Turning the public into composers at Dublin's City Hall
Composer Daniel Figgis’s new project is an interactive music installation located in a Dublin landmark
Imagine an acoustic environment housing a musical event in which movement creates multiple musical responses, and where those responses establish a symphonic peak – all of which is achieved without a musician in sight, without sonic manipulation and without voodoo.
Walk this way, then, into City Hall, a sonic experience created by contemporary composer and cultural curator Daniel Figgis, a man who is acclaimed internationally but curiously unheralded in Ireland.
Figgis used to be something of a rock star: in the 1980s, sometimes more terrible than enfant, he was a member of the Virgin Prunes before forming Princess Tinymeat (the band’s name was a reference to the actor Montgomery Clift’s nickname). He has long since shed those skins, however, finding more satisfaction and, arguably, creativity in areas that truly tax his ceaselessly curious mind.
“I’m no longer willing to play the class clown,” says Figgis in a Dublin bar, nursing a particularly insipid-looking glass mug of latte. Aged 51, and father to a ridiculously cute-looking baby boy, Charles (you will be lovingly shown baby photos unprompted), Figgis is a motormouth arts instigator of the highest order.
“It certainly served a purpose at a particular time, but my curatorial work has placed me outside the picture a little bit, looking at what really intrigues me.”
City Hall, which takes place over three days in the rotunda of Dublin’s City Hall, one of the city’s most architecturally admired buildings, is devised around recorded material, the arrangements of which are determined by the movement of audience members as they make their way through the space.
“It’s my attempt to finally interact,” says Figgis. “That’s an incredibly abused term, but I always point people back towards books, in that there’s nothing more interactive than deciding when or whether to turn a page.”
When you interact with events, he says, they’re generally rigged in one respect or another. For City Hall, he decided on a creative process whereby he provides a conclusion but not a path: whatever route an audience takes is out of his hands.
So what exactly happens? Each day the sounds accrete to a degree where a composition is arrived at, he says.
“On day two the composition from day one is fed in following the first gesture by the first audience member in the hall. Essentially, as you move through the building, you trigger sounds that are predetermined as a menu but not as a composition.”
So the audience composes the piece? “Yes, we’re equal partners.”
Figgis specifically chose the City Hall rotunda because of its awkward acoustics. Through attending various civic receptions and one concert (UK industrial/experimental duo Coil), Figgis realised the room suffered acoustically from a five-second echo.
“Wherever you are in the room, you have a five-second echo. If you can write a piece of music that exists happily within a five-second echo then all you need to do is to provide the signals and the room does the rest of the work.
“The problem is that you’re very close to ambient [music], and I don’t make ambient music – ever. It’s not in me. I try occasionally to do something mellow but I can’t – anything I’ve done that purports to be ambient hasn’t been that at all. It has always had a disruptive element.”