Barry O’Halpin

(b. 1987)
Robert Watson

Barry O’Halpin is a composer and performer based in Dublin, merging approaches and formative influences from contemporary classical, experimental rock, electronic music and jazz contexts. He is an electric guitarist with Crash Ensemble, and a member of Dublin experimental rock trio Alarmist.  His diverse ensemble and solo works have an enveloping sense of sonic place, often incorporating natural-world sounds and imagery as sources of wild, uncanny musicality. Frequently lying at the heart of his music is an inventive and highly personal approach to the electric guitar, exploring and defamiliarising the instrument to evocative effect. 

As well as being a performer with Crash Ensemble, he was 2018–2022 Composer-in-Residence, and also the 2018-2020 Arts & Humanities Artist-in-Residence at Parity Studios, University College Dublin. During this period he composed the hour-length work Wingform for ensemble and solo electric guitar, commissioned by Crash with funds from the Arts Council of Ireland. Crash Ensemble and Barry, under conductor Ryan McAdams, premiered the work at New Music Dublin 2021 (online streaming) and Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2022 (live audience), and toured venues nationally as part of an installation by Jack Phelan. In April 2022 Wingform was released as an album on Crash Records, following 2021’s Lipids EP. 

Chambergrist, a half-hour work for percussion and guitar emerging from collaboration with percussionist Alex Petcu-Colan and ceramic artist Elaine Harrington, premiered at Cavan Arts Festival 2023. A reflection on Ireland’s overground and underground landscapes, this was supported by Arts Council Bursary and Agility Awards with advisory support from iCRAG geoscience organisation. Also in 2023, Heaving Moss, commissioned with funds from the Arts Council by Wildwood duo (Alex Petcu & Deirdre O'Leary), premiered at The Dock Co. Leitrim. 

Recent years have seen collaborative arrangement projects with songwriters Diamanda La Berge Dramm (New Music Dublin 2022) and Adrian Crowley (Treaty Songs, NCH, 2021). Further commissions and collaborations include Lina Andonovska & SlapBang, Kirkos, Michelle O’Rourke, Kaleidoscope Night, Chamber Choir Ireland, Ret Frem Ensemble, Fishamble Sinfonia. 

As a performer with Crash Ensemble, highlights include: Wingform at Huddersfield 2022; West Cork Chamber Music Festival 2022;  premiere and Irish tour of Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh opera The First Child, 2021-22; solo guitar concert at Other Voices 2019; Irish premiere of Fausto Romitelli’s Professor Bad Trip, 2019; world premiere of Daníel Bjarnason’s Songs, 2020; festivals including New Music Dublin, Kilkenny Arts, Music Nova (Helsinki) and GAIDA (Vilnius); Crashlands 2017 Irish tour, premiering works by Ann Cleare, Tansy Davies, David Lang, Jennifer Walshe and Michael Gordon and more. 

Alarmist released four records from 2011-2019, gaining an international following, critical acclaim and international festival appearances such as Ottawa Jazz (Canada), InJazz (Netherlands), 12 Points (Sweden), Match & Fuse (Zurich) and Vinterfest (Denmark). Press coverage included All About Jazz, Irish Times, Kerrang! and the Sunday Times, with radio including BBC 6 Tom Ravenscroft & Gideon Coe, BBC 3 Late Junction and Jon Schaefer’s New Sounds WNYC.

He has been a Guitar Fellow with Bang On A Can at Villa Musica, (Germany, 2016) and the Summer Music Festival (USA, 2017). He has also performed with Irish National Opera (Amanda Feery’s A Thing I Cannot Name), Caitríona O’Leary’s medieval/contemporary fusion group Anakronos, and Dublin ambient electro-acoustic project Chequerboard.

“But most impressive among non-Australian artists is Ireland’s Crash Ensemble. The engaging and eventful Wingform, by the group’s guitarist Barry O’Halpin, draws its material from recordings of massed wing vibrations of Asian tiger mosquitoes. Two of O’Halpin’s microtonal electric guitar compositions connect the movements, with extended techniques such as knocking the back of the fretboard to produce a quivering drone.” – Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival Review, Andy Hamilton, The Wire magazine.

“It wasn’t just tuning that went beyond 'confines'. O’Halpin deploys the sonic possibilities of the electric guitar in ways that are pretty much alien to those of its familiar role in rock music.”  – Michael Dungan, The Irish Times

"From the opening moments of [Wingform] it was clear that something quite special was happening …. it was impossible not to visualise diverse soundscapes from underwater cries of whales or dolphins to more industrial sounding material….A sure candidate for the revelation of New Music Dublin 2021."–  Adrian Smith, The Journal of Music