Fergal Dowling of Dublin Sound Lab talks to No More Workhorse about Music Current 2019
Sweeney Lives! – Frank Corcoran – 10 April, 7pm
Sheriffs Love Songs – Stock11 – 10 April, 8pm
Sideshow – Takasugi & Ensemble Tzara – 11 April, 8pm
Whose Music? – Public Discussion – 12 April, 6pm
Retro Disco – Swiss trio showcase new music from Switzerland + new commission by Karen Power – 12 April, 8pm
Currents – Retro Disco Trio – 13 April, 8pm
What style of music do you aim for with Music Current 2019?
Music Current is an annual contemporary music festival of which grew out the concert programmes that Dublin Sound Lab had been organising. We had been programming our own music and music by other composers, but in 2016 we wanted to distinguish between our work and the music of other people, which we also wanted to produce, so we started Music Current so we could showcase music by other contemporary composers and groups from Ireland and around the world.
The festival is called Music Current because we try to present music that is literally current. Most of the featured works are very recent. The main objective concern is to present music that has currency; that is current, contemporary, fluid and relevant to our time.
How does it differ from mainstream electronic music?
Music Current focuses on presenting contemporary chamber music in concert, so it’s really about the experience of seeing new music for the first time. A lot of the music we present involves electronic forces during performance, which is another play on the idea of ‘current’. If we describe our music as ‘electronic’, people might think if mainstream electronic music, as you say. But our focus is on the live concert experience, and that could involve anything or any forces. It might be best to give some examples. So far, Music Current concerts have included people playing balloons, sawing through polystyrene, singing through loudhailers, playing salad spinners, placing screws inside pianos, using cellos as loudspeakers, pretending to play the piano (it’s trickier than you might think), and concerts featuring turntables, inflatable dinosaurs, and panoramic videos and surround sound with 14 loudspeakers. This year some of the scores call for stuffed fish heads, light bulbs, strobes, instrumentalists playing computer games, radio in surround sound, vibrating metal shelves, and false teeth.
What are the events you’re particularly excited about at this year’s festival?
The central piece in this year’s programme is Steven Takasugi’s ‘Sideshow’. Steven is an American composer who has been performed more widely in continental Europe, but is less well known here. ‘Sideshow’ is a highly theatrical piece that is both hilarious and rather unnerving. It’s a concert-length for quintet and electronics, in which the players, Ensemble Tzara from Switzerland, literally ‘perform’ in the theatrical sense. It’s funny, creepy and virtuosic all at the same time. It’s based on the sideshows of Coney Island’s amusement parks in the early part of the 20th century, which were filled with gimmicks and illusions in the style of PT Barnum; all false promises, mystery and fakery – this is where the fish head and the false teeth come in. It’s a real spectacle that needs to been seen as much as heard.
You have a discussion on AI in music in this year’s festival. With computers continuing to evolve, when do you think we will get our first AI composer of note?
Each year Music Current features a public panel discussion on how music technology affects audiences. The discussion talks place in the CMC Library, this year on Friday 12 April at 6pm (more info: http://www.musiccurrent.ie/discussion.html).
This year the discussion is titled ‘Whose Music?’ and focuses on AI and how it might impact on listeners. There is a lot of talk about AI at the moment. There is actually a lot of work happening in this area, and many composers and music fans may not be so aware of this. AI processes already influence how we access music through search engines and other interfaces (Alexa, Siri and others), and there is a lot of music being made that uses AI in the compositional process.
The Irish composer, Jenny Walshe, recently premiered ‘Ultrachunk’ in London, in which she duets with an AI version of herself. Holly Herndon, made a similar recording project where an AI programme creates new work from Holly’s voice with previous works by the American electronic musician Jlin. There was also a high-profile event earlier this year in London sponsored by Huawei in which an AI algorithm, running on one of Huawei’s phones, helped complete Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’. Although this last example didn’t enjoy great critical success.
AI music is probably more widespread in computer games, where it is already having a big impact on the role of music in computer games. So it’s already happening and having an effect, although the effect has not been so evident in concert music. AI music will probably have a bigger effect in how music is distributed and how listeners feel about music, and their sense of ownership of music and their emotional involvement with music.
If you were interested in making your own electronic music, where would be a good place to start?
In Dublin there are lots of music and music production courses. There are also a lot of freely available tools for making computer music – most of the software we use in composition and performance are freeware. But the tools, software and equipment are not so interesting in themselves. It’s quite easy to just start making computer music on your own, but I think it’s much more rewarding to find similar-minded people, listen to what they are doing, and become involved with a group of music makers.
We have initiated an idea called ‘Music Currents Connect’ this year. It’s basically just an open invitation to come along and talk to us, any of the festival team, or the featured composers or performers after any of the festival concerts. The idea is to make it easier for us to talk to audiences and for audiences to talk to musicians and composers. So if anyone wants to pitch an idea, start a collaboration, or just talk to the composers, this might be a good place to start too.
Music Current 2019 runs at Smock Alley Theatre from April 10 – 13 :: smockalley.com / musiccurrent.ie