This article is written in response to Adrian Smith’s thought-provoking interview with composer Raymond Deane, published in the Journal of Music on October 3rd 2018.

In its interrogation of prevalent trends in Irish contemporary music, their discussion finds the status quo markedly deficient in “events”, or rather, lacking tangible examples of what Žižek refers to as the “surprising emergence of something new which undermines every stable scheme.The interview moves to compare “stasis, the absence of events, the absence of conflict with the “end of history, contending that a large proportion of Ireland’s leading young composers appear to be “working within the same narrow premises and are thus flinching from “violations of anti-dialectical dogma.

Approaching new music from an improvisatory perspective, this conversation appears to me itself situated within another, altogether more subtle, variety of “stable scheme”. Lamenting that “composing large orchestral works or operas doesn’t appeal to many younger composers in the first place nostalgically evokes a practise of music-making that is defined and bordered by Eurocentric codes of cultural practise, depending intimately for its historical existence on a symbiotic relationship with the infrastructure of the state.

The state as an entity is defined by its territorial and judicial borders. It is both a geographical space circumscribed by a frontier and a political space delineated by regulations proscribing reasonable limits to social behaviour. The actions of the state become animated upon the crossings of these borders, by transgressions, deviations, incursions…just as in ‘Of Hospitality’ Derrida asks “What does that mean, this step too many, if, for the invited guest as much as for the visitor, the crossing of the threshold always remains a transgressive step?

In ‘Noise: The Political Economy of Music, Attali echoes Plato in positing that music functions as a harbinger of societal change, observing that the growth of the orchestra during the industrial revolution was as much a reflection as an alignment – “the representation of music is a total spectacle. It shapes what people see; no part of it is innocent. Each element even fulfils a precise social and symbolic function: to convince people of the rationality of the world and the necessity of its organization. In accordance with the principles of exchange, the orchestra in particular has always been an essential figure of power.

Derrida would define the hidden relationships of power that are concealed by tradition as those “from which we receive the concepts, the vocabulary, the axioms that are elementary and presumed natural or untouchable.Therefore, if we are truly searching for a music that is “something new, we must presume nothing, and touch everything. Reaching outwards, it is only through fully inhabiting the complete biodiversity of our musical ecosystem that we can hope to find resilience moving forward; a living space for music that gives voice to its time and has, perhaps uniquely, the power to “undermine every stable scheme.

As Joyce well knew, the “end of history” is also its beginning. To look always anew at a nascent generation of Irish composers in search of works of originality, innovation and individual expression, is to seek Serres’ “timid and green emergence of the newnot only in that which is perceived, but also in the paradigm of the perceiver. A music that moves, with us, our world, is to be found in the ear of the beholder alone.

Music is listening, it hears us. It is everywhere to be sought – it lives, it breathes, it perspires. Listening to new music that touches Ireland, whether from within or without, one hears a reverberant depth that echoes across the world and back. Learning to look in the right places, to listen in the right way, music is everywhere to be found.

By necessity, as a cell, the state is porous. The system is never stable; it lives, just like us, in a state of critical instability, ever bobbing on waves of events that are unceasing, constant, animating. History repeats, for people and their planet are creatures of habit. Events from the past recur, repeat and resound into the future through the resonant space of the present. Nobody really makes music anew – our atoms were also the first atoms.

If Attali is right, and music is truly a harbinger of change – if music is capable of presaging a transformation in society – then it will speak in its own language, to those that are listening. Learning to hear, here, begins upon understanding that language itself is tied to the past, for words are the genes of history.

Reading any one sentence, from a single page, of a single book, in the immense library of new music in Ireland, or anywhere else for that matter, makes sense only as a part of a syntax that is encompassing in its multiplicity, one that Dufourmantelle might describe as “soliciting what ceaselessly escapes its form toward a future never future enough.

In a time of global criticality, drawing ever closer to the edge of political and environmental catastrophe, we no longer have the luxury to assume positions of stolid pessimism. What use is it to bemoan, when we most desperately need to educate, to transform and to prepare? That there is music in the world, at all, should be cause for hope. If you hear music anywhere, you will find it everywhere…not only in the concert halls of the world, but in its streets, its classrooms and its forests.

I began this article intent on engendering debate, to attempt to counter what I felt were reductionist statements made about the work of many of my friends and colleagues, and also to try and include those that I felt had been excluded from the discussion altogether. Unfortunately, unto this aim I have failed almost entirely, ending up very far from where I intended to land…I suppose that there is a good reason that I am not a writer…

However, I will conclude with this – perhaps if our definition of what it is to be a composer embraces not only those who write symphonies and operas, but also those who write and create any new music, including those who compose spontaneously, in the vernacular, then we are far more likely to find cause to be optimistic about the future of music on this island, and for that music to effect a change in our society. For me, all Ireland’s greatest living composers, or artists of any description for that matter, are to be found at the edges, between definitions, at the places where the “crossover takes place, at the threshold of one or another, ever taking a step beyond.



Nick Roth is a saxophonist, composer, producer and educator.

Commissioned by the DLR LexIcon as part of their 2017 musician-in-residence programme, Bátá for amplified bass flute and drums explores Roland Barthes’ seminal book ‘Image Music Text’ (Fontana Press, 1977) and the relationship between his concept of fugue in the structural analysis of literary narrative and the UK Jungle scene c.1995


Roland Barthes

Image Music Text (Fontana 1977)

Structural Analysis of Narratives

V. The System of Narrative

1. Distortion and expansion


Dystaxia occurs when the signs (of a message) are no longer simply juxtaposed, when the (logical) linearity is disturbed (predicate before subject for example).

A notable form of dystaxia is found when the parts of one sign are separated by other signs along the chain of the message: the sign split into fractional parts, its signified is shared out amongst several signifiers, distant from one another and not comprehensible on their own.

This, as was seen in connection with the functional level, is exactly what happens in narrative: the units of a sequence, although forming a whole at the level of that very sequence, may be separated from one another by the insertion of units from other sequences – as was said, the structure of the functional level is fugued.

What can be separated can also be filled. Distended, the functional nuclei furnish intercalating spaces which can be packed out almost indefinitely; the interstices can be filled in with a very large number of catalysers. The catalystic [sp] power of narrative has for corollary its elliptic power.


The second important process in the language of narrative is integration: what has been disjoined at a certain level (a sequence for example) is most often joined again at a higher level (a hierarchically important sequence, the global signified of a number of scattered indices, the action of a class of characters).

It is integration in various forms which compensates for the seemingly unmasterable complexity of units on a particular level.

Integration guides the understanding of the discontinuous elements, simultaneously contiguous and heterogenous (it is thus that they appear in the syntagm which knows only one dimension – that of succession).


Sunday March 20th

Early morning call to conductor Sharon Choa in Hong Kong (+8hrs), our last talk through the score before HKNME sectional rehearsals begin on Tuesday. Receive images from Jihee Lee in Tongyeong, our technical producer at TIMF, who has been out to gather materials and has sent specimen samples (with measurements) – the stick second from the right looks to make for good snapping. Read Joshua Anthony O’Meara’s paper on Biomimicry of Orchids as preliminary research into Kate’s new solo cello piece for Arborealis @ Sensorium – strange he mentions Candela but not Xenakis (cf. hyperbolic paraboloids in the Philips Pavilion). Sunny afternoon so speak with artist and philosopher Gayil Nalls in NY (-4hrs) from Dun Laoghaire pier and learn a little about the wild world of olfactory art. In the evening call Lithuanian puppet master Vitalijus Mazūras and his wife Nijole in Vilnius (+2hrs). It’s the first time we have spoken in person, but the audio isn’t working so we try to conduct the conversation through mime. Listen to Unsuk Chin’s Violin Concerto, beautiful. Must remember to begin the Dream Text journal for Seeds II in the morning…

Branch Samples

branch / stick samples


double-curvature hyperbolic paraboloids in orchids


Monday March 21st

Find out that today is International Day of Forests. By coincidence, National Tree-Loving Week in Korea starts annually on April 1st, just two days after the performance on March 30th. Think again of the Camellia japonica in the Botanical Gardens, will be just starting to come into bloom now. I am told that the Camellia sapling the ISCM has secured for the performance is 1.2m already; they must grow a lot more vigorously in their native clime. Haku-Rakuten is the Japanese name for the celebrated Chinese poet Po Chü-I (A.D. 772 – 847). In the afternoon meet Louis Lovett and discuss Sophocles choruses, Théâtre Buffon and the role of breath in flocking behaviour. A mother and her middle-aged son at the next table in WigWam, both Elvis fans, recognise Louis for his role as Dieter in Killinaskully. They speak a little German from travelling over there to attend annual festivals in honour of the King himself. In the evening finally get through to Vitalijus and Nijole in Vilnius. They have very little English, and my Russian skills prove just slightly less effective than yesterday’s miming. Late night rehearsal of Schubert’s Fantasie for piano four hands (with Judith Ring) and choreography by Cosimo di Tommaso for dancer Justine Cooper.  Cosimo tells Justine “They are playing Fantasie, but for you it is real”. The Dream Text journal got off to a bad start this morning with last night’s phantasms  of Swiss-US diplomatic relations interrupted by a knife-wielding Iarla Ó Lionáird.


Camellia japonica at National Botanical Gardens, Glasnevin


Tuesday March 22nd

Woke up to the news of the Brussels attacks, coming so soon after the bomb on Istiklal. What is going on with our world? The real tragedy thought is that whilst on a daily basis people’s lives are being destroyed by acts of random violence to each other, as a race we risk losing everything that we all, as people, now live and have always lived for. I think the world is so complicated that only a child can understand it. Spend the day wrapping, folding, assembling and posting with Matt and Toli…Yurodny Haivka press mailout for Diatribe. Don’t make the evening launch of the Dublin Dance Festival, start packing instead.

Yurodny_HAIVKA hi-res

Music, as storm or river sea-bound, inhabits a world without borders. This album is dedicated to all those who pray for rain.




Wednesday March 23rd

I dream of (the real) Woodland Heights. In my dream the forest has changed a little since we left; some of the larger trees at the back have been felled to give more light to a plantation area, although there are no signs of this having made any progress. There is a new tree on the lawn, 30ft high already, an Acer with broad serrated knife-leaves. I write ‘Woodland Heights’ into the dream journal, glad that by this circuitous route the original forest, genesis for it all, has now wound its way into Seeds II as well. Coincidentally notice that my Woodland Heights laurel has a totally new shoot today…perhaps a new leader! Skype with two more olfactory artists, this time Sense of Smell based in Eindhoven; Marcel van Brakel and Frederik Duerinck. Read in The Artist’s Reality, Rothko’s manuscript, “Space is the philosophical basis of a painting.” Want to give each member of the orchestra (eighteen strings plus conductor) a present from Ireland, but can’t fit nineteen pints of Guinness into my carry-on so go to Howbert and Mays to pick up some crimson clover seeds, Trifolium incarnatum, and make a little packet for each musician to hand out at the first rehearsal.



Prunus laurocerasus new growth



nineteen packets of Trifolium incarnatum


 Thursday March 24th – Friday March 25th

Two days blur into one as AIC secretary Anna Murray and I follow the dateline halfway across the world. Have a five-hour stopover in Amsterdam so meet violinist Diamanda Dramm for lunch in the city. She shows me the concert hall that she co-owns with 50 other musicians, including her mother the flautist Anne La Berge, who is installing an iPad tree in the small ‘Zaal’ for her performance on Saturday. Amsterdam city council gave this space, previously a disused public bathhouse, to the Splendor musician collective, who each made a personal contribution towards its renovation and can now programme as many concerts as they like in the space throughout the year, and use the small hall, main hall or loft spaces for creative work at any time. The splendour of Splendor is tinged with just a small note of sadness that this kind of commitment from both artists and city almost never happens in Ireland (with the notable exceptions of the Guesthouse and Graphic Studio). After taking in a dose of the high civilisation that Amsterdam exudes, we board our flight to Seoul Incheon…all 9.5 hours of it. Have never been able to sleep on planes, so take the opportunity to catch up on Star Wars and Bond films. Arriving in Seoul after a two-hour bus ride through rush-hour city traffic, it is almost dark again and feels as if we have entered a time warp. The Gangman district where we are staying is all haute couture and insanely overpriced restaurants, but after a few emergency aborts we find some really great Korean food and I hit the hay around midnight.


Diamanda Dramm and Anne la Berge in Splendor, Amsterdam


Landing in Seoul

Saturday March 26th

Wake up at 3am and there is no getting back to sleep…similar buzz to San Francisco last year. At 6am decide to stop pretending and get on with the day. We are playing a concert tonight organised by the Irish embassy at Maison Pernod Ricard and have to collect the materials for Seeds II so Anna and I head to Seolleung-Jeongneung, a UNESCO world heritage site and ritual burial grounds of King Seongjong and Queen Jeonghyeon of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). In the heart of the high-rises this ancient place is a quiet oasis of green, and the reverence with which its customs are upheld is clear from the care with which the landscape is maintained. The arboreal centrepiece, a 500-year old Ginkgo biloba by the tombkeepers house, is a truly amazing specimen and the ground is still covered in its autumn fruits. Passing from the burial mounds through the prayer houses and crossing the grounds is a Spirit road, upon which it is forbidden to tread, and each house has two sets of steps, one for the king which is traversable for the public, and one for the spirits, which is marked out of bounds. We collect all of the materials needed for the piece, finding some amazing leaves from the Japanese emperor oak (Quercus dentata). As the largest leaves of all the oak family, they also have a really great sound. Afterwards we visit Bongeunsa Temple, a Buddhist temple constructed in 794 during the reign of King Weongseong. The atmosphere here is incensed with the sounds and scents of daily worship; raucous and jubilatory. I buy a small prayer tree, a Pinus densiflora or Japanese red pine, and am instructed to write my name on its label and then to water with care. Now we feel as if we are truly in Korea. In the evening we head to the Gallery for the concert. The embassy’s cultural attaché David Murphy meets us there – a lovely man who gives us the warmest of welcomes. We open with a duo improvisation, then Anna plays a tape work, I play a solo and then we perform Seeds II. Seated at either end of the long and narrow gallery the piece has a really nice immersive feel and the audience is centred in the space and listen attentively. I don’t think most of the guests have ever experienced this kind of music before, but they are responsive and very enthusiastic. The free bar sponsored by Jameson probably does no harm, the whisky and ginger ales flowing freely throughout and we close with a short set of a jig and two reels to bring everyone back down to Earth (although on the side of it). Afterwards we go out to eat with David and his family and I get to try Beondegi for the first (and possibly the last) time…deep fried silk worm larvae in a spicy sauce.

Prayer Lanterns

Prayer lanterns at Bongeunsa Temple

Spirit Road

The spirit road at Seoulleung-Jeongeung


Sunday March 27th

After going to bed just after midnight I am wide awake at 2am and it seems there is no way back to Nod. Have now slept only five hours in the last four days. In the morning we take the bus to Tongyeong, around four and a half hours all the way to the South coast. South Korea is more or less the same size as Ireland geographically, but the population is more than ten times larger. Driving the length and breadth of the country though, you would not think it as conurbations seem quite sparse out and there are lots of forest-covered mountains. It is the urban density which creates figures like these…Seoul and its satellites has a population of 22 million people. Arriving in Tongyeong we are met at the bus station by the TIMF staff and after checking in briefly, go directly to the Tongyeong Concert Hall, where the ISCM World Music Days 2016 launches officially at 5pm. The concert hall is utterly spectacular, both in terms of its stunning architectural form (reminding me a little of the traditional Buddhist temples that we passed along the way) and its breath-taking location…wooden walkways from the sweeping mezzanine lead down through lush vegetation directly to the beach and the seascape beyond is dotted with verdant green islands for as far as the eye can see. I don’t think I have ever been to a concert hall quite as beautiful as this before. The festival is launched by TIMF director Florian Riem, with friendly welcome addresses from the ISCM chief executive Peter Swinnen, the mayor of Tongyeong Dong-Jin Kim and composer Philip Glass. Composers from more than 60 countries around the world are gathered together in this room and the atmosphere is animated, despite most people probably not having slept properly in the last twenty-four hours. Also in attendance is the festival patron Unsuk Chin, who has written a preface to the elegant Sounds of Tomorrow book given to all of the delegates on arrival. After the reception many of us go to hear Philip Glass in dialogue with Florian Riem in the Black Box theatre. He is a great conversationalist and tells some fascinating stories about his studies with Nadia Boulanger and Ravi Shankar, and his musical travels from around the world. I particularly like his constant question, both to himself and to those that he crosses paths with – “where does music come from?” and that he considers none of the answers he receives to be the right one, but none of them to be wrong. The bedside drawer in the hotel contains a Bible and a copy of the teachings of Buddha – it strikes me that there is also something of the Middle Way in Glass’ insistent interlocution.

Tongyeong Concert Hall

Tongyeong Concert Hall


Monday March 28th

Sleep more or less through the night for the first time, which is amazing. Take the morning to explore a little of Tongyeong before the concerts start at 3pm. For such a small city there is really a lot to see, particularly in the cultural field and I start to get a sense of why so many important Korean artists were born here. In the music world, composer Isang Yun seems to be by far the most important Tongyeongian, he is name-checked in every welcome address and the festival is dedicated to his 100-year anniversary, which will be in 2017. In the town there is an Isang Yun memorial hall, with gardens and they have even rebuilt the house where he lived in Germany, together with his German car under glass. The first concert of the ISCM programme is at 3pm, the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa from Japan, conducted by Christopher Lee. The level of music presented is high and all four composers’ works are strong, highly detailed and extremely well executed by the orchestra. The stand out work for me is Vuolle by Finnish composer Jouni Hirvelä, a word meaning a place in the river where the stream is strong and also a verb to carve. The piece is undulating and expressive, with some really beautiful sonic images. Love his use of sub-harmonics from double basses bowing the tailpiece. After the concert I take a walk with Danish composer Toke Brorson Odin, a true gentleman, and we discuss new music in a societal context and his annual festival of music and sculpture for 35 people in the Danish countryside. At 18:30 I meet the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble for the first time – they have just arrived from a four hour flight and a five hour bus ride and go directly into rehearsing Boulez. Everything is starting to shift into focus as I see parts with handwritten notes on them and the reality of what is about to happen tomorrow begins to dawn on me. I also meet Jihee for the first time and the stage management team. They are really thorough in their engagement with the work and have entered completely into the spirit of the piece. Jihee has just bought the tree, and we discuss the planting procedure and exact positioning of all of the pots and trays for the leaves. I ask about where the tree will be planted after the concert and she tells me that it will be planted directly in front of the concert hall, with a dedication plaque, but that they want to wait until April 5th as it is National Tree Planting day in Korea. The score asks for the tree to be planted immediately after the performance, and I would have loved to have been there, but it really seems too good a coincidence to argue so I agree and Jihee promises to send a video of the planting. In the lobby afterwards I bump into French film-maker Robert Cahen, who is here presenting the video installation that he made with Pierre Boulez. Chancing my arm, I ask him to film Woodland Heights and to my surprise he agrees, as long as I can secure permission from the Festival and find him a tripod. As the piece is so visual, I feel that it is important to have a record on film and so this is really great news! In the evening there is a choral concert given by two Korean choirs performing nine works. Again the level is really high and the choirs and pieces selected are all very strong. The stand out work for me though is Taiwanese composer Chen-Hui Jen’s Twilight as a Drifting Islet, a sublime and delicate piece of great beauty and light.


Tuesday March 29th

In the morning I go to the grounds around the concert to gather the materials for the piece. There are quite a few trees but no real forest in the close vicinity, so in order to find everything that I need I have to do quite a lot of fence-jumping. The concert hall is on a cliff, so the fence-jumping is not to be taken lightly. I need nine sets of leaves for rustling, and whilst collecting have the idea to give each musician a different leaf species type, so that there is a slight gradation in the sound quality, moving from smaller to larger leaves throughout the different sections of the piece to tie in with the idea of evolutionary growth. This is easy to do, the ground is covered with different types of leaf and there are even some huge palm leaves that make an amazingly loud sound. Also find some great branches for snapping, they are hollow so snap very easily and make a really strong crack. Finding branches with leaves on is a bit of a problem though, as I had imagined a deciduous forest as Woodland Heights itself and here these are not readily to be found. The branches that I can find have too small a leaf size and don’t make enough sound. My excursions into the undergrowth are proving to be a source of amusement for Korean people passing by, many of whom stop to ask me what I am doing. I explain it is for the music, and point to the concert hall and this seems to make a surprising amount of sense to them. “Ah, imitating forest” says one old man, as if people regularly do this around here. I hope that they do. Things get a little rough when I try to reach some prime branch material a little  beyond reach and manage to actually fall off the cliff…not enough to injure myself but I do get pretty winded and a little scuffed up…got the branches though! Directly  afterwards and with foliage in tow I meet with Jihee and William Lane, the artistic director of the HKNME, for the first time and we go through his part…which includes the planting of the tree itself. He has about 50 seconds to bring the tree on stage and get it into soil so everything needs to happen very smoothly. Jihee introduces us to the Camellia for the first time, it’s really a fine tree. Her team have also collected some really great leaves and branches too, all wrapped in paper bouquets with suede sashes. I start to realise just how seriously the staff of TIMF is taking this piece, and am very grateful. In the afternoon the first concert is a little disappointing, the Changwon Festival Orchestra, who sound under-prepared for some pieces of the programme that they have undertaken. The last piece, Japanese composer Isao Matsushita’s Prayer of the Firmament, is strong though and a very emotional work, written after the tsunami disaster. The evening concert though, the first of the two given by the HKNME, is really excellent. In contrast to the two orchestral concerts, the ensemble strives to highlight the differences between the four compositions in the programme. All of the pieces are interesting, but Australian composer Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh’s Into the Outer is really exceptional. Written for 13 strings with an inner quartet and an outer circle of nine, her development of material is explosive and fluid, and the ensemble have clearly risen to the task with courage and dedication. I listened to Annie’s music before coming and already knew that this was going to be special. Hearing them play so well, I know that tomorrow’s concert will also be a success. My rehearsal is at 10am, and it is hard to believe that finally, this will be the first time that I have ever heard the music…after almost a year of research and collaboration, a residency at the CCI in Paris, weeks of part-setting and a wait of almost two years. So many people have helped bring this music to life, have given selflessly of their time and knowledge to shape the piece into what it is now. It is almost impossible to imagine that in less than twenty-four hours all of this work, all of this travelling through time and space, will eventually give birth to thirteen minutes of music, and that the first Woodland Heights tree will be planted at last.


Wednesday March 30th

A little earlier than expected, the cherry blossoms open this morning in Tongyeong, heralding in the Spring.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms in Tongyeong



Woodland Heights score with Camellia japonica seedling

Tree Backstage

Camellia japonica backstage before performance

Materials Backstage

auxiliary percussion setup for Woodland Heights


National Tree Planting Day April 5th

N. Roth, L. O’Connor


The pioneering choreographer Isadora Duncan once said that “If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it.” 1    

Responding to this statement in his seminal 1972 work ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’, psychologist Gregory Bateson remarked “What the unaided consciousness (unaided by art, dreams, poetry and the like) can never appreciate is the systemic nature of mind.” 2

Forty-two years later, drawing upon fieldwork amongst the Runa people in the Ecuadorian Amazon, anthropologist Eduardo Kohn wins the Gregory Bateson Prize for ‘How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology beyond the Human’ in which he explores “the different ways in which selfhood can dissolve and the challenges this poses for beings living in an ecology of selves.” 3

Ecology is the science of relations and interactions between organisms and their environment – the study of living systems. Recognising the transformative potential of the “ecological thought” 4, in this article we link three inter-disciplinary projects that seek to shift the focus in education from structures of compliance, rote learning and specialisation towards strategies emphasising integration, creativity and collaboration.

This shift is resonant with other “patterns that connect” 5 in contemporary thought. Once, we were taught that a flock changes direction by following a leader bird. Now, our models investigate the effect of the individual bird’s movements on the whole flock. In education, developing an “ecology of selves” in our methodologies can therefore be expressed both in the organisation of subject or topic areas and in inter-subjectivity.

The concept of Arts-based Environmental Education (AEE) was coined by Finnish art educator Meri-Helga Mantere in the 1990s and has since been employed by many educators working in schools around Finland. Mantere describes AEE as a form of learning that aims to develop environmental understanding and responsibility through “becoming more receptive to sense perceptions and observations” 6. A work in action, one such project is ‘Silva – in Art Education’ focusing on “creativity and aesthetic vision in the cognition of the Finnish forest.” 7 The students visit forests in different seasons accompanied by professional visual and performance artists and produce works of art that stem from their perceptions, sense impressions and experiences.

Forests are clearly fertile ground for projects aiming to teach the inter-connectedness of living systems. Developed in Ireland in association with the Arts Council, The Ark, the California Academy of Sciences and the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Little Woodland Heights is an interactive work for children investigating the world of forest canopy ecology through musical composition. The project is described as “a nine-week immersive educational environment that explores ecology, botany and anthropology and transforms scientific data into musical vocabulary intuitively accessible for primary-age students.”

Wider ranging still, Björk’s Biophilia Education Project “builds on the participation of academics, scientists, artists, teachers and students at all academic levels, based around creativity as a teaching and research tool where music, technology and the natural sciences are linked together in an innovative way.” 9 The New Learning Times stated that “Biophilia, as a concept, is characterised by the affinity between humans and other living systems that should be understood and valued.” 10 The pilot commenced in 2014 and a project evaluation takes place in 2016 across its collaborative Nordic network.

These three projects are representative of a wider movement that invites long-term change in our environmental practices through an immediate re-imagining of our educational environments. Across disciplines, cultures, communities and species, this work aims towards an ambidexterity in our scientific and artistic understanding. It may still prove too late to evade ecological disaster altogether, but at least it will be a fair fight.



Hanna, Judith Lynne. Dance, Sex, and Gender: Signs of Identity, Dominance, Defiance, and Desire. University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. University of Chicago Press, 1972.

3 Kohn, Eduardo. How Forests think: Toward an Anthropology beyond the Human. University of California Press, 2013.

4 Morton, Timothy. The Ecological Thought. Harvard University Press, 2010.

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. University of Chicago Press, 1972.

6 Mantere, Meri-Helga. Image of the Earth: Writings on art-based environmental education. Helsinki: University of Art and Design, 1995.

7 Olsson, Pirjo. Finnish Forest – Silva – in Art Education. Art School of Vantaa for Children and Young People, 1998.

8 Roth, Nick. Little Woodland Heights. Developed in association with the Arts Council of Ireland, The Ark, California Academy of Sciences and the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), 2015.

9 Guðmundsdóttir, Björk. Biophilia Education Project. Developed by Björk Guðmundsdóttir, the City of Reykjavík and the University of Iceland in connection with the release of Björk’s album Biophilia, 2011.

10 James, Carmen. Biophilia Education Project. New Learning Times, 2015.



Developed in association with the Arts Council of Ireland, The Ark A Cultural Centre for Children, the California Academy of Sciences and the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Little Woodland Heights is an interactive work for children exploring the world of forest canopy ecology and the function of music as translative epistemology.

The piece is an immersive educational environment that explores elements of ecology, botany, phyllotaxis and anthropology, employing sonic and visual information as translative epistemological devices for mapping scientific data into embodied languages intuitively accessible for primary-age students.

Taking place in Cork, Galway and Dublin during the month of October, composer Nick Roth will give a series of lectures and introductory workshops exploring the ideas in the piece, explaining the background research to the project from a scientific and artistic context and outlining its application to education and social arts practise in the wider field. All lectures / workshops are free to attend without prior booking, with the exception of the Ark workshop, which is free but ticketed (booking at

Title:            Little Woodland Heights and Forest Canopy Ecology : Music as Translative Epistemology

Format:       FUAIM Lecture Series

Location:    School of Music, University College Cork

Date:           Thursday October 8th 2015

Time:          11am – 1:30pm



Title:            Little Woodland Heights

Format:       Workshop

Location:    O’Riada Hall, School of Music, University College Cork

Date:           Friday October 9th 2015

Time:          12pm – 2:30pm



Title:            Little Woodland Heights

Format:       Lecture

Location:    Galway Music Academy (Gaelscoil Dara)

Date:           Monday October 12th 2015

Time:           5pm – 7pm



Title:            Translating Knowledge into Music

Format:        Workshop

Location:     The Ark, Dublin

Date:            Saturday October 17th 2015

Time:           10:30am – 1:30pm


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photo by Olesya Zdorovetska

The Waste Land

Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival
Sunday 2nd August 2015

Anna Nygh – voice
Orla Charlton – voice
Frank McCusker – voice
Stanley Townsend – voice

Nick Roth – saxophones, objects
Alex Bonney – cornet, electronics
Elliot Galvin – keyboards
Tom McCredie – double bass
Simon Roth – drums

Text by T.S. Eliot
Music composed by Nick Roth
Directed by Adrian Dunbar

The T.S. Eliot Foundation, granting the rights for the first ever official setting of the poem, stipulated that the music and text must exist interstitially.. My original idea had been to underscore the text (in a similar fashion to A Way A Lone A Last and Finnegans Wake), but this decision (with hindsight made in excellent judgment) meant that the compositional process had to take entirely a different course.

In order to exist with any significance amongst the five exceptionally dense verses of the poem, the music had to simultaneously surmise and anticipate the text whilst also creating radial points of reference to the poem as a whole. Thus each of the six pieces composed for the setting takes the text as a beginning, as an end, and as a world in and of itself.

There is a chain of events leading to the first setting of the Waste Land being an interpretation in jazz, starting with Sean Doran’s curatorial move to make T.S. Eliot the counterfoil to this year’s edition of the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival, and this leading to Adrian Dunbar’s instinctive decision that the Waste Land was the text he wanted to work with. Also the connection with jazz came from Adrian initially…for him the poem was in the spirit of the Jazz Age and so carried with it all of the rhythms and references that were contemporary at that time…the poem was written in 1922. But this of course pre-dates many of the modern associations with jazz…it is definitely not bebop, not even really the swing era. It’s ragtime.

The overture was a representation of the Latin inscription at the head of the poem, referencing the myth of Sibyl at Cumae. Sibyl was a prophetess of Apollo who would divine by throwing oak leaves in the air…the improvised cluster in the upper-register of the piano (after the third ‘belle noiseuse‘ chord, a dedication to Michel Serres) was this moment for me, as it determined harmonically the entire evolution of the piece. This also provided the inspiration for the live rustling of oak leaves, set alongside the field recording – actually the band in a rowing boat on the Thames in Richmond a few months earlier…coincidentally the same stretch of the river that the last piece of film footage opens with. The theme of the river is also very strong throughout the work, and a lot of the other recordings made reference to this.

For me, Eliot’s poetry has many more parallels with Joyce than with Beckett…I think that they share a kind of kaleidoscopic porousness in terms of references to contemporary and historical texts. Beckett’s work is more solitary, more self-contained as a universe. Eliot and Joyce can seem like mirrored halls at times, whilst Beckett is a single mirror on an otherwise empty wall. Certainly in the Waste Land there are myriads of references to other texts…Eliot himself gives the citations in his own notes. And these references are not only literary, but also musical. So it was important I felt that the music should react and respond to these directly, as well as being moved and inspired by the linguistic modality. A good example of this is the line “O O O O that Shakespeherian rag—It’s so elegant, so intelligent“, which is a direct quote from a tin pan alley song that was popular in Eliot’s day, ‘That Shakesperian Rag‘ by Dave Stamper (Jos. W. Stern, NY, 1912). After a bit of a search, I managed to locate the original manuscript and was able to use this as a point of departure for the second piece ‘Burial of the Rag‘. Actually, in the 7/8 section that accompanied the first segment of film footage, the chord sequence comes directly from the rag, but slowed down beyond recognition. I felt that the film footage, which is original colour scenes from London in the 20’s, was so strong and powerful that it needed to exist in its own time. That is why the music changes so drastically when the film enters, so that the rag and the footage don’t exist simultaneously.

The third piece ‘T’s Blues‘ is another way of dealing directly with musical elements in the piece, although here those musical references also have wider literary connotations. As students of the poem will know, there is a strong connection to Wagner’s ‘Tristan and Isolde‘, the opera from which the hugely influential ‘Tristan’ chord derives. I was hoping that a listener might catch the quote here…in the melody the cornet directly states the melody from the first six bars of the Tristan overture but with the ‘Tristan’ chord itself voiced over a major-third root as a 9/13 chord. I think that there is a affinity between the sense of suspension that Wagner achieved in his music of this period and the suspension inherent in the blues as a form.

Whilst I felt a certain duty to bow to these references in the setting, I also felt that it was important that the work also had something new and unique to it, and the fourth part ‘The Fire Sermon‘ represented this for me. You can’t say the word ‘burning’ five times to a jazz musician and not expect a certain response…and that response will always be contemporary, it will always be in the moment, and of its time. I loved the super-imposition of the free section in this with the Ruttmann – the first abstract film to be publicly screened…from 1921. In the fifth part I wanted to get closer into the text, and prise apart the language with a serious of sonic portraits. And then when Adrian decided that he wanted to close the piece with the second piece of film footage, I really wanted to just close sonically with the sound of a 16mm projector (provided by Benjamin Rowley of Bog Bodies) and let the film speak for itself…that felt more balanced somehow.

For an in depth analysis of the literary references embedded in the text see

Little Woodland Heights

Little Woodland Heights

Developed in association with the Arts Council of Ireland,  The Ark A Cultural Centre for Children, California Academy of Sciences and the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Little Woodland Heights is an immersive educational environment that explores fundamental tenets of Ecology, Botany, Phyllotaxis and Anthropology, employing music and visual art as translative epistemological devices for mapping scientific data into embodied languages intuitively accessible for primary-age students.

The work is expressed in a facilitation pack, and is delivered in seven development sessions, a field trip and a final performance. Each project is led by a facilitator who works in close collaboration with the class teacher and classroom assistants. This incremental development of the piece provides a vehicle for the ensemble and facilitator to collaboratively evolve a process-based performative score. At the conclusion of the process, the performance takes lasts one hour, including time for introduction and discussion.

The project integrates a network of topics from the Sciences (forest canopy ecology, tree architecture, phyllotaxic pattern, anthropological studies) and the Arts (music composition, performance and literacy, sound art and the visual arts), developed specifically for children aged 8-9 years old (3rd Class in Irish primary schools system), with the structure providing mechanisms for developing complexity according to variable levels of input from the participants.

The research phase of the project was conducted in an artist residency at the California Academy of Sciences, where the project was presented to the scientific community at the first annual Forest Solutions Summit (January 22nd 2015). The first pilot programme was subsequently realised on the 27th April 2015 at The Ark, Dublin and the 28th April at Rathfarnham Educate Together National School (RETNS). The second phase optimised the work for delivery to average primary class sizes through deeper integration of the visual aspect of the programme, and including introductory workshops for 150 facilitators around Ireland as a pre-cursor to National-level training. The two-phase pilot scheme will reach completion at the Irish Museum for Modern Art on October 22nd 2015.

In ‘How Forests Think’, Eduardo Kohn states that “self-organizing dynamics are distinct from the physical processes from which they emerge and with which they are continuous, and within which they are nested.” ¹ In ecological terms then, “species composition and tree size distributions become more diverse with increasing stand age” and “with increasing age stochastic processes play increasingly important roles in creating structural complexity” ².  In linguistic form, although beautiful, these ideas are prohibitively complex for primary curricula. Yet the practical lessons of forest canopy ecology offer many simple and easy to understand analogues that can demonstrate the natural logic of emergent pattern. Similarly, such forms find expression quite naturally in musical and artistic discourse – indeed the very structure of music making, or any making for that matter, is itself a clear expression of both self-organising dynamics and stochastic processes, to one conversant in these languages.

Little Woodland Heights provides a mechanism for learning about the living world through the translation of ecological, botanical, phyllotaxic and anthropological concepts into musical and visual languages. This translation process is child-centred and fosters meaningful personal relationships that provide for deeper engagement with the network of ideas embedded in the piece.

Through the translative process, the child learns core tenets of contemporary scientific thought through the development of important musical and visual fundamentals. This symbiotic bond is both a new and an old form of learning; to study tree architecture through rhythmic clave mapping, to explore phyllotaxic pattern through melodic frequency, or to conceive of ecosystems phenologically through formal structure are all ideas unique to the work. Yet to understand our world through careful study of its elements and their relationships, and for these to form a societal practise, is something inherently human.

Both Art and Science are learnt most efficiently, and pursued most keenly, when they provide an immediate social impact for their participants. Thus, collaborative STE(A)M projects provide epiphytic environmental hubs where the children may develop their skills and understanding of the world as a totality.

The way that we learn will become the way that we teach. If our primary aim is to provide the healthiest environment for the development of childhood learning to ensure that future generations are environmentally informed, have a deep sense of cultural vibrancy, and are capable of independent and direct engagement with the living world, then we must look to projects that drive the evolution of education in contemporary society in ways which address this array of themes simultaneously.

In our era of rapid development and global urbanisation, the world’s natural environments, resources and biospheres have become increasingly impacted by human activity. Scientists argue that “the overarching driver of species extinction is human population growth and increasing per capita consumption. How long these trends continue—where and at what rate—will dominate the scenarios of species extinction and challenge efforts to protect biodiversity.” ³ Ecologists seek to discover not only the impact of our actions on the planet, but also the driving forces behind these actions, leading ultimately to questions of a sociological or anthropological nature. In ‘The Ecological Thought’ Timothy Morton argues that “if there is an inevitable experiential dimension of ecology, there is an inevitable psychological dimension.”  4

Critically exploring the dual hypothesis that humans have the capacity to be a potentially destructive force to their own environment, whilst being simultaneously endowed with a unique capacity to understand, change and delineate their own internal decision-making process, the aim of this project is to provide a mechanism for children to experience enhanced ways of expressing the endlessly intricate patterns and forms in nature through translative languages that encourage meaningful and lasting social discourses and durable ethical frameworks.

The project posits the notion that music, and the wider arts, are equally valid ways of understanding the realm of information that the world presents us with; and in terms of child engagement, may prove complimentary to standard linguistic / numerical educational techniques as additional ways of developing and expressing understanding. In fact the Arts and Sciences, as a dual mechanism for understanding the world, are inseparable and symbiotic by nature. As such, the project positions itself within the STE(A)M movement.

In seeking to educate, empower and inform thousands of children, teachers, musicians and artists across Ireland on a national scale, this project attempts to make a difference that is not a mere drop in the ocean, but a rain falling after drought. By providing a network that enables and encourages children to form embodied relationships with aspects of the living world that we find in our own immediate environment, the work seeks to address new perspectives and priorities in the next generation and to inspire a behavioral shift towards more sustainable and deeply engaging ways of living in our world.

Perhaps the best summary of the project and its aims are found in the inspirational words of its scientific advisor, Dr. Meg Lowman – “Perhaps that is the ultimate goal of canopy research – all scientific research for that matter – to produce a sense of the vast and the infinite and to promote our sense of wonder, a curiosity that needs to be fed by experience to be longlived.” 5

¹ Kohn, E. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press (2013). How Forests Think.

² Hiroaki T. Ishii, Robert Van Pelt, Geoffrey G. Parker, Nalini M. Nadkarni (2004). Age-Related Development of Canopy Structure and Its Ecological Functions. Forest Canopies, Second Edition

³ Stuart L. Pimm, Clinton N. Jenkins, Robin Abell, Tom M. Brooks, John. L. Gittleman, Lucas N. Joppa, Peter. H.Raven, Callum M. Roberts, and Joe O. Sexton (2014). The Biodiversity of Species and Their Rates ofExtinction, Distribution, and Protection. Science.

4 Morton, T. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (2010). The Ecological Thought.

5  Margaret D. Lowman and H. Bruce Rinker (2004). Introduction. Forest Canopies, Second Edition.