An ongoing collaborative exploration of cultural resonance through music, glass sounds, and spoken word
Siansán was held at Christ Church Cathedral Waterford in October 2017.
Recognising the long tradition of glassmaking in the city, Creative Ireland Waterford, launched their yearlong series of events with this special performance of glass sounds and music. Musician Liam Ó Maonlaí, lead the evening with fellow Hot House Flower Peter O Toole and harpist and traditional singer Síle Denvir. They played traditional instruments and my blown glass pieces, in a haunting and poignant evening of song, soul and spoken word. The cathedral’s sanctified setting, adorned with glittering crystal chandeliers and historic stained glass was a glorious venue for a performance that reflected traditional and contemporary sounds in equal measure.
I have worked with Liam Ó Maonlaí for a number of years now, creating performances that investigate aural textures, emotional focal points of collective memory and oral traditions. As a musician, Liam connects with his audiences through invoking a deep connection to culture, interweaving Irish traditional music, his own compositions and rhythms from other world music. My glass objects, which have a particular sound or timbre when struck, blown or plucked, bring a particular narrative to this dialogue. Ortha, meaning incantation, is a vocal expression of a prayer or spell. During the performance in Waterford Cathedral it felt that we were in the midst of a prayer.
Each performance is a unique result of our collaboration in a story of our collective engagement and evocation of a shared cultural heritage. However performing in Waterford was also special for a number of reasons. I have been connected to Waterford The Glass City for the whole of my career. I have blown glass there, talked and written about glass there, curated exhibitions about glass there and brought international artists there to talk about Waterford’s future of glassmaking and contemporary glass. I have many on-going conversations about glass in Waterford, including those in ‘CAUTION! Fragile’, an exhibition, which will be shown at the National Museum of Decorative Arts in Dublin in 2018. It was in making that exhibition that I started investigating glass sound.
I have collected many words in oral histories from former workers, in the ‘Glass City’. These words formed the basis of the spoken pieces for Siansán. I spoke of factory life, of jokes and camaraderie, of skill and self esteem, of sounds and back breaking work. I also spoke of a love for a craft and of context and creativity that had brought about this evening. Siansán can mean a humming, droning or whistle sound. It can also mean a wail, or cry. These words describe the glass factory floor as much as the sounds my glass pieces make. In the hands of skilled musicians this glass becomes part of a dialogue, an unfolding creative conversation of which you become an active part.
Liam explained to the audience that his mother had died a few days before. As he sang to her, the piano and gentle rhythmic glass sounds combined with the vulnerability of his emotion produced a powerful atmosphere in the Cathedral. The musicians alternated between, piano, bazooka, harp, song and strung, wind and percussive glass objects. Peter O Toole played the ‘Chanter’, a blue hollow blown form, strung with rubber strings. Síle Denvir played Lift, a percussive violet cone shaped piece and Liam played the large bowl form using it as a percussive drum and voice box that amplified his deep tone. This piece rocks on its base and can assume the rhythm of the beat as it moves from side to side. Glass the material not only creates a sound but also creates a tension in itself. Striking and drumming very fragile objects such as the micro thin ‘yop yop’ pieces, creates an atmosphere of suspense in the auditorium which heightens all of the senses and as the audience braces itself for the unexpected. Siansán, because of its location and circumstance, was a deeply moving and emotional performance that will be remembered by those that experienced it.