Live Reviews: BSc Music Technology Showcase

McMordie Hall/Harty Room, Queen’s University of Belfast, 31 May 2003Donna O’ Reilly – ArcSinead McLaughlin – PulsationsStephan Curran – Druid’s Dream (2nd movement)Carl Fitzpatrick – SabbathChristine McComb –...

McMordie Hall/Harty Room, Queen’s University of Belfast, 31 May 2003
Donna O’ Reilly – Arc
Sinead McLaughlin – Pulsations
Stephan Curran – Druid’s Dream (2nd movement)
Carl Fitzpatrick – Sabbath
Christine McComb – Frontal Lobe of the Piano Cerebrum
Donna Lennon – Leucistic
Kevin McCullough – Better Late Then Never
Craig Jackson – Stratus

Also featuring recordings by Robert Collins, Janette Durnin, Lenny Nelson, Ciaran Durnin, Andrew Braithwaite, Wendy Murphy, Gemma Gray, Antoine Rivoire, Simon Burke-Kennedy, Gregory Ferguson, Edel Close, Louise Smyth, John McHugh and Nicholas Crowe.

This evening’s event featured the work of the first cohort of students to graduate from Queen’s University’s BSc in Music Technology programme. They have been equipped with a unique combination of creative and technical skills in some of the most advanced facilities these islands have to offer. The main part of the evening was a concert of electroacoustic works by the composition majors but we were also treated to a hearing of selected recordings from the portfolios of the recording majors.

The recordings gave a fascinating cross-section of Belfast’s musical life and featured student bands, children’s choir, a very impressive recording of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, a Danni Minogue remix by DJ Jupiter Ace (a.k.a. Gregory Ferguson), an Indian ensemble, a jazz band, traditional fiddle and harp music and much more. The recordings were all of excellent quality, on a par, if not better, than much of what we hear from our national broadcasters. All the more impressive when all the ensembles had to be sourced by the students themselves and many of the recordings were made in live concert situations.

Buoyed up by this opening, we moved across the foyer of the School of Music to the Harty Room. First up was Donna O’Reilly’s Arc for trumpet and live electronics. The work contained an element of music theatre with the use of four microphones placed around the performer. Air sounds were moved around the room and gradually transformed to pitch, the trumpet and its live electronic transformations at times indistinguishable. Soloist Eugene Monteith was immaculate throughout, switching directions and techniques flawlessly.

The second work, Pulsations by Donegal’s Sinead McLaughlin was for loudspeakers only. The various conditions of water – from open sea to glass-contained beverage – provided the ideas while McLaughlin’s native Donegal and a piano provided much of the sound material. A finely controlled sense of space alternating with an almost claustrophobic environment gave shape to the work, with a still background almost always present. This acted as a foil to the piano sounds which ranged from flutelike in timbre to more percussive attacks.

Stephen Curran presented the second movement of Druid’s Dream for flute (Lenny Nelson), violin (Louise Smyth) and tape. It opened with a viol-like weave in the tape part leading to a series of delicately worked still and spacious textures. These were roughed up on the surface by minimal flute and violin gestures. Notable were some new extended techniques – blowing over the soundholes of the violin (most effective when amplified), and gently tapping the body of the flute with the (detached) headjoint.

Sabbath, by DJ Carl Fitzpatrick offered a perfect complement to Druid’s Dream with its verve and energy. Double bassist Antoine Rivoire and percussionist Ciaran Durnin added a degree of confrontation to Fitzpatrick’s edgy tape and live electronics work where the influence of dance music was evident but the soundworld all Fitzpatrick’s own.

After the interval, pianist John McHugh gave a sensitive performance of Christine McComb’s intriguingly titled Frontal Lobe of the Piano Cerebrum for piano and live electronics. McComb attempts to get inside the mind of the piano, transforming sweeping gestures inside the instrument with a contemplative electronics part. The live and electronic parts blended well here with more aggressive attacks breaking the meditative atmosphere.

Our second tape piece of the evening was Donna Lennon’s Leucistic. It opens with a subtle amalgamation of natural birdsong and harsh synthetic textures before working up to a barrage of infinitely varied percussive sounds in beautifully paced waves of increasing and decreasing tension. The audience is tugged to and fro until, spent and exhausted, the piece slows to a close. A powerful work this which will, no doubt, be heard again.

Kevin McCullough’s Better Late Then Never for double bass, flute, piano and tape evolved from close interaction with performers Christina McDonald (flute), Antoine Rivoire (double bass) and Scott Flannigan (piano). All are fine improvising musicians and McCullough’s piece is shaped as a structured improvisation where a sense of genuine creative interaction comes across very strongly. The piece alternates frenetic and still sections and features inventive techniques on all three instruments.

The final work of the evening was Craig Jackson’s Stratus for three female voices (Edel Close, Claire Gibson and Gemma Gray), tape and live electronics. The punchy tape part was layered with delicate vocal parts, which ranged from unvoiced to sung, emerging and re-emerging from the tape part in a closely integrated sound world. Deep bass rhythms gave a sense of movement here. The use of untrained voices was most effective and gave a sense of vulnerability which contrasted with a powerful tape part.

It is very exciting to hear such a group of emerging composers, many of whom having works presented in public for the first time. They have much to take forward with them in their composing careers – an instinctive integration of the acoustic and the electroacoustic, a sophisticated knowledge of the electronic medium and a sound technical background (Belfast is one of the few places where I have heard electroacoustic concerts with no technical hitches). I wish them every success.

Published on 1 July 2003

Rachel Holstead is an Irish composer.

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