Úna Monaghan – Flaherty Research Scholar – Report from Canadian Visit

July 28, 2016

Úna Monaghan, whose James M Flaherty Research Scholarship was supported by Eleanor McGrath’s Toronto With a Twist of Irish fundraiser, writes;

I am currently in Montréal on a James M Flaherty Research Scholarship, as visiting artist and researcher at the Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas (IPLAI) at McGill University.

My research interests are in the area where traditional Irish music meets experimental music, improvisation and computer music. I perform on Irish harp, incorporating live electronics and improvisation into my compositions. My host is Professor Eric Lewis, director of IPLAI, whose research is in the philosophy of improvised music. I have taken advantage of the vibrant improvised and contemporary music scene in Montreal to give me new perspectives on what it means to improvise, and how an Irish traditional musician can approach free improvisation.

I have found the improvising music community in Montréal to be extremely welcoming, and have had the opportunity to play and discuss improvisation with musicians here including Yves Charuest, Eric Lewis, Marielle Groven and John Heward. I have attended concerts and seminars by Wadada Leo Smith, Vijay Iyer, George Lewis and Peter Brotzmann. I have also been able to engage with experimental sound and art communities such as Oboro, Eastern Bloc, Studio XX and Montreal Contemporary Music Lab.

During the first few weeks of my visit, IPLAI hosted a conference considering improvisation from the point of view of researchers working in psychology and neuroscience. This was immensely valuable, causing me to consider improvisation from many non-musical perspectives. The conference featured contributions on the role of improvisation in understanding people with Parkinson’s, schizophrenia and autism, and improvisation in dream research and several types of dance practice.

I have visited the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music, Media and Technology (CIRMMT) at McGill, and later attended their student symposium. This resulted in an unexpected but fortuitous meeting with John Sullivan, whose research is in harp gesture acquisition for the control of audiovisual synthesis. We found a lot of common ground in our research efforts and hope to collaborate over the coming years.

Over the next fortnight I will give two presentations. The first will be a public seminar on how experimentalism, improvisation and new technologies influence my performance and composition work in contemporary Irish traditional music. I will include examples from my previous sound art projects and will finish by performing some of my pieces for harp and electronics. I have also arranged to give harp and concertina workshops for Siamsa, the main Irish traditional music organisation in Montreal. I will perform a recital of traditional harp music after the classes. All of these presentations are free and open to the public, thanks to the support of ICUF.

I will be in Canada for another month, and already this visit has been incredibly valuable in providing new contacts in my area of research, and access to one of the most vibrant experimental music scenes in the world.