Major Irish music festivals Sounds From A Safe Harbour and Body and Soul are combining to produce a new form of festival-like event designed for corona times.
Instead of bands performing live music, the festival, entitled ‘A City and A Garden’, will see a curated mix of musicians, voice artists and storytellers put together a walking tour that can be explored for free via an app, and running between June 11 and 20, including at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin.
Seán MacErlaine is sound designer and musical director of the festival, and told us a little about his ideas. “Sounds From A Safe Harbour – the festival in Cork – came up with the idea of making an experience which audiences could enjoy in or out of a lockdown,” he says. “It’s about commissioning four excellent writers to create pieces specific to locations that the listener can be present in. The narration, music and technology folds in around these short stories.”
“At the risk of sounding dramatic, everything is difficult for musicians these days,” he continues. “Of course we needed to have a plan that all the work can happen despite the lockdown. But people are resourceful and A City and A Garden had those considerations hard baked in from the beginning.”
“More broadly it’s still impossible to know how the future will unfold for musicians. I can see the bigger acts having the resources to get up and running in the medium term, smaller venues and independent artists might have to wait longer to get back on their feet.”
“My job as the musical director is to oversee how everything hangs together and we wanted to work with people we already have worked with as well as spreading the net out to newer voices. The central piece was the stories and of course the stories have characters, tone, direction and all these elements can suggest music, voices or instrumentation. We wanted to be true to the stories while adding in a richer experience.”
MacErlaine has a natural affinity with the Botanic Gardens venue in particular, having lived very close to it in Glasnevin for the past 17 years. The director has described 2020 as the “death knell for his career,” and as such the return through this conceptual festival is a first step back to event production after the most fallow time of his career.
“Even for regular visitors to the Bots, viewing them through these stories will open new ways of experiencing this wonderful amenity,” McErlaine explains. “I won’t be able to wander through here again without this extra layer of richness – and isn’t that what art does? It questions and provokes and invites us to think and feel in new ways, in deeper ways. If the Botanic Gardens isn’t a regular haunt then here’s a great extra reason to spend some time here, nobody ever leaves this place thinking ‘well that was a wasted hour!’”
As for the listening experience, which will be curated through an app, MacErlaine feels it offers positives all around.
“It’s a delight, because musicians dream of having a captive audience, the progression usually goes from playing in a noisy bar to playing in a theatre style setting where you can really bring people along. This is especially true of let’s say quieter music. But here we are making sounds for people wearing headphones – there’s no escape door! I think also the special nature of this project immediately means that any listeners will be invested to a degree in this, so we can be very subtle if we want to.”
A City and A Garden festival takes place in the Botanic Gardens from June 11 to 20, and is free to experience. Differing versions also take place in Cork venues.