Making Ghosts from Empty Landscapes

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


'Making Ghosts from Empty Landscapes' grapples with the issues of connecting traditional instrumental practices from China and Ireland within the framework of contemporary music composition featuring electroacoustic elements. The project might be best summarised as attempting to create a distributed ‘meta-instrument’ as a unifying structure which is loosely based on the structure and common role of the Irish uilleann pipes. This instrument is frequently used in the performance of Irish traditional music in roles which combine the relatively constant accompanying backdrop its instrumental drones with foregrounded melodic materials which frequently highlight a gestural imperative and gravitational axis through the effort required to sustain accurately-tuned notes in higher registers and the common idiomatic imperative of the addition of melodic ornamentation with rapid grace notes. In addition, in terms of its cultural resonance, its recognisable status as a signature Irish traditional instrument clearly colours any ensemble in which it is deployed, making its integration within a new performance style or genre a particular challenge. This structural/textural idea is related to one piece which, in my opinion, successfully engages with these challenges-- Roger Doyle’s 'Under the Green Time' (1995-- which utilises a similar structural model based on the instrument’s combination of relatively static drones and foregrounded melodic gestures. However, Doyle’s piece focusses on a different aspect of the pipes, creating a ‘cyborgian’ meta-instrument through rhythmic and gestural potential as the drones are replaced by the motoric gestures of a pitched-down electric typewriter mechanism, providing a rhythmic framework for edited melodic gestures which explore the ‘off-grid’ potential of the pipes as intended melodic ornaments are combined with the unintended by-products of the instrument’s chanter, from brief squeaks to extended squawks. Whilst this piece occasionally engages in exploiting the creative possibilities of such by-products of sound production and performance gesture, it explores variation of tuning and texture, through the instrument itself, and through spectral editing (using the SPEAR software) for the introduction of microtonal glissandi and cross-fading of various materials derived from the instrument’s drones to reinforce its textural structures. REFERENCES: Bregman, A. 1990. Auditory Scene Analysis. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.Doyle, R. 1995. Under the Green Time. On Audio CD: Contemporary Music from Ireland, Volume 2. Dublin: Contemporary Music Centre (CMC CD002.)
Original languageEnglish
PublisherContemporary Music Centre
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2010


  • mixed-media
  • drones
  • microtonality
  • meta-instrument
  • cross-cultural


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