Gestalt

There’s a compositional idea in some 20th– and 21st-century music known as gestalt, referring to the perception of a larger structure created by many unique components. In composition, it basically means the juxtaposition or superimposition of different ideas without connective tissue, letting the listener build associations and interpret on their own terms. In the last month I’ve had some radically divergent but intensely meaningful experiences in Ireland, and am having a hard time drawing one reflection without omitting something important. Instead, I’ll provide a reflection in development—exploring each moment, laying them next to one another without stitching them together and seeing what gestalt awareness might emerge.

  • The Cork scene

Since November, I’ve received a string of amazing opportunities to make music in Cork. My MA cohort finished off our first term with a successful improv gig at The Guesthouse, I have my first paid gig next month after connecting with a local musician at a Christmas party (always accept invitations to parties!), and I’ve just begun a collaboration on a devised theater performance. There’s an intensely experiential, “get your hands dirty” approach to art at UCC that is simultaneously reinvigorating my musical practice and forcing me to reckon with my understanding of sound, of contemporary music, and my role as an artist. And it’s getting me involved in the amazing fringe arts scene in Cork.

Improv set by the MA in Experimental Sound Practice with guests [Front: Jeff Weeter (professor), Caleb Hall, Fiona Sheil. Back: John Godfrey (professor), Arran Bradstock, me!, Mick O’Shea (curator)]

  • Christmas in Longford

“This man here’s father was a cousin o’ yer granny’s!”—so went an introduction to someone after Christmas Eve Mass. I spent the holiday in Co. Longford with my great-uncle and aunt, Eamonn and Bredge Quinn; Eamonn is a younger brother to my late grandmother Dee and lives in the farmhouse where they grew up. The house fulfills a lot of stereotypes I thought I had left behind me in the States: the kitchen warmed by the multi-purpose range, buckets of turf for the fire, the kettle always warmed by the flame. One morning Bredge brought out a stack of old (OLD) photo albums and I saw, for the first time in my life, photos of Dee’s childhood and early adulthood. Seeing pictures of the history I grew up hearing about while meeting nearly a dozen family members for the first time was thrilling, a reminder of where I come from and why I’ve always been drawn to come back to Ireland.

My grandma Dee (seated, in the striped polo) with friends and family.

A faded photo of my grandma (back, left) and some of her younger siblings: Pat, Michael, Kevin, Roisin, and Eugene. My grandma was the middle child of 13!

Jacksy huddling by the range for warmth.

  • DR3017: Cultures of Voicing

January 7–11 I took an intensive Theatre Studies practicum on vocal technique and experimentation. This class is one of few experiences I’ve had where, while it was happening, I realized I was possibly in the midst of a life–changing experience. Dr. Yvon Bonefant blew open my world of expectation for what I can do as a vocalist, the possibilities at my disposal as a composer, and the ease with which all people can be empowered to use their voice loudly and proudly. Or softly. Or sadly. Or like a Victorian Duchess. We covered those too.

 

 

So, what is the emergent gestalt from these disparate events? Oddly, I think this—I could fully appreciate these experiences only because I’ve found my place in Cork. The last month simultaneously grounded and challenged me, but I had to pass through the touristy “visiting student” mentality before engaging in such an impactful way. I have close friends and colleagues, favorite coffee shops, running routes, and a Cork City Library Card. Moving to a new place is exciting and I learned a lot in the first few months—but it’s not the same kind of growth possible when you actually feel at home.

Oh—and I also got engaged! Here’s to more adventures!

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