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Column: 'Music isn't just about what you hear. Where and how we hear it can have just as much impact'

Composer Fergal Dowling talks about two new site-specific concerts programmed in the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival.

Fergal Dowling

WE THINK THAT music is not just about what we hear, but that where we hear it and how we hear it can have just as much impact. So we decided to invite audiences to experience all of these aspects together through two concerts; we really wanted to situate the concerts firmly within Dublin, and to make music that was directly informed by the city, by moving through the city, and by special spaces in the city.

When people think of ‘concert music’ they usually image it located in a concert hall. Well, that’s fine for orchestral music but it’s often an irrelevant setting for much contemporary music.

Rooted in Dublin City 

We are not trying to ‘take music out of the concert hall’ as such, we are just trying to find the right place for this particular music. So we developed two programmes for the upcoming Tiger Dublin Fringe, Places and Responses, which are firmly rooted in the city.

In both concerts, five mobile wind players explore Dublin’s architecture and soundscape – literally!

SOUNDS Source: Dublin Sound Lab

For example, for Places we invited Peter Ablinger, a Berlin-based composer, to write a site-specific piece, 3 Places Dublin (for Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, Dublin Fruit Market and St Michan’s Church). This is a sort of ‘promenade piece’ where both audience and musicians walk together from one venue to the next.

Self portraits of the buildings 

Peter has analysed the acoustic response of each of the three spaces and has developed three scores, one for each space –– what Peter calls acoustic ‘self portraits’ of the buildings.

screenshot.1410860167.2506 Source: (Mark Stanley)/Flickr

So the scores are unique to each building and will never be performed anywhere else. The three places make an evening concert that lasts a little more than an hour, and as the audience and musicians move from space to space, the city’s soundscape becomes part of the fabric of the piece itself. It’s a fun way of allowing audiences to explore the city and its architecture; a bit like a musical version of the Irish Architecture Foundation’s Open House programme.

In the second concert, Responses, four Dublin composers — Piaras Hoban, Gráinne Mulvey, Fergal Dowling and Rob Canning — devised a collaborative performance for the Atrium space at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios.

The Atrium is a four-storey space around an oval void and an open stairway. The surfaces are mostly concrete, so it’s really a highly resonant vertical space. Again we’re using five mobile wind players who literally explore the Atrium, sounding it out as they go. The audience is free to move around too so they can create their own ‘mix’ of the ongoing performance.

Acoustic space

3 Places Dublin is entirely acoustic, but in Response we use interactive electronics and mobile performers to explore both the acoustic space of the building and the acoustic space surrounding the building.

For example, of the four works in this programme the first piece is for the concertgoers to download and play on their own smartphone as they approach the venue.

And the final piece uses mobile transmitters attached to the instrumentalists so they can broadcast their performance throughout the building and even leave the building and continue to transmit their performance from different locations in the streets around Dublin city centre, back into the venue – complete with ambient city sounds.

Source: Contemporary Music Centre/Vimeo

Video of composer Rob Canning talks about his interactive network performance, ‘Sonic Drift’, which took place as part of CMC’s Culture Night event on 20 September 2013.

Fergal Dowling, together with the organist Michael Quinn, co-founded Dublin Sound Lab in 2008, a group specialising in computer-mediated music performance.

As part of Tiger Dublin Fringe 2014, Places (Peter Ablinger’s 3 Places Dublin) will be at Temple Bar Gallery & Studios, visiting Dublin Fruit Market and St Michan’s Church
17 September 2014, 8pm (€16/14)

In addition, Responses will be at Temple Bar Gallery & Studios, Dublin on 18 September 2014, 8pm (€16/14)

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Fergal Dowling

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