Some recent work I’m proud of:
Tense Systems (2019)
A work-in-progress project for video, electronics and DIY violin assembled in performance
I worked on this over six weeks at the start of 2019 and showed it for the first time in two performances in the Smock Allies Scene + Heard Festival. Now looking for ways to take it further as soon as I can find some time! The performance was my first major attempt to bring forward influences from people like Jennifer Walshe and Andy Ingamells in my own work.
Thoughts behind this included simply wanting to make a piece with a major video component (sparked by seeing Walshe’s The Total Mountain and wanting to abandon everything I’d ever tried to do up until that day), as well as trying to subvert my identity as a string player and find ways to use that as a “composer/performer”. Also much more…
The opportunity to write a large-scale piece for a group like the Irish Chamber Orchestra doesn’t come around often, and having it conducted by the phenomenal Jörg Widmann made this the biggest break of my career so far…cue a year of hand-wringing, throwing out ideas, refusing to accept reality etc. The piece finally began to take shape in the summer of 2018.
While writing it, my long-held interest in Fluxus text pieces (instructions for artworks which can be absurd, thought-provoking, hours long or everlasting, even dangerous – and mostly just a line or two of text) was interfering with my classical training. Toying with ways to represent the extreme chaos I needed to write, I found that normal notation was going to fail me: how to notate 89 arpeggios in three seconds? If you abandon the five-line staff, it’s actually dead easy to explain this to an orchestra with a couple of lines of text!
[DISCLAIMER: the orchestra would disagree that this was easy to explain... but I was incredibly lucky that they and Jörg Widmann cared enough to figure it all out anyway - they did so much work on the piece and put so much energy into it, needless to say I'm delighted with what they did!]
Notating the piece partly like this (to be clear - it’s a mixture of conventionally notated material and text or graphic notation, with individual players grouping into many subsections to open up spatial and timbral possibilities) allowed me to give the individual performers a lot of agency and decision-making power. At times, there will be a kind of controlled chaos that reminds me of the natural world: each player interprets the same instruction differently and is kept on the same path by external conditions (the influence of the conductor).
The piece is in three movements: the outer pair mirror one another and generate internal tension by alternating material in sections expanding and contracting in time based on the Fibonacci series (a self-conscious nod back at nature).
Detailed performance notes including info about the structure are available here. The score is available free of charge on my worklist page.
Weight Piece (2018)
A text piece with no real score - any interpretation could be a valid performance.
During the Kirkos Body Noise Work workshops, we spent a lot of time discussing (and trying to shed) the psychological trappings that encumber trained artists and performers.
Classical music is all about fine control, but constantly striving for minute perfection can be psychologically limiting and physically destructive.
The piece as an exploration of what happens when a string player's arms and bow are weighed down to the point where their performance is defined by the incidental movements of these weights.
In workshops with the BNW crew, the piece - via ropes - turned into a more extreme meditation on control and captivity.
I am very interested in the tradition of text pieces, particularly in the kind that leave huge room for versions of pieces which are totally different but share a conceptual kernel. Taking a nod from Ono, the score of the piece consists only of the title - so anybody's interpretation can become a Fluxversion - and anybody can use it as the basis for their own new work. This was also the first piece I wrote for myself to perform in five or six years
Sebastian Adams’ Weight Piece, the only work that ostensibly every spectator watched at once, provided a brilliant conclusion to the evening.
The piece began with a series of hummed drones, produced by members of the collective from various locations in the building, to which the strings of the smashed piano, played by a member of the group, contributed pitches. Each chord created an open buzzing throb.
Adams, stripped down to his boxers, joined the aching texture on his viola. He played drones that ebbed and intensified, tightened and relaxed, some skittish and gritty, others pure and pleasant.
Soon, two artists attached ropes around Adams’ arms, which they then controlled like puppeteers: when they tugged his left arm down, the bow skittered off the strings; when they jerked his right arm up, the bow fluttered feebly above his viola. Adams, meanwhile, tried but failed to control his instrument.
Additional artists from the collective bound Adams with more ropes and bungee cords and pulled him down to the gallery floor. The music gradually ceased. Adams had lost control over his performance. A stillness hung in the air, and then the audience applauded, long and hard. The strangeness had ended; its reverberations, however, remain. (From the Journal of Music)
<<< A short excerpt of the video from the premiere, recorded by Luis Cameraman
Not a piece… but Kirkos is one of my major creative outlets. We are a Dublin-based new music ensemble specialising in innovative presentation of new music - right now, we’re big into The New Discipline, playing a lot of music that merges artistic disciplines and so on. We also a play a LOT of music by emerging Irish composers.
This is a bit of a WIP because if I wait until I finish this section I will never EVER have a website.
At the moment, I’m working on a bunch of small pieces using live or fixed media electronics, instruments and transducers.
The transducers vibrate the surface they are attached to, turning it into a resonating body. When attached to an instrument, this means the instrument basically becomes a loudspeaker!
So far, these pieces include:
My first installation, Beethoven Freeze - where four string instruments are hung from walls or ceilings and play back some glacially slowed down Beethoven (the slow movement from the A minor string quartet Op. 132)
Dankgesang I - a cut-down version of Beethoven Freeze, designed to be improvised over by a player/players with transducers attached to their instruments playing back the audio
2019.1 - an improvisation system for Malachy Robinson on double bass with microphone and trandsucer. The sound of the bass is fed through a simple Max patch and back into the bass, creating feedback loops (which Malachy can eliminate or increase via foot pedal) and adding the impression of a sort of natural amplification to the acoustic instrument.
2019.6 - probably my favourite idea so far was this new work for the horn player Cormac O hAodain, which was to pit him against a bunch of phantom horns mounted with transducers. Sadly, it proved a little difficult and I ran out of time so we did the premiere with loudspeakers instead. But I am hopeful I can get it to work in the future
More to come, I hope….