Collapsing Old Buildings (2011)

Collapsing Old Buildings (2011), installation

A generative sound installation for Dublin Culture Night 2011, commissioned by the Contemporary Music Centre as part of a programme of events to mark their 25th anniversary.

The piece was installed in the stairwell of the Contemporary Music Centre’s building in Fishamble Street, Dublin, next to the former site of the Fishamble Street Music Hall where Handel’s Messiah received its premiere in 1742. The piece’s programmatic concept traces a connection between Handel’s visit and the boom-time milieu of Georgian Dublin and the subsequent history of the built environment left over from this boom. The city underwent a massive expansion of population and economic development during this period, followed by over a century of dramatic decline, with impressive eighteenth-century townhouses becoming subdivided into tenement flats which became some of the worst slums in Western Europe.

The microtonal structures generated by the piece’s processes thus possess a metaphorical connection with this long, slow collapse, with the impressive edifice of eighteenth-century harmony undergoing a process of microtonal subdivision. The sonic material for the piece is derived from a cadential sample from the 1916 Edison recording of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ in Messiah was spectrally processed and underwent a simple cyclical process in the Max environment (Cycling 74) whereby 27 instances of the recording were offset in pitch and time modulating upwards by a major third and downwards by a perfect fourth (themselves prominent intervals in the piece’s figuration), creating a dense ‘collapsing’ peal of bell-like microtonal materials descending at the start of the piece, followed by repeated cadential phrases which are microtonally offset through this process of repeated modulation. The process proceeds for up to a maximum of 1742 seconds before repeating (although this is determined by the specification of the piece, not by the materials coming back into their initial alignment).