Between May and July I was Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Musician-in-Residence. On August 20th the music I composed during this residency will be premiered online in the form of pre-recorded videos. I composed a two movement piece for multiple guitars called 'Dún Laoghaire Guitars'. In advance of this premiere I've prepared Spotify and Youtube playlists of some of my previous compositions, arrangements and collaborations that relate in some way to the music styles found in Dún Laoghaire Guitars. Listening to these playlists will help set your ears up for the new music. Some words about the music on the playlists follows.
1. Collaborations with Ciarán Swift
The 2nd Movement of Dún Laoghaire Guitars features Ciarán Swift and students of his Guitar Training Centre playing with alongside me. Ciarán and I have been friends for 25 years, meeting first whilst studying at the famous 'Rock School' at Senior College Ballyfermot. The playlists feature Ciarán and I playing some Irish trad guitar duets and a trad ensemble piece 'The Tempest in Mali' which we put together with Mick Dunne, Liz Coleman and Conan McDonnell. There's also a couple of tracks from our cross-genre band D.F.F. which feature brilliant guitar solos from Niwel Tsumbu.
2. Polymetric Chamber Music
The 1st movement of Dún Laoghaire Guitars 'Dún Laoghaire Dart' is built upon a technique called Polymetric Cycles that I use sometimes in my compositions. This involves rhythms in different time signatures repeated against each other in cycles. If music theory isn't your thing, then the best way to relate to it is to imagine it is like 4 or 5 different people of different heights walking together. To stay together the people with shorter legs will have to walk faster and use more footsteps. That is kind of how a Polymetric Cycle works in music. It can produce really nice sounds and it's a different way of thinking about rhythm. On the playlists you'll hear these techniques in the piece 'Polymetric Cycles', played by my old college ensemble The Dave Flynn Collective (with Bjorn Bantock conducting). I also use them in the middle of the piece 'Shadowplay', which features flautist Aisling Agnew, who also plays in 'Polymetric Cycles'.
3. Guitar Quartets
Dún Laoghaire Guitars is a piece for 8 guitars, which equals two guitar quartets. I have been a member of two different guitar quartets over the years, The Dublin Guitar Quartet and The Cosmopolitan Guitar Quartet. Several years after I'd left The DGQ they recorded my composition 'Chimurenga', inspired by Zimbabwean music. The Cosmopolitan Guitar Quartet was a group I put together for a few concerts in 2011 with jazz guitarist Hugh Buckley, classical guitarist John Feeley and Congolese guitarist Niwel Tsumbu. We had a great time performing together at the Inishowen and Clonakilty Guitar Festivals. The youtube playlist shows a clip of us playing a composition of Niwel's at Inishowen. This composition is in the 8/8 rumba rhythm that is also used in 'Dún Laoghaire DART'.
4. Solo guitar compositions
Over the past few months I've recorded videos of some of my own compositions and improvisations for guitar. I've included a few of these on the playlist that hint at some of the harmony styles I use in Dún Laoghaire Guitars.
5. Trad guitar arrangements
Dún Laoghaire Guitars is not in any way a trad guitar piece, but there are some subtle influences from Irish trad in it. I've included some of my arrangements of Irish trad like 'Paddy Fahey's Reels', 'Christmas Eve' and the haunting slow air 'Gol na Mbán san ar'.
The recent, sudden passing of my Irish composing colleague Eric Sweeney got me thinking that it's such a shame that the media only tends to give less famous artists a big PR push when they pass away. It happens all the time and it's very strange!
So I've decided I'm going to do a weekly post about a LIVING composer or musician I admire who maybe doesn't get the press attention they deserve, just to show the media how it can be done! It will be called Dave's Discoveries and it'll go on this blog.
Before I start on that I thought I'd just write a post about Eric Sweeney's music.
Eric was a real pioneer in Irish composition, one of the first, if not THE first 20th century Irish composers to move away from the European avant-garde towards American minimalist music. That was a very brave decision at the time as it was really not the popular thing to do for a 'serious' composer to write music that, well, might become popular!
My favourite work of his is his 1981 guitar piece 'Figurations' which John Feeley Guitar recorded brilliantly. Though it isn't strictly a 'minimalist' piece, it does show how Eric was heading in that direction when he composed it. I played several of Eric's pieces in his presence including 'Comhrá' with Aoife Ni Bhriain and 'Song' and 'Prism' with the Dublin Guitar Quartet. These pieces are excellent examples of Eric's distinctive style of minimalism. Audiences always enjoyed those pieces, they mix a lovely sense of melody with the rigour of minimalist processes.
Eric was also very fond of traditional Irish music and though his approach to using ideas from trad was quite different to mine, I think his work in merging ideas from minimalism with Irish trad is very important in the history of Irish composition, as basically no one did it before he did!
Eric has a really vast output of music and I must admit I've only heard a small amount of it. I wonder why his Symphonies and other orchestral works weren't played more by orchestras? I wonder why more guitarists don't play 'Figurations'?
Honestly, I think the main reason is because he is but one of many talented composers who didn't get the media attention they deserved in their lifetimes. The digital age has been a time when gimmicks and PR stunts seem the only ways artists can get media coverage. Maybe it's time to rethink how we consider our artists, give them more time of day, take our composers more seriously, feature a different composer at least once a week in the national news, devote a radio programme each DAY to discovering new music, like WNYC's brilliant New Sounds.
There's lots of great composers out there who, like Eric Sweeney, compose music that combines artistry, invention and accessibility. If they were only given more national support their music could appeal so much more widely. (God forbid I know, we 'modern' composers aren't supposed to appeal to an audience!) 😕
RTÉ lyric fm, RTÉ TV, TG4, Irish Times and other media outlets occasionally do great features on Irish composers, but they are all too rare. Is the same true in other countries? I'm not so sure. The BBC once had Irish composer Gerald Barry on prime time TV chatting with Stephen Fry, Thomas Adès and Fiona Shaw about his music! Can you imagine ever seeing anything like that on Irish TV?
Anyway, I do hope more people listen to Eric's music after reading this and I also hope more people of influence will help elevate the status of LIVING composers in creative ways, not just treat us like curiosities who need occasional watering in the public sunshine!
#RIP Eric and thank you for your music and kindness.
Please check out more about Eric's music on his website