With the opening of Sugarglass Theatre’s Outlying Islands in Dublin this week, WWD caught up with the show’s composers Eoghan Quinn and Lester St Louis, to chat about all things music related. Between the two, they have successfully written, directed and performed on stage themselves, as well as producing their own music, but how did they work as a team? Let’s find out.
Hi Guys! Thanks for joining us. How’s your day going?
EQ: Great thanks! It’s grey out, but a nice grey 🙂
LS: Fantastic, loving the cold air and breeze especially after the more intense Slovenian heat.
Glad to hear the cold isn’t getting you down. So, you guys are currently working together on a production for Sugarglass Theatre, but why don’t you tell us a bit about yourselves and what you usually do?
EQ: I’m from Dublin originally, and currently studying for a PhD in New York, which is really how I got involved with this production, and how I got to meet Lester. Apart from that I’m a member of a theatre company called Collapsing Horse and generally make goofy theatre with them! I don’t often get to sound design, but I studied music in college and used to played drums in a band called Turning Down Sex, so I’m always looking for an excuse to play more music, and when I can combine it with theatre all the better!
LS: I’m born and based in New York City, living in Brooklyn at the moment. I am primarily a cellist, composer and concert organizer but also play a few other instruments. I’m often working in new music (or contemporary classical, never quite sure which gets the idea across best to people) and improvised music working mostly in the U.S and Europe. Over the last 3 years I’ve found myself in more and more opportunities to work in theatre doing music and sound design which I am enjoying. Especially works that push the boundary at a high level such as this current piece.
Together you have managed to compose an intricate score for Outlying Islands, opening in the Samuel Beckett on Saturday. What drew you both to David Greig’s script?
EQ: I think the script and the production design are really atmospheric, with this weird ethereal quality. One of the central elements of the play is considering how thin the line is between a socialised citizen and the disquieting human-as-animal that lurks within. As such, I found there was a lot to play with in terms of a clash of sort of ‘civil’ or restrained music, and then moments where we get to just freak out and wail.
LS: I feel similarly to Eoghan. This play has so many strong canonical values of character development and interaction, a complex contrapuntal use of prose and poetry, and a symbolic structure of characters where concepts interweave across the cast that reminded me of my favorite music. Ideas nestled into so many layers in the play made it very attractive, especially in the design. The aesthetic clarity the whole team has in composing a set and situation where every aspects works with intention, it leaves the actors in an ideal position to shine inside of.
So once you were hooked on the story, how did you go about composing music for the stage? What was your starting point?
EQ: In general, I think it’s best to just respond to what the production needs; in what moments and contexts would music benefit the play and lift the design and support the performers? Once we had those moments roughly sketched out, we just sort of jammed. Now we’re welcoming in a fantastic musician called Lara Gallagher to join us, and we get to jam anew with her, and she’s bringing a lot in.
LS: Recognizing what the essence of the text is terribly important. Finding ways to heighten that essence and even ways to contribute meaning below the surface I feel is most of the work. As nice as it would be to be playing for most of the play, I don’t find anything more cheap than when there is too much music to “heighten” whatever emotion is being put forward, so that it’s hopefully felt. I think when you have actors as great as we do, the emotions and nuances of those largely speak for themselves. So I feel the starting point of our job is to contribute everything the actors can’t, add to what they do, and be the ambience of that gives the audience something to hold onto and wait with. I’m excited to explore some new ideas with Lara Gallagher as well.
How do you think composing compares to devising a script or writing personal music for your own performance?
EQ: For me, it’s a really enjoyable process; you get to be creative but in a more facilitative way, and you’re generally looked after really well, in that you don’t need to worry about any of the details and logistics that you would if it was ‘your’ own project. I think good directors like Marc (Atkinson) allow you to engage or disengage as much as you want, so you’re free to just focus on the music and your own performance.
LS: I find that making my own music is principally about me, and my aesthetics, philosophical and processual concerns. In this situation it becomes less about who I am and what I do and more about what the work is and what the work does and needs to do. I find it’s always great to be in a situation where the quality of your skill set is exposed in a context that isn’t about you. You really have to take all the quality of your thinking and give it to something else, have it scrutinized, reformulate, contribute and repeat. I find it maximally enjoyable.
Eoghan, you’re known for your work as a writer and performer with Collapsing Horse, and Lester for your contemporary jazz music and live performance. How was it working as a team? Whose the boss?
EQ: It’s been brilliant! Lester’s a seriously talented musician, with a crazy broad taste. He certainly puts me to shame in terms of musicianship, but perhaps because I have experience in theatre we’ve found a really nice working relationship. I don’t think there’s a boss – except maybe the director and stage manager… I feel like we’re the bold kids down the back of class sometimes!
LS: There’s no boss in our working relationship. Eoghan and I have a great time working together. We are both pretty relaxed, feel we can speak freely with each other and contribute in a really organic way. We get to do this like legos, just building on top of each other’s ideas.
Sounds like it was a pretty good experience for you both. You have obviously spent a considerable amount of time together, so what’s the best thing about your team member?
EQ: To be honest, more than anything, Lester’s juts a very sound and relaxed guy, and it’s always great to work with people who are chilled out, not stressy, and up for exploring. He also knows the best places to get iced coffees!
LS: Eoghan is funny as hell. We have a similar sense of humor and he’s a quick and witty joke man. He’s also very easy to work with and always willing to try stuff out and reformulate if we feel it doesn’t work.
Outlying Islands first ran in New York last year and will open here in Dublin next week. Is there a difference in your creativity depending on where you are? Are you team New York or team Dublin?
EQ: Hard to know! In New York, you can feel a lot more ‘at sea,’ because there’s so much going on in the city. But that can also be cool, and take a little bit of pressure off – you’re just one thing among many and that’s kind of relaxing in a way?
LS: I don’t know yet. I haven’t been here too long so it’s hard to say. I think it’s nice for me to be outside of New York and have only this as an obligation, so maybe there’s more headspace but I think generally I like to give to whatever I’m working on no matter where I am. If someone from team Dublin wants to bribe me to say otherwise, I do enjoy ice cream.
Lester, we’re willing to treat you to a scoop to get you on side. So guys, when this run ends, what will you both move on to? Have you got any exciting projects in the pipeline?
EQ: I have to go back to writing a chapter of the PhD, which might actually be a nice tonic after a hectic theatre summer! Other than that, I’m sort of thinking of a small music/theatre (but not musical theatre…) piece to begin developing next year, but I’m in no rush. Apart from that I hope to get a new kit and just play as much drums as I can!
LS: Day after the show the whole team is going to Tayto park… so… there’s that gem. After here, I will go to Germany and Slovenia then head home. I am preparing for some performances back in New York, learning some solo and ensemble repertoire for the fall. Preparing my new band called Hv Moda, a quartet for cello, bass clarinet, guitar and drums. Currently working on a large string quartet commission and a few recordings. It’s going to be a busy fall and early winter so I have to ensure my mind is in the right place.
And finally, we of course love our music, but what do you two like to listen to on your own time?
EQ: I listen to a lot of instrumental music, I suppose? I can’t get over Dawn of Midi, who are a sort of jazz trio from Brooklyn, but play music that sounds like Steve Reich staring deep into a K-hole. I’ve seen them live twice, listened to the album hundreds of times, and have yet to get tired of it. I also have a big soft spot for stoner-shredders Chon and Eternity Forever who have both just put out very fun and unique releases. Finally, I’ve really gotten into Charlie Looker’s old band Extra Life recently; I had been aware of them for a while, but I only started really listening to a few of the albums recently and they blew my mind. Very weird, sort of spooky!
LS: I’ve been listening to a lot of things. Frank Oceans blond is something I return to a lot; I think he made so many great decisions with that record. The new album by the Nate Wooley quartet, clarinetist Carl Rosmans solo album Caerulean, “elseq” by autechre, Michael Brecker group live from Leverkusen in 98, Ralph Petersons “Subliminal seduction”, Joey Badass’ “1999”, Erin Gee and Klangforum Wiens “Mothpieces”, “Olympic Mess” by Helm, “Platform” by Holly Herndon, Mahan Esfahani’s recoding of Bachs Goldberg variations and lots of music by my friends. I find a lot of my friends are making some of my favorite music. I’ve also listened to a lot of records I’ve played on, especially with Dré Hočevar and Bram De Looze. I find it’s a good way to study my playing, see where it is, see where it can go. I also just really love that music. These are probably a lot of the most recent things.
Catch the results of Eoghan and Lester’s work in Outlying Islands at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin, previewing August 10th + 11th and running August 12th through September 2nd. Get your tickets here.