During the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020, Improvised Music Company and Triskel Arts Centre in Cork came together together to host a weekly sequence of online solo performances called Piece By Piece featuring newly-commissioned works from leading Irish improvisers.
The concept was to commission leading Irish-based improvising musicians to create 8 new works, in which each artist’s input performance would influence or inspire the next performance in this musical chain. Piece by piece, artists would create new improvised work, based on the preceding work. The work which these artists created was beyond anything we had imagined, embracing a digital medium and the work of the other artists to create an interconnected musical story of the world in lockdown.
‘Piece By Piece’ was an initiative to support and sustain the Irish artist community, commissioning leading improvising artists in Ireland to do what they do best, offering robust professional fees for the newly commissioned works and giving audiences a meaningful experience of creative improvised music influenced by the times we are now living in.
These eight sequential solo performances in the new ‘Piece by Piece’ series were broadcast via IMC's YouTube channel, as well as IMC's and Triskel's social media platforms on Fridays at 8pm, beginning on Friday 10th April with a ‘live’ solo performance from acclaimed guitarist and electronic improviser Shane Latimer. The series artists included woodwind instrumentalist, composer and producer Seán Mac Erlaine, world-class improvising pianist Izumi Kimura, virtuoso trombonist and composer Paul Dunlea, composer, pianist and arranger Cormac McCarthy, improvising violinist, violist and composer Cora Venus Lunny, harpist and sound artist Úna Monaghan, and a duo input from couple saxophonist/composer/producer Nick RothandOlesya Zdorovetska, vocalist, poet and composer.
In winter 2020, following the international success of the first eight works, Piece by Piece returned with a second season of this unique musical ‘chain letter’ of online improvisation, with eight exciting new artists from Ireland creating new work in sequence. Artists commissioned in this series include Galway guitarist Aengus Hackett, vocalist and electronics composer Jenna Harris, innovative Belfast drummer Steve Davis, guitarist and composer Chris Guilfoyle, sound and performance artist Vicky Langan, keyboard and gamelan explorer Bianca Gannon, critically-acclaimed vocalist and composer Lauren Kinsella, and dynamic alto-sax player Chris Engel.
Piece by Piece Season 1
Shane Latimer created the first in the musical chain of Piece by Piece on Friday 10th April. Rather than purely placing a concert online, Shane embraced the digital medium, creating an improvised work which included film and visuals. Shane’s visuals represented the artist’s world as Ireland locked down during the Covid-19 pandemic, following a journey around his 2km radius in north Dublin.
Inspired by Shane's exploration of his 2km radius, which passed by their home, Nick & Olesya ventured around their locale and home to collect words and formed them into poems which formed the basis of their work. Some musical inspiration that Olesya & Nick took from Shane included his bowing of the guitar, which resulted in Olesya's bowed cithar music.
Seán's piece opened with a gesture which combined the first three pieces - bowing. Taking inspiration from Nick & Olesya's found poems, Seán created individual 'tone poems' throughout his work.
Cormac took inspiration from different elements of the preceding pieces and developed a number of pieces in his work. His opening piece took a theme from Seán MacErlaine, the second took the visual cue of Nick & Olesya's final ellipsis... to create the piece 'Circles'.
Cora spent quite some time anticipating the arrival of Cormac’s piece, due to her rural internet coverage, so this became part of her piece - with her washing machine, tumble dryer, kettle, phone, and dishwasher becoming bandmates - creating a backing track from their contributions for the first piece, ‘Waiting’.
Read Cora's reflections on her piece.
Paul's piece opened with a chord sequence from Cora's work transferred into a multi-tracked brass version over which Paul's melodies explored. Visually the piece opens in the plain, every day setting of Paul’s studio before moving into a more virtual, distorted reality represented our current predominantly online lives. Here in the later part of the piece he used a motif from Cormac, along with sounds from Olesya and Seán.
Izumi worked with videographer Cormac Larkin on the visuals, collaborating to use simple footage taken of her local radius on a phone, into a visually arresting film where the piano is always front and centre. Izumi took two small fragments from Paul Dunlea’s set (Piece By Piece #6); the closing melodies, followed by a short improvisation on the opening melody based on Cora’s harmony which he interpreted.
Úna said “Izumi Kimura’s piece came before mine – and I was struck by the view of her hands, how we were right in her space… 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.”
Piece by Piece Season 2
Aengus’ work responds to elements of the previous series of Piece by Piece, taking inspiration from the words in Nick Roth & Olesya Zdorovetska’s work, using samples from Cormac McCarthy’s and Paul Dunlea’s videos, and using a chord sequence and samples from Izumi Kimura’s piano work.
Bianca’s work responds to Aengus Hackett’s piece, with nostalgia for their shared Galway background, and long-ago musical experiences. Bianca found parallels between her memories of leaving Galway, and the point she now finds herself in life, having left Melbourne for rural Australia. Her performance is peppered with references and responses to Aengus’ work.
Steve approaches improvisation as the most exciting and creative way to make music - an open space which is not dependent just on technique or understanding of the ingredients of music, but is a place where composition and performance are working in real time.
Jenna’s work for Piece by Piece reflects on the isolation of the elderly, the climate crisis, & uses the previous Piece by Piece works as a graphic inspiration as well as musical. Her visuals take inspiration from different concepts of colour and its relationship to sound and emotion.
Lauren’s work uses the Piece by Piece concept to respond to both the aural and visual elements of previous works in the series. Her music reflects the openness and chance inherent in improvised music.
Chris’s work samples vocal chords from Lauren Kinsella’s work to respond to musically, and uses electronics for strikingly atmospheric soundscapes, complementing visuals of the Irish coastline.
Vicky’s work for Piece by Piece is a spare, meditative experience using the ambient sounds of a cold night outside her Cork home, and close sounds of everyday objects - in this case a chain of matches being struck and lit from each other. The work reflects the interconnectivity of the Piece by Piece artists, and evokes a suspended atmosphere, with the unusual realization of sensing the match by its sound rather than its light.
Chris approaches improvisation as an exercise in the clear delivery of ideas, relating to giving an impromptu speech, coming up with ideas and solutions in the moment, in a manner that is cohesive and clear. In this approach, collaboration can allow musicians to see aspects of their musical personalities they haven’t seen before and to use the creative tools in their arsenal in a new way.
Read Chris' full reflections on his work.
Find all the works in Piece by Piece on this Youtube playlist.
We hope you enjoy this music. IMC and Triskel are committed to paying professional fees to artists for their work. If you can help us to continue to support artists in this difficult time, please donate the price of a coffee.
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