CMC interview with Daniel Figgis

Posted by Bea Cloke on Wednesday Jul 4, 2012 Under Interview

An interview with Daniel Figgis, whose Crash Ensemble-commissioned work, dimmerswitch, will be premiered by the group as part of the Galway Arts Festival on 19 July 2012.

Copyright ©2012 Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland

Tell me about the piece you’re writing for Crash. Where did you get the idea for the piece?

Certain aspects had been gestating for decades. The opening feedback wall was largely recorded in 1978/1979 but not “composed” until 2012.daniel figgis portrait 1999

Why 10 instruments?

The Crash requested a piece for the full extended lineup of 10 players. I chose to further extend it. So there are 10 live performers, augmented by a further fourteen on tape who, between them, play a further 23 parts.

And the line-up consists of which instruments?

The live players (Crash Ensemble): violin, viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, electric guitar, flute, bowed vibraphone, piano, trombone.

The “tape players” (Daniel Figgis, Vincent Doherty, Charles Baby, Arun Rao, Roxy Goggins, Jed Belly, Mona Gown, Vonnie Pocket, Ionetta Kresta Lins, Nusch Frowd, Benny Tooth, “Sport”, Maggie Sandwich, Penny Schilling): pigbass, church organ, harmonium, pitched microphone feedback, piano, Hammond organ, Mellotron, spatula, snaredrum autopan, electric bass, processed brass, protest, processed strings, fizzbass, cello, hihat, playground swing, (faulty) plumbing, Revox, clock, bicycle horn, water taxi, Moog Taurus 1 bass pedals.

What does the tape part consist of?

It runs the gamut from my earliest tape experiments on a dictaphone and a borrowed Revox, a piano improvisation as Artist-in-Residence at the Pearse Museum with my six-month old son in tDaniel and Charles Figgis 2011ow, a water taxi in Venice 2011, a local security demonstration (binlids) which I captured on my iPhone at the Cannes film festival 2010, an early “jazz kit” extemporisation at a 17th century farmhouse since demolished, to the faulty plumbing at an old family residence revisited as base camp for the completion of the programming arm of this project – a vast repository/archive/lexicon… sound memories awaiting an instrumental destination – waiting to be played as instruments. I do not quote “verbatim” in my work so a cello is as much a found sound to me as is a playground swing. Both are “catered to” in perhaps surprisingly traditional compositional process so the notion of found sound as it is normally understood is entirely redundant in my case in that the sound archive is as composed and, yes, “played” as are the live instrumental parts. That is where the very real dialogue begins.

How much freedom will the performers have?

Very little. The piece sounds very fluid, if jarring in places, but at no point does it deviate from strict tempo. The audience experiences a certain trompe l’oreille (to mildly abuse the term).

It’s often the case that the composer has to make some changes to the score based on feedback from the players. How much change do you anticipate the piece undergoing during the rehearsal process?

The dialogue undoubtedly continues at the rehearsal stage; we’re all in this together. But it feels relatively written in stone right now.

In one Tweet, how would you describe the piece?

Ah, I know this one…

‘The piece presents a self-regulating but faulty steam punk mechanism in hyperactive dialogue with the beating heart that is Crash Ensemble’

So, are you a fan of steampunk?

Not particularly.

How influenced were you by the Crash Ensemble’s sound/style of playing when writing the piece?

You could easily lose your mind trying to second-guess the requirements of an ensemble. Elgar famously considered the orchestra to be his friends and co-conspirators and reputedly attempted to keep all hands as busy as possible. I find music-making to be a very social experience. Ultimately I wrote the piece that I needed to hear right now and this has resulted in an intriguing dialectic between what are clearly the live performed parts and the pre-recorded tape parts.

You’re well known for your site specific works. When you were writing the piece, to what extent did you think about the space/context in which the final piece would be performed?

In this case I had to forego any notion of site specificity and aim for a site neutral work, given that I have no idea when and where and how often dimmerswitch will be performed. Even the first venue came as something of a surprise – St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, Galway (19 July 2012). Each venue presents a different challenge when you introduce the tape element. My concession to what is, of necessity, a one-size-fits-all approach was a very “dry” final tape mix.

Tell me about your approach to composing the work. Where do you work on the piece – in the studio, in the park?

Both. I find a long walk in the woods is conducive to analysis. And to getting the mood and the tone and the picture right. dimmerswitch is very “forest-y” in this respect. It addresses natural decay. It is not very urban.

The composition tends to fully realise in the studio when I get together with my programmer(s). Visitors are largely welcome as I enjoy the feedback and I tend to head up fewer cul-de-sacs as a result.

Daniel Figgis 2012Nowadays I tend to split this compositional and programming activity between my mobile set up in whatever environment takes my fancy and a more standard studio environment – Apollo in Dublin being my studio of choice.

From your other work as a record producer, working in a studio must be quite a comfortable experience for you. Would you regard the studio as your natural habitat?

I very much enjoy studio-based work. (I am equally at home on a stage, albeit manipulation of natural surroundings is my preferred modus operandi for staging.) dimmerswitch was heavily studio dependent as it comprises, in performance, live ensemble (scored) and extremely dense acousmatics.

Daniel Figgis was interviewed by email by Jonathan Grimes during May/June 2012.

Further information:

The views expressed are those of the persons concerned and are not necessarily the views of the Contemporary Music Centre.

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Posted by Bea Cloke on Tuesday Jul 3, 2012 Under Interview

GAF TV interview

Interview with Donnacha and Daniel at Trinity College, Dublin for Galway Arts Festival TV

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Crash Ensemble to premiere dimmerswitch at Galway Arts Festival

Posted by Bea Cloke on Monday Jun 4, 2012 Under Live events


“The Galway Arts Festival is the biggest, most exciting, most imaginative explosion of arts activity this country has…’  The Irish Times

Crash Ensemble is confirmed to play at Galway Arts Festival, Ireland’s largest international arts festival, on Thursday 19 July 2012. The programme presents some of the world’s most inventive new music including the world premiere of the specially commissioned dimmerswitch by Daniel Figgis, their new work by Nico Muhly and Grá agus Bás by Donnacha Dennehy featuring sean nós singer Iarla Ó’Lionáird.

dimmerswitch, a commission for Crash Ensemble by Daniel Figgis

The music of the “inimitable” Daniel Figgis has been described by WNYC’s John Schaefer as “hypnotic”, by Hot Press as  “world-beating…marvelous…hyperintelligent” and by The Guardian as “hauntingly evocative”. Galway Arts Festival will see the world premiere of dimmerswitch, a work in 23 interlacing sections, written for the full ensemble (10 players) plus tape.

The piece presents a self-regulating but faulty steam punk mechanism in fervid hyperactive dialogue with the beating heart that is Crash Ensemble….Daniel Figgis.


Daniel Figgis – dimmerswitch (2012)

Nico Muhly – Drones, Variations, Ornaments (2011)

Donnacha Dennehy – Grá agus Bás (2009)

Daniel Figgis dimmerswitch (2012) and Nico Muhly’s Drones, Variations, Ornaments (2011) are funded by The Arts Council Commissions Award.

Backstage at the festival

Pre–show talk with Crash Ensemble artistic director Donnacha Dennehy and composer Daniel Figgis 19 July, St. Nicholas’ Church, 7pm

Booking info


By phone: 091 566577 from 18 June

In Person: Galway Tourist Office, Forster St, Galway, from Monday 18 June

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Crash Ensemble Sessions 13

Posted by The Master Switch on Wednesday May 23, 2012 Under Contemplation

23 May 2012

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Crash Ensemble Sessions 12

Posted by The Master Switch on Monday May 21, 2012 Under Mix

Daniel and Mick Heffernan at Apollo Studios. Dublin – May 2012

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Crash Ensemble Sessions 11

Posted by The Master Switch on Sunday May 20, 2012 Under Composition/Programming

The Master Switch

The Master Switch dimmering at Sunny Studios, Dublin – May 2012

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Crash Ensemble Sessions 10

Posted by The Master Switch on Thursday May 17, 2012 Under Composition/Programming

The Master Switch at Sunny Studios, Dublin – May 2012

Perquisite 8: Fox, Marlay Park, Dublin – December 2010

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Crash Ensemble Sessions 9

Posted by The Master Switch on Tuesday May 15, 2012 Under Composition/Programming

Snow, Kettlewatch Minor 1 – December 2010

Vincent Doherty and The Master Switch
at Sunny Studios, Dublin – March 2012

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Crash Ensemble Sessions 8

Posted by The Master Switch on Sunday May 13, 2012 Under Mix

The Master Switch at Apollo Studios, Dublin – April 2012

Perquisite 7: A stranger in our paradise,
Marlay Park, Dublin – September  2010

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All Ears

Posted by Bea Cloke on Thursday May 10, 2012 Under Music

We’re pleased to announce that the Listening Post is back. Take a peek at All Ears to see what Daniel has been listening to lately.

All Ears

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