Answers and Questions and Doors – On the Honest Ulsterman

Throughout my life I was upset because I felt I had no identity I could give myself to. Then I came around to the idea that identities are’t really that important (if they even exist,) so I wrote this short story, “Answers and Questions and Doors: A Text on Questions, Identity and Answers for the Grand Association of Door Openers” published on The Honest Ulsterman

It would be an achievement, of sorts, if I could tell you how many doors I’ve opened in my life. A rough estimate is possibly something I could manage. I’ve worked this job, opening doors, for seventeen years.

Coming out of school, or at least leaving school, not finishing school, is always taking a chance. You don’t know where life will take you other than the fact you’re going somewhere. Friends had babies. Left school. Friends had boyfriends. Left school. Left the boyfriend. All that in some kind of order anyway. Friends had difficulties with the aul wans. School aul wans. Home aul wans. Actually auld aul wans, thinking back. Left school. Left home. Became aul wans, eventually. Usually in that order. I left school because it didn’t have any more answers for me.

I guess, in a way, I was lucky to leave school in the manner I did. There was nothing pushing me out. I was pulling me out. I dragged my life behind me, a right good tug, and it vaulted before me. There I was, with everything laid out, a career somehow ahead of me. Pure luck. It’s entirely this manner of addressing life that wound me up in this job where I open doors.

For a decade houses have been built and I somehow managed to end up opening doors during the decade houses weren’t being built. Or apartments. Or factories (although they tend to have less doors.) Nothing was being built. No train stations, bus stations, lightrail stations. Even offices, now open plan, then less so, with some doors to be opened weren’t being built. And I lucked into a business where doors weren’t being opened. The people who built doors needed someone to do exactly that, open them up. Health and safety. Or box ticking. Something along those lines. I couldn’t tell you how many doors I’ve opened in my life, so maybe that will be my last question: how many important doors have I opened?

It frightened me when this future would have come. Slowly rising, welcoming, announcing itself with emptiness. Is this what I chased? I didn’t ask. That’s what I was afraid of; that coming present; me chasing questions across fields, across cities, and yes, through doors. The present, now, passed, or then to be, where all there was was a, “What’s next?” or a, “What’s this?” There were deeper questions. Some questions are deep, some are shallow, some barely count. But this future would have come, asking one last question. And then this last question would have been happily answered. There would be no more questions. What would having everything answered mean?

Review – Songs For Sad People To Dance To by Gadget and the Cloud

Presume you exist: a request that requires you to believe things not-you exist. You, separate to the world, are capable of interacting with things not-you—another presumption. It’s a request asked by Gadget and the Cloud (Kelly Doherty), taking hold of her place as soundtrack to the scenic facade of 4, maybe 5am. There’s no dawn (emblematic of her entire album), but the sky is hinting that brightness may come—not that you fully believe in it—if only you wait for light on the horizon, waiting in time not under your control. All you know is you have to collect yourself into one sack of meat, thought and movement, and decide to act, but instead you’re caught considering who you are, where you are. Gadget and the Cloud says give me a moment, stay dissolved just a little while longer, be engaged. By who? Who knows, who cares. Isn’t this already living?

There’s a question in Gadget and the Cloud’s Songs for Sad People to Dance To (SfSPtDT, an album all questions), and it’s entirely coming from someone who’s firm on an answer: I exist, with this music as proof of a relationship to a borderline world.

Another question is whether this album is for someone, of someone, or to someone? My interaction with it changes at every step. Close listening will provide one result, another result as it seeps from the background, and hearing it post-four-beers—while typing a review—provides yet another result. Is this album meant to transport me, interrogate me, or speak for me? At some point you have to brush yourself off and walk through that front door.

This all speaks against the separation in the songs on the album. Each is different enough to bleed into your 7am, or 11am, or 8pm happily individual. The changes within each track make it so it’s not so much a conceptual album, but an album of songs made up of concepts so varying in their detail that every one could be a full album in its entirety. 3600 Seconds opens, a hint in its one hour-ness that it’s far bigger (not in sound but in thought) than its 4:09 minutes will give you. Transitions within it can be alarming or sedate, entirely dependent on your attention to it over your attention to yourself. This could be said of the entire album. If some music can be described as layered then SfSPtDT rejoices in making the layers obvious. This is the question of where you exist: ‘listening to’ versus ‘being with’ the music will give you two different results.

The crux of listening to SfSPtDT, is whether it is there to be interrogated or experienced? ‘Is your life one that happens or one you control’ is the question not asked but assumed by SfSPtDT playing through your speakers. If you’ve let Doherty take control you can question her intent or let her direct. Then, the next question, is this the way—the way she describes—the way you want to be? I’m not sure an answer can be found that unites all in Gadget and the Cloud’s music, instead it leads you to that point, if you want to be taken there, and lets you choose your own response. The middle tracks, Always, Magnitude, and So Shy, are where this is most obvious: So Shy, with vocals, eventually pushing you to decide whether the lyrics are speaking to you or for you. Two songs towards the end, Continue and This Year, re-integrate themselves into more traditional conceptions, all the stronger in how they stand in relief to your expectations, maintaining their rhythm throughout, a reward for listening. The final song, And I Told You Something True, encapsulates the journey you’ve been on. Whether that journey was profound or meandering I don’t know. Maybe Gadget and the Cloud doesn’t say, but through implications hints it can be both, and both are equally valid.

If some albums demand a generosity, to be involved with their spirit before you can appreciate them, then SfSPtDT is not one of them. It does take an open mind. A willingness to accept there’s intent, even reason, behind what may seem out of place. The overall question the album asks is are you someone separate to the music, are you within it, or does it matter when you can’t decide? The problem set by Songs for Sad People to Dance To lies at the point where you can’t bring yourself to start: who am I in response to everything around me, music and all. It doesn’t demand anything of you, and that may be its flaw. But let it question you, let it guide you, and it’ll provide: if not an answer, then at least with its rising and abrupt higher rise again, with its slow not-quite-breaking and almost instant re-building, it may pose issues in a way you never knew possible. These sincere doubts of purpose and selfhood Gadget and the Cloud embraces, and if you embrace her music you might accept these—and your—unformed parts of potential as you realise a new dawn has come, it just took your awareness.

Songs for Sad People to Dance To by Gadget and the Cloud is available on cassette and for digital download on Bandcamp.

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