Amidst the onset of the global pandemic, Crash Ensemble commissioned Irish and international composers from a range of musical backgrounds to write new works for duos within the group
An honest, human and emotive response for now and the future.
Building on existing collaborative partnerships and cultivating and nurturing new relationships, composers were invited to create a musical response to their experiences, the current state and their thoughts for the future.
Each piece was workshopped, rehearsed and recorded in 2020/21/22.
Each composer documented their creative process with text and imagery, offering a fly on the wall view of the composers’ studio spaces, visual imagery and text journaling during the creative process. The duos were recorded and filmed and this audio visual material was combined to make an accompanying film by Crash’s resident filmmaker, Laura Sheeran.
These films are currently unreleased. Stay tuned for updates!
Commissions were for works of 5 minutes' duration for two instruments within the ensemble
Alongside the commission, each composer was asked to document their process using text and imagery.
Live premieres of [REACTIONS] throughout 2022
At venues throughout Ireland as part of Crash's Irish tour and at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival
This piece displays the incremental degradation of humanity, culture, society, mental wellbeing, and that 'all-to-important' thing we call, economy, that we faced throughout the pandemic.
I suppose the question I would like to ask the audience after listening is to question who we are, as a society and as individuals. How have we changed collectively and what does this mean for our future?
The term sotto voce, or ‘undertone’, means to intentionally lower one’s voice for emphasis. In musical terms, it instructs the performer to alter their playing style to create a hushed tonal quality or a whisper-like tone. One might also speak sotto voce if they wanted to convey something privately to another person.
When I was asked to participate in the [REACTIONS] series, I couldn’t help but look back on the past year (2020/21) and how the pandemic had impacted me and those around me.
I am, by my nature, a private person. However, through this piece, I have attempted to express some of the emotions and events I experienced during 2020/2021, from feelings of confusion, anger and frustration through times of sadness and also moments of joy.
Then repeat and repeat again...and again.
“...it came about during this year that a most dreaded portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light like the moon without brightness during this whole year, and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in the eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear nor such as it is accustomed to shed. And from the time, when this thing happened, men were neither free from war nor pestilence nor any other thing leading to death
Procopius 538 C.E.
“The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea. Down from heaven, stars are whirled...”
Voluspá 1220 C.E
In 536 ad, a mysterious fog plunged much of the world into darkness, day and night for a period of around 18 months, precipitating extreme weather events around the globe. Temperatures in the summer plummeted initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years. Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved. Irish annals record "a failure of bread from the years 536–539. The Justinian plague struck two years later. The combination killed perhaps as much as 1/3 of the population of Europe as evidenced by the numbers of deserted villages and cemeteries. Scholars are divided concerning what caused the dust veil but it was likely due to a violent volcanic eruption or a cometary impact.
Dust is a feature of our current climate crisis from a mooted geoengineering project which would attempt sun-dimming through releasing chalky dust particles into the atmosphere though to the blinding dust storms caused by desertification. A global warming, rather than cooling that has had unequal consequences around the world. The poorest countries, those least responsible for global warming are already suffering the most; carving out an existence on the most fragile land under constant political social, and economically threat, making them particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Sahel region of Africa with temperature increases are projected to be 1.5 times higher than the global average. Amidst this devastation , a quiet revolution has been taking place. Over the past three decades, hundreds of thousands of farmers in Sahel, have transformed large swathes of the region’s arid landscape into productive agricultural land, improving food security for many. This regreening of the Sahel region by local farmers is a beacon of hope which needs to be matched by the Global North who are currently responsible for 92% of the world’s carbon emissions.
It’s impossible to know what resources our ancestors relied on in the “worst year in history” of 536, in order to survive. Precedences of resilience and adaptation to sudden and cataclysmic climate change could teach us much about our own impending existential threat. There is some evidence of increased interconnectedness between communities in subsequent decades after the Dust Veil as the world advanced into the early middle ages. Perhaps, by following the example of Sahel, that’s where any solutions to our current climate crisis lie ? “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine”.
Instead of vibrating the air between the instrument and the listener’s ears, the trombone makes very quiet sounds (mostly inaudible through the air) directly into the metal body of the tam-tam. This is done using an electromagnetic transducer which vibrates rapidly against the gong’s surface, causing it to resonate, and trapping the trombone’s sound inside the tam-tam.
This also has the interesting consequence that Alex has total control over Roddy’s sound: if he takes the transducer away, the trombone is muted, and he can adjust Roddy’s timbre or attack by playing with the placement of the transducer. Because of the complex natural resonances of a gong (closer to a discordant bell than a typical pitched instrument), the results are unpredictable, and be totally different with another tam-tam.
The most interesting aspect of this idea for me was the special mode of performance it sets up for the two musicians, intensifying the private dialogue between them. Roddy can’t communicate directly with the audience – everything he says needs to go through Alex; and Alex needs to devote a lot of his attention to taking care of Roddy.
To take advantage of this situation the score is quite loose, and a lot of the gestures and expression you hear will have been invented by them, rather than by the composer.
We were asked to make these pieces a “reaction” to recent life, and I have to be honest and admit that my idea came to me context-free; but there’s an obvious connection right now whenever art introduces ideas of confinement. I’m trying to think of this in a hopeful way: it’s a lot more complicated, but we can still find ways to make music under these circumstances.
2021.4 - trombone, transducer, tam-tam was written with creative input from Roddy O'Keefe and Alex Petcu
Diamanda La Berge Dramm
What about the future ? My response in this Reactions series is : to be the architect, to shape our own micro political arena of practice. This particular Arena is about a relationship between two favourite objects of mine : the violin and the guitar. The violin because it’s my main mask, my chose one, my first love. The guitar because it contains something I aspire to, I’m jealous of, but I don’t want. A piece about what we might think we want.
During the course of the global pandemic, I ran.
When there were no concerts to go to, no rehearsals, no performances, no events, I ran.
To keep myself sane, I ran.
RUNAWAY is a musical and personal response to my time during the pandemic. I turned to running as an obsession to fill the void left by our cultural standstill. I used devices to analyse my runs and record and observe my progress. This data inspired the starting point for this piece. The main tempo map is a translation of my heart rate data from a run, whereby my BPM every 50 meters equals the BPM of the piece every 3 seconds. The performers follow this tempo map using a click track. The BPM of the live performers is also integral to the piece. Each performer’s heart rate data is monitored live using pulse sensors and used as an ever changing variable to inform FX on their playing. These include delay, pitch shifting and distortion. These FX as well as an abstract score allowing for aleatoric repetition and personal interpretation result in a piece that can never be performed the same way twice.
"We would like you to create a response in music - a political or personal response, to your experience, the current state, or your thoughts for the future.
An honest, human and emotive response for now and the future.”
Stone or log –
something that endues or something that does not?
Will I turn to rock or will I turn to rot?
It is often difficult for me to emote earnestly, especially in my music. Whenever I look inward, the most apparent thing I see is a primal fear of the fleeting nature of being alive. I see a mysterious countdown to lack of consciousness, to unalive. During these past few years of a global pandemic, this feeling has amplified in tandem with my efforts to numb it away.
In “Stone or Rot,” I musically marry this desire to be granitic – hard, unfeeling – with its supposed opposite, which is to be putrid: rotting, dying, turning to a cloud of mush. Repetitive, muscular gestures alternate with sounds more prone to decay. Once these unstable fragile harmonics and multiphonics speak, it is difficult for the original, grounded open string to be heard again – these little fragilities have minds and power of their own.
Like most ruminations on my current state and for the future, by the end, my thoughts turned to the sea.
Groundwork explores a literal interpretation of an immediate landscape in Connemara as an acoustic map, with the use of a graphic sequencer to ‘perform’ the landscape. When a map is created, what do we deem essential, and what is lost? What ‘makes it’, and what does not? How quickly can maps adapt to change? The performance of this piece is intended to be ever-changing, unfixed and adapting; an interplay between cello, double-bass and the topography of a mountain range.
'I wanted to create a project that was built upon a human and emotive response for now and the future. ‘Reactions' emerged during the summer of 2020 from a strong desire to reignite both musical and personal connections, as an avenue for expression and a need to communicate and make sense of the world turned upside-down. As tentative steps were being taken towards an unknown future, each of the 9 commissioned composers were asked to create a musical response - a political or personal response to their experiences, the current state, or their thoughts for the future.'
Bébhinn McDonnell (SYLK)
Like many of us before covid happened, life had many future plans in it. For me, I was very excited that my band SYLK had some promising music performance opportunities to take place over 2020 in Europe and I had just started a new job in a new office that I was really enjoying.
2020 was a new decade - a fresh slate, then Covid-19 began to emerge in the news, with snippets
of it appearing in China. I was not expecting it to spread and to hit Ireland. The word pandemic was so new. The lockdown happened and of course it was necessary but it was a shock. For me, suddenly, no more music plans, no commuting to my happy workplace and no more time with my friends. Work became hectic readjusting to an online world and all music opportunities were postponed or cancelled, I was deeply disappointed about the music, especially the live atmosphere of
experiencing music and I lost some motivation to readjust to an online world.
However, being both busy and disrupted and curtailed in my movements had some unexpected joys, a new rhythm emerged and things slowed down. I found comfort in going for a walk in nature, and paying attention to nature. I had a sense we were all in this together and enjoyed simple things like having a coffee in
the back yard with my parents or chatting online to friends and I was lucky to have a job. When lockdown eased it was surreal to see friends again, social distant concerts, and to compose for the Crash.
An honest, human and emotive response for now and the future.
With this in mind I wanted to write a piece that reflected the uncertainty of this year. Starting off melodic to represent the hope for a new decade. Warning mot
"Pendulums represents the fast pace of life pre-covid, while Sundials portrays how our perception of time altered when lockdown was imposed."
When Kate approached me to be a part of this project, I was very excited to be involved. It felt important to try and convey the situation through music.
For me, lockdown made me reassess how busy my life was; being forced to stop my normal routine was actually a blessing in disguise. Suddenly there was time to breathe, time to appreciate the little things, time to reassess what is truly important to me.
Before I began to compose the piece, I chatted with Deirdre and Susan about their experience of covid and lockdown. It was clear that they too shared the altered perception of time that lockdown had brought. This notion of how we measure time acted as the stimulus in composing the piece, which is presented as two miniatures. The first, Pendulums, features rhythmic precision and exactitude, while Sundials favours flexibility over rigidity, freedom over fixity.
Crosstalk attempts to capture the feeling of trying to communicate across distance, both physical and experiential.
As an Irish person living in Japan, my experience of the Covid19 pandemic is one of feeling split and pulled between two worlds: that of my own real lived experience of the reality in Japan, and that of my friends and family in Europe. While staying indoors during the State of Emergency, the online world became sometimes more real, and venturing out led to sensations of extreme cognitive dissonance. Communication between these two worlds
was sometimes easy, oiled by the shared stresses and cares of the situation, and sometimes jagged, broken by the different on-the-ground experiences of it in different places. Imagine the now-ubiquitous problems of digital
conferencing, with crosstalk, connection difficulties and misunderstanding, but applied to the process of
The piece takes the form of a kind of conversation, moving between these broken fragments and smooth easy chatting, punctuated by moments of an agonising pull between two places.
I created 'One Day' as the first lockdown began, when I - like so many others - was forced into working in isolation. All my life, I have worked collaboratively to create music, so at first it felt very difficult working alone, looking at people on a computer screen.
I tried to recreate this feeling, beginning with the noise and bustle of our everyday lives gradually ebbing away, to leave just one isolated instrument.
The sonic space slowly fills as I accept this new reality, and begin to work within these new parameters.
I created the melody and voice of the piece using two old synthesisers here in my studio, before developing parts for vibraphone, xylophone and trombone. I then used video conferencing to work with Crash Ensemble musicians Roderick O'Keefe (trombone) and Alex Petcu (percussion) to develop these parts. It was a joy to hear the percussion and brass come to life.
Overall, I hope to convey a sense of hope for our future with this piece as we slowly emerge from the global pandemic.
‘This Is The Space Between Your Hand and Mine’ explores the sensitivity of touch. The pandemic has created a hyperawareness of our hands, physicality and closeness while simultaneously confining our communication to a flat screen. Close recordings of double bass and cello are manipulated to drift from digital spaces to skin under a microscope, capturing the chaos of uncertainty and the desire for connection.
Seán Ó Dálaigh
This piece is the first in a series of studies. They are ruminations on communication, distance, intimacy and touch; about what it means to be together and to be apart, and the tiny yet irreducible gap between us.
An impulse response is a method for measuring the resonant frequencies of a space or an object, its sonic essence. When exploring this as a practice you quickly realise that everything acts as a filter and that our sonic realities are always entangled.
Autumn is enervating this wood,
Cutting its sinews at the knee.
The evergreens show some resilience,
Seeing blotched spots of hope
In their sap reserves.
They’ll weather any pollarding.
Others taste the bitter husk:
The child who has forgotten her alphabet,
A young man, hunched like a choking sapling
With no leaf-cushion to soften his fall,
And the spreading blight of witches’ brooms on lonely, rusted oaks.
Prattling pigeons vacillate among the branches,
Cooing as they sow their ordure.
No roots, they’ll fly as they please,
At cross-purposes with their babbling.
I’ll bend my boughs towards the shade of
Christ, that fecund mustard seed,
Who calls to tree and bird,
“Come, abide in me,
Lockdown in London altered the whole fabric of the city in an unimaginable and apocalyptic way. Silence replaced busy, noisy streets with an emptiness and fear. Shielding my son brought us all closer together as we stole early morning walks around Tavistock Square near our home. We walked daily in a circle around the perimeter, past statues of Ghandi and memorials to the victims of Hiroshima and, to those who lost their lives in the bus bomb which exploded opposite the park in the terrorist attack on London on July 7th, 2005. Nature carried on as if nothing was different and reclaimed its space. Birds sang, transforming the air. Feathers littered the ground and made their way into my music. It was this certainty, as the world blossomed in this tiny space, observed so closely every day, that gave me hope.
My piece is for two unplugged electric guitars. The idea was from two things really.
First, during the first lockdown I had to move my ‘studio’ back to the flat where we live and I’m actually set up in the corner of our bedroom and often find myself having to work extremely quietly because my youngest daughter is asleep in the room next door. Hence the guitar not plugged in. It led me to actually really listen to that sound as an end in itself. I wanted the final sound of the piece to be experienced really up close - I’ve talked to Adrian about the audience even listening through headphones (not sure where we are with that now).
The second was the occasional guitar ‘lessons’ I was giving to my teenage nephew Jack, over Zoom, throughout the lockdown. These were lovely moment of connection, albeit with the inevitable time lags and glitches, which is reflected in the close canons between the two guitars in my piece. They’re playing more or less the same material throughout the whole piece, locked in but not quite together.
There was one little video I made though which was a kind of silent soundtrack the whole way through the composition. One night here at around 3 in the morning I was lying awake and my ears became focused on the extremely faint sound of a dripping tap downstairs, to the extent that I couldn’t get back to sleep until I had gone down and turned it off. But once there, I picked up an electric guitar (unplugged of course) that was lying there and came up with the principle ideas for the piece.