Genesis of the Smacht string quartet


Ergodos are shortly releasing a piece I wrote called Smacht. The piece is a 23 minute string quartet, but it didn’t start out that way. I want to take you back and show you how it began.

Smacht... in the beginningIt was Autumn 2011 and I was up to my eyes in the final year of my masters. I was at one of those points in my life where there’s a constant feeling that the world is falling in. And was suffering from the the ever-present pangs of self doubt: Had I made the right decision in pursuing music? Was it all just a pipe dream? Was the light at the end of the tunnel a train?

As well as trying to fulfil all my college commitments I was involved in the Dublin Laptop Orchestra – which had kicked off in ernest that summer. We had our first major gig happening in November with This is how we fly. I was in the throes of writing something for it… and was struggling.

Much to my shame I hadn’t actually known who This is how we fly were prior to that. And as I’d ultimately be writing something for them I was having a wee look on YouTube to see who they were. I came across videos of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh performing his solo material with a loop pedal and was enraptured. I really liked the droney, hypnotic feel to his music.

I’d started out trying to piece together an arrangement of the Lonesome Boatman – due to my minimal knowledge of what the group did – and it was going nowhere. It just felt so fake, so disingenuous, for me to try to write something based on a traditional tune. It’s not part of my personal musical history and I felt too much like a pretender to make it work. It was at this point when I’d pretty much given up on the whole idea of writing anything – ever.

I was fiddling around… with a fiddle and started playing with droning on one string while changing the notes on another, inspired by the videos I’d seen of Ó Raghallaigh, and hit on the idea that would become Smacht. There was a tremendous sense of relief once I’d hit upon this melody and recognised it as something I could trust. A piece of music that I felt comfortable writing and wanted to hear.

Myles O’Reilly filmed that first performance of Smacht in Smock Alley. Immortalising it as an event and also as a moment in time for me personally. It seems almost surreal now that I was involved in that event. I haven’t watched the video often but there’s a tremendous sense of nostalgia as I sit here now reliving it.

The version of Smacht being released by Ergodos is a very different to the piece that was performed at that first concert. But I think it still captures some the same fragility and vulnerability that was there when I wrote it first.

Smacht is available through Ergodos. There will be launch events in AmsterdamDublin and New York. I’ll be writing more posts over the coming weeks about the process and the different people I got to work to make this album a reality.