Analysing the Music of Jennifer Walshe
Journal editor PETER MORAN examines the structural devices and the technique of sonic layering employed in Walshe's output.
Musicologist BARBARA DIGNAM looks at the work of six Irish composers writing electroacoustic music.
Musicologist MARK FITZGERALD reconstructs a long lost orchestral score using the individual parts from the last known performance in 1941.
Issue 3: Anne-Marie O'Farrell's's Chromatétude for harp Composer and harpist ANNE-MARIE O'FARRELL discusses the practicalities of writing new music for the lever system of the Irish harp.
Irish Composers on Irish Music
Festival Review: Composing the Island Musicologist ADRIAN SMITH questions what we should make of the major classical music festival which marked a centenary of Irish music since 1916.
Six threads of electroacoustic music in Ireland
Frederick May’s Symphonic Ballad Reconstructed
Issue 3: Raymond Deane and Sebastian Adams Issue 4: Fergus Johnston on his Piano Study No.1 Composer FERGUS JOHNSTON provides an analysis of a complex work
Issue 5: Anne-Marie O'Farrell on Gráinne Mulvey's harp writing Issue 6: Jennifer Walshe in conversation with writer Rob Doyle Composer JENNIFER WALSHE and writer ROB DOYLE are two artists who create fictional histories of Irish experimental art.
Seven Theses on Joyce and Irish Music
An original contribution from composer FRANK CORCORAN on the occasion of his 70th birthday.
2 Editors' Welcome It is our great pleasure to welcome you to this, the second volume of the AIC New Music Journal. This small journal is run on a largely voluntary basis, with a small amount of funding and a huge amount of goodwill and support, so it is no small achievement on the part of all those involved that we can bring you a second collection of analyses, discussions, interviews and reviews addressing the latest issues in contemporary classical music in Ireland. This volume is a collection of some of the work we have published over the past year, including analytical articles, in-depth reviews, video features, and a unique vignette on James Joyce and Irish music. The AIC New Music Journal was launched just over two years ago as a multimedia online journal with the aim of raising awareness of Irish composers' work, and to broaden the discussion and analysis of new trends in contemporary Irish music. It is written by artists and musicologists with the contemporary classical music community in mind, both nationally and internationally, to facilitate a better understanding and a deeper engagement with new developments in contemporary Irish music. None of this would have been possible without the support of the Association of Irish Composers and their funders, IMRO and the Arts Council of Ireland, and most importantly, the writers, the speakers, and indeed the composers themselves, Go raibh maith agaibh go lĂŠir, Peter Moran and Jennifer McCay Co-Editors, AIC New Music Journal
Analysing the Music of Jennifer Walshe By Peter Moran Published June 30th 2016 To mark BĂŠal Music's Inappropriate Moments festival of Jennifer Walshe's vocal work, journal editor PETER MORAN examines the structural devices and the distinctive technique of sonic layering employed in the composer's output. As a composer, Jennifer Walshe is ruthless in her experimentation. Her uncompromising determination to explore uncharted territory can sometimes leave listeners more than a little puzzled or even indifferent. But at other times, she can hit upon something so devastatingly original and creative, that it leaves you bubbling and buzzing with excitement. Or stunned to silence. Or moved to stillness. It is the uncertainty of the outcomes of these experiments which is, to me, the very definition of avant-garde. That is we want from our new music. Bold gestures that are unafraid to fail, in the hope of unearthing something astounding. This is what Jennifer Walshe's music means to me. But it is so deeply bound up with conceptual art and with philosophies which seek to make sense of our modern world, that it can be difficult to analyse her work in musical terms, to try to understand what makes it do what it does. So we ask: How can we analyse Walshe's work from a musicological perspective?
Examining the layers One of the most distinguishing features of Walshe's music is the overlaying of many disparate layers of audio of visual information. The layers include (but are not limited to!) melody, harmony, sonic textures (produced
acoustically or electronically), spoken word, physical gestures, and video or other images. Pitch The pitched elements of her work (melody and harmony) are not entirely tonal, but neither are they dissonant. They tend to occupy a middle ground combining close intervals of tones and semitones, with wider, more consonant intervals, with no clear tonal centre. In this way, her pitch material becomes just another sonic layer, which carefully avoids any sense of linear directionality that might draw attention away from the other layers. We are not following the harmonic progression with an expectation of resolution, but rather, we perceive it as an almost static backdrop (indeed, the harmonies very often are static) against which, and in relation to which, other sound events unfold.
Texture A major source of the great richness of the soundworlds Walshe creates in her music is her endlessly imaginative approach to sonic textures. One particularly beautiful example of this is the work He Was She Was, written for CoMA in 2008. The tape part that runs for the duration of this fiveminute piece is simply a quiet, delicate crackling sound, seemingly a recording of a fire place. The (unspecified) instruments, when they are not quietly playing one or two long held pitches interspersed with silence, have other actions to perform; the breaking of twigs, breathing into a paper bag, a rushed whispering voice and, at the very end, the striking of matches as two players each speak alternating lines one at a time. All these combine to create a most beautiful mood, as if capturing some transient imaginary scene in the listener's mind.
4 Click to watch He Was She Was
Spoken Word and Accents
Another of Walshe's most memorable approaches to sound texture is in the work Scintillia, written under one of her Grúpat alter egos, Detleva Verens. The work, which may be best seen live to appreciate the full effect, is performed by a solo voice in front of two microphones, each one connected to a speaker on opposite sides of the room. The rasping, slurping, agitated breathing of soloist's voice is manipulated by a small container, such as the lid of a shampoo bottle, which can then redirect the breath from one microphone to another, or even divide the breath stream into two, sending the manipulated and unmanipulated sounds to opposite sides of the room simultaneously. Listen to the music of Grúpat at https://soundcloud.com/grupat
When using the human voice as the source of her sound textures, Walshe's scores always give very clear and imaginative descriptions of the required timbre. The instructions given in the score for Duration and Its Simple Modes, for example, ask the performers to sing like a “tired and emotional sailor singing his heart out” or to sound “louche and grainy, like a drunk Las Vegas nightclub singer – get into character, swaying boozily, it's 3am and you finally have the mic in your hand”. To supplement these instructions, she will also provide a short recording with the score as an aural guide for the performers. The same care is taken when asking vocal performers to sing or speak in different styles, moods or accents, and each different tone of voice will carry a certain meaning for the audience which will impact upon their perception of the work. These references can also very often serve as the main vehicle for the humour that is such an important part of her music as well. The way in which her music touches on such a broad spectrum of cultural reference points is one key part of how Walshe's music situates itself within her audience's everyday soundscape, how it reflects, in such a creative way, the world in which we live. Her speaking parts in particular add a very personal quality to her music. The vocal parts in her work are often performed by the composer herself, but if we are not hearing her live, then we must imagine her speaking in her strong Irish accent with her distinctly fast-paced delivery. Indeed, to observe Walshe giving a public lecture is to witness an impressively virtuosic spoken performance in itself. So we can appreciate the authenticity and the personal quality of her writing. Visuals and Text Equally important as these sonic layers are the visual components of her work. Just as her vocal writing touches on a diverse cross section of cultural reference points, so too do the video parts in her work cut together a broad range of source material from popular culture, wildlife footage, everyday street scenes from today and yesteryear, and other homemade clips.
5 Written texts may also be presented to the audience as another visual component, either overlaid on top of the video images, as in Dordรกn, or simply printed on large cards held up by the performer, as in Duration and Its Simple Modes (see analysis below).
Figure 1: Tableaux from the score for Duration and Its Simple Modes showing the positions for four sopranos and two altos, based on Hogarth's The Rake's Progress:
Position and Gesture But perhaps the most interesting of the visual dimensions in her work is the physicality and theatricality she requires of the performers. These details are conveyed to the performers either through written instructions or photographs provided in the score, or in accompanying video clips (See Figure 1). Facial expressions, body positions, and carefully choreographed movements all dramatically heighten the audience's experience of the performance. With so many layers of sound and vision, engaging our senses and our imaginations, the specific details of each individual part can easily become subsumed into the many-layered whole. The buzz of activity this creates is part of the excitement of her music, and the structure that emerges from the chaos is a key factor in the effect the music will have on the listener. For these reasons, understanding what is happening in each individual layer is not quite as important as how these layers combine to create the whole.
Perceiving the whole So if each individual layer is not the source of the overall effect of Walshe's music, then how can we analyse her work. There are really just two perspectives we will draw on here. One of these is to analyse the structure of the work, which we will do later. The other is to look at how the many layers of activity come together to function as a whole. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, how they don't come together, because the particular character of Walshe's music comes from the very effect of perceiving so many layers of information simultaneously. The different strands of the work aren't intended to blend together in an analogous way to how the layers of an instrumental ensemble will blend
6 together. This isn't orchestration in anything like the usual sense; the spoken word parts aren't couched neatly inside the vocal harmonies; the visuals don't move in sync with the melody; disparate strands don't come together to form a single composite voice. Each layer maintains its individual character throughout. We can follow each thread separately — the spoken narrative, the sequence of physical movement, the harmonic progression — but it is only through their juxtaposition that they form a very particular kind of perceived whole. This is not a postmodern juxtaposition of disparate elements. Nor is it a well-worn commentary on the relationship between 'high' and 'low' art forms. In those older compositional languages, the juxtapositions seek to draw attention to themselves. The obvious clashes of cultures and styles are an end in themselves. In Walshe's music they are a starting point. A given. It is her own language – one may easily imagine it is the sound of her own headspace – and so, with these materials, she constructs a new kind of internal logic that is built upon that premise. The multi-faceted, multi-media, all-consuming busy-ness of a great Jennifer Walshe performance can truly overwhelm us. In this way, it might very well be taken as a metaphor for our modern life, especially with its heavy reliance on pop culture references, particularly including different singing styles and accents, and of course with its ability to find humour in the chaos. You may try to stay on top of everything that's going on, but inevitably, it becomes all too much. So you let go, and you immerse yourself in it.
Musical structure in the festival's featured works Many of Walshe's works, if not the majority, measure the passing of time, not with bar lines and time signatures, but with a stopwatch. This allows us to easily measure the duration of each section of music. In fact, Walshe's
music is actually quite sectional in structure. This is not always obvious at first, but sudden and dramatic changes in the mood, the texture, or the pace of the music can guide the ear through an otherwise complex maze of activity. One particular device, which recurs in many of her pieces, is the obsessive repetition of a single sound object, such as a chord, a melodic riff or a sonic texture. When all the layers of the music are stripped away, leaving only one sound held for an excessive duration, it brings the overall shape of the piece into sharp focus. These structural features are demonstrated in the works programmed in the Beál music festival of Walshe's vocal output, Inappropriate Moments.
Julian and Kanye Julian and Kanye is a vocal trio originally written for the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart which demonstrates a number of devices that recur in Walshe's compositions. The music here is made up of dense, slow-moving chords, which start and stop together, each one punctuated by a short silence. The text contains only two sentences (taken from the online profiles of Julian Assange and Kanye West respectively), and these sentences divide the work into a clear binary form. The vocal harmonies are the same in both halves of the piece, with a few new chords introduced in the final few bars. This use of repetition, with small variations marking out structural end-points, is a feature we will see in a number of Walshe's compositions. The harmonies in Julian and Kanye are mostly combinations of one consonant interval (a 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th) with one clustered interval of a tone or a semitone, usually in the lower two voices. (See Example 1). There are the occasional triads, but this language of one close interval and one wider interval comes to define this work, and it appears in a number of other compositions also.
7 Example 1: Julian and Kanye, bars 1-6
Very often in Walshe's work we will find that one layer of the music, like the shakers in Julian and Kanye, will become the single point of focus for an inordinate, almost uncomfortable length of time. This kind of obsessive repetition on one sound object is a feature of her work that, when it arises, cannot help but lead the listener to structure their listening experience around that event. Listen to Julian and Kanye at http://www.escalierduchant.org/assets/mp3/04/julian-kanye.mp3
The Soft Menagerie
But beyond the large-scale repetition of vocal harmonies, Walshe takes further steps to make this binary form abundantly clear. The last syllable of the first sentence, which concludes the first half of the piece, is held for almost five full bars — the longest note in the piece so far. This is immediately followed by the introduction of a startling new sound, three fortissimo percussive “shakers” played on their own for an uncompromising ten bars (or approximately 40 seconds). This then is followed by four bars (about 20 seconds) of total silence. These remarkable shifts in the texture and pace of the music highlight the underlying structure of the music, as the listener, now at the halfway point, can only wait to hear what will break the silence. It is then that we return to the vocal harmonies of the opening. The voices start and stop as they did before, only this time accompanied by less intense interjections from the individual percussive shakers.
The Soft Menagerie is a set of four songs, again for vocal trio. The first song, The Crocodile, uses a repeated descending D minor scale, sung to an open vowel sound, which serves as a tonal backdrop to the other textures in the piece: a spoken/whispered text, and the rubbing of rocks. The scale ends a little differently in each of its first five iterations, which are then repeated almost exactly. But it is not an exact repeat, as a new variation, sung three times, marks the very end of the piece. Here again we see a kind of binary form, with a variation in the ending offsetting an exact repeat of the first half, as was the case with the chordal progressions in Julian and Kanye. The second song, The Owl, can also be considered binary in form. Little over three minutes long, the first half of the piece overlays repeated unison quavers on a G with portions of spoken texts, all interspersed with silences. For the second half of the piece, the unison Gs are replaced with the dyad GA, repeated a full 32 times while the speaker now turns to write on a blackboard, continuing to do so for another 15 seconds after the singers have stopped, making a kind of theatrical coda to the piece. Even in such a short work, we see the obsessive repetition of one sound object — the 32 dyads — shaping the structure of the work.
8 The third song, The Rabbit, is just one minute long, and contains no overt pitch elements, but is made up entirely of sound textures created from cloth, paper, rocks and “an assortment of rubbish” manipulated according to precise theatrical instructions. The final song in the collection, The Horse, is organised a little differently. The piece opens with all octave Ds. Then a new motif, introducing new pitches, begins every seven bars, until the full D major scale is present after 35 bars. This final full texture is held until bar 60, finishing with the sustained chord, C#, E, F# for the last two bars. Note once again the use of cluster-like harmonies which subvert the underlying tonal elements. Listen to The Soft Menagerie at http://www.escalierduchant.org/assets/mp3/08/walshe-menagerie.mp3
Duration and Its Simple Modes This is one of Walshe's most multi-layered works, incorporating many of the facets discussed in the first installment of this article: vocal melodies and choral harmonies; sonic textures created from a vast range of extended vocal techniques; spoken texts delivered in a number of different moods and accents; written texts, displayed here on large cards; and theatrical gestures, movements and poses, all carefully described in the score with accompanying pictures and video clips. The work, which was inspired by Lawrence Stern's book The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, is written for a vocal soloist and choir. The soloist's part, which was originally performed by Walshe herself, is unsurprisingly a tour de force of extended vocal gymnastics. Structurally, the piece can basically be divided into eight sections of around 90 seconds each, with the very closing sections breaking this pattern by ending with the very shortest section of music followed by the very longest.
The first section might be taken as the work's introduction. The soloist launches straight away into a barrage of “rapid whipping and flickering, small pockets and bubbles of air”, as the choir punctuates the background with thick chords, interjecting in short bursts. As described in our earlier installment, this harmonic background is not only functioning as a static, non-directional element in the music, but the harmony itself is actually static. That is, the choir, for all their interjections, do not change pitches for the first full minute of of the piece. They hold one chord throughout — we might call it a kind of altered G chord — combining once again mostly consonant intervals, with one or two narrower intervals clustered around them (See Example 2). In this way, the composer gives us a very clear indication that we are not to listen to the harmonies with any traditional sense of progression, or tension and resolution, but simply to perceive it as one of the many individual sonic layers of the piece. As this introductory section proceeds, other members of the choir join in the soloist's soundworld by adding “clicks and clops” of their own. This first section ends by pre-empting later material with brief flurry of shouting, howling, snorting, quacking and barking.
9 Example 2: Bars 1-4 of Duration and Its Simple Modes
The first visual element of the piece is also introduced here. The performers sudden begin to act as if they are floating very slowly underwater. Remarkably, the effect of this strange behaviour is to heighten the already ethereal sound of the sustained G13 chord. Next is added a spoken text. The soloist recites passages from Tristram Shandy in an unbroken stream of syllables, gently shifting her intonation back and forth between the same few pitches, G, F, C, and D. And finally, above all this, two melodic layers of the piece are introduced, both of which move at independent tempi. First, a soprano begins to sing a Latin text in a lush bel canto voice. Next, she is soon joined by a bass singing the same text, but to a different melody, and now in the style of drunk loungeroom singer. Here the musical texture is at one of its thickest points in the piece: two separate melodies, a fast-moving spoken recitation, and a dense, sustained, 8-note chord, all delivered through an eerie, otherworldly choreography (See Figure 2). Figure 2: â€œUnderwaterâ€? choreography in Duration and Its Simple Modes
These sounds stop as abruptly as they began, and the sudden change in texture marks a clear structural point in the music. A new static harmony is introduced, made up of stacked thirds above a root G (i.e. a G13 chord) with the semitone E-F at the top.
The next section introduces a particularly original visual element, one which was described earlier. The performers now arrange themselves into group poses based on details from Hogarth's paintings and still photographs from productions of The Beggar's Opera. Throughout these scenes, one singer holds up cards displaying texts and images relating to Tristram Shandy, while the soloist continues speaking at pitch, though sometimes dropping
10 to an inaudible level, which means that there are portions of this composition essentially devoid of sound, containing only visual information. Another clear change in texture and mood defines the next section, as singers return to their original positions and sing chorale-like harmonies, with brief two-note melodies dropping in and out of the texture, while the soloist now delivers more spoken word content but in a very different tone of voice, and without any reference to pitch. The chorale harmonies are, once again, not entirely dissonant, but with plenty of tones and semitones present to thicken up the texture around the more consonant intervals (See Example 3).
same angry line with growing intensity, later switching to the role of sailor, while new pitches are added to the “war cry” chord, thickening the texture again by adding more clustered intervals in the lower voices, beneath what was originally a kind of major 7th chord in the upper voices (See Example 4). Example 4: “Warcry” chord, in its first appearance at 6', and in its later development at 7'30”:
Example 3: Chorale-like harmonies in Duration and Its Simple Modes
Coming towards the end of the piece, the choir stops suddenly, leaving the soloist alone in bringing the voice of her sailor character to an intense screeching climax, before gently softening to an almost child-like tone. This penultimate section is the shortest in the piece at just 30 seconds, and it segues quite smoothly into the final two minutes. Of course, by placing the shortest and longest sections of music at the very end, Walshe is typically ending the piece by breaking a previously established structural pattern of 90-second intervals.
The next section of music is made up of a rapid-fire series of ideas that jump quickly from one to the other, harking back to material first heard in the final seconds of the introductory section. The music cuts from a posh party mood, to angry preachers and harmonious war cries, to self-help advice and so on. This leads quite smoothly (as opposed to the many abrupt changes encountered thus far in the work) into the next 90-second section, where this same material is developed further. The preacher repeats the
The music ends with another static chord (we might call it Am7#4), sustained for the duration as each member of the choir recites the words “a roof too far” each in their own time and at their own respective pitches. There are a few theatrical gestures, brief melodic phrases and extended vocal techniques layered on top this this static harmonic backdrop until each voice drops out, one by one, to end the piece.
11 Click to watch Duration and Its Simple Modes
Unravelling the electrosonic tapestry: six contemporary threads of electroacoustic music in Ireland By Barbara Jillian Dignam Published August 15th 2016 Musicologist BARBARA JILLIAN DIGNAM explores the current trends in electroacoustic composition in Ireland.
Duration and Its Simple Modes, and all of the works discussed in this article, demonstrate a number of the compositional principles which define Walshe's music; elements of her harmonic language, her structural devices, and the function and the effect of delivering multiple layers of sensory information. Walshe's output is so extensive, there is no doubt a lot more analysis that could be done, but it is hoped that this effort may serve as a useful starting point for readers and listeners interested in taking a closer look at how her music works. Dr Peter Moran is a composer and performer, and the founder and editor of the AIC New Music Journal. Inappropriate Moments was a festival of Jennifer Walshe's vocal music curated by Béal Music in Dublin's Project Arts Centre, July 8 th & 9th2016. Find out more about Jennifer Walshe's music from her website www.milker.org, or on her Soundcloud page www.soundcloud.com/jenniferwalshe.
The performance poet Jemima Foxtrot recently declared that ‘power comes from celebrating difference’.[i] Never has a truer word been uttered when it comes to speaking of electroacoustic music in Ireland. In recognition of the fact that ‘electroacoustic’ as a contested term can connote very different things – or nothing at all – at any given moment, this article actively chooses to use it in its broadest sense, to mean any art work that employs elements of the electric and the acoustic in a concrete or obscure way. It is also cognisant of the fact that it clearly omits many creative strands that contribute to the vibrant texture of the current electroacoustic music scene in Ireland. It is simply a snapshot in time, a representative sample of six diverse compositional threads, and it is hoped that it will see the beginning of a wider consideration of the rich musical dialogues that are taking place. Whilst each composer produces vastly different electroacoustic works, connections appear on closer inspection. Softday are unique in their approach to applying a creative turn to seemingly non-musical data. They do however share similarities with Jennifer Walshe in that both apply compositional tools that derive from Dada (currently celebrating its centenary), Fluxus and Situationism, but neither are they defined by these movements, and both engage with critical issues of contemporary society in theatrically-driven ways.
12 Like Softday, Karen Power and Linda Buckley pay particular attention to the natural environment around us, however their treatment of found sound and their compositional approaches to acoustic and synthetic materials are comparatively different. Fergal Dowling has become synonymous with live electronic music and the creative work of Dublin Sound Lab, but he does share a similar desire for rigorous testing and perfection of processes to Jonathan Nangle. Dowling’s approach may even be considered incomparable given his steadfastness in designing one particular MaxMSP patch and Nangle somewhat bookends the group with his exploration of the art-science dichotomy. In consolidating these composers in this manner, this article in no way attempts to wholly define any of these compositional voices which, in some cases, defy conventional musicological definition owing to their diverse output and multi-faceted approach.[ii]
‘Our territory is definitely in that exploration around a changing aesthetic’ — Softday At present, Softday (Sean Taylor and Mikael Fernström) are content with being referred to as ‘Climate Change Artists’. Their organic approach to listening to the world, sound practice and the creation of art works through social engagement methods illustrates their interest in ‘the aesthetic of the amateur’ and co-authorship. This has led them to establish their own scratch orchestras and ensembles consisting of professional and amateur musicians. In involving local communities of practice in the exchange of lay and expert knowledge during both the research and music-making processes in projects such as Amhrán na mBeach (Song of the Bees, 20102013), Marbh Chrios (Dead Zone, 2010/2011), and in their current research analysing pollution in the Chicago river (expected 2018-2019) and
environmental damage in the West Bank, Gaza, their works pose social engagement questions directly to their audience but in a more accessible and evocative manner with one-off performances generally take place on site: ‘We like contestation because it allows us to talk to both sides of the question’. They see their work as paying homage to Dada and Fluxus movements and their ‘creative soundwalks’ clearly exhibit the influence of Guy Debord’s theory of the ‘dérive’, psychogeographical effects and Situationism, where their mantra is: ‘Every real sound you hear in the world is unique. It only happens once’.[iii] Two examples of this are Sonic Sidewalks (2010) and their annual Acouscenic Listening Intensive. Now in its third year, the one-day Acouscenic Listening Intensive sees Softday and a small number of participants exploring and actively interacting with ‘the study of listening, creative soundwalking and the mindful meditative practices of Tai Chi and Qigong’. As Fernström explains: ‘We sometimes discover different ways of listening to the world … you could say it’s quite elitist but we are trying to pioneer the whole field of listening to the world in a different way, to pay attention to what we hear rather than it just being background noise …’ For Sonic Sidewalks, Softday established the ‘Softday Mobile Philharmonic project’ in association with the social art project SpiritStore and EVA International, Ireland's Biennial of Contemporary Art in Limerick. The concept behind this work was to produce a one-off Soundscape encompassing sonic characteristics of the Limerick city landscape as they occurred in real-time on a given Summer’s day, utilising low-cost mobile technologies and open source software. Members of the public attended a workshop with Taylor and Fernström and an explicit soundwalk route was devised and followed, beginning and concluding at French’s café with stopoff points such as the Farmer’s Market, John’s Square and Colbert train station. Material was recorded along the route and fashioned into a public performance piece using mobile phones as instruments of playback, thereby recontextualising both the discrete sonic content and the communicative purpose of the mobile devices themselves.
13 Click to watch Softday's Sonic Sidewalks
Beekeepers were trained in gathering materials and performing as laptop musicians in the ‘Apiary Ensemble’ and a SamplePlayer constructed in PureData enabled interactivity with the sonic materials during performance (field recordings, acoustic content and electronically-generated content) using graphic scores as guides. Moments of controlled improvisation were built in to the performance in Glenstal Abbey: The choreography is worked out collectively … everything about the piece in Glenstal was highly choreographed – everybody knew their cues which we had worked out with them in rehearsals. The Softday Apiary Ensemble, Irish Chamber Orchestra and Monks of Glenstal Abbey, April 2013. Photographs by Robert Corrigan and Frank O’Shea
Complex sound art performances combine field recordings, controlled improvisation, structured pieces of music (electronic and acoustic) and the sonification of scientific data utilising a variety of methodologies such as audification. In Amhrán na mBeach, Softday explore issues such as Colony Collapse Disorder, the dependence of plants and animals on bees, and the commodification and urbanisation of bees by humans in collaboration with the Monks of Glenstal Abbey and beekeepers from Ireland and abroad. Sonic material was collected through field recordings taken at a number of locations throughout Ireland and scientific data was assembled and sonified: ‘We built a special frame for recording sounds inside a hive structure. Specially selected electret microphone capsules were inserted in the corners of the frame. With two microphone frames inserted, we get an 8channel recording from a hive’.[iv]
14 Watch an extract from Amhrán na mBeach at http://softday.ie/bees Their current project intends to engage with a number of communities of interest in Chicago, to sonify pollution data garnered from the Chicago river. They plan to collect data from the local community using specially-designed kits and sonify the results in conjunction with other research findings.
‘The body, for me, is not a kind of abstract, conceptual thing. It’s a very concrete, physical phenomenon’ – Jennifer Walshe Sound is central to Walshe’s compositional language, even when it is not immediately apparent or is deliberately conceptual. When she considers changes in stage lighting, an opera character’s costume, the text or graphic in a score, or the objects selected for performers, everything for her has a sonic gesture. Walshe’s approach to composition encompasses periods of deep research into heterogeneous sonic and conceptual domains before deliberately juxtaposing apparently disparate materials that would not normally be found together in seeking out relationships and connections for creative exploitation. No sound is prohibited and Walshe is particularly drawn to those that are not considered sonically beautiful in a conventional sense, a scrubbing brush on wet tiles or the crunch of porridge in a plastic bag for instance. Her latest project commissioned by the Arditti Quartet, Everything is Important (2015-2016) for voice, string quartet, video and tape, illustrates this approach where she researched anti-facial recognition makeup and
Korean beauty masks, stockpiled texts on topics ranging from artificial intelligence to object-oriented ontologies to climate change in addition to sourcing content from scientific databases and YouTube clips, making field recordings, generating electronic sounds and recording stringed instruments, coupled with producing video content and performance materials for the string quartet and her vocal part, and taking dance classes for a one-minute choreographed segment in the work. She recently proposed ‘The New Discipline’, a compositional approach around the concept of the ‘auteur’: “The New Discipline” is a term I’ve adopted over the last year. The term functions as a way for me to connect compositions which have a wide range of disparate interests but all share the common concern of being rooted in the physical, theatrical and visual, as well as musical; pieces which often invoke the extra-musical, which activate the non-cochlear. In performance, these are works in which the ear, the eye and the brain are expected to be active and engaged. Works in which we understand that there are people on the stage, and that these people are/have bodies.[v] Taking her cue from Robert Ashley, his TV operas for instance, she seeks out the unification of music and text by writing and setting the material herself. Walshe also directs, performs and trains others in the presentation of her work. This practice is evident not only in opera writing, XXX_LIVE_NUDE_GIRLS!!! (2003) and Die Taktik (2012) for instance, but also in her exploration of various personae (all ‘slivers’ of herself) in works such as The Total Mountain (voice and film, 2014), an energetic performance piece underscored with serious questions about social media and communications technology which she has performed eighteen times since its composition, including at the Music Current festival in 2016. Watch a brief excerpt from The Total Mountain at http://milker.org/thetotalmountain
15 Other examples include various output by the ‘Grúpat’ art collective (2007-), a series of alter egos assumed by Walshe such as the outsider artist Violetta Mahon; the sculptor, sound artist and musician, Turf Boon; and the installation artist Helen O’Brien, known as O’Brien Industries; and her collaborative intermedia works emanating from the ‘Aisteach project’, of which the Historical Documents of the Irish Avant Garde Vol.1: Dada (1921) (2012) is a fine example. Here, her consideration of identity, language, art and the larger question of ‘what does it mean to be Irish?’ are sonified through layers of drone-type textures with fragments of a Gaelic language intoned against a cacophonic grainy texture of acoustic and synthetic material.
Extract from original score for Die Taktik illustrating 'shooting-script' style
Listen to Historical Documents of the Irish Avant Garde Vol.1 at http://www.aisteach.org/?p=164 Given that she sees all music as music theatre, it is unsurprising that visual content, physical movement and theatricality are significant in her output. Walshe’s chamber opera Die Taktik, centres on the notion of games in everyday life, from a sporting game like tennis to the more impactful one of evolution. This multi-narrative work is itself a type of game where Walshe invites the audience to determine patterns of information within the musical and theatrical structure of the work in real-time. The opera is structured in 21 scenes, each with its own set of vocal and instrumental lexicons, movement directions (including dance) and video game footage. No conventional libretto is applied and singers have very little text to perform. Instead, ten voiceovers played over speakers relay information about pattern recognition, sport, biology and quantum physics. Having been recorded by Walshe in and around Stuttgart, these produce a documentary effect. The chorus interacts with the audience creating a wholly immersive experience within the space. The score was produced in ‘shooting-script’ style for ease of reference as time signatures and tempi vary across parts at any one point in the work.
‘For me, it’s always been about merging acoustic and electroacoustic’ — Karen Power Working only with pre-recorded materials, Karen Power explores contexts of hearing, questioning how a musical space is transformed via the juxtaposition of natural and acoustic instrument sound, and how this changing context impacts the way we hear it and behave within it. Moreover, she is concerned with instrumentalists’ reactions to these juxtapositions, how they hear their instrument and view their playing in a different light. In exploring this, she has spent two years developing the ‘Aural Score’ and ‘Aural Part’ system for rehearsing and performing her
16 works. Both function in similar ways to their conventional counterparts, the aural score providing open or very directed performance information, the aural part providing specific information on textures, rhythms, frequencies, etc. Performers are not expected to reproduce exactly what they hear in their individual aural parts, instead to interact with them, at times formulating a response to what they hear around them in a partially improvised manner. These ‘guided improvisations’ allows Power to maintain control as the composer, providing contextual support throughout the work.
Power divides the piece into five segments for rehearsal purposes only. The performance should evolve seamlessly.
The system was applied in veiled babble (2015/16) composed explicitly for Ensemble Mosaik. The work takes unheard sonic content collected from six chosen locations along the River Spree in Berlin and dialogically juxtaposes it with a large ensemble dispersed throughout the performance space, responding to and interacting with the aural score and each other within the musical environment being created in addition to recalling their overall approach to the work nearing its conclusion (Power’s ‘Memory of Hearing’ concept). The nine-piece ensemble is divided into three groups, each assigned a leader, with varying possibilities for staging provided depending on venues and performance contexts. In addition, five volunteers are required to operate iPods or smartphones at the beginning of the performance.
4′00″ – 9′00″
focus on low frequencies;
9′00″ – 16′00″
a series of hypnotic sea creatures eating and simply living through the river
16′00″ – 23′00″
water transport systems;
Division of ensemble for performance. Table adapted from original veiled babble score GROUP 1 GROUP 2 GROUP 2
23′00″ – 28′40″
lower transport frequencies;
Five rehearsal segments for veiled babble. Table adapted from original score 0′00″ – opening sounds; 4′00″ various degrees of water granulation from above and below the river
based on diﬀerent methods of transport recorded through the river
from tourist to functioning ships and boats
enhanced by the river and varying layers of running river water
A number of pitch/tonal centres are listed in the score: B, C#, D#, E, G, G#, A. Performers are free to choose the range and variation of these centres (e.g. B quarter flat) in conjunction with their aural part unless particular
17 octave ranges are specified. The accompanying text for each aural part is detailed, outlining the structure of the five interwoven segments, important elements to note in the aural part, pitch restrictions, sonic phrasing, cluster chords, harmonics, and bowing sequences. Time is a crucial element in Power’s works and it is mapped out precisely in the score.
Click to watch excerpts from instruments of ice
Watch an extract from veiled babble at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKOhVyW9mag Recording is fundamental to her compositional process and although she captures the sounds of a place or natural environment, Power’s approach is never to reconstruct them but to ‘recreate the energy and transform it into a musical sense’. Recent installation and concert works investigate sounds of everyday life that are inaudible to the naked ear, i.e., natural sounds existing beneath the surface. Given the ethereal and unknown nature of the Arctic, instruments of ice, loaded silence and sonic cradle (all 2015) tap into the unique sonic properties of ice. In particular, instruments of ice presents the listener with a cacophony of gestural activity across noise, nodal and pitched materials, including cracks, pops, granulations, pitched ice and swells of glacial material in direct conversation with acoustic instruments, all informed by Power’s memory of this seemingly silent and vast extreme environment.
once below (2015) captures the underground sounds of a disused war bunker under the Gesundbrunnen train station in Berlin. Setting these sounds in a double installation with the Kapelle der Versöhnung (Chapel of Reconciliation) above ground, Power considers how and why visitors behave in a certain way when they enter this domed-shaped space. Four musicians with varying degrees of improvisation experience become directly linked with the audience through their interaction with the sound material they hear within the space.
18 has resulted in a more immersive, liberating and personal experience for her. Three recent cross-media collaborations with visual artists have fed into her interest in the physicality and visual aspects of music and its presentation. Changeling (2016), a collaborative piece between Buckley, director Laura Sheeran and dancer Stephanie Dufresne, centres on the story of Brigid Cleary, the last woman to be burned as a witch in Ireland (Clonmel, 1895) and explores the psychology behind the horrific human actions that can arise from hysteria, lack of knowledge and mythological beliefs. In ‘Fire Dance’, a slow-moving texture results from manipulated vocal content, slowly detuned and dismantled as if stretched. Certain frequencies are highlighted, creating clusters of tonal material in addition to subtle internal pulsations. Click to watch an extract from once below
‘I’ve always been interested in that kind of cross-genre aesthetic … but it’s more of an openness or maybe an approach I would say …’ — Linda Buckley Buckley employs found-sound and sounds from our natural environment in considering how such materials impact upon instrumental and vocal writing. Timbre is important and she is drawn to the causal ambiguity that can result from manipulating real and synthetic sound. Much of her current output does not engage with notation; instead, she is concentrating on generating a ‘seamless unity’ between her own voice and electronics which
Listen to an extract from Fire Dance from Changeling at https://soundcloud.com/irishcomposers/ linda-buckley-fire-dance-from-changeling Another collaborative work, Passages (2016) sees Buckley co-writing with her sister Irene. In comparison with Changeling where the producers collaborated throughout the process, the soundtrack for Ailbhe Ní Bhriain’s film was composed independently in response to the concept of the project: ‘Passages represents the warmth of shared journeys, the mystery of night ships and the passing of time’.[vi] Voice also features strongly here; the progression of atmospheric sound events is slow and textures are rich and immersive like a delicate fabric containing interwoven strands of sonic fibres. Much of the raw material for this piece stems from recordings of foghorns, wind, and the sea made by the Buckley sisters near their childhood home in the Old Head of Kinsale, manipulated and merged with synthetically-generated material. Vocal sounds morph into electronic
19 material and back again in a seamless ‘interplay between the real and the synthetic, the acoustic and the electronic’. The soundtrack is not intended to synchronise with the visuals onscreen resulting in ‘very interesting meeting points which are different every time’. Listen to an extract from the opening of Passages at https://soundcloud.com/irishcomposers/ linda-irene-buckley-passages-excerpt-from-opening
A Reflection of Light (2016) is a collaboration between Buckley and the artist Grace Weir centred on the story of ‘Let there be light’, a work by the Irish abstract painter Mainie Jellet currently hanging in the School of Physics at Trinity College Dublin. In this instance, although Buckley was given a very open brief in terms of content, the film was already completed therefore the visual image governed the musical content. Buckley’s subtle spectral music is well suited to the visual content of the film and she intended for it to be ‘a kind of an atmosphere or a tint to what is occurring in the visual’.
‘You could actually think of it as … the computer running a multi-player game and these instrumentalists, instead of using game controllers, they’re using sound … to interact with [it] and we’re watching them doing it’ — Fergal Dowling Dowling has taken considerable time to research interaction and group interaction in perfecting the ‘Sketch’ MaxMSP patch that has become a salient component in his recent live electronic works. The process works like a simple chain function whereby sonic material generated by the acoustic
instrument(s) is automatically recognised and captured by the computer, therefore acoustic articulations and dynamic inflections must be clearly sounded. As this process continues and further material is gathered, the onsets and/or terminations of sound events are used to trigger the playback of previously recorded sonic content. Successive recordings produce recurrences of earlier acoustic material layered with previous playback material (nothing is manipulated) and mapped onto real-time performance context, in essence, ‘the process uses extensive direct quotations of the actual performance to create sequential repetitions and layerings … like a spoiler in a movie’.[vii] Each recontextualised event introduces new meaning, allowing for greater interactivity and the generation of evolving associations between instrumentalists, computer operator, sonic material and contexts. In practice, this is a complex strategy and Dowling provides detailed performance, computer notation and system requirement guidelines in the score for each piece. The aim with Stops VIII (piano and computer, 2014) and Spoils (Baroque ensemble and computer, 2016) has been to initiate a formal relationship between computer and performers where each voicing is afforded equal status within the work. Improvisation is imbedded, in that scored pitch material can be performed in any order using the suggested rhythm, performers and computer operator work through the various sections (what Dowling calls ‘cue groups’) without being confined to specific bars or timings (within reason), and decisions regarding recording (what and when) are made during the performance. ‘The computer cues define the relationship and interaction of the acoustic parts’ and in Stops VIII, the pianist needs to balance his/her dialogue with that of the recontextualised material. Listen to a recording of Stops VIII at https://soundcloud.com/irishcomposers/ fergal-dowling-stops-viii-david-bremner-piano
20 The five-movement Spoils is in Trio Sonata form and the application of Dowling’s process results in a series of interwoven lines of content that naturally expand in complexity as the number of triggered events increases. Movement
multi-channel fixed media
ensemble and computer
ensemble and computer
surround sound and video
ensemble and computer
In movement 2, ‘Fleshes’, Dowling’s intended dialogic design is clearly apparent with the triggered material at times chasing the acoustic instruments before entering into intense musical arguments with them, at other times seeming to envelope them before the musical interaction shifts focus and new material is introduced. Movement 3, ‘Stones’, begins with a more hurried musical statement from the acoustic ensemble. Note-off silences are pronounced in the early part of the movement, the result being that the computer’s triggered sound events are heard almost in entirety before the next acoustic statement is made. The final movement, ‘Grounds’, builds in complexity and intensity as it progresses. The recontextualised ‘spoils’ begin to destabilise the clarity of the acoustic material before the violins and cello initiate a final segment which juxtaposes their held notes with cluster chord interjections on harpsichord, building to a cacophony with the triggered sound events.
Listen to Grounds from Spoils at https://soundcloud.com/irishcomposers/ fergal-dowling-grounds-5th-movement-from-spoils Images from the performance of Spoils, Smock Alley Theatre, April 2016. Photographs by Mihai Cucu
‘My go-to analogy is that idea of an object … a really elaborate object on a table … that’s your material but then you look at it from every direction’ — Jonathan Nangle Nangle’s compositional style is characterised by a measured process, commencing with a limited range of carefully chosen materials that are then subtly varied and considered from different angles. This process filters through to his electronic output although the sonic result tends to be ‘far busier, louder, and impactful’ comprising more rhythmic detail and abrasive content, with his most recent works featuring heavy bass material. Although he frequently employs conventional notation, for example the majority of Pause (string quartet and video) for Crash Ensemble was notated, he is intuitively drawn towards a less restrictive sculptural approach, where he can mould malleable sonic content without being confined to the grid structure of bars and staves. The influences of visual art and science are apparent in his installation pieces, Triple Double Pendulums (2008), Trip the Light Fantastic (2011) and Breathe (2013) for example. Click to watch Trip the Light Fantastic
Nangle’s encounter with the work of the American visual artist Dan Flavin at a retrospective of his work had a significant impact on him. It is interesting to note that whilst Flavin’s oeuvre focussed on light, colour and the transformation of space, there is a legitimate argument for considering them as sound sculptures, where geometric configurations of fluorescent lighting tubes produced variations of low frequency electrical hum textures alongside internal sonic gestures emanating from the ephemeral light fittings themselves. In untitled (after Dan Flavin) (2013), we clearly see the juncture where art, science, music and technology coalesce in Nangle’s compositional language. Layers of dialogues between sonic and visual content are structured in a semi-Theme and Variation form. Considering the work from a purely sonic perspective, internal dialogues ensue between hypnotic tonal material (containing processed cello) swelling and receding constantly in the background, pulsating phone interference and glitch content, and later, manipulated tam-tam generating a breath-like sound via convolution processing. Each of these musical conversations are bound up in a wider external dialogue with eight lighting tubes (two horizontal and six vertical resembling a square filled with vertical bars) controlled by a MaxMSP patch designed by Nangle. Although the timing of light changes is mathematically pre-programmed, the sensory result is natural. Approximate Brief Description of Thematic Content and Examples Time of Variations 0′00″
Main Thematic Content: music and light dialogue initiated hypnotic tonal material acting as grounding figure presented in a repetitive structure based on descending and ascending movement (e.g. patterns centred on minor third intervals
22 between Db4 and Bb4, and between Ab4 and F4, at times including Db5); phone interference and glitch material introduced; Synchronous Blue light 1′21″
First visual ‘flash’ imprinting Blue square on visual memory
Variation: entries more frequent; tonal material begins a pulsating figure highlighting top left and bottom right corners of the Blue geometric light sculpture; interference and glitch attacks initially more sporadic before building in intensity
In keeping with a Flavinist aesthetic, Nangle selected one block colour (Blue), only introducing a second colour (Red) at a significant point in the narrative of the piece, and spent considerable time designing the configurations of lighting shapes so they would move synchronously with the gestural actions of the sonic content: ‘[I]n the dark, when those lights flash, you’re just left with the shapes burnt into your retinas … it actually obscures the entire frame that it’s on … you see the patterns very clearly mapped out in your eyes’. Click to watch untitled (after Dan Flavin)
Variation: unexpected change in mood and colour with dramatic entry of Red light, signalling a more aggressive variation including chordal material morphing into feedback and the introduction of a percussive breathlike sound (tam-tam)
4′44″ to end
Variation: drawing the conversation to a close with both Red and Blue lights; interference and glitch material no longer included and do not return; percussive breath-like sound envelopes the sonic landscape as chordal and feedback material recede into background; piece fades to silence and black out
It is clear that the interweaving of sonic threads of electroacoustic music in Ireland are producing an expanding tapestry of varying textures, colours and forms. With the increase of D.I.Y. pop-up events, new intermedia festivals and improvisatory meetings, the growth of exploration into electroacoustic music in Ireland, or whatever it would like to be called, looks set to continue. To quote Mikael Fernström from Softday: ‘We’ve found a path – we know we’re on it – God knows where it will lead us’.
Footnotes and Credits
Frederick May’s Symphonic Ballad Reconstructed
[i] Jemima Foxtrot, New Tate Modern: Switched On, special programme for the opening of the New Tate Modern, London, BBC Two, aired 18 June 2016. [ii] Unless otherwise stated, all quotations are extracted from interviews conducted with composers in researching this article. [iii] Quotation extracted from Softday website: http://softday.ie/sonicsidewalks/ [iv] http://softday.ie/bees/development/ [v] Jennifer Walshe, The New Discipline, written for ‘The Borealis Festival’ 2016, see: http://www.borealisfestival.no/2016/the-new-discipline-4/ for complete text. [vi] http://www.junctionfestival.com/events/2016/6/4/passages [vii] Partial quotation from interview with composer; partial quotation from the original score of Stops VIII.
By Mark Fitzgerald Published September 6th 2016
See original online article for full list of credits Dr Barbara Jillian Dignam lectures in music at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
75 years after it was last performed, there is no known surviving score for Frederick May's Symphonic Ballad, but through a careful examination of the remaining orchestral parts, MARK FITZGERALD has at long last been able to bring the music back to the concert stage. Born in 1911, Frederick May began his music studies in Dublin with John Larchet and Michele Esposito at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. In 1930 with the aid of a scholarship from the Feis Ceoil he enrolled at the Royal College of Music London, where his teachers included Ralph Vaughan Williams. A travelling scholarship from the RCM enabled him to study with Egon Wellesz in Vienna in 1933. By 1935 he had returned to Dublin and at the end of the year was appointed Director of Music at the Abbey Theatre, a job which mainly consisted of directing from the piano a trio which provided entertainment for the audience during the intervals of plays. From 1938 onwards he suffered from severe mental illness and otosclerosis which caused deafness and tinnitus and as a result May effectively abandoned composition in the early 1940s with only one further original work Sunlight and Shadow written in the 1950s. May’s compositional output is therefore very small but the String Quartet he composed in 1936 has always been seen as one of the seminal compositions in Ireland due to its modernity relative to other pieces composed in Ireland at this time. In terms of orchestral music May’s output consists of the Scherzo (1933), Symphonic Ballad (1937), Spring Nocturne (1938), Songs from Prison (1941), the Lyric Movement for Strings (1942) and the late Sunlight and Shadow (1955). A CD of these works with the exception of the Symphonic Ballad and the Lyric Movement was released on the RTÉ Lyric label in 2011. The
24 Contemporary Music Centre has some poor quality archive recordings of the Lyric Movement, a piece which was last performed in the 1980s, but I could find no trace of performances of the Symphonic Ballad. The fact that this piece was composed directly after the String Quartet made it particularly intriguing. Did the work reflect the language of the quartet or did it use the less chromatic language of pieces such as Spring Nocturne. Furthermore, why was the piece never performed? May’s papers are housed in the Trinity College Manuscripts and Archives Research Library and perusal of the catalogue provided the answer to the latter question. The full score of the Symphonic Ballad is missing. Consultation with the RTÉ library and several other sources also drew a blank. Piecing together the history of the work, it was composed for the Belfast Wireless Symphony Orchestra (later the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra) and the premiere was conducted by E. Godfrey Brown on 30 August 1937. Files in the BBC archive revealed that the work was given a broadcast performance on Radio Éireann on 4 September 1941 as part of a programme featuring compositions by May including Spring Nocturne and the songs Communion, Irish Love Song, The Finch and North Labrador. In a letter from the late 1940s May, replying to a proposal from Aloys Fleischmann to perform the Scherzo in Cork noted: ‘There’s a thing of mine called Symphonic Ballad which hasn’t been done for a good while, but maybe it’s a bit long.’ At some unknown point after this the score was mislaid or perhaps sent to a conductor or orchestra and never returned. What has survived among May’s papers in Trinity is the set of orchestral parts used in the 1941 broadcast performance— One of the bassoon parts is annotated with the words ‘Sept 3 1941 R[adio] P[erformance]’. I decided in 2015 to use these to reconstruct the score in order to throw further light on May’s development as a composer. As I progressed with this work it became clear that the process was going to be far from unproblematic. Either the parts were copied rather carelessly from the full score or (quite plausibly judging by other surviving manuscripts) May’s handwriting in the
lost full score was difficult to read. Whatever the cause the parts contained an enormous amount of mistakes which gradually became evident as work on the reconstruction proceeded. Some of these were easy to spot. The parts did not have bar numbers but they had rehearsal letter cues. Frequently the amount of bars of rest in various parts was incorrect, but if one reached a new letter and one part either had not yet reached that letter or was a few bars shorter than the other parts, it was easy to trace this back to a lack of or over-abundance of rests. And so what had looked like canonic passages became unison passages and particularly odd harmonic relations resolved into something more expected. Passages with unison writing or octave doubling threw up other anomalies as occasionally one would find one note different in a line shared by two instruments. It was then a matter of deciding which was correct based on the patterning of the line or previous iterations of an idea. At other points particularly unlikely momentary dissonances could be attributed to misreadings or faulty transpositions in the brass parts. Almost every page of the sixty-four page score contained several mistakes that needed to be corrected. Use of dynamics was also somewhat haphazard in the original parts while phrasing was frequently ambiguous. A further complication was created by the circumstances of the 1941 performance. RÉ had not got enough wind and brass musicians for the piece and so important passages in the missing parts were redistributed among the other orchestral parts. Therefore passages were crossed out and redistributed passages were written in over rests or in the margins of the parts. All of these changes had to be eliminated to get back to the original version of the score. The one conclusion one can come to about the 1941 performance is that between the inadequate orchestral resources available and the poor quality of the parts it must have been absolutely terrible. Interestingly a BBC listener’s report for this broadcast survives and while one must make allowances for the poor reception in London his suggestion that Spring Nocturne sounded like the first section of The Rite of Spring and
25 that the Symphonic Ballad sounded ugly and reminiscent of Sibelius â€˜at his grimmest and most uncompromisingâ€™ would tend to bear out that impression.
Figure 2: May, Symphonic Ballad, descending chromatic lines (b.33-37)
Recently I have located an early draft of the score entitled Sinfonietta. As was normal practice for May there are a number of significant differences between this and the final version of the piece. However, the choice of title and the later change to Symphonic Ballad is interesting. Unlike Spring Nocturne which May described as being in the same genre as the idylls of Butterworth and Moeran, it would suggest that in this composition May was attempting to achieve a more symphonically wrought argument, a trait which would bring it closer in idiom to the String Quartet than the later orchestral pieces. The initial theme of the piece is a fairly mundane idea given first to cellos: Figure 1: May, Symphonic Ballad, initial theme (b.1-4)
Against ideas derived from that are pitted descending chromatic lines in the wind instruments which are to be an important device throughout the work:
By contrast with the urgent opening part there follows a more pastoral section featuring solo violin and harp:
26 Figure 3: May, Symphonic Ballad, use of solo violin and harp (b.82-92)
A repeated pattern on side drum leads into the developmental part of the piece which features the most adventurous writing of the composition. Interspersed between passages in which there are statements of principal ideas with a clear tonal anchoring are more restless chromatic sections derived from the chromatic lines of the opening. The sense of uncertainty is emphasised by Mayâ€™s tendency to modulate quickly by a semitone. This is not only used for short term movements but is frequently used for repetitions of larger sections of materialâ€”a tutti passage is heard and then after a short chromatic section is repeated either a semitone higher or lower. As the piece progresses, May increases the contrapuntal layering of ideas and also uses repeated figures to create denser textures at points of maximum tension:
27 Figure 4: May, Symphonic Ballad, contrapuntal layering and repetition of figures (b.277-286)
The Ballad concludes with a short section based on a transformed version of the pastoral violin theme from the second section:
28 Figure 5: May, Symphonic Ballad, transformed solo violin theme from Figure 3 (b.291-295)
Frederick May has long been seen as the most important figure in Irish composition from the first half of the twentieth century, an assessment that is based primarily on his String Quartet of 1936. The release of the RTÉ Lyric Label CD of orchestral music in 2011 gave a wider audience an opportunity to engage with a greater amount of his output while the release of a CD of May’s songs by DIT on 8 September 2016 will also help to illuminate the development of May’s musical voice. The performance of the Symphonic Ballad on 9 September will I believe play a particularly important role in our reassessment of May’s career. For too long discussions about May have focussed primarily on what he did not do rather than on what he did actually achieve. The Symphonic Ballad is a more cogently argued composition than either Spring Nocturne or Sunlight and Shadow which to date have been seen as his most important purely orchestral compositions. Its proximity to the String Quartet throws light on his compositional ideas at this point while also raising issues regarding how this changed in the following years. The reconstructed edition of the Symphonic Ballad, which was performed at the National Concert Hall on 9 September as part of the Composing the Island festival, was made by Mark Fitzgerald using material housed in the Trinity College Manuscripts and Archives Research Library by kind permission of the Keeper of Manuscripts Dr Bernard Meehan and facilitated by a Trinity College Long Room Hub Fellowship. Musicologist Dr Mark Fitzgerald lectures at the DIT Conservatoire of Music and Drama. His research focuses on music of the twentieth century, particularly music in Ireland.
Irish Composers on Irish Music
Issue 3: Anne-Marie O'Farrell's ChromatĂŠtude
Issue 3: Raymond Deane and Sebastian Adams on new music venues
By Anne-Marie O'Farrell Published November 2nd 2015 The third installment in this series for the AIC New Music Journal, composer and harpist Anne-Marie O'Farrell discusses her recent work ChromatĂŠtude, and the practicalities of writing new music for the lever system of the Irish harp.
By Sebastian Adams and Raymond Deane Published June 9th 2016 Composers Raymond Deane and Sebastian Adams discuss the role of classical venues in contemporary music.
Click to watch
Click to watch
Anne-Marie O'Farrell was interviewed by Jennifer McCay on 13th July 2015.
Raymond Deane and Sebastian Adams were interviewed by Peter Moran on 26th May 2016.
Irish Composers on Irish Music
Figure 2: Tempo relationships in Piano Study
Issue 4: Fergus Johnston on his Piano Study No. 1 By Fergus Johnston] Published June 19th 2016 FERGUS JOHNSTON writes about one of his early piano works, a miniature study describing a spiral form through complex tempo relationships. Piano Study No. 1, one minute and eleven seconds long, was written for Raymond Deane on the occasion of his fortieth birthday in 1993. The form of the piece is derived from an icosahedron, a polygon made up of twenty equally-sized equilateral triangles, of which a maximum of ten can be seen at any one time. If we project an icosahedron onto a flat plane we see the following image, one of three possible symmetries (See Figure 1). Figure 1: An icosahedron The piece traces an imaginary journey across this projection, using the angle of apparent slope away from the observer of any given plane in the original 3D polygon as the means of defining tempo. It can quickly be understood that the outer six panels in the diagram are the most inclined away from the observer in the 3D model, and occur in pairs, while the single central panel is perpendicular to the line of vision. The three intermediate panels are inclined slightly way from an observer, but not so inclined as the outer six. Thus we have three principal tempi: MM120, MM72, and MM46 (See Figure 2).
The travel across this 2D projection starts at the outer panel pairs (a & b), at MM120, and moves across these two MM120 panels before encountering an MM72 panel (g), which must be crossed before the next MM120 pair (c & d) are reached. This continues in circular motion (through h, e, & f ) until the last MM72 panel (j) has been gained, at which point the direction of travel moves towards the centre of the projection, to the MM46 panel (k). Thus the entire journey resembles a spiral.
31 This main tempo structure is aurally defined by the running semiquaver line in one hand, initially the right, but moving downwards in pitch following a "drunk walk" path into the left hand, then back up into the right hand. This is meant to be heard as a background layer (See Example 1). Example 1: bars 5-8
Crossing into the first MM72 panel (g), in bars 6-7, there are three instances of the five dyad sets, since the boundaries are three in number. These instances are heard at two tempi, one of which, MM192, we have already met as the boundary between (a) and (j), and (b) and (g). This tempo occurs twice, at the start of bar 6 and the end of bar 7, with the two occurrences separated by the occurrence of an MM115 dyad set. This temporal process continues as described, following the path c, d, h, e, f, j, leading to the slowest and climactic statement of three MM115 five-dyad sets in k at MM46. Click to hear Piano Study No.1 with score
The foreground content comes from what is going on alongside this structure, and can be summed up as sets of five dyads which are representative of the boundaries of the planes being crossed. Thus, in crossing the first temporal section at MM120 in which the two panels (a &b) are traversed, the boundaries are five in number, hence five sets of five dyads are presented at three different speeds (MM192, MM137, and MM320). There are three different speeds because there are three different apparent lengths of boundary in the 2D projection; the slower speed is the outer boundary, the faster speed is the shared boundary of the two panels, the middle speed the remaining inner side. Thus, in the case of panels a and b, the speeds at which the five sets of five dyads are heard in the first five bars are MM192, 137, 320, 137, and 192, against a backdrop of movement at MM480 (See Figure 2).
Irish Composers on Irish Music
Irish Composers on Irish Music
Issue 5: Anne-Marie O'Farrell on Grรกinne Mulvey's Explorations
Issue 6: Jennifer Walshe in conversation with Rob Doyle
By Anne-Marie O'Farrell Published September 20th 2016
By Jennifer Walshe and Rob Doyle Published December 21st 2016
In the second video in this series of features for the AIC New Music Journal, An exploration of seven notes corresponding to the seven pedals of the harp - harpist and composer Anne-Marie O'Farrell discusses Grรกinne Mulvey's writing for solo harp.
Composer Jennifer Walshe and writer Rob Doyle are two artists who create fictional histories of Irish experimental music and literature respectively. In this public talk, they discuss their influences, their attitudes to making art, and how creating a fictional history can help an artist to create a sense of identity. The video begins with both artists reading from their work.
Click to watch
Click to watch Jennifer Walshe in conversation with Rob Doyle
Anne-Marie O'Farrell was interviewed by Jennifer McCay on 13th July 2015.
This event was part of the Association of Irish Composers' "In Conversation" series, held in First Draft Coffee, Film Base, Dublin, 28th April 2016
Reviews Festival Review: What should we make of Composing the Island By Adrian Smith Published November 21st 2016 A century of music in Ireland, 1916-2016, was presented at the National Concert Hall, Dublin across three weeks of concerts in September 2016 generously sponsored by Bord na Móna and presented by RTÉ and the National Concert Hall as part of RTÉ 1916 and Ireland 2016. ADRIAN SMITH reviews the festival. What should we make of the National Concert Hall and RTÉ’s ‘Composing the Island’ festival? In the century since the 1916 Easter Rising, Irish composition has undergone quite a transformation, enduring several bleak decades before emerging onto more fertile plains from the 1970s onwards when a number of distinctive voices begin to emerge. Gaining recognition for the significant achievements that lie within this body of work has not been easy; it is a process that is still ongoing and one reflected in the title of the companion volume to the festival The Invisible Art: A Century of Music in Ireland 1916‒2016. A lot was therefore at stake with this particular centenary celebration which, if programmed effectively, could have had a decisive impact in disseminating the accomplishments of Irish composers to a public that still remains largely unaware of them. But did it achieve anything along these lines or was it just the usual cursory nod to music in keeping with its traditionally low place in the pecking order of the arts in Ireland? A month has passed since the festival concluded in Beethoven Ninth-style with a choral finale featuring music by Norman Hay and Rhoda Coghill, time enough to ponder the highs and lows of the festival, to consider what it was and what it could have been.
Reviewing any artistic festival involves matching the goals it set itself with the steps it took to realise them. The first question one must therefore ask is: what did Composing the Island set out to achieve? The description that appeared on the festival website could hardly be described as detailed in terms of laying out any coherent overarching theme, but nevertheless did say that it would attempt to examine ‘how this music developed, and the times and circumstances in which it was written’. These are admirable intentions but of course there is just one complication facing such a strategy. Anyone familiar with Irish music in the previous century knows that far from being a smooth development from one generation, it is a veritable hodgepodge of conflicting trends – some heroically progressive, some downright regressive and much that seemed to perpetually exist in that grey zone in-between. Considering all the talk of ‘fertile imaginations’, ‘sheer stylistic diversity’ and ‘ground-breaking’ music in the festival’s promotional literature, it may come as a surprise to learn that not all Irish works composed in the last century were masterpieces. This is particularly the case with much of the music composed before 1970, a great deal of which consists of well-crafted works by competent composers, who although in possession of solid technique, were at least three decades outof-sync with developments in composition internationally. Given these limitations, such repertoire demands imagination to make it work. It is not simply a case of pulling out what one thinks are the best pieces and stringing them together. The second-order quality of much of the music ensures that with certain exceptions, the experience of listening to it might not be exactly riveting. But that is hardly the point. Through imaginative programming one can shine a light on many of the fascinating micronarratives of Irish music during this period, illuminating the ideological climate that hindered its progress and allowing those precious few composers who occasionally showed flashes of genius such as Frederick May and Ina Boyle, a chance to stand-out from their more run-of-the-mill contemporaries.
34 One could expect the organisers to be cognisant of this, breaking the festival down into a series of focused concerts covering the main trends and letting other smaller concerts, featuring smaller ensembles and solo performers, articulate particular repertoires. In his welcome note to the festival, Simon Taylor appeared to suggest something along these lines when he said that the organisers intended the six major orchestral concerts to outline the arc of this narrative, with the twenty or so additional concerts being tasked with filling in the gaps. With the bulk of the responsibility placed on the six orchestral concerts to order proceedings, it quickly became apparent however that the organisers had struggled to come up with a coherent programming strategy other than a simplistic recourse to chronology. For instance, the two major orchestral concerts on the second week featured the RTÉ Concert Orchestra on the Wednesday and RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra on the Friday. The Wednesday concert entitled ‘New Beginnings’ took the establishment of the Radio Éireann orchestras as its starting point but included music on no other basis but for the fact that it was played by those orchestras in the ensuing two decades. This was a rather flimsy framing device and not surprisingly the resultant concert was a succession of wildly different pieces that sounded more like the surreal soundtrack to a David Lynch film than a coherent programme. What exactly the link between Éamonn Ó Gallchobhair’s light-hearted Waltz from Nocturne sa Chearnóig, Noel Kelehan’s jazzy Cuchulainn’s Lament and A. J. Potter’s anything but light-hearted Sinfonia ‘de Profundis’ is anybody’s guess? On the face of it, the ‘Visions of Irish Modernism’ concert on the Friday might seem to have provided a stronger contextual backdrop starting off with a postcard from Darmstadt in the form of Seóirse Bodley’s Configurations. Yet heads were left well-scratched trying to find the modernism inRoger Doyle’s student offering Four Sketches for Orchestra (1969), or Gerard Victory’s neo-classical Miroirs (1969). Surely a more sensible programming of the same repertoire would have attempted to tease out the presence of Irish traditional music in art music composition – one of the century’s most persistent preoccupations – tracing a path from
the insularity of Ó Gallchobhair to the more adventurous avantgarde/traditional fusions of Bodley. And this strain needn’t have ended here, it could have continued into the next generation surveying works by Donnacha Dennehy, Ryan Molloy or David Flynn which are also in this vein. The other concert that week could have perhaps taken a highly qualified look at the belated rather than visionary ‘modernism’ that eventually reached Ireland in the 1960s from the full-on integral serialism of Bodley’s Configurations to the reluctant serialism of Sweeney, Victory and Potter. As regards Doyle, the obvious focus should have been his electronic music, as he is the pioneering figure in this field in Ireland but no electronic music concerts featured in the festival. In fact, as it turned out, the first and second weeks were comparatively well planned in contrast to what followed in the third where even the meekest framing devices were dispensed with and replaced by empty phrases such as ‘New Directions’ or ‘New Century’. Music that engaged with the political troubles in the North was overlooked as a connecting thread despite the inclusion of four composers from Northern Ireland in the two orchestral concerts that week. Indeed one of the titles of the orchestral concerts ‘Alchemy’ could have described the general approach whereby unconnected pieces were piled into programmes more in hope than anything else that something coherent would emerge. This casualness greatly inhibited the ability of the six orchestral concerts to articulate any kind of nuanced narrative other than a strictly chronological one and made the overall programming of the rest of the festival look decidedly chaotic. Had things been different one could forgive the impression given by the festival that in devoting three concerts to the instrument, the organ had apparently replaced the harp as the emblem of Ireland in the 20th century. Nevertheless, many of the smaller concerts by groups such the Contempo Quartet and the Fidelio Trio as well as solo performers like Hugh Tinney and John Feeley did a much better job of turning the spotlight on particular repertoires, something which can be attributed to the performers’ intimate
35 knowledge of their own field rather than a strong curatorial guiding hand. If Irish music before 1970 could be said to present certain challenges for a curator, with Irish music after 1970 it is an entirely different story. Imaginative programming would have worked wonders in highlighting some of the many trends that have impacted upon composition in Ireland in recent decades: Minimalism, Postmodernism, Spectralism, the New Simplicity, the New Sincerity. But even without such contrivances all one really has to do is to make sure to include those works which have stood out over the past forty years. Even here, the inevitable squabbling about why this piece by such-and-such was chosen over that one was rendered quite unnecessary, overshadowed by the alarming realisation that many of the more established composers hadn’t even made it on to the programme. Aosdána members Fergus Johnston and John McLachlan found themselves without a single work in the festival. On the draft programme released in June, Benjamin Dwyer also found himself persona non grata. But while Dwyer eventually wound up on the programme with a solitary piece on the second last day, his place seemed to be won at the expense of Kevin Volans who was unceremoniously booted off the festival programme entirely. The mind truly boggles at how Volans, a composer with a massive international reputation, failed to make the cut. If this decision was made because Volans was born in South-Africa and only became an Irish citizen in 1985, it is surely contradicted by the inclusion of the English composers E. J. Moeran and Arnold Bax, both of whom received three performances each. It also ignores the fact that Volans has played a hugely influential role as a teacher and mentor to many of the younger composers such as Jonathan Nangle, Siobhán Cleary, Garret Sholdice, etc. Even the festival webpage mentions his importance in this respect when profiling Andrew Hamilton. So why not include him? Given the existence of these gaping omissions it seems an act of the utmost pedantic quibbling to question precisely how a limited composer like Brian Boydell managed to end up with more pieces than Gerald Barry. By any measure it is a strange festival indeed when Norman Hay, whose Dunluce (1921) was regarded by many of those present as the
worst piece of the festival, managed to have more orchestral works performed than Ireland’s most prominent living composer. In fact such was the bizarre prominence accorded to Hay that his works both opened and closed the festival. While all this is bad enough, these strange decisions pale against the furore that took place when the draft programme was released back in June and swiftly criticised for neglecting to include a fair proportion of living female composers. The organisers can consider themselves quite lucky that the kind of scenes that took place outside the Abbey late last year when Fiach Mac Conghail and the rest of the Abbey board found themselves besieged by angry feminists objecting to the lack of women writers on the theatre’s testosterone-fuelled centenary programme, failed to materialise outside the National Concert Hall. That they didn’t, says much about the marginalised position of Irish classical music in the mainstream cultural discourse and while it is contentious territory indeed to prioritise gender parity over artistic quality there is hardly any need for such handwringing when it comes to female Irish composers who have been steadily carving out a significant body of work for decades. But in the draft programme Ireland’s most high-profile female composer, Jennifer Walshe, was omitted altogether while one of our foremost composers of orchestral music Gráinne Mulvey, failed to appear in any of the orchestral concerts losing out to the likes of Hay and Boydell. The National Concert Hall’s carefully considered response to the debacle was to put together an all-female concert of piano music performed by Isabelle O’Connell in the hope that it might assuage the critics. Such ham-fisted measures bring back unhappy memories of the lessons that should have been learnt when Field Day Publishing brought out its male-dominated anthologies of Irish writing in the early nineties. After the predictable backlash the editors tried to row back furiously by claiming that they would soon be bringing out a femaleonly volume. Of course nobody was impressed by this particular story. Surely such incidents are mentioned as case-studies in arts administration
36 handbooks of what not to do? But then again maybe they are not. The implication is of course that female composers are not quite on the same level as the male and need a rather patronising form of affirmative action to help them along. The whole affair prompted much talk on social media of ‘ghettoising of genders’ which could and should have been easily avoidable.
war classics then it might have all worked out fine, but composers like Boulez and Stockhausen never appear on their programmes and given the conservative nature of the repertoire which religiously follows a narrow, bums-on-seats first policy, it is not surprising that Culture Night’s fairweather audience was left unimpressed.
It would be wrong to suggest that such decisions were taken intentionally; they are rather a product of administrative short-sightedness. Intention was precisely the quality that was lacking throughout this festival where it was never clear what the organisers’ priorities were, other than to pack as many concerts as possible into the three weeks and hope that it all worked out for the best. This, along with a very last minute and half-hearted publicity campaign, explains why it largely failed to capture the imaginations of the public. Most of the concerts just about made it to the half-full mark and on the few occasions were the public did show up in numbers, this was clearly due to particular ensembles pulling in their own dedicated following. How else to explain the main auditorium of the concert hall packed to the rafters to hear Col. Fritz Brase’s General Mulcahy March played by the Defence Forces Band. Col. Brase’s most notable distinction is that he was the first Ortsgruppenleiter or local branch leader of the Irish Nazi Party, a fact which the National Concert Hall chose not to mention in their programme notes. Indeed it is a measure of programmers’ naivety that on the one occasion where a full-house was virtually guaranteed ‒ Culture Night’s free concert ‒ the organisers came up with the idea of putting Bodley’s Configurations, the most austere of his mid-career flirtations with integral serialism, as the first item on the programme. If the aim here was to administer an Adornoesque shock to the tender ears of the masses it certainly worked. Predictably, half of the audience suffered a bout of squeamishness and failed to return for the second half and while it might seem patronising to suggest as much, surely a more accessible programme could have been devised for this particular occasion. If RTÉ and the National Concert Hall had spent many years assiduously educating audiences on a diet of post-
Of course, the festival was not without its highlights. Works by figures forgotten until recently such as Ina Boyle received several performances; it produced some surprises such as A. J Potter’s Sinfonia ‘de Profundis’ that may be worth reviving; and it was good to see some attention given to a younger figure like Andrew Hamilton whose works in particular stood out. The performers acquitted themselves extremely well throughout the three weeks, displaying a commitment to a repertoire that is inevitably uneven and not always easy to bring to life. The overall direction of the festival however should have been much more incisive and there is the sense that an opportunity to make a wider impact amongst the general public has been let slip by. It is notable that in the weeks since the festival, apart from some grumblings on social media, the composers themselves have been strangely quiet. Rather than representing a feeling of satisfaction with the festival, it seems more likely to reflect a general atmosphere of resignation that an uncoordinated festival was the most that they could expect. Arts administrators never tire of telling us how the infrastructure for contemporary music has been transformed over the past forty years and that there is no going back to the dark old days. However it is worth reminding ourselves that back then there was a festival called the Dublin Festival of 20th Century Music that was tightly focused and had special concerts where many of the figures who are now our most acclaimed composers, such as Gerald Barry and Raymond Deane, first came to prominence. There are still no signs of a decent annual festival other than the inadequate New Music Dublin weekend which has similarly suffered from inconsistent programming and funding shortages. It wasn’t lack of funds which hampered the festival on this occasion but a lack of
37 imagination and direction - but then it’s hard to be good at something when you’re so out of practice. Musicologist Dr Adrian Smith lectures at the DIT Conservatoire of Music and Drama.
Seven These on Joyce and Irish Music By Frank Corcoran Published February 5th 2016 Irish composer FRANK CORCORAN delivered these seven theses at the James Joyce Centre in Dublin as part of his seventieth birthday celebratory concert. 1. Pythagoras was the greater composer – il miglior fabbro. 2. Yet James Joyce was in many respects the greatest Irish composer. 3. Joyce chiselled and turned and fashioned his syllables and word-units and titles and bits of songs, as would a composing Irish artist. He thus achieved his emotional-semantic character-associations and the fragments of memories which he needed in composing those great sonorous passages in his own sound-world. 4. If he had so wished , he could have reached highest places in his singing, playing and composing of (at least) Lieder. He chose not to. 5. As I mentioned in my 2005 Trieste James Joyce Summer School lecture, Nora’s father, Tom Barnacle, was known in Galway by his nick-name 'Gobar i Goney' – Irish: Ag obair i gconaí = 'always busy' – here is Joyce’s opening to Gabriel Conroy’s far-off West of Ireland 'native Doric', the music of sean nós song. At the same time we have Steven Dedalus’ Lestrygonian entry, "Music is maths for ladies….". And then in the Trieste Notebook , Stephen Dedalus prefers the "vigour of the mind" needed in composing literature to any thought of composing music. James Joyce, a great LISTENER, preferred the intellectual rigour of composing words to composing musical structures….
38 6. In 1917, in Zürich, the James Joyce family had as a neighbour in the Seefelderstrasse 73, the composer Philip Jarnach, who was the secretary of the great Ferrucio Busoni, a major figure in the revolution of musical language in the early decades of the 20th century. (Years later Philip Jarnach became president of the Musikhochschule in Hamburg.) Did Joyce ever discuss the why and how of this revolution, or the birth of the early atonal masterpieces of the Second Viennese School? He did not. Did he show an interest in the compositional bomb that was Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at its Paris premiere on March 31 1913? Was he at all interested in the Viennese 'Skandalkonzert' with the premieres of Alban Berg’s Peter Altenberg Lieder and Webern’s Opus 6 Six Orchestral Pieces in May of the same year? Was he? Had he ever asked himself why John Field was buried in Moscow’s Nevensky Cemetry but not in Leopold Bloom’s Dean’s Grange? Or why Stanford, 'the Irish Brahms', ended his days at Cambridge but not in Dublin? Why there was no Dublin Bartok or Sibelius? 7. Joyce had an intimate, urgent, yet deeply split relationship with art music, with any Irish concept of composition as an Irish art. He mirrored his native city’s colonial inheritage in this regard. He was the perfect forerunner of our post-colonial – or non-reception – reception of Irish contemporary composing as art, up to this day. As Irish art. Of Irish composers as on a par with Irish poets, Irish painters etc. Perfect. Frank Corcoran spoke at Dublin's James Joyce Centre, November 26, 2015.
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Published on Feb 17, 2017
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