An Experimental Music Festival Set in Nature Logs On

Sebastian Adams is looking for a teacup in his home, but can’t seem to find one.

He’s one of the founders of Kirkos Ensemble, an experimental music collective that this week will be holding a series of outdoor events, in Dublin called Biosphere from Monday 31 August to Sunday 6 September.

“You will have my full attention in a second,” he says, speaking over the phone last Friday.

Adams could probably use a tea break. Each Biosphere event takes a lot of planning; shows explore how art interacts with the environment in which it is performed.

There’s quite a lot happening at this year’s event, which will take place completely online due to Covid-19 restrictions, too.

A string quartet is set to play in a rising tide on Tuesday night; a violinist will record a piece live in the forests surrounding the Hellfire Club while making use of the natural sounds; slam poets will perform outside the Hellfire Club, after a journey starts in Tallaght led by a drag queen, Dowager Marchylove.

Biosphere also aims to start a conversation on the climate crisis, and make the music industry more conscious about its own impact on the environment.

“We hope it will give people a new angle to look at climate change through,” says Adams.

Origins of Kirkos Ensemble

The ensemble of experimental and contemporary musicians was started eight years ago by classmates in the Royal Irish Academy of Music, on Westland Row in the city-centre.

The group looks at experimental ways of performing music, but never just for the sake of it, Adams says. Rather, they use their environment as a way to engage the audience and enhance the music.

“Then we all graduated and I decided to try to keep it going; we started applying for art council funding and doing more professional gigs,” he says. “A lot of what we’ve done is gigs with a lot of extra musical elements.”

When preparing a musical performance, the ensemble are always mindful of the environment in which it will be played, he says.

At one event, the musicians performed in complete darkness. Quartet til the End of Time by Olivier Messiaen was the score that Adams selected for the night.

“It was written while he was a prisoner of war in World War Two so there was a lot of themes of war and death in that project,” says Adams.

This is done because it helps people to relate to experimental music that are not familiar with it before, he says. By presenting music that is tough to get into in a creative and interesting way, it becomes more accessible to the uninitiated listener.

Over The Hills and Far Away

Every day this week from 31 August to 6 September an event will take place at various outdoor locations across Dublin such as Blackrock Beach, the Hellfire Club, Burrow Beach and the Grand Canal Dock.

Each event will reflect its environment in it’s own performance. On 3 Thursday at 7:15pm, for instance, violinist Jane Hackett will be using the sound of forest in the Dublin mountains for her piece “Decay is Inherent In All Things” composed by Rob Coleman.

The title takes its lead from a famous quote from Buddha.

There’s a risk associated with performing in these circumstances – Hacket has no way of knowing exactly what her violin piece will sound like until they start playing.

The piece will use a series of microphones to record and loop the piece over itself through speakers in the forest.

The equipment will be set up in the surrounding woodland, where Hackett will play four movements while it will be recorded along with the noises of the forest.

They will be played on a loop by the individual speakers which will create the unique sound on the night.

“Rob wanted to look at the idea of sound decaying,” says Hackett.

On the same night at the Hellfire Club, artist Jennifer Walsh has composed a poem that will be performed by Tom Roseingrave, who performs under the name of Dowager Marchylove, as they walk from Tallaght to the Hellfire club.

“It’ll be slam poetry that goes through the history of the Hellfire Club and discussing old fairy paths that are scattered around Ireland,” says Walsh, over the phone.

Walsh wants the live performance piece to capture people’s personal relationships with their environment and how that changes person to person.

“You walk by a green in a housing estate and you might not know but for one person that is where they were kissed for the first time or where somebody else was dumped,” she says.

Salvador Dalí inspired Walsh for the piece starting in Tallaght.

“He used to say if you wanted to go on these sort of flâneur walks through the city you should have a tortoise because then you would walk at the appropriate speed,” she says.

So the Dowager Marchylove will be walking some of the way with a three legged Jack Russell from Tallaght to the Hellfire Club as a homage to this, she says.

Sittin’ On the Dock Of The Bay

On the other side of the city, Adams has composed a contemporary piece for a string quartet to play in Blackrock Beach on Tuesday. The artists will sit out in the bay wearing wetsuits and play the two hour long composition until the tide comes in.

“We will play until the water comes up to the neck of the tallest person which is Sebastian,” says Hackett. The idea is that the environment will slowly change the sound of the piece.

Adams says: “The instruments will slowly get covered in water. And at a certain point all you’re going to hear is the environmental sound, just the ambient sound of the waves flopping”.

In order for the sound to be recorded online, they decided to have a mic in a bottle which will float beside them while a weight holds the bottle in place.

Environmental Impact

Biosphere is a way for the artists involved to use their music to highlight the climate crisis issue.

“We thought if you are doing music outside then you should think about the respect required for the environment,” he says.

“I don’t think that the music industry as a whole is talking about it on a wide scale so we are looking to add to the conversation,” he says.

Biosphere is not just an event to raise awareness of the climate crisis.

Adams is trialing how the music industry can track their own carbon footprint, he says. The team will be making a report on their own environmental impact that running the event had.

“For example, the pieces in the Hellfire Club you can’t get to by bus. We are probably looking at driving to that event,” he says.

So Adams and his team will be using an online carbon calculator to record their own environmental impact in organising Biosphere. The calculator allows you to record your own actions and see how much impact it has on the environment.

They’ll be attempting to keep track of their carbon emissions for the week.

“Things like equipment we had to order or coffee we drank,” he says.

Hackett says: “We’re not trying to say that we know everything about climate change but we just wanted to raise awareness and use it as an experiment”.

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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