DANDLING (2018) - Solo Piano

Commissioned by: Music For Galway 2018

Composed for French Pianist: Nathalia Milstein

Dandling songs are designed to be sung while dancing your baby on your knee. For this piece, inspired by dance, movement and rhythm, I tried to capture the essence of what this ritual actually is and means. The Irish dandling tune Nead na Lachan (Nest of Ducks) inspired the lilting material for the piece and is hidden in many different guises throughout with many varying echo patterns. It is not until the very end that the perceptive listener will be able to actually hear the original tune, in an albeit stylized display.

LANGUAGE (2017) - Solo Violin

Commissioned by: West Cork Chamber Music Festival

Composed for American Violinist: Miranda Cuckson

Duration: 15 min

Inspired by Messiaen’s transcriptions of the language of birds and his subsequent compositions based on the material he found, this work is an exploration of human language.

At the heart of this composition is the desire to confront the line between language and music. This led me to two questions: To what extent does language influence music? And at what point does something become music?

My main discovery was made after I started to notate the music of a myriad of human languages. What I noticed is that until emotion and human behaviour are involved, there is no musicality. For example, in English, ‘love’ and ‘loath’ sound very similar and there is no way of hearing any difference between the two when transcribed and played by an instrument. This holds true for all human languages, which are for the most part an arbitrary collection of sounds. But if you transcribe an Italian couple having an argument or professing their love for each other, music appears. This discovery was inspired by Noam Chomsky’s groundbreaking theory of Universal Grammar. The idea of Universal Grammar is that language is hard-wired into the brain. The theory suggests that linguistic ability becomes manifest without being taught, and that there are properties that all natural human languages share. In essence, this would mean that there is in fact only one human language, with lots of accents. I went on to collect many more fragments of human language, observing many musical peculiarities hidden within. Now I cannot help hearing these musical motifs when talking to people!

The treasures of human language that I transcribed and selected for this piece are, in each case, what my ear suggests to be some of the most definitive recurring characteristics of each language. These linguistic fragments are heard in a series of echoing interlingual conversations. This one-movement work for solo violin has ten continuous sections and closes with a global conversation - giving the listener the opportunity to observe, to meditate upon, and ultimately to gain a deeper understanding of our language, of our music, and of ourselves.

BROTHER (2016) - Solo Marimba and Voices In 6 Languages

Composed for: Festival La Ferme du Vinatier, Lyon, France

Duration: 45 min

Around 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 words have been uttered by human beings. From a young age I was deeply inspired by an 8-page short story by Jorge Luis Borges. It is called The Library of Babel, and I find it truly remarkable the scope and clarity of thought that Borges gets into those few pages. The story deals with words, language and the nature of the universe. I started by recording 6 people reading The Library of Babel in different languages. Then I notated out all the lines of speech by ear, the music of each language that we are often so unaware of. It is great to hear the different melodies and rhythms of each tongue, but I wanted to go further. I had my raw material for composing. All of the music in this composition comes solely from these speech-melodies. I found many different ways of doing this, and for each language the game changes. For example, Spanish nearly always ascends at the end of a phrase, while Japanese nearly always descends at the end of a phrase. Creatively, this is irresistible for a composer. So my aim was to find these treasures, the music hidden within each language.

NESTING DOLL (2015) - Solo Piano

Duration: 7 min

Commissioned by: New Ross Piano Festival / Finghin Collins

Nesting Doll explores expectation, time and change. It forms part of The Ros Tapestry Suite, a remarkable collaboration between 15 Irish composers and The Ros Tapestry Project. Supported by The Arts Council of Ireland.

COMET (2014) - Solo Piano

Commissioned by: Gary Beecher

Duration: 7 min

Through the art, records and stories from many ancient peoples, astronomers have determined that one comet in particular has been observed across many different eras of human civilization. Comet Lovejoy will be back in about 600 years.