James Joys is the pseudonym of Irish composer and producer Jamie Thompson, who quarries the seams between electroacoustic, classical, electronica, and exquisite errant-pop. His restless approach to exploratory music has seen him score works for choir and electronics, produce avant-garde electronica, kaleidoscopic techno, write, arrange, and produce dark swooning songs for his band Ex-Isles, and compose modernist song for a dance opera called A Different Wolf with Dublin’s Junk Ensemble and Belfast's Dumbworld in collaboration with Brian Irvine and Pete Devlin. He is also co-artistic director of The Night Guild, a revolving collective of artists, musicians, and technical specialists who collaborate on larger scale projects. Their first, Devil, Repent! made in collaboration with vocal acapella group Landless, various improvising musicians, and visual projection artists is out in 2020.
Based in Belfast after studying and teaching music in Newcastle upon Tyne and Bristol for fifteen years, he released a collection of “electroacoustic rave entropy” called Super_Tidal in October 2018. Exploring ideas of occurrence and withdrawal, turbulence and suspension; sediment and plastic, his experimental electronic work is heavily influenced by visual artists Anselm Kiefer and Cy Twombly. Musical touchstones are the stately detailing of Valerio Tricoli, the turbulent pulse of Ben Frost, the eerie ambiences of Tim Hecker, and the glitch of Holly Herndon. Super_Tidal is what James himself describes as being situated “between the concrète and the kinetic.” His choral and electronics work of modern lamentations, A Constellation Of Bargained Parts, co-written with Pete Devlin arrived on March 1st 2019, followed by the unstable technicolour electronica of Fugitive Wound.
James has recently completed Ex-Isles's ambitious second album of errant pop with producer Dave Lynch at Echo Zoo studios. Supported by Help Musicians' Do It Differently fund, it will be released later in 2020. He plays synths/keys and electronics as part of experimental percussionist Steve Davis's group When The Dust Settles.
He is currently working on Canon Fodder, an experimental project at the intersections of composition, turntablism, open/graphic scoring, and improvisation. Supported by Dumbworld and the ACNI's Artist Career Enhancement Award, the project will see him collaborate with an opera singer, an experimental percussionist, and refugees and immigrants in Ireland.
Supported by the Arts Council Of Northern Ireland's Artist Career Enhancement award for 2019/20, Canon Fodder is a collection of six modern lieder, for piano, electronics, and operatic soprano, set to text cut and rearranged from European, British, and US asylum application forms, other structural and bureaucratic paraphernalia of militarised borders, and first hand accounts from those currently seeking asylum. Pressed on to dubplates that will be sabotaged and interfered with in order to disrupt their ability to play back normally, renowned free improvisers will be invited to correspond musically with the unpredictable, ostensibly malfunctioning records, as they play back on turntables. These sessions, sited at the precipice of intelligibility and predictability, will be recorded and edited into a final collection called Canon Fodder, that speaks to the perilous, complex, near-indecipherable bureaucratic hurdles that face those fleeing from war and danger to peace and stability. Canon Fodder's varying ensemble will tour music festivals and galleries throughout the UK and Europe in 2021.
James and Pete Devlin's band Ex-Isles return with their second album in 2020. Following the impressionistic despair of their first album Luxury Mass, they return with an explicitly angry collection of invectives against both rising rightwing regression and craven centrist appeals for reasonableness and third way incrementalism. The band have taken inspiration from Ukrainian-American poet Ilya Kaminksy, the music of Jessica Sligter, and the radical politics of Baffler magazine, while still teasing at the musical thread that links Scott Walker, David Sylvian, and late-era Bowie.
Building on their uniquely unsettling sound world that gravitates around Pete's distinctive croon, they recruited Brighton-based jazz saxophonist Leroy Horns and Glasgow-based musician John Ayers on guitars to lift their sound into even more texturally distinct realms. Working with producer Dave Lynch at Echo Zoo Studios (Ed Harcourt, The Magic Numbers, Kathryn Williams), they enjoyed getting deep into his myriad collection of rare analogue synths and percussion, and spent two weeks reconstructing their songs around their experimentations. The result is an album of singular lyrical and compositional ambition; somewhere between sound and song.
Devlin's lulling baritone is a showstopper, while Joys' balmy arrangements offer up symphonic sound worlds that curveball across 35 minutes.
All photography, artwork, and design by Ross Cunningham
Seriously smart, beautiful audacious avant-pop. 5/5
One of the strongest debuts from an Irish act in recent memory.
THE THIN AIR
THE NIGHT GUILD
The Night Guild is a side-project of James and Pete Devlin (from Ex-Isles) that functions as a collective with its primary aim being to work with and bring together musicians and artists of different stripes. Each Night Guild project is a separate entity, and the makeup of the collective changes according to its needs and resources. James and Pete are the artistic directors and have so far worked on two projects under the Night Guild banner - A Constellation Of Bargained Parts; a choral work written for Derry's Codetta and electronics, and Devil, Repent! a Lynchian dystopia created with musicians from across Ireland and the UK, including Dublin's critically acclaimed Landless vocal group, and jazz improv drummer Steve Davis. Northern Irish Young Artist Of The Year, Alana Barton's paintings form the artwork to the vinyl release of Devil, Repent! An AV installation of the work, in collaboration with Cormac O'Kane at Redbox Studios will be premiered at Belfast's Sonic Arts Research Centre in February 2020, alongside a selection of Alana's other works, and a larger scale AV show featuring projection mapping is planned to tour next year.
Devil, Repent! takes as its starting point ingrained cultures of abuse and neglect within powerful and ostensibly unimpeachable institutions. With musical nods to devotional incantation and hymnal vocal harmonies, as well as an expansive and ambitious sound palette featuring brass fanfares, organs, and bells, Devil, Repent! seethes with brutality and yearns for euphoria. Their album quarries the dissolution, surrender, and disavowal of our own voices to authority in unquestioning deference to immutable truths. That we have allowed sex, guilt, and debt to be weaponised against us is a telling aspect of these institutions’ power. Devil, Repent!’s music uses sensual, heavy, club inspired grooves and rhythms, and passages of free improvisation as a way of resisting the self-righteous, celibate strictures of institutional religious doctrines that have mutated and controlled our culture and our politics.
A DIFFERENT WOLF
CORK OPERA HOUSE
16TH & 17TH JUNE 2019
CORK MIDSUMMER FESTIVAL
In collaboration with the Junk Ensemble and Dumbworld, A Different Wolf is a new dance opera created by multi-award winning Junk Ensemble (Dublin) and innovative music-theatre company Dumbworld (Belfast). The production is a poignant exploration of fear, where in a complex and uneasy world we all live with our own form of wolf. A Different Wolf blends visceral movement, text and exquisite song to create a powerful visual & sonic experience for the audience.
Personal testimonies from different communities in Cork give voice to contemporary representations of the wolf as varied as the bank man, loneliness, the world ending and a car not starting. An exceptional cast of four dancers, three singers, six musicians and a 100-strong choir perform in the production.
Created by: Jessica Kennedy, Megan Kennedy, John Mcllduff, Brian Irvine
Choreography: Jessica Kennedy, Megan Kennedy
Composition: James Joys, Pete Devlin, and Brian Irvine
Libretto: John Mcllduff
Set Design: Sabine Dargent
Lighting Design: Sarah Jane Shiels
Costume Design: Deirdre Dwyer
Dancers and singers: Stephanie Dufresne, Aoife Duffin, Karl Fagerlund, Lucia Kickham, Pete Devlin
Amy Ní Fhearraigh, Stephen Moynihan
Musicians: James Thompson - Piano, Gerard Skelly - Drums, John Walsh - Trumpet, Declan McCarthy - French Horn, Michael Marshall - Bass Trombone
Choirs: Cork School of Music, Cór Geal
Photographs © Luca Truffarelli
For choir, solo baritone, and electronics. Sung by Codetta and Pete Devlin.
A Constellation Of Bargained Parts was written under the heavy shadow of fallow men whose entitlement and wealth have secured them a disproportionate hold on power. Their ascension driven by false promises, corruption, and exploitation, they have worked to turn despair into fury, alienation into hatred, and mistrust into suspicion of those least deserving of it. These modern lamentations for choir, soloist, and electronics grieve for a modernity that no longer seems possible, as our leaders compel us to look back to an imaginary past to manufacture an illusory future founded on a reinforcement of immutable hierarchies and unchanging interests. They are sung by those of us who can't afford the luxury of doubt; can't afford the time to question and muddy the waters around climate change, inequality, housing, poverty, and ecological collapse. They mourn for futures that have been betrayed.
Released on 1st March 2019. Supported by:
Fevered sung or panic-worn. Wound round the room or spread thin against its walls. Everything at once. Time pleated and folded; time tight against itself. A light lit from your last word, sly, in a land of lasted things. Fever sings: a lung coughed up by its whale, washed up to wilt and wheeze, and draw itself around the coral skeleton of its innards. A brief union of silents attendant to the last dying breath as they roll out its remaining air. Its interior breeze an oblation, sighed. A click or a last cluck, dried, on the ocean’s gentle bob. Rolled and carried by a torn tide, flotsam I float I float. I hear the lumpen suck of cold meat on the waters’ deep black braid; feel its breadth and bone-cold breath as if being basted by salt and grain; peeled and bothered by heat. A click. The sun’s bright clap, or the damp crack of a wilting lung. I am over. Like you, under under under. I remember your whole world drained from me. Click. Caught. Choke. Cured. Wake me soon. Gavel rung. Unsung, I once was.
Supported by Moving On Music. Released on 11th October 2018.
OTHER / EARLIER WORK
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE (2012)
Surrogate City was a site-specific art installation in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, during the latter half of 2012 that tied in with a limited release of the James Joys album Glyphic Bloom. Six tracks from the album were embedded in six unusual locations across the city via wooden plaques laser cut with spectrograms and QR codes that, when scanned using a smartphone, allowed the participant to stream and download a track from Glyphic Bloom. These tracks were constructed out of many sounds (raw and processed) that had been recorded in each area of the city over several years. To listen to and download the entire EP, one had to walk the city – all locations were within a 2.5 square mile area – and quarry these places' inherent strangeness.
Users were directed to six audiovisual works on a dedicated website (surrogatecity.com) that re-imagined each of the six locations via strange and unsettling audio narratives. These were spoken by musician and artist Bennett Hogg. While seeking to re-imagine each place, the texts also alluded to rhythmic and temporal playfulness of the music of Glyphic Bloom, and more generally to my own compositional approaches. You can listen to each story by clicking on the links below. The website also housed six additional stories I called Future Relics. These were conceived as looping radio broadcasts from the future (the year 2032) featuring a voice recounting the next twenty years of Newcastle’s history through the frame of each of the six sites in the installation. Eavesdropping on a moment of time folded back on itself, the user “tunes” into a future archaeology of place that in its incessant looping, seems frozen, displaced and suspended. These stories were improvised one-take recordings in order to give a more realistic sense of someone recounting and remembering. They are speculative futures that haunt the future-past.
2010 - 2013
WITH GWILLY EDMONDEZ
Base Cleft is a duo of James Joys and Gwilly Edmondez. Beginning in 2010, it is improvised, sampler-based music that sees itself within the contours of hip hop, breaks, jazz and beat-based electronic music. The language of its unsettled deftness finds equivalences in our shared reading of the work of Nathaniel Mackey and Wilson Harris. Indeed, their use of motifs, which are often the only thing that allows the reader to ‘hang on’, in a sense, is equally applicable to how we both tended to retain a bank of samples for two or three Base Cleft sessions. Their return was never a “repeat” but a re-weaving into a narrative fabric that constantly resisted linear continuity. We approached each session with a sense of “indebtedness” in that there was an acknowledgement of a mutual lack from which the base notes and base rhythms would emerge. Gwilly Edmondez used a Korg Microsampler with occasional FX, and I used a Yamaha SU10 run through a mini Kaoss Pad. Improvised sessions normally lasted around 40 minutes, which were recorded directly into a digital recorder. At a later date, sessions would be chopped into sections, which became individual tracks. There was no post-editing or production, aside from panning each of our signals severely to the left and right in order to mirror the set up of the improvisation, in which we sat opposite each other going through two small amps on either side of the room. Track cuts were defined by what seemed like beginnings or endings of certain ideas, and this normally seemed quite apparent. There was no pre-defined track length, which is why some are 8 minutes long, and others 2 minutes long.