of your music."
· *Mícheál: "composing is not a common occurrence in me because I'm lazy. Always look for freshness and spontaneity in the music." He wrote 18 songs for Nightnoise.
· *Brian: "I always try to write something. Some of the great composers began to write before they are 25, and some were later. If I were Mozart would be dead in five days, and I have not written any symphony."
· *John: "It's beautiful, I know them all and work and compose with them in my mind. I would like to contribute more, since only I have composed a piece for the last album." After a successful tour as part of Windham Hill Wlnter Solstice Tour, each returned to handle the freedom that gives Nightnoise, ultimately allowing them to grow musically and in new international projects.
With this new line up, Nightnoise went on to release three more albums “Shadow of Time” (1994), “A Different Shore” (1995), and “The White Horse Sessions” (1997), a very nice album including live concert performances mixed with in-studio live performances, with their Windham Hill colleagues and friends as their audience.
This album proved to be their last one. Cunningham left the band following its release, and was replaced by the Irish fiddler John Fitzpatrick. In preceeding interviews, Mícheál stated that Nightnoise wouldn’t break and there were no plans of revamping The Bothy Band . Nightnoise officially disbanded towards the end of 2003 when John Cunningham died on December 15, 2003, from a heart attack. He was 46 years old. Unfortunately years later, Micheál Ó Domhnaill died from a fall in July 2006 at his home in Dublin, Ireland at the age of 54. Two very large losses for the Celtic music world. Interview quotations by Maureen Brenann for Dirty Linen Magazine –Feb/Mar ‘94


Billy Oskay — violin (1983)
Johnny Cunningham — violin (joined 1990)
Brian Dunning — flute (1988)
John Fitzpatrick — violin (joined 1997)
Tríona Ní Domhnaill — vocals, flute, and clavinet
Mícheál Ó Domhnaill — guitar, vocals, and piano (1983)


1984 Nightnoise
1987 Something of Time
1988 At the End of the Evening
1990 The Parting Tide
1993 Shadow of Time
1995 A Different Shore
1997 The White Horse Sessions
“A Windham Hill Retrospective” (1992)


Mícheál Ó Domhnaill 1951-2006 Official Website
Nightnoise Unofficial Site
Billy Oskay's
Big Red Studio
Johnny Cunningham Site

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