Sebastian Adams is not trying to save the world. Well, probably not – his website lists “music in the climate crisis” as one of the issues he’s pondering. But he’s trying to protect anyone willing to play experimental music from the kind of problems he faced as composer and artistic director of the now 10-year-old experimental new music ensemble Kirkos. This problem could be boiled down to saving composers, planners, and musicians some of the pain of having to crash into other people’s performance spaces.
Kirkos, which began as a student ensemble at the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM), has performed in architectural treasures (Farmleigh House and the Irish Architectural Archive in Merrion Square), churches, clubs, theatres, galleries, a train station, the Kevin Barry room (pre-renovation) and the studio of the National Concert Hall, as well as, before the pandemic, a place he could call his own for a while, an incubation space of the Dublin City Council at 5 James Joyce Street.
None of these places have the kind of infrastructure that Kirkos needs: audio and video equipment, recording and streaming facilities. The ensemble has found ways to turn certain situations to their advantage. The long walk from RIAM’s front door on Westland Row to the Katherine Brennan Hall entrance at the rear of the building inspired the idea of blackout concerts, events where this long walk was transformed into a night walk in the dark. before concerts played almost without lighting; they even gave listeners different selections of foods to eat in the dark to match the character of individual rooms.
But their new space, Unit 44 at the Park Shopping Center at the north end of Prussia Street, is what Adams calls “a game changer.” It’s not exactly the description you might expect when you consider that the building, which faces directly onto the street, is a former barbershop.
“Probably the most important thing,” he says, “is that it allows us to leverage the money we get from the Arts Council to help a lot of other people who don’t get money from the Arts Council. arts. It’s because when we’re already paying for the venue, it costs us very little to have a staff member there for four hours and put on a gig. So someone else goes from having nothing to having a technician, a room, a backline or equipment or whatever, and a recording. Because we have a fully configured live streaming and recording situation, which is literally like a button to record a concert. This is the most important factor. It transforms what we contribute to the arts from a small thing to a very big thing, for very little money.
On the day of my visit, I find composer Donald Sarsfield at work with theater and opera director Tom Creed seated. The white walls are lined with loudspeakers. The checkerboard floor is distinctive and eye-catching. The ceiling is festooned with microphones and a compact control desk takes up very little space in a room that can accommodate up to 50 people.
The big downside is clear. There is no real soundproofing from the street outside, which is on a number of bus routes. All you have to do is think about the wind, rain and humidity outside to know that intrusive sounds are unavoidable, just as they were before NCH’s Kevin Barry Hall did. makeover. But, after the facelift, this place has been a desert for the kind of experimental work that was once allowed to thrive there; and, at the time, there was never anything quite like the facilities in which Kirkos has now built.
What Kirkos gets from Unit 44, says Adams, is “total freedom to try whatever we want, without pressure. We can try something just to see what happens. The same goes for a lot of people who work with us. They’re no longer constrained by a situation where “all the set-up and rehearsal has to be done in the shortest amount of time possible, because it all depends on how much money you spend on your event”.
They effectively upended the cliché that time is money. “If we think something is going to be complicated,” he says, “we can try it a month in advance, find out it doesn’t work, try something else. It gives us all these options to try much more complicated or ad hoc or sophisticated things that would be really risky in a paid room situation, or when you go to a room that you’ve rented for a day.
There are other advantages. “It’s still our own staff,” he says. “We’re not dealing with sound engineers we don’t know or a venue manager we might never have met before. And, going from that, it makes it much less work to organize a concert. The absolute minimum it would take to arrange a gig now is maybe two emails and then Paul [Scully] show up during the day to let someone in. Literally.
It’s not just about saving time and money. He sees it as a powerful lever for improving productivity. “We just moved the limit of what we can do [he struggles for the words] really enormously…” He laughs at himself when he realizes that his words fall short of the enthusiasm he feels and wants to convey.
Adams may have been inspired by what he encountered during his time in Vienna. “One thing about Vienna that really impressed me – even shocked me – was that all the major concert halls and even the non-art spaces, they all seemed to have a venue that was specifically for weird stuff, for stuff that was maybe by untested people, or it was just experimental. It was about specific spaces very well specified. But the most important thing is just that they were there.
The past few weeks at Unit 44 have seen the first single and music video for A Clatter and Drone, Kirkos’ first space music gig (an open call has produced work from Ireland, the UK, New Zealand, Colombia and Brazil), a Bloomsday sound installation by Danny McCarthy, and an improv jam (the host changes every month and it’s a concert for jammers without an audience). And from July 28-31, Kirkos is playing eight free concerts over four days to celebrate its 10th anniversary with “everything from Fluxus open mics and zipper music to brand new music from some of Ireland’s most exciting composers. “.
Before that, however, Béal presents four free performances of Slow Recognition, a new opera by composer David Bremner. It is a collaboration with director and playwright Hélène Montague and designer John Comiskey, and is performed in the round with a cast of three (soprano Elizabeth Hilliard, mezzo-soprano Naomi Louisa O’Connell and baritone Rory Musgrave ), with Andreea Banciu (viola) and Bremner himself doing live electronics.
The space, says Bremner, is “ideal for the room, because of the style. I call it an OuLiPo opera” — after Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, the French group of writers and mathematicians.
“It’s really a game with small independent units of hardware,” he says, “little pieces of expressive opera, reconfigured and recombined into different units.” For him, “The look of the Kirkos space, with its lovely checkerboard floor, has a sort of David Lynch vibe to it,” an aesthetic that he says will really suit his work.
He says, “It’s going to be a very immersive experience, which again suits the material. The way we’ve worked it out, it removes almost all of that extraneous or extra material, the connective tissues that are often in the opera. So these are just the key words creating this fluid environment with expressive little atoms that combine in different ways. The fluidity of the environment is what we were looking for.
He also likes the scale of the space, because “in a really small space like that, in the round, the audience isn’t just surrounding the performers, but really really close to them, and really close to the sound too.. … it’s going to be quite complete, a really intense experience.
He has nothing but praise for the new place. “It’s a fantastic job that Kirkos is doing there, the whole DIY aesthetic. People were talking a lot about that kind of stuff maybe 10 or 15 years ago. It seems to have run out of steam a bit. It it’s getting really hard to do more indie type work, so I think what Kirkos is doing, what they’ve been able to achieve with this space is fantastic, it’s good to put stuff in. The variety of this they put out there is big. It’s good to be a part of it.”