Cage Meets Carson in Belfast for Owenvarragh

Cage Meets Carson in Belfast for Owenvarragh

Ciaran Carson's novel The Star Factory will be performed in Belfast using a John Cage score, to mark Cage's centenary.

Ciaran Carson

Poet, author and Journal of Music contributor Ciaran Carson’s 1997 memoir and elegy to Belfast, The Star Factory, will be performed ‘as a circus of sound, words, and images’ at the Sonic Arts Research Centre (SARC) at Queen’s University, Belfast, on March 27 at 7.30pm.

The performance, entitled Owenvarragh, will be a realisation of John Cage’s indeterminate score from 1979, ____,____ ____ circus on ____, which Cage himself realised in 1979 as Roaratorio, or, to give it its full title, Roaratorio, an Irish circus on Finnegan’s Wake. Owenvarragh is intended to mark the centenary of Cage’s birth.  

The score of ____,____ ____ circus on ____, as is stated within, provides a ‘means for translating a book into a performance without actors, a performance which is both literary and musical or one or the other’. It instructs performers on how to derive chance-determined poems from the book being used, and asks them to combine a recitation of these texts with recordings of places and sounds in the book, in addition to live music. The score thus serves to transform literary works into circuses of sounds, music, words and poetry.

In the case of Roaratorio, the performance or the ‘work’ comprised Cage’s reading his own text Writing for the Second Time through Finnegans Wake (consisting of five onomatopoetic and concrete poetry-inspired texts which Cage himself often recited in public performances), in addition to Irish ballads, jigs and other instrumental music played by such musicians as Paddy Glackin, Peader Mercier, Joe Heaney, Mel Mercier, Matt Malloy and Seamus Ennis. Finally, tapes containing a collage of sounds mentioned in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, recorded at the locations mentioned in relation to the sounds in the book, were also included. Merce Cunningham provided choreography.

The following video features Roaratorio in full:

Ciaran Carson’s book been described as a piece in which ‘childhood’s visions fuse with mastery of expression’, and where ‘remarkable, loving, and uncanny memoir hums with detail and feeling, whether the subjects of reminiscence are stamps, out-of-print books, airplane models, old trolley-car maps, postcards, the Easter Rebellion, recollections of the Titanic, family memoirs, railway patterns, or abandoned factories.’

Its realisation as a Cageian ‘circus’ is the result of a collaboration between Úna Monaghan and Martin Dowling, who are producing and directing the performance. Owenvarragh will consist of Carson reading chance-determined poems dervied from his book, whilst sound recordings are projected in three dimensions around the 50 channel system in the Sonic Lab at SARC. Live performances beneath the grid floor by Belfast-based traditional musicians including Monaghan and Dowling, Éamonn Ó Faogáin, Patrick O’Hare and Patrick Davey, as well as images from the book projected around the space, complete the circus.
Tickets available online here, and limited tickets will also be available on the door.

Ciaran Carson’s recent article for The Journal of Music about the Companion to Irish Traditional Music can be read here.

Published on 12 March 2012

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