The pandemic, the shock that has hit the health of our global community, has led to some drastic contractions of our economic processes and is also inspiring an expansion of our emotional practices. Like many artists I have experienced the cancellation of gigs and, seeing the diary empty out, has resulted in a couple of opposing personal responses.
One initial feeling is the immediate sharp intake of breath when considering the loss in earnings. But, and I think this more important to me at the moment, the other is a feeling of empathic and raw emotions in response to the human cost as the virus sweeps the globe.
Once I’d emerged from the initial panic and the locked-down feelings that induced me to organise my working from home, to help my students, and to sort my shopping and exercise arrangements for the household, I began to take stock. Although works that had been due for performances had been cancelled, they had still been completed. I’d still had the opportunity to work through their creative process and followed them through to a virtual realisation. Tale Of A Great Sham(e)Text was due to be performed at Sonorities in Belfast and, Mrs McNamara had been booked to appear in MOLI, with Bernard Clarke’s Scribbledehobble and Kaleidoscope.
There are also works that need to be written, works that will help me adjust to this moment in history and that will be in response to this crisis. These works started flowing after I’d organised the everyday coping strategies.
In the practice of immersing myself in the process of opening up to the emotional and economic feelings I was able to keep doing what I do best. I knew the only way I was to get through this time was to give myself permission for my brain to uncover pathways of empathic creation.
Social Media has been a grounding in reasoning and emotion for me. Reading articles shared from around the globe, learning about the virus, becoming aware of the people treating the sick and the people who have suffered, has become part of my routine. Reading and participating in the outpouring of community conversation has inspired and consumed my thoughts over the last 36 days. On the 5th April I began creating a graphic score The Claque In A Time Of Corona. It was my first work to emerge during the lockdown.
During Christmas 2019 I received a gorgeous set of pencils and paper from my sister. She told me it was time to ignite my childhood love of sketching.
From these pencils, and the times we are in, a title appeared:
Then a series of instructions, directions for a virtual performance:
I started recording and processing sounds in response to the emotional pain of the news stories, the tragedy unfolding over the Social Media waves. The brain fog manifesting from the sounds of pain and fear, the heard and unheard responses to the pandemic, the noises of governments and corporatists who are controlling what we read and see. I began loading sounds into the game audio middleware, FMOD.
Then, in creating a game score project using the game development environment of Unity, I added materials, sound events and scripts to build the final browser version of The Claque In A Time Of Corona
This process is in progress, using iteration and creation to test the function of the score and sound work. Eventually I’d like this to be a game score, a graphic score to be available online. The performance can be facilitated using Zoom or Jitsu.
The work is not finished yet. I need time to reflect and process more. I’ll come back to it. This commentary is part of the process of reflection.
In the between time I started revisiting other works.
A multi platform collaboration between Kelly McErlean and Claire Fitch.
Kelly has a set of 36 photographs dating from at trip to San Francisco in 1999. They are published on Flikr and are the inspiration for a set of 36 texts.
2, 1. Four empty cable cars 3 Two turquoise baskets Eight on the landing
Kelly recorded each of the 36 texts, sending me the raw audio files to edit and process into sound works. These are continuing to be published on SoundCloud and will form part of a 36 minute live improvisation.
We’ve also set up a YouTube channel, that will host videos created from the photographs and improvisations of the audio.
Finally, there is a Twitter bot publishing the pictures, texts, videos and sounds. Please follow and share.
Over the last 10 years I have had the honour of working with an artist who has quite literally taken away my breath.
Raven (1965-2019) was a performance poet, writer, playwright, documentary film maker, and master of words. We improvised together, hung out on stage, worked with words and sounded the spirit.
I first met Raven at Naked Lunch, a long-since expired Spoken Word Open Mic, on Camden St, Dublin, in 2009. He and Cliff Horseman invited me over to Tongue Box, another open mic, performance poetry night they co-hosted at The Cobblestone, Dublin. During that winter of 2009/2010 we were immersed in performance poetry at its very best. Beats and rhymes blended in sonic magic. The sheer brilliance of Ravens delivery inspired the electronic voice of my cello. I have no recordings of these early days, we simply offered up our improvisations to the gods of the ephemeral sonic wave. The magic is held in the ether, in our memories, and sparks the inspiration of future paths.
In summer 2010 I remember gigging with Fight Like Apes, and as Ambiencellist in Global Green at the Electric Picnic. During the set he appeared in the audience, dressed in a floor-length black cape, complete with crow feathers, a top hat and long boots. He cut the look, did our Raven. He stood up, and stood out. Raven invited me over to Natasha’s Living Food Tent, where we jammed, improvising with a fresh, pure freedom. The rawness and excitement was the breath of artistic essence.
In 2011 James Mackin and myself were coming to the end of our Masters studies at Dublin Institute of Technology. We had a group called I Ate Mercury, improvising using Drums, Cello and inviting other artists to join the fun. We did gigs in Kilkenny Arts Festival, at ATRL @ Trinity, in Whelans, and at The Spirit Store. Our last gig was in 2012, at The Joinery in Stoneybatter. We invited Raven and CAH 44 to join us.
The performances of Raven and CAH 44 were central to this gig. We improvised with their energy, mastery, and creativity. Riding the wave like sonic magicians.
This was the first time I had a portable recorder in my performance pack, and to this day I regret not turning it on for the first half of the gig!! But thankfully, I have the 2nd part. Raven and CAH 44 started off by performing Dublin Onion.
Raven, James and I continue on with God Bless The Child.
and finally Cah44 and Raven perform In Bed W/O You and Pomegranate with James and Claire performing Mr PC.
These five tracks are now integral to my memories of Raven. Thank you, Raven, Cliff and James. It was an incredible evening.
This space at The Joinery was like a triumph for our post boom soundings. We had all previously worked within the spoken word and improvisation scene in Dublin, and were grateful that, like many other venues since the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, The Joinery was witness to a change in use. It had previously been an empty storehouse.
The event was inclusive, it was an artistic infrastructure spanning genres, generations and styles. The audience was a factor, the building was a factor, the state of the economy was a factor. The excitement came from entering the sonic space and interacting with it. Raven was one who dared.
After this time and in the years that continued, Raven inspired many other creative journeys. One day I booked Raven to record a set of haikus which I’d created from Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I knew it had to be Raven to record them because of the ravens and writing desks in Chapter 7
Rrrrrrraven and the Wrrrrrrriting desk …
The work was submitted as part of my portfolio in a Sonic Art Ph.D. at Queen’s University Belfast. Working with Raven has been integral to my creative practice throughout the entire process. His performances were part of the inspiration to work more intensively with text and his voice features in three of the works. Murdering the Time would not be the same without his distinctive sound.
Raven and The Crone
In 2018 Raven approached me to work with himself and Nicole Rourke in a new show they were creating with Deirdre Molloy. The three nights in January 2019 were part of the First Fortnight Festival at The New Theatre Dublin, January 2019. We created magic, with Raven, Nicole and Deirdre spending hours developing the script, myself spending hours honing music and sound effects, and together in hours of rehearsal and performance. The experience was incredible.
Raven died suddenly this summer. His absence blasts a crater in the side of the spoken word, performance poetry and improvisation circuit here in Dublin. He leaves a whole legacy of artistic work to inspire us for all time. Thank you, Raven, for your beats, your voice, your captivating performances and your soul inspiring words. R.I.P.
I am a composer, I create using many mediums and many methods. Text, sound, code, graphics, soundscapes, requesting audience participation. We are all participating. So with this in mind, one of the easier ways to explain my interpretation of material, and specifically, sonic material, is as blocks, as ‘Audio Lego’, to build, copy, block, paste, and chop.
During my time working on the composition of various works for my practice based Ph.D. in Sonic Art at Queen’s University Belfast I remember thinking that some of the works were to be presented as linear media, designed to be broadcast on radio or performed in an installation setting. But, what about web presentation? Could it be a method to find new audiences? Could I create non-linear works by producing audio blocks, ‘audio lego’ that could be pieced together by the audience/participant in the online environment of a web browser.
This question led me to spend some time checking out the presentation practices of the Electronic Literature community. I discuss Electronic Literature in a previous post. FFDEAD (2013) was my first interactive work. I wrote a sonnet, recorded myself reciting the text, edited short fragments of audio files, and then developed the work in the game engine environment of Unity, writing scripts to control the behaviour of the audio files. I’ve included the link to the games score in the caption below the image and there is also a video available on YouTube. If you are accessing the game score the simply Left Click on the UI of the app. Every time you move the cursor it will trigger audio. If you leave the mouse still for long enough the work will return to silence.
There is an audio file uploaded to Soundcloud included below:
On time! I thought I could sink old lace. It ran though my brain as a navajo-white. Watching the memory hit the knowledge base Was like witnessing a car hit a wall.
Stemming the flow was key to the trace, Checking the system for a sprite in flight. Finding the byte that was out of place, Enabled that illusive conference call.
Here I am, in this imaginary place. Watching, measuring, with geometric pace. This is the moment with visible light, So search it, find it, then reinstall. Stop the run, take a seat, watch the show. This is not the end, not by a long sight.
We Called It Dirt
I’ve been developing further audio works and game scores informed by the same ethic of producing blocks of sound to use in the game development environment of Unity. With each project I answered another compositional problem, progressing through the experience of completing works. We Called it Dirt (2013) was developed after a collaboration with the wonderful Electronic Poet, Dr. Michael Maguire. The deal was that I tidy up the audio quality of the interviews and he would approve my use of a number of files for the purpose of creating a sonic art work. We both benefited greatly from the arrangement because the interviews with John Pat McNamara are excellent. My aim is to expand the interview, a simple one-to-one chat, to become a room full of virtual conversations.
I’ve included the link to the game score in the caption under the image, but there is also a video available on YouTube. If you choose to go to the game score presentation, the controls are the computer keys: W,E,C,A,L,D,I,T,R, and SPACE. Your performance results from the simple act of typing the letters WE CALLED IT DIRT. The audio files can be repeatedly sounded to build up a fractured texture and a virtual space in an attempt to create an endless web-based narrative.
My next work, Look(FFEBCD) (2014), draws on the cut up technique of Christian Verdun, who follows the inspiration of the Burroughs Cut Up method. Look(FFEBCD) won the student prize at HearSay Festival in 2014. I had the help of nine wonderful participants who recorded a sonnet I wrote for the piece. Thanks to Brian Brennan, Robyn Bromfield, Brian Conniffe, Lynda Cosgrove, Dr. Eileen Leahy, Barry Low, Dr. Barbara Lueneburg and Marie McStay. The audio files are edited and imported into the game development of Unity. I then wrote a number of C# scripts designed to control the behaviour of the audio when the participant interacted with the computer keyboard. When creating this work I was inspired by N. Katherine Hayles “Language alone is no longer the distinctive characteristic of technologically developed societies; rather, it is language plus code” (Hayles 2005, 16).
I’ve included the link to the game score in the caption below the image and there is also a video available on YouTube. If you choose to access the game score presentation, the controls are the W,A,S,D, Arrow Keys, and SPACE. The SPACE key control will move the presentation between one of nine scenes. There are wide variations between the scenes and the work creates a work of web-based endless narrative.
There is also an audio file available on soundcloud included below:
Look, I'm sorry, I know it's beige. It'll warm if you have time to gaze. Think of it more as a blanched-almond, Changing in hue with the light.
Try it now, up in hyperspace, There's always the power given in backspace. Trust the strength in its own understatement, It'll sit with the line of sight.
This selection is straight from the database. Fitting the dial and perfect in shortwave. Alternative to the delicate hue Is the thought that it will bring calm. Giving out some gentle bright, A glow that is good for the payment.
And The Birds Sang
And The Birds Sang (2016) is inspired by Cobra (1984) by John Zorn and Robert Morris Box with the Sound Of its Own Making (1961). I encourage the participant to listen and respond with their own interpretation of how the sound was produced for the soundtrack, and to improvise to the visuals displayed on-screen. And The Birds Sang has been performed by an Irish brass band, Drogheda Brass Band and a Swiss trio of synth, horn and cello called Retro Disco at Music Current in Dublin, 2019. I’ve included the link to the game score in the caption under the image. There is also a video on YouTube. If you choose to access the game score there is also a set of directions designed to be a reference for the score. The graphics I created are informed by Manuella Blackburns Sound Shapes and I produced icons that represent short onset attacks, repeated and buzzing articulations, among others.
The audio recording from Music Currents is included below:
Questioning The Elements
Questioning The Elements (2019) was commissioned and performed by SPIKE alternative cello festival in Dublin 2019, it was also performed live on RTE Radio One during Arena. My aim is to consider the sound-making elements of the cello and also, the methods used by the performer. I spent time creating reference sounds: bowing, scraping, knocking the cello at various points. I also asked for participants to record a couple of sentences describing their thoughts of the sound of the cello. Massive thanks to Mary Barnecutt, Anthony Fox, Martina Murray, Raven, Nicole Rourke, and Yue Tang for taking the time to record and send me your thoughts.
I’ve included the link the Game Score in the caption below the image, but there is also a video up on YouTube. If you choose to download the game score, please enjoy interpreting the sound shapes and text instructions on-screen. The computer keyboard also provides some extra possibilities, so test the keys, a lot of them will result in either hearing voices or moving the graphic icons.
The audio recording from the SPIKE performance is included below:
Tale Of A Great Sham(e)Text
Tale of a Great Sham(e)Text is an electronic text first inspired by the consideration of citizenship. I created a Twitter Bot, a SoundCloud account, and a Blog for this project, and eventually I will also be featuring podcasts alongside the game score. Check out the Blog because I will publish pages on pre-composition and on the continuing production. I’ve included the game score below and there is also a video version on YouTube. The instruments I envisage are Female voice(s), Brass Player(s), and Computer.
I’ll continue to blog about other works and progress of new creations on this WordPress site. The process of developing a compositional workflow using techniques drawn from electroacoustic music and electronic literature continue to provide me with much inspiration and I will enjoy observing the directions the creations are going.
Hayles, N. Katherine. My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago, 2005.
I am thrilled to be taking part as a ‘participant composer’ in this wonderful festival.
Music Current is a contemporary music festival run by Dublin Sound Lab, offering audiences a showcase of contemporary Irish electronic music and new international repertoire, and includes a participation strand for composers to take part in masterclasses, discussion, collaborations and performances.
One of the inspirations for And The Birds Sang draws on Gilles Deleuze’s discussion in Cinema I, of the movement of perception being between “two poles, objective and subjective” (Deleuze 1986, 71).
The work investigate the movement between our perception as performers and as audience members through the design and presentation of an electroacoustic work which can be performed and experienced in a wide variety of settings.
At Music Current the animated sound score of And The Birds Sang is visible to both the audience and performers. The horn, cello and synthesizer will investigate the sound-making potential of their instruments inspired by the combined visuals and soundtrack, the audience will perceive the work through the experience provided from hearing and seeing the animated score in combination with the performance of the ensemble.
Spike, Dublin’s alternative cello festival, will be back for its third installation Friday 8th-Sunday 10th February 2019 in venues across Dublin. After the festival’s hugely successful, entertaining and innovative 2017 & 18 incarnations, the 2019 programme will present unique events with some of the most talented and exciting cello artists & friends from home and abroad.
Then, in the first of the evenings at The Workman’s Club, Irish games composer and cellist Claire Fitch will premiere an interactive gaming piece for cellos and a big screen, commissioned by Spike. Claire, formerly a cellist in the RTÉNSO, has been writing music and creating sound effects for games since 2003, ranging from loud action shooters to quiet and cute educational games. For Spike she has created a project which will call on two cellists to react to movements on screen, as if playing a game, to create a piece of music. After this performance there will be an open mic chance for visiting and resident cellists to perform their own works in five fifteen-minute slots hosted by the festival.
Presenting Scars – the debut album from Irish singer songwriter Eimear. In this show Eimear will take you on a journey of stories from past years, stories of love, life, loss and inspiration. Featuring various guest musicians, each song has its own style and unique element – but all tell a story and all are told by a powerful storyteller. Eimear has been waiting a long time to share these stories with you all and this promises to be a great night.
Music on the night from:
Claire Crehan on keys David McDonald on guitar Claire Fitch on cello Imogen Gunner on violin Philip Donnery on drums Saoirse Lawlor & Louise Lennon on backing vocals
Album art by Callum Knight
Support on the night from Beatrix Nova, an incredible young songwriter who will enchant you with her soulful songs infused with catchy hooks.