Just Listen to sound art CD

The work of 23 emerging experimental composers from Ireland is showcased on an album released this month, writes Don O’Mahony

FOR quite some time now, Cork has been a bustling location for experimental music activity and sound art practices. Founded in 2005, the one-day, church-based Sonic Vigil event has gone from strength to strength, the Art Trail has continually supported sound art events, and the Black Sun night has promoted ‘weirdo music’ from the outer fringes.

By any standards, 2011 has been a remarkable year for such sonically adventurous activities in Cork. Beginning late last year and culminating in a month-long exhibition, the Crawford Art Gallery played host to the monthly four-hour improvised performances of Strange Attractor. The last month alone has seen the release of a number of important documents. The Guesthouse artists residency centre in Shandon launched the Seesound DVD collaboration between sound and image makers. Sonic Vigil launched a cassette-shaped USB device featuring contributions from last year’s event, and Strange Attractor published a book and DVD, which was launched recently in London.

Bringing a national scope to sound art, last week saw the launch of Just Listening, a CD showcasing the practice of 23 Irish-based artists.

The CD sprang from Just Listen, a series of installations, performances, seminars and workshops organised by the National Sculpture Factory last April.

“It was a hugely ambitious festival,” reflects Danny McCarthy, a member of Strange Attractor, the Just Listening selection panel and an artist who is central to so much of the sound art activity in Cork. His assertion is correct. Just Listen featured installations, performances and discussions from such internationally known figures as Stephen Vitiello, Anne Bean, David Toop, Pauline Oliveros, Eric Leonardson and Nicolas Collins.

“There was a huge amount of important international activity going on, with talks at the School of Music and in the Sculpture Factory and places like that,” says McCarthy. “So it was good to seize the opportunity and showcase some Irish work at the same time.”

The aim of showcasing Irish work was one shared by National Sculpture Factory director Mary McCarthy.

“The agenda with that was to see if we could get opportunities for Irish artists,” she says. “That was our intention. It was also important to get some neutral critical feedback. I always think when you’re in a kind of a niche form and a few people can be perceived to curate that form, it’s really important to have external input.”

Closing the Just Listen event was the live showcase of new and emerging Irish and Irish resident sound artists from which the Just Listening CD emerged.

Held in the Church Space gallery in the Limerick School of Art and Design, the showcase was a day-long event featuring 15-minute sets from sound artists who were invited through an open submission process.

“It allowed people who we wouldn’t even be aware of that were working in the field to come and submit work, and from that then we selected the people to come,” says Danny McCarthy. “Other people were invited by the curators who were familiar with their work. So you have an interesting cross section of some quite reasonably well-known people, some very well-known people and some totally unknown people, which I think is important in getting the disc across to the general public and to the listening audience.”

Adding weight to the CD are such internationally recognised figures as Slavek Kwi (Artificial Memory Trace), Paul Hegarty, author of Noise/Music: A History, and Linda O’Keeffe. Each then edited their piece to five minutes for the CD.

However, the National Sculpture Factory played a critical role in also inviting, thanks to funding from Culture Ireland, figures from Café Oto and SoundFjord in London, the EarZoom sonic arts festival in Austria, and Mobius, Boston’s artist-run centre for experimental work in all media, in order to create contacts.

“We created a forum for these things to happen, to bring focus to them, and kind of force those kind of areas for discussion, but then also gave people bridges back out,” says Mary McCarthy’s colleague and Just Listening selection panel member Dobz O’Brien.

“We are on the fringes of Europe, so it’s really, really important that we make these other international connections all the time, and we’re really conscious of that. It’s one thing bringing some people to work and show here but we also need to be able to give opportunities for Irish artists to get out and the best way to that was to bring internationals, especially internationals who run different sorts of events.”

“I suppose the legacy will be the CD,” says Mary McCarthy. “All the artists have a number of copies of this now and there’s a legacy that they can use to promote, and that’s important.”

- Just Listening is available from Plugd Records, Triskel Arts Centre.

www.farpointrecordings.com, www.nationalsculpturefactory.com.

Picture: Just Listening selection panel members Danny McCarthy and Dobz O’Brien. Closing the Just Listen event was the live showcase of new and emerging Irish and Irish resident sound artists from which the Just Listening CD emerged.

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