History Lesson

During the 1980s, I was part of Soundworks, a series of occasional performances at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork, organized by Danny McCarthy. Apart from performing our own work, we interpreted the scores of Fluxus.

I also ran the Synergy Music and Art Workshop – a casual gathering of musicians and visual artists collaborating on what would now be called Multimedia Shows. In 1985,  Synergy was chosen to represent Cork City for European Music Year with a performance at the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery on Midsummer Day.

During the early 1990s, I began developing a progressive disability, which, eventually, was going to render me unable to play most musical instruments. In 1993 I got my first computer for work. I very quickly discovered its potential as a tool for making music and started my “Fractuality” project: extracting small snippets of sound from recordings of spoken words, right down to individual wave cycles, and assembling them to make musical notes and percussion beats – exciting, but not really a good substitute for being able to play live.

Later I learned that this is a Granular Synthesis technique, and that it requires a Supercomputer. It took me an afternoon to create two or three seconds of music, but what I found in those grains of sound was too fascinating, and I had already invested too much time to stop. As technology progressed, computers became more powerful, and software tools for doing this kind of work became available. By 2010, typical desktop computers had about 20 times the computing power of the big Cray Supercomputers in the early/mid 1990s – which had more than 100 times the computing power of my first (the biggest and most powerful) Mac – and there was software available to make full use of all that power. I was able to compose a five minute piece of Fractuality music in a single day.

I built some software drum kits, and also a melody instrument from grains of the sound of my own voice. But even more fascinating to me, while experimenting with Granular Synthesis, were the subtleties I found in recordings of rather commonplace short hits and beats when I examined them under my “Electroacoustic Microscope”. I see the Cork City Gamelan as some kind of a sonic journey which can lead me to discover new musical terrains. It represents a broadening of Fractuality beyond working with the human voice.