Interview: Daniel Figgis – CITY HALL

Ian Maleney
Posted January 31, 2013 in Arts & Culture Features

Photo: Senija Topcic

Sound art is a pretty under-represented form in Ireland, where the word “art” is generally taken to mean something visual. Daniel Figgis’ CITY HALL project might be just the thing to change that perception. A constantly evolving three-night installation in the titular building, CITY HALL explores the glorious, feedback-ridden territory between acoustic space, audience participation and compositional intention. It promises to be a mind-expanding look at one man’s take on psycho-acousmatics.

Figgis himself has been an active member of the Irish avant-garde for the best part of 30 years and has carved out a career as a multi-media composer, most recently writing the excellent dimmerswitch for the Crash Ensemble.

TD: Can you describe the actual process of what’s going to happen with CITY HALL?

Daniel Figgis: CITY HALL is an entirely interactive work in the real sense of the term; the audience trigger and ultimately thus design all of the sound patterns that they are hearing. The composition and density, or otherwise, of sound is entirely down to the group will and not to mine. What you hear is the Sound of Surrender. I will make no intervention whatsoever in the “construction” of the piece. I am supplying the building blocks and no more. Perhaps, in that we will simply be listening, I and the crew constitute the audience! The shape and form of the composition will be determined by the audience and the pathways they choose as they move through this unique acoustic space and the piece will reveal itself in real time over three days.

Reverse engineering and educated guesswork saw me through the initial off-site compositional process, insofar as it can really be considered, in any recognized sense, as a compositional process. This is where the “building blocks” come in. And I’m not even the site manager. There is no site manager. CITY HALL changes over the course of the three performances as new building blocks are introduced each day, incorporating previous musical events that have occurred on-site. In this way Day 3 should differ greatly from Day 2 and 2 from 1.

Audience participation is utterly central to this event. I simply stand back and presumably enjoy how it plays out when I take my hand off the tiller. Rest assured that this is not an ambient music in the sense that I suspect we’ve all grown rather tired of. I know that I have. CITY HALL is an adventure in acousmatics.

Steve Albini said a little while back that he values independence “even, or perhaps especially” from his audience. What do you make of that statement?

I prefer to disengage from situations where the relationship is predicated solely on an appreciation of my work. I appreciate a slap on the back as much as the next man but ultimately all we can most likely do is disappoint each other. For one thing, I’m all clay. And yes, it’s a two-way street -the artist has certain expectations of his audience.

Do you think that now is a good time to be working with site-specific sound art?

That has never been a consideration for me. I have been working in this area almost exclusively since 2003. And have been dipping my toes in one form or another for far longer than that. CITY HALL, while tailored to and informed by this particular space is, like THE BATTLE OF SPEEDS before it, both site-specific and site-neutral. In my daily life I like routine. In my work I seldom if ever do the same thing twice. But, the principles and techniques steering CITY HALL mean that it may have legs. It was not necessarily conceived as a one-off, although it will never be presented as CITY HALL again. CITY HALL is a love letter to Dublin and to that particular architectural space.

CITY HALL is supported by the Arts Council so I was wondering what your thoughts on State-sponsored art is? How well do you think the Arts Coucil support adventurous art in Ireland and how would you like to see that support progress in years to come?

I can only really speak for myself in this regard. I am fortunate in that I am not solely dependent on state sponsorship for my income. Record production pays a better daily rate, to take one example. But it is important to recognise that any “public art” project (dread term) always was and will and probably must largely be dependent on state sponsorship. In this particular case Dublin City Council partnered the Arts Council in funding the work. Both showed tremendous vision and imagination in moving this project from the page to real world actualisation.

How important is it for you to incorporate technology in your work and how do you go about exploring the dialogue between human and machine that is so integral to almost all modern music? Is this important to City Hall?

It is core to CITY HALL. Technology is, always has been and most likely always will be, collateral to my practice. I plan a return to the concert stage reasonably soon and we will be equally, if not more, dependent on machine interface. I hunger for a return to studio recording and concert performance at this point in my career. It is exerting a strong pull right now…


CITY HALL takes place at Dublin City Hall, Dame Street, Dublin 2 from February 1st-3rd. 

1st February: 6.30pm (world premiere)
2nd February: 6pm
3rd February: 3pm

€10 (1 day)
€15 (3 days)

From (01) 889 9950
And on the door
Under 12s go free


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