From Here to Everywhere...
LAUNCHED in 1995, the Contemporary Music Centre’s series of specially-produced CDs showcasing the teeming variety and self-evidently abundant vitality of composition in Ireland today reached its sixth volume in October last year.
Appearing now on an annual basis, the series was treated to an attractive re-design for the release of Volume 5 in the autumn of 2005, the new packaging including an expanded booklet with more information about the featured tracks and their composers. With joint funding from the Arts Council of the Republic of Ireland (An Chomhairle Ealaíon), the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (through the ‘Awards for All’ scheme), and Culture Ireland, some 3,000 copies of each volume are printed and distributed worldwide by CMC completely free of charge to their recipients. Initially dispatched into the world as an act of far-sighted faith (CMC’s willingness to promote and proselytise Irish composers and new Irish composition has been an integral part of the point and purpose of the 21-year-old organisation from its beginnings), the growing response to the series has allowed CMC to more accuately target those who can make best use of the dozen or so royalty-free performances on each the discs.
Most significantly, the discs have proved particularly useful to radio producers and presenters, with broadcasts of tracks from Volume 5 heard on stations in the UK, Australia, the United States, Brazil, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Denmark, the Netherlands and Estonia, where Maria Mölder, the supervising editor and occasional presenter of the weekly new-music programme, NYYDmuusika, devoted an entire broadcast to it onKlassikaraadio, the country’s most listened to station.
For Mölder, ‘discs like the Contemporary Music from Ireland series are very important’ and not least, she adds, ‘because they tell you that Irish music is very interesting and worth knowing about. I knew about Irish traditional music before this series but not contemporary music and these discs, which offer an opportunity to hear music you might not otherwise encounter, make a very good impression’.
That’s a sentiment echoed nearer to home by Lyndon Jones, a producer of BBC Radio 3’s The Choir. ‘I get a sense of a wonderful, collaborative, spirited commitment to the cause of contemporary music in Ireland from this series,’ he enthusiastically declares. ‘All these composers seem to have different things to say at different stages of their career.’
But while the discs offer radio professionals like Jones the relishable temptation of state-of-the-art, royalty-free recordings for broadcast, they also incremently build a valuable archive.
‘It’s so important to have a record of this work as it is being done,’ adds Jones. ‘It’s so important that someone is committing them to a medium that lasts and producing a wonderful diary of what’s happening creatively in Ireland over the life of the series. One of the things I’ve been bowled over by with Volume 5 is that there’s so much beautiful music on it!’
In another production office elsewhere in the BBC, Sam Hickling, a researcher on Mixing It, Radio 3’s self-declared ‘bastion of experimental music radio’, also welcomes the indelible musical thumbprints each volume in the series makes.
‘With loads of stuff coming in [in excess of 500 classical and contemporary music CDs are released each and every month in the UK alone] a reliable series such as Contemporary Music from Irelandcan be invaluable for sorting the good and the interesting from the ear-achingly bad. It also usefully brings to our attention who the current composing names worth listening to are.’
In the sunnier climes enjoyed in Portugal, Volume 5 found its way into the hands of composer turned radio presenter Luìs Tinoco, whose weekly programme, The Geography of Sounds on the Antena 2station, offers a series of musical portraits focused on particular countries.
‘The most important thing about the series,’ he says, ‘is that it fills a gap and allows radio producers and music promoters and programmers to get in touch with what is happening in Ireland. I’m always surprised by the variety of music that is being produced. It’s never only one kind of sound you get to hear on the discs.’
Interestingly, Tinoco alights on the ‘eccentric’ Brian Irvine-composed contribution to Volume 5, The Rather Unfortunate Demise of Mr Whippy, (a characteristically colourful piece that sounds like a musical collision between an ice-cream van and a Boccherini minuet, yet remaining inimitably individual).
‘It’s very brave to put that piece alongside all the other [eleven]composers on the same disc, because the range it gives you in doing that -- from the post-modern to the more complex pieces working with electronics -- is so wide.’
To his initial surprise, Tinoco confesses, he ‘didn’t find what one would expect to be a traditional Irish flavouring’ in the series. ‘It’s not mainstream in that sense, and I think that’s good.’
One significant reason for that, of course, may be that the series is called Contemporary Music from Ireland, and not Contemporary IrishMusic. So, on Volume 5, there is music by composers from the United States (Jane O’Leary), Brazil (Victor Lazzarini) and Spain (Ricardo Climent), all of whom live and work in Ireland -- in O’Leary’s case since 1972. Tinoco believes that such a presence is ‘only right, and actually reminds you of the contributions made to Irish music by composers and musicians from elsewhere in recent and past years; in modern times back to Aloys Fleischmann [from Germany] and, more recently, [South African-born] Kevin Volans. It’s a very positive and accurate aspect, giving a multi-cultural and pluralistic flavour’.
It’s that deliberate eclecticism that also appeals to Sebastien Mendes, who has presented a weekly two-hour programme featuring ‘new or unusual experimental music, sound art and noise’ on the Washinton DC-based Yellow Radio station since 2002.
Mendes says that he ‘frequently relies on’ material received from various music information centres around the world, and not least from CMC. ‘I’ve been very pleased to receive such good music from the Irish music centre over the years. Besides the Contemporay Music from Ireland series, I’ve also been sent other CDs and I’ve played parts of them all on air. In fact, some months ago I produced a programme that was entirely dedicated to Irish music using many of the tracks from Volume 5.’
A particularly helpful element that all the recipients of the series reserve praise for is the booklet of composer profiles and descriptions of the featured works that accompanies each release.
‘The inlay is really useful because it contextualises the music,’ BBC Radio 3’s Sam Hickling says. ‘For anyone whose reflex impression of Irish music is that it is traditional and folk-led, it points you in the direction of diversity and of where the individual composers are coming from and where they want their music to go.’
‘Good documentation is very important,’ concurs Maria Mölder of Estonia’s Klassikaraadio, ‘because it can help persuade a producer to broadcast a part or all of a particular disc especially if, like me, they had known about Irish traditional music before but not about the contemporary music scene in Ireland. The information that accompanies CMC’s disc made a very good impression on me.’
Cardiff-based The Choir producer Lyndon Jones echoes his East European colleague’s sentiments: ‘The booklets are very nicely balanced between the composer biography and the notes about the works -- you get all the information you need as a producer. For someone like me, for whom time is of the essence, I can write a piece of script to accompany a broadcast of any of the tracks very easily thanks to the documentation. (And it’s nice that they’re not pitched at the musicologists!)’
You could argue, of course, in our digitally-defined era that the whole project would work just as well as a channel on the Centre's website. Well, yes, and no, maintains Jones. ‘That assumes that people will go looking for the site, find it and take the time to navigate through it to find what otherwise might more conveniently land on your desk and be ready to be popped into a player and broadcast on air!’
Though a CD may seem like a rather old-fashioned way of disseminating and promoting music, it still seems, to all the professional broadcasters included here, that it is a more preferable and noticeable and usable format than any other to bring music they otherwise might not encounter to their attention.
‘I’ve lost hours -- days! -- searching the internet for information for my programmes,’ complains Portugal’s Luìs Tinoco. ‘Producing a booklet can be expensive, I know, but CMC seem to strike a fair balance in their discs.’
Reassuringly, too, the reported response of listeners to broadcasts of CMC-produced material have been uniformly positive, with Tinoco in particular often finding himself as a middle-man between his audience, eager to know more about Irish music, and CMC. ‘I’ve put many people in touch with CMC after they e-mailed me about some of the music I had played on my programme. Their response shows that this is interesting music that people will want to know about when, that is, they get the chance to hear it. In the end, that’s why theContemporary Music from Ireland series is so valuable.’
Certainly, early indications suggest that the response to Volume 6 -- issued in October last year -- will confidently build on its predecessor’s success, with Siobhán Cleary’s swirling soundscapeDiamorphine having already received broadcasts on both Mixing Itand Late Junction on BBC Radio 3.
‘Making the leap from the national stage to an international one is really hard,’ agrees Lyndon Jones. ‘And something like a CD is a good way to do it. A very good way if it is a CD from the Contemporary Music Centre in Ireland!’
Michael Quinn is a freelance music journalist. He lives in Co. Down, Northern Ireland.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the persons concerned and are not necessarily those of the Contemporary Music Centre