Burial at Sea

During 2016, artists across Ireland presented work that sought to commemorate the Easter Rising and the changes that a century has brought to the nation. As part of an Irish Composers’ Collective concert held in November 2016, I curated a concert entitled Speaking with the Past,  which aimed at creating ambitious and challenging new works for mezzo soprano and ensemble that directly reflected on how and why we memorialise the past, and what it tells us about the present.

New works by Robert Connell, Danny Barkley, Galen Mac Cába, and myself questioned how our notion of a shared history is shaped by public performances of remembrance and mourning. They also reflected on why we remember certain stories and forget others.

The words are drawn from a wide array of Irish writings from 1916 to 2016, creating a fragmentary and allusive collage of texts about the nation. The works aimed to create a stream of consciousness that sits outside of time, showing the traces of a century of history.

Performed by soloist Dominica Williams with members of Kirkos Ensemble, shifting layers of text were projected onto the walls of the performance space, creating a dreamy visual accompaniment to the words.

The work that I contributed to this concert, Burial at Sea, explores the ghosts of the past and the ephemeral nature of the state. Drawing on speeches by Patrick Pearse and James Connolly, as well as Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘North,’ the text is a new work by myself about the transience of the nation.

Musically, the lone thread of a mezzo soprano melody moves through a shifting chromatic soundscape that fragments and coalesces like a wave, before quietly ascending and fizzing out.

Burial at Sea
I split my eyes
like a red curtain
onto a hammered,
sandy curve of bay
and a deep, dark ocean.

wild abyss, coast of darkness
that mocks the timid land
and claws at the sand
like a tablecloth
on which lies
the nation.

there comes rising
ocean-hushed voices
through an oily slick of moon,
speaking in violence and love,
saying ‘go now and seek redemption

‘in the crimson tide of war.’
but like a hiss of spindrift
whipped from a wave,
the rebel voices fizz
in the ocean air
and disappear.