Eighth Piece: Úna Monaghan

IMC and Triskel Arts Centre have come together to host a weekly sequence of online performance called Piece By Piece featuring leading Irish improvisers, which kicked off on Friday 10th April

Each artist’s input performance will influence the next performance in this musical chain. Piece by piece, artists will create new improvised work, based on the preceding work. Improvising musicians are uniquely skilled at interpretation and spontaneous creation allowing for fresh creation of the highest calibre and a unique 'live art' experience for the Piece By Piece online audience.

Completing the sequence for Piece by Piece is Belfast harper and sound artist Úna Monaghan. Monaghan examines the intersections between Irish traditional music, experimental music practices, improvisation and interactive technologies. She frequently mixes electro-acoustic textures and ambient sound recordings with traditional tunes and harp improvisations. Often strongly narrative, her work can dwell on darker aspects of human experience alongside re-imaginings of traditional dances and airs. Ahead of her performance on Friday 29nd May, 20:00 GMT+1, Úna shared some of her thoughts with us on what she took from the preceding piece by Izumi Kimura, and what lockdown has meant for her and people around her. 

Q.  What does improvisation mean to you?

A flowing through of information. Responding. Working with what we have. Making something happen. Thinking more about what is coming in and what my response is, than what will come out. Working immediately, being open to change, considering constraints.

Q. How do you think about engaging with material or ideas from another artist when improvising?

As soon as I know about it, there is a response – whether that is to ignore it, include it, join with it, or many other possibilities. Izumi Kimura’s piece came before mine – and I was struck by the view of her hands, how we were right in her space and were allowed to see what she could see. The music varied in energy, and was open – it made space for thought before it moved quickly and stirred action.  These are the things I responded to.

Q. How do you think the world of music is changing or will change as result of the COVID-19 crisis?

In lockdown, we are allowed one outing per day for exercise. Almost all work was cancelled. I had to find a new way of working, a constrained routine. The ability to work was also being affected by the uncertainty and anxiety – there was no known frame on which to hang a plan. This can sometimes be the case in musical improvisations. My thoughts and commitments and priorities were changing and updating quickly.  I thought of the daily run as an achievement. And time for processing. No matter what happened in the day, even if I didn’t manage to work, I had achieved the run.

The things I saw on the run now had a new significance. The main arterial routes to the city had much reduced traffic. Everyone I saw out had a reason to be out. The traffic was made up of emergency services, health supply vehicles, and food trucks.  

Because there were fewer variables, I knew more about what I could see. Or at least I felt permitted to interpret what I could see, in the context of the time, because I knew they were acting in the same context. Before, I would pass people whose lives, thoughts and priorities were totally detached from my own, and could only be wondered about. In lockdown, it was as if we were all connected by a thread. Everyone was affected.

I was running past people all dealing with the same set of circumstances, on some level. For the first time we are all working in the same frame of reference, or at least we had to acknowledge that we are. Everyone was now improvising under a common set of constraints, albeit with very different outcomes. The world was framed differently now. And it had shifted at the same time for everyone.

It is too early and I don’t know enough to say how music is changing or how it will change. But what we can do and see and share digitally, is only a small snapshot of what there is. I’m trying to be aware and considerate of the move online… because only a fraction of things will survive that journey, and the new ones might not be a great replacement.


Thanks Úna!

Catch the premiere of Úna's piece on Friday 22nd May at 20:00hrs GMT+1 by subscribing to IMC's YouTube channel or Triskel's Facebook.

Read more about the Piece by Piece series HERE

Piece by Piece 1 Shane Latimer: Hear Shane's piece HERE, and read his reflections HERE

Piece by Piece 2 Nick Roth & Olesya Zdorovetska: Hear Nick & Olesya's piece HERE, and read their reflections HERE

Piece by Piece 3 Seán Mac Erlaine: Hear Seán's piece HERE, and read his reflections HERE

Piece by Piece 4 Cormac McCarthy: Hear Cormac's piece HERE, and read his reflections HERE

Piece by Piece 5 Cora Venus Lunny: Hear Cora's piece HERE, and read her reflections HERE

Piece by Piece 6 Paul Dunlea: Hear Paul's piece HERE, and read his reflections HERE

Piece by Piece 7 Izumi Kimura: Hear Izumi's piece HERE and read her reflections HERE

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