A Composer's Space: Seán Clancy

5th April 2022

Features Birmingham Record Company

Next in the 'A Composer's Space' series we have Seán Clancy. Read on to find out where Seán gets his inspiration from.

As I spend a lot of time travelling for work, I try to be as flexible as I can with where I compose. I jot ideas in notebook on my phone on trains & planes etc, and will often make recordings of sounds that excite me using an app and a small shotgun microphone that I carry in my bag.  However, the majority of my composing happens in the box room of my house in Dublin that my wife and I share as an office. There’s nothing particularly special about this space, but it’s the first room that I’ve had to compose in that wasn’t a desk at the top of the stairs, or a desk shoved against the wall in my bedroom, so I really like it. Also when I look out the window the powerlines kind of look like a line drawing or maybe even staves… a constant reminder that line is elemental.

The desk, I have had for a quite a while. I got it when I started my PhD in Birmingham, and it has travelled around to a number of different flats and houses with me. It’s cheap and flatpack, but it’s a good size, and I’ve written pretty much all my main pieces on it, so perhaps at this stage I’ve got a bit of an attachment to it. If I’m working with synthesizers, I will have the desk covered with synths and a mixer, or if  I’m writing music for other people to play, I’ll generally keep the desk clear with just a manuscript pad. Sometimes it’s a combo of both. I find it quite difficult to work with clutter or mess. My wife on the other hand doesn’t mind too much the Francis Bacon Studio aesthetic, so often we agree to a kind of lukewarm tidiness. The tempo and duration of things is very important to me, so I keep a mechanical metronome and stopwatch by me when I’m writing. The metronome I have is kind of nice because I used it in a performance of György Ligeti’s Poème symphonique (a piece for 100 metronomes all playing at different tempi, that wind down and stop at different intervals) in a memorial festival to Ligeti back in 2007. It’s funny… as I write this, I’m thinking that this piece has been quite fundamental to everything I’ve been doing for nearly the past 10 years.

"As I spend a lot of time travelling for work, I try to be as flexible as I can with where I compose"

We have a piano in our living room which I use to write sometimes (mostly just piano music) and I also use it for recording. I was fortunate to have inherited it from my grandmother, and it is older than I am. It existed before I was born, and also exists after my grandmother died. It also has travelled to a number of different countries. The life and perhaps agency of this object is a funny thing to think about. I’m currently using it to write a 90 minute piano piece, made up of a lot of little fragments that I’ve been writing and refining over the past year.

We live within a short walk to the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin, which is a place I absolutely adore, and find endlessly peaceful and inspiring. As it’s a free public park we go almost every week, and it’s an amazing place to go to think, walk, record sounds, take photographs, or watch my 3 year old son run around and be close to nature. My father was an enthusiastic gardener, and since his death a year ago, I’ve become obsessed with trees. I’ve planted some in my own garden, but they are very young, and not too many stories to tell just yet. Tree growing is an incredibly slow process, and I love it. In the botanic gardens there are two of my favourite trees. One is a Lebanese Cedar, and the other is I think a Burren Pine. I think they date back to the 1880s, and it looks like they have seen it all. The gardens also have the most amazing glasshouses from the 1880s. The Great Palm House is one of my favourite places in the world. A super example of nature and humans working together. My son calls it the jungle. When the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein lived briefly in Dublin, he used to spend time here writing notes… I too, like writing notes here.

A Composer's Space: Joe Cutler

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