Paddy McAloon – I Trawl The Megahertz [Liberty, 2003]

Paddy McAloon - I trawl the megahertzPaddy McAloon, formerly known as the voice of Prefab Sprout, suffered a temporary blindness due to a detached retina. Unable to see, he began to immerse himself in the late night, nocturnal world of short-wave radio transmissions. Fascinated by the fragmented, broken snatches of conversation that he was able to decipher, he began recording the conversations at random. This was to be an audio collage of found sound. Assisted by studio engineer, Calum Malcom, McAloon assembled a small chamber orchestra in order to augment the transmissions that he was hearing.

Partially influenced by Gorecki’s “Symphony of Sorrows” he set about placing these snatches of “found sound” in amongst the baroque string arrangements of the orchestra. These fragmentary narratives of isolation and loneliness were to be accompanied by the voice of American actress, Yvonne Conners. ‘I Trawl the Megahertz’ was to be a two-track symphony; the title track itself was a hugely ambitious 21minute epic. Over soaring string arrangements Conners spoken word narrative begins “I am telling myself the story of my life.” What follows is a poem of loss and hope, interrupted at one point as Conners sends out a “mayday, mayday, watch the needle leave the dial.” for help. Connors disturbing SOS emanates through the ether, accompanied by the ethereal string arrangements of David McGuiness. Conners then proceeds to inform the listener that “By day and night, fancy electronic dishes are trained on the heavens. They are listening for smudged echoes of the moment of creation. They are listening for the ghost of a chance.” This is an apparent acknowledgment of the frailty of the human condition, and of our need to know that we are not alone in the universe.

Track two is another symphony comprised of eight interlocking movements. ‘Esprit De Corps’, ‘Fall From Grace’, ‘We were Poor’ and ‘Orchid 7’, draw upon influences as diverse as classical, jazz, Morriconesque western and Leonard Bernstein’s show tunes.

‘I’m 49’ is possibly the most sublime and pivotal track on the album, acting as its centrepiece. McAloon’s fascination with short-wave radio finds him absorbed in the twilight world populated by the sad, the lonely and the disconnected as they reveal their most personal experiences in a cathartic outpouring with the anonymous radio host, in an apparent attempt to reconnect, and to alleviate their sense of isolation. Fading in slowly with a palpable sense of tension, the show host asks the caller “Do you feel completely abandoned and lost? What’s wrong?” “I’m 49, divorced.” “And now you’re falling apart?” this is a rich timbre of sound, augmented by subtle horn arrangements, electronic handclaps and radar bleeps.” If you’re in pain, music can work on the level of anaesthetic.”

This is followed by ‘Sleeping Rough’, the only McAloon vocal track on the album. A soothing voice repeatedly informs the listener that “I’m lost, yes I am lost.” What on the page smacks of desperation, is here transformed into a glorious life affirming acknowledgment of hope above despair.

‘Ineffable and … But we were happy’, re-introduce us once more to McGuiness’s gorgeous orchestration. Beautiful in its design and execution, ‘I Trawl the Megahertz’ could be viewed as an essay on romanticism and of the very real need for human contact that is inherent amongst each and every one of us. It also raises important issues about the dichotomy of today’s apparent need for constant public exposure, and of the listener’s participation within this process. However, ultimately it should be viewed as a highly emotive, deeply personal work, by an artist acknowledging the fragility of the human condition, and more importantly, acknowledging hope.

Keith Haworth

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