Switched On – Manu Delago: Circadian Live (One Little Independent)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Releasing a live album in these times of isolation is a bittersweet experience. Manu Delago will know more than most, as he has played well over 1,000 gigs – but this is the one program he wanted to freeze frame and share with his home audience.

The music centres on the European tour of Delago’s Cicadian album in late 2019, where the 18 gigs in 21 days were performed by the nine-piece Cicadian Ensemble. This is a band long in the making but with a pleasing symmetry, three players each assigned to the areas of percussion, strings and wind instruments.

The aim of Cicadian Live is to show that while electronic music forms an important part of Delago’s thinking, his musical communication is equally strong – and arguably emotionally deeper – through acoustic performance.

What’s the music like?

Every bit as enchanting as we heard on Cicadian, but with the added frisson of the live music environment. To hear these tracks evolve in the moment is to be there in the cycle with Delago himself, hanging on the next move of each of his instrumentalists.

As tracks like Draem evolve, with their striking textures, the ear is drawn to each new melodic development, each percussive layer and each twang of the string bass. Delago’s enchanting sound world benefits greatly from the intimacy of these live recordings, and the instinctive chemistry between all the players involved.

The collection Immediately creates its own rarefied atmosphere with The Silent Flight Of The Owl, one of Cicadian’s standout moments, and does not let up until we are set down 70 minutes later with B.F.G.

In the middle there are intimate moments of rare beauty, where the listener dare not breathe lest the peace be broken, and these contrasts with powerful bursts of momentum such as Almost Thirty, where a series of crescendos break out into no-holds barred freak-outs, and Zeitgeber, a blend of virtuosity and concentrated feeling which is a testament to the fine musicianship of all involved.

The brassy rasps of Satori work well, building up a head of steam, and contrast nicely with the ripples of Circadian itself, stopping time to mesmerising effect. Down To The Summit, like Almost Thirty a fully scored piece from 2015’s Silver Kobalt, captivates with its twists and turns.

Does it all work?

Yes, because the instincts and musical understanding of the nine ensemble members is compelling the whole way through. This was clearly a special tour, and it serves to hear the new tracks from the Cicadian album rub shoulders with the more established Delago output.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. The live album works even better if you have heard the studio account of Cicadian first – but if not it serves as an excellent introduction to Delago’s craft. Each track sets its own unique atmosphere but captures the attention with intricacy, craft and spontaneity.

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