Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

500 Words Of January – Anna Murray

Anna Murray is both a classical musician and a member of an indie band. Here, she makes some interesting observations on how audiences react to different performances and why this “one audience, two behaviours” question motivated her to co-found Fractal. …

Tue, Jan 8, 2013, 14:00


Anna Murray is both a classical musician and a member of an indie band. Here, she makes some interesting observations on how audiences react to different performances and why this “one audience, two behaviours” question motivated her to co-found Fractal.

I’m lucky that my career requires me to spend most of my time involved in new music gigs. Even if it didn’t, I would probably find a way to get involved anyway. Whether playing, organising or just spectating, there’s an excitement in experiencing brand new music in the tiniest of venues that watching top orchestras playing the canonic greats in the grandest concert halls can’t compete with.

The problem’s not new, but the more concerts I’m involved in, the more obvious it becomes how much the old concert hall aesthetic still leaves a shadow on the most bright and brilliant of new music performance. Formal music-making doesn’t need to be choked by formality: audiences have changed – and so must our concerts.

I am a classical composer. I also play in an indie band. To me there’s no difference; I’m just a musician. The difference lies in the context, most specifically the audience – even though they’re often the same. At a Manhattan Syndrome gig, the crowd are comfortable in their surroundings, they talk, they show their appreciation. At a classical gig, there is no sound, no audience feedback, no signs of appreciation or displeasure, only the same polite clap after each piece. One audience, two behaviours. The nature of classical performance is different of course, and should be treated as such, but should that be to the exclusion of the audience-performer interaction that makes pop and rock so vibrant?

This year, guitarist Philip Lawson and I set up Fractal – what is now essentially a performing duo but will be, we hope, a music production company – in order to find an answer to this question. We’re not trying to take away from what classical music is at heart, but we are trying to find new contexts for classical music performance. We want to make music into the enveloping experience that it ought to be. We want our audience to engage, tell us what they like and don’t like, see the music in a new light, and not just clap politely at the end.

And we’re not the only ones trying to find an answer, a new context for new music. Kirkos, the RIAM’s resident contemporary music society are approaching their performances with an energy they have learned from the grandaddy of Irish contemporary music, the Crash Ensemble. Their Blackout concert stands out as a real favourite of this year: a beautiful performance of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time given in darkness broken only by candlelight, a setting that transformed the concert into an experience of the piece that went beyond simple replication of a score.

The Centre for Creative Practices is trying to do the same on a daily basis for both art and music: making art ‘living’. Simultaneously an art gallery and a wonderfully intimate performance space, CFCP makes sure the art on exhibition is seen and enjoyed, not sterilely presented. Concerts take place surrounded by art, which is in turn enjoyed by more people. And you’re always so close to your audience that there is simply no room for barriers.

Taking down these barriers is the key to progressing our concert culture, and there are now many people trying to do the same in different ways: Crash, the Dublin Laptop Orchestra, Kirkos, CFCP and now Fractal.

The credits: Anna Murray is a composer, concert promoter and writer based in Dublin. She is co-founder and co-director of Fractal Music Dublin, currently touring a multimedia programme of Irish music around Ireland. She works for Lundström Arts Management, is a former editor for The Journal of Music and plays piano, bass and electronics for The Manhattan Syndrome.

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