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Piece by Piece #5: Cora Venus Lunny

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The 5th concert in the series comes from violinist Cora Venus Lunny. Lunny is well-known for their pedigree in classical and traditional music, playing with artists from Nigel Kennedy to Sinead O’Connor. As an improviser and composer, they bring their virtuoso technique on violin and viola together with a fascination with consciousness and groove, to bring the dizzying heights of contemporary classical string playing into jazz and folk-influenced soundworlds.

In the Piece by Piece series, each artist’s input performance will influence or inspire 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.

Q 1. What does improvisation mean to you?

Survival, flexibility, vitality, making sense of chaos, a lifeline. Musically, the “permission” to improvise was very freeing for me after coming from a strict classical background when I was younger, and it’s been a strong thread weaving through my work and education ever since. It’s such a fun thing to do. I don’t think improvisation gets enough credit in general, in life we’re all making it up as we go along, now more than ever.

Q 2. How do you think about engaging with material or ideas from another artist when improvising?

Everything we do is influenced by everything around us so it is particularly interesting to try and zoom in on one specific source. Personally, when I make responsive work, I prefer to rely on my instincts and visceral processes rather than rational thought. Certainly, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way, when responding to other musicians in real time, rational thought is far too slow to be useful, on a different level from the lightning speeds of intuitive, unconscious response. I spent quite some time anticipating the arrival of Cormac’s piece, due to my rural internet coverage, so this became part of my piece - I enlisted my washing machine, tumble dryer, kettle and dishwasher as bandmates - my phone volunteered without my realising, as well - and created a backing track from their contributions for the first piece, Waiting. When Cormac’s music finally arrived, it was pretty clear what stood out for me in terms of inspirational material and I knew exactly what I was going to play on, listened a few times and then took it away.

Q 3. How do you think the world of music is changing or will change as result of the COVID-19 crisis?

Until we can safely be in rooms where strangers share breath, music will never be the same again. I cannot even begin to process the loss, even if it is only temporary, of playing live music with and for other people. As a rural single parent I had already been pretty underemployed for some years, so it may be a bit less of a shock for me than for other people who are working all the time - but part of what kept me going out here was knowing that there was music out there. I don’t think we’re going to understand what we’ve lost, are losing and are learning for a very long time, because this is a huge trauma which is far too deep to be processed while it’s going on. Anything we do that’s mediated by screens, microphones and cameras cannot come anywhere close to the magic of real life music, but it’s comforting and essential to reach out to one another. This social crisis is showing us how connected we all are, and it’s highlighting structural inequality really obviously. This is the beginning of a long struggle, and I hope we can come out of it with our society reorganised in a way that benefits human beings rather than the vicious and uncaring gods of profit - that would obviously help music a lot too. In the meantime, I’m already feeling very apprehensive (okay, terrified) about when things open up again and they tell us we can go out and play music, and send our children back to school…

Enjoy fresh new music, influenced in real-time, from world-class Irish improvising musicians, telling the story of these strange times through new music and live performance, piece by piece.

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