Composer Anna Murray reports on her participation in Dublin Sound Lab's Music Current festival, which took place in April 2016. Audio features and interviews by Mike Glennon.
I was delighted to be a participant in the very first Music Current, presented by Dublin Sound Lab – the first of an event I hope will become a regular feature of our contemporary music scene, especially as its focus on electronic music will provide a fantastic platform for discovery of new ideas from composers in Ireland and abroad.
Though this year’s programmes for the three evening concerts wasn’t all electronic, they did feature a number of works otherwise rarely heard, such as new extended pieces by Fergal Dowling and Jennifer Walshe, and music from Karlheinz Essl and Scelsi, as well as an improvisation from visiting musicians Adrian Corker (electronics) and Lucy Railton (cello).
For the participant composers, the festival provided an incubation space to present our own work, and more importantly get under the skin of each others’ over three days. One submitted work from each participant was selected for workshopping over the three days, and performance in Saturday night’s concert. It was fascinating to see five totally distinct styles of electroacoustic composition emerge, from inner-ear phenomena to Icelandic lullabies! The featured piece of mine was Switches, a work for looping violin and live electronics. The piece was originally written for violinist Ian Peaston, but as it is a very open-form work I was particularly interested in exploring how a different musician would approach the work.
The calibre of the visiting musicians was one of the real strengths of this festival: as well as being incredible players, Lucy Railton and Mira Benjamin are utterly dedicated to contemporary music, and are extremely knowledgeable and experienced. For every idea, they had a counter-idea, or a suggestion of something or someone we could look at for further information. It was a real honour and pleasure to get to work with them over the three days, and I was delighted with how Mira engaged with the piece and the challenges of the live looping system.
The first day of the festival began with some presentations from the mentors Ann Cleare, Grainne Mulvey and Jennifer Walshe, providing us with some insight into the innovative experimental work of these composers. This was followed by the participant composers (Brian Connolly, Amanda Feery, Richard Bailie, Rob Casey and myself) introducing their own selected pieces for discussion with Grainne and Ann. Challenging questions were asked and interesting ideas posed from participants and mentors alike.
This was followed by initial workshops with the performers, in which the composers were able to demonstrate further the ideas behind their pieces, and how they worked – including in my case at least, identifying some practical technological difficulties with my electronics and looping pedal system! After some further workshopping and discussion over the coming days, we were finally able to set up the pieces on Saturday morning at Smock Alley for performance that night; then in the afternoon a final session with Jennifer Walshe and Lucy and Mira focussed on discussing general ideas for future pieces which I think provided inspiration to everyone to think outside the ordinary wherever possible.
Another highlight of the festival was the panel discussion hosted by CMC – titled 'Who’s Afraid of Electronic Music?' – dealing with the composer and presenting contemporary (particularly electronic) and whether or not there is a paradigm shift happening in the new music world. Though the conversation didn’t always stay on those tracks, it was a real sign of interest in the topic that the library was packed for this event, and saw not only composers, but journalists and musicologists throwing themselves into the debate.
Jennifer Walshe during the panel discussion, "Who's afraid of Electronic Music?'
This panel discussion showed that Music Current has the potential to bring together and enliven all members of the new music community, and to foster discussion and ideas, both within the closed sessions of the workshops and in the public talks and concerts. Though this was a small beginning for the festival, I hope to see it expand in the future.