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Úna Monaghan is a harpist and composer from Belfast whose music embraces both traditional and contemporary forms. Her debut album, For, centres around a collection of pieces written for different people; some who have been influential and now passed on, others who have suffered through addiction as on The Choice, and another for a woman who was murdered when the same age as Úna at the time (For Her).

This sense of identification gives the music a personal touch, awarding an intimacy unusual for the realm of the musician and the listener. The fact that some of the pieces, as illustrated above, dwell on darker subjects gives the music a mix of shades, illustrating both sides of the human experience. For was recorded in Shetland and cut live in the studio as an improvised performance, though many of the pieces are written in the traditional form, such as the jig or hornpipe.

The opening jigs, Tubaiste Agus Taisceadán, show mixed moods enveloping one another, their instantaneously composed nature sounding fresh - a similar feeling experienced in the hornpipes Nanny Nora’s and The Clean Player. The musical canvas on For also includes a series of improvised pieces and sound collages that enter the realm of musique concrete. The latter is the most left-field for traditional ears, and stakes bold strides into the creation of a music that tells a story through a series of collages of taped effects and looped sounds with the emphasis on creation rather than reinterpretation; creation to the point that none of the pieces are ever played in the same manner when rendered either on disc here or live in the flesh. This makes For a one-off project that engages the ears and challenges the concept of the harpist in today’s world. Listen with open ears.

John O’Regan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 124 of The Living Tradition magazine.