Strange means good at avant-garde festival Open Ear

Jennifer Walshe is one of the musicians at the festival on Sherkin this weekend.

Dublin-born composer and vocalist Jennifer Walshe, will launch her new album on Saturday at Horseshoe Harbour Bay on Sherkin Island as part of the electronic and experimental music festival, Open Ear.

It will be the first time that Walshe will take part in this avant-garde festival, now in its fourth year. 

Living between London and Roscommon, Walshe’s work has been performed all over the world by groups such as Crash Ensemble and the Con Tempo Quartet.

She admits her latest album, All the Many Peopls, “is very strange”. It uses a lot of material that she found on the internet. 

“I started to write the piece at the beginning of this decade. Nevertheless, when I listen to it now, it still seems relevant to the times we live in, post Trump and Brexit. 

"There’s a lot of sound files taken from nooks and crannies of the web. I was looking at YouTube videos and cell phone videos that soldiers in Iraq had made, of them blowing things up. 

"There’s bursts of sound from space and really early trashy computer game sounds and me trying to use my voice in a flexible way. 

"There’s lots of different types of text and me trying to change my voice, singing and speaking in different accents and rhythms.”

Musician, Drew Daniel, from the duo, Matmos, has written the liner notes for the album. 

“He says that it’s like looking at your entire browser history exploding on stage in front of your face.”

Walshe says that at one point on the album, she uses tin whistles and fiddles in the background. 

“It’s a whole big mix. When I’ve performed it live, regardless of what background people are from, they find it compelling as a performance. 

"But it doesn’t have a single, so it tends to draw a more experimental crowd.”

The launch on Sherkin Island is something that Walshe is excited about. 

“There will be people there from the kind of open-minded community that will give things a chance. I think people can be really nervous about this kind of music or they haven’t heard it before. 

"But at the festival, people will be able to ask questions at the bar afterwards, like ‘where are you coming from?’ 

"That’s really important and this sort of festival provides these opportunities.”

Walshe’s music has been described as radical. But she says she is just trying to make sounds that she thinks are interesting. 

“It’s to do with what I feel about being alive today. With this album, it’s about how our ideas about language and sound have been changed by the internet. 

"The way we make jokes and the way our references have shifted and the spin people put on memes is really interesting to me. We use new words and hash-tags and emojis. Irish people are fascinated with language.”

In a piece that Walshe wrote for the National Symphony Orchestra, performed at the National Concert Hall in February, she asked the percussionists to wrap objects in cardboard packaging from Amazon. 

She was drawing attention to globalisation and neo-liberalism. Just like the members of the orchestra, she says the workers at Amazon are blighted by insecurity.

“The orchestra did what I asked them to do with total devotion. I really struck a chord there. I didn’t want to write a piece for them that didn’t acknowledge the situation they’re in at the moment.”

Ever inventive, Walshe is responsible for a fictional avant-garde archive called Aisteach, comprising fake Irish artists such as the Guinness Dadaists and the Kilkenny Engagists. 

She calls it “a big communal thought experiment” to which musicians keep contributing. 

“Irish people, particularly anyone who loves Flann O’Brien, take to the archive very easily.”

The Open Ear Festival is on from Thursday May 30-Sunday June 2 on Sherkin Island. www.openear.ie

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