New album pays tribute to a man who brought a German avant-garde approach to Cork's arts scene 

Cork’s Lockdown Sounds gathers some of the city's leftfield musicians together in memory of Gunther Berkus, who had lived on Leeside for over four decades 
New album pays tribute to a man who brought a German avant-garde approach to Cork's arts scene 

Some of the musicians who contributed to  Still, Life - Cork’s Lockdown Sounds. 

A new compilation from some of Cork's experimental music-makers has been dedicated to the late Günther Berkus, a stalwart of the arts scene in the city, who passed away in September.

Something of a visionary musician, Berkus had moved to Cork from Germany over four decades ago, where he became a regular contributor to all manner of sonic and artistic events. Certainly in Cork terms he was a pioneer of computer music, and his track ‘Autumn Came Gently to Shandon this Year’ provides an elegiac end to the CD.

The album was the brainchild of the IndieCork film festival’s music curator Tony Langlois. Still, Life - Cork’s Lockdown Sounds features work created in lockdown by 17 different artists, and was coordinated by Langlois and local musician Arthur 'Arty' Pawsey.

“A lot of it is music that people might not be aware of,” says Pawsey. “It’s just a snapshot of things that are happening in the city. And it’s all different sorts of musicians and all sorts of different kinds of music.” Cork has been long known as a harbour for all manner of leftfield sounds and sonic experimentation and particularly over the past decade it’s become not uncommon for musicians to play in both relatively conventional bands and improvised ensembles.

A picture from 2015 of the late Gunther Berkus, on left, with Marie Drew and Tommy Lysaght. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
A picture from 2015 of the late Gunther Berkus, on left, with Marie Drew and Tommy Lysaght. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

As the liner notes to Still, Life put it: “A mix like this shows a coexistence between the avant-garde and more tuneful approaches, and in Cork there really is a great overlap between the two; everything and anything can be food for the ears.” Pawsey agrees. “Because of it being such a small place there’s great opportunity for overlap. That you can be interested in so many different sorts of scenes, there’s so many different bunches of people you can end up meeting through you just being interested in different things.” 

Cork has a rich experimental music and sound art community, exemplified by figures such as Danny McCarthy, Mick O’Shea, and Harry Moore. Parallel to that recent years have seen the emergence of musicians like Dan Walsh, Mark Waldron Hyden and Elaine Howley, who are part of a new wave of experimental, free jazz and improv music scenes, and while both groups have been on their own tracks, recent times has seen some overlap. The Still, Life compilation is a bridge that connects both generations.

Pawsey has played with a number of musicians on the compilation, and while his fellow project coordinator Langlois provides meaty mottled flesh to the track by John Byrne and his Skeletal Showband, Pawsey was happy to sit this record out.

“One less person to pay was my kind of thinking,” he says of a project where the proceeds will go the musicians at a time when the gig scene has been decimated. “Quiet honestly, that’s actually true. I don’t want to be getting paid from it because this was to highlight these artists. And I came into the whole thing genuinely with no interest of getting any money out of it. I literally just wanted to help, if I’m honest.” 

Pawsey also paid tribute to Berkus, a figure he shared a bill with at one of IndieCork’s music nights.

“I just heard all these amazing things about him and I heard a lot of great stuff from the shows that I did with him,” he says. “We did one at IndieCork two years ago. He was playing a set of metal bars with a bow and it was really interesting.

“It seemed really apt to dedicate it to him because he was a big part of IndieCork and the whole kind of art music/noise art world in Cork.” 

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