Student Artistic Experiments 1: Music explorations

Online Seminar Series

In this Student Experiments seminar, three PhD students from the discipline of Music introduced distinct forms of articulating research and practice. This was followed by a discussion focused on the student perspective on the Artistic Doctorate in Ireland. 

This event took place on 17th September 2020

Recording Of The Seminar

In Summary

After spending the summer talking about artistic research, it is wonderful to experience the works of music PhD candidates Niamh O’Brien, Marcella Barz and Kevin McNally. O’Brien showed her explorations of deep mapping practices in the Shannon Estuary, in a piece of work where the richness of the sound scape contrasts with the bareness of the visual image. Barz combined clarinet with live electronics using multi-sensors to explore the interactions between performer and technology, highlighting how these strategies can bring new layers to performance practice. Covid19 brought new challenges for McNally in terms of developing work without the community gamelan orchestra which was central to his practice: he showed us how he has turned his work into new directions by using feedback and sympathetic vibration to play the gong without touching the instrument. A lively discussion followed where O’Brien, Barz and McNally expanded on their practices and shared some thoughts in relation to methodologies, research questions, examination, and the challenges they encountered throughout the artistic research PhD. 

Student Profile

Niamh O Brien

Composing the Estuary: An arts practice exploration of representing place through music, sound and story. 

Irish World Academy, UL. Year 1


I am a harp player, composer, and radio producer. My research explores how I can use my artistic practice to create sonic maps of the Shannon Estuary. At this early stage of my research I am creating a number of estuary sketches. These are short audio compositions in which I experiment with field recordings and audio interviews gathered on the estuary banks as well as original musical ideas. Through these compositions I sketch out both the real sounds and stories of the estuary, and the pallet of effects and melodies I might use in my final works. In this presentation I share one of these sketches in the form of a dialogue between recorded, digitally manipulated sounds and live harp playing. The composition explores what happens to ‘real world’ materials when they are placed in the context of creativity, imagination and play. Do the sounds and stories of the estuary move from being fact to fiction? How does my harp playing colour or alter the recorded materials? What is a true sonic representation of this place? In exploring these questions through my practice, I draw upon the work of soundscape composers Katherine Norman and Hildegard Westerkamp as well as creative cartographers such as Denis Woods.

Niamh O’Brien

Niamh O’Brien’s Video Presentation

Marcella Barz

Remixing Contemporary Music

TU Dublin. Year 3


In the Western contemporary music tradition, it is commonplace for musicians to perform works with fixed electronic soundtracks. The drawback of performing with a fixed medium is that there is a lack of interaction between the performer and the technology. In addition, repeat performances of the same work risk becoming lacklustre due to the unchanging nature of a soundtrack. After performing many works for bass clarinet and fixed soundtrack, my research attempts to escape the confines of fixed works by exploring performance with live electronics. The aim of my artistic research is to analyse and describe the artistic process of preparing several compositions for performance. Each composition combines acoustic clarinet or bass clarinet with live electronics, which are created using SABRe’s multi-sensor and remote, a laptop, and Ableton Live/Max for Live software. This research includes experimental approaches to combining the electronic and acoustic mediums. SABRe’s sensors are a new invention and little repertoire exists for them which has inspired me to remix existing compositions to include them. One of these compositions will be prerecorded to demonstrate one of many approaches to integrating sensor technology and live electronics into performance.

Marcella Barz

Marcella Barz’s Video Presentation

Kevin McNally

An Ecological approach to Creating Community Music

Irish World Academy of Music & Dance, University of Limerick. Year 3


My practice is normally concerned with the interactions of people in a shared space, and the effects of Covid19 put an abrupt and comprehensive end to my method of working. My challenge over the summer was this: How can I create work for the gamelan which will respect the vibrant materiality of the instruments, the absence of the players and the overall aims of the PhD research? I will demonstrate a new way of playing the gongs using feedback and sympathetic vibration, negating the need to touch the instruments, but highlighting the fact that sound itself is a form of touch, binding listener and sounding object. Because the gong is essentially playing itself by ‘listening’ to the room, the listener has an unpredictable effect on the outcome as they interact with the space. In this, I am enacting Timothy Morton’s statement that “Ecological awareness is awareness of unintended consequences” (Morton, T. (2018) Being Ecological. Pelican Publishing Company, p. 50)

Kevin McNally

Kevin McNally’s Video Presentation

This series of seminars is part of the research project Visioning the Future: Artistic Doctorates in Ireland. Presentations and discussions will be video and audio recorded. Thisdocumentation will be available on the project website and may contribute to the development of Open Educational Resources. 

By participating in this seminar you are giving your approval for audio-visual recording of the sessions, consenting to participate in this research project (anonymously or by providing your name if asking a question), and agreeing to the possibility of quotation/publication of extracts of your participation.