Linda Buckley writes for Crash Ensemble in Iceland

There’s something very special about composing for musicians who have a joyous and tangible desire to perform new music. For them it is about exploration, discovery, bringing something new into the world. What had once been a tiny germ of an idea in the mind can now become fully formed and shared with an audience. I place so much value on that kind of composer/performer relationship, that it is a mutual symbiosis, a rewarding sense of give and take.

I feel a kinship with the Crash ensemble, ever since I first heard them perform music by Donnacha Dennehy and Louis Andriessen a way back at the beginning of my journey into new music, at the age of eighteen. As a young music student I would travel from Cork to Dublin for their gigs, which at the time felt unlike anything I had seen before. It felt like a beginning, a new energy in the air. Years later I am happy to call the group my friends, many of whom are close musical collaborators (eg. Kate Ellis, Lisa Dowdall).

I am now in the process of writing a new work for the ensemble, so far emerging as a rich immersive sonic landscape, deeply rooted in childhood memory. The piece began its life tentatively with the name Torann (meaning ‘noise’ in Gaelic). For many years I had wished to base a piece of music around the sounds I grew up with, with instrumental writing mapped to these recorded ‘found’ sounds. These vivid sonic memories were mostly foghorns from the nearby lighthouse - diffuse, eerie, haunting, and also from the milking machines on our farm – droning, pulsing, at times almost industrial.

On a bright Autumn day I travel home to the Old Head of Kinsale with Eoin Brady, lyric fm producer. We record the ebb and flow of the Atlantic Ocean at Garrettstown Beach, now home to a new generation of surfers, and past Garylucas where I first learned how to swim. On the farm my mother switches on and off the milking machines, trying out various combinations of drones. Crows take flight as silence emerges from the machines being switched off, their calls echoing through the yard and captured in our recordings. There is magic in these happy accidents, which later feed into the composing process.

After an intense period of orchestral writing I feel a need to return to one of my first loves, the world of the electronic. It is in a log cabin in a remote part of Iceland where I first get the chance to fully immerse myself in this, and the piece begins to take shape. I start to work with samples recorded earlier on Baroque viola from Lisa Dowdall, and suddenly the music takes another direction, a resonance from early music, building layers of fourth and fifth harmonies which later become submerged in noise and rise back again.

I am no longer in Iceland, and I now return to the music, at the stage of piecing together the fragments of the jigsaw puzzle. It is an honour, and strangely feels ‘full circle’ for this new work to have its premiere as part of David Lang’s music festival next March at the National Concert Hall. I first met him ten years ago, while a student at the Bang on a Can Summer Institute of Music, at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams.

As I write, I realize that there are indeed often aspects of the process that cannot be explained in words - perhaps where the magic and mystery of music-making lies. I will always wish to trust in the mystery of composing, to make a connection with the listener through sound. This can be a feeling, an atmosphere, an emotion, often drawing from an intuitive and instinctive place within. The writer Mary Gaitskill describes an analogy to this with the medium of written word: “It's being able to take something whole and fiercely alive that exists inside you in some unknowable combination of thought, feeling, physicality, and spirit, and to then store it like a genie in tense, tiny black symbols on a calm white page. If the wrong reader comes across the words, they will remain just words. But for the right readers, your vision blooms off the page and is absorbed into their minds like smoke, where it will re-form, whole and alive, fully adapted to its new environment.”

Linda Buckley was commissioned by Cork Midsummer Festival to write a new work for Crash Ensemble, with funds from the Arts Council. Top photo by Myles O'Reilly

She spent time writing the piece in August 2014 while in Iceland as part of a composer residency at the Gullkistan Center for Creativity

The Gullkistan Center for Creativity is located near lake Laugarvatn, around 90 km east of Reykjavik. While there, she was the only composer and stayed with six other visual artists from Denmark, Norway, the US and the Philippines.