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Callum O’Reilly is a composer and multi-media artist currently based in Boorloo/Perth. His diverse body of work draws inspiration from Western music traditions, spirituality, nature, technology, and modern music genres like hyperpop and hip-hop, resulting in uniquely modern sonic worlds. He has collaborated with various ensembles, including The Western Australian Symphony Orchestra, Perth Symphony Orchestra, Willoughby Symphony Orchestra, and Mix’t Trio.
This year Callum was selected from a high volume of applications as the composer and sound designer for Subliminal Drift by Laura Boynes and collaborators, commissioned by STRUT Dance with Tura and the Fremantle Biennale. We caught up with Callum to discuss his experience and the process so far.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about Subliminal Drift and how you came to be involved?
Callum: Subliminal Drift is an ambitious piece, taking place outdoors in the the ocean at Bathers Beach in Fremantle. As expected from Laura's work, the piece invites deep contemplation, weaving a tapestry of poetic imagery that transcends the ordinary and delves deep into our subconscious. The performance alternates between bursts of bombastic energy and serene, introspective moments, allowing the audience to experience a spectrum of emotions.
Having been greatly impressed by Laura's previous work, such as Equations of a Falling Body at the 2023 Perth Festival, I reached out to express my admiration and my desire to collaborate on a musical project in the future. In the middle of this year, an opportunity arose when Tura issued an open call for composers and sound designers to contribute to Laura's work. I applied for this opportunity, and fortunately, I was chosen to be part of the creative team.
Q: How are you and Laura working together? How is it going?
Callum: What I admire about Laura is her fascination with the individuality of her collaborators. While she does have a clear vision for the project, she grants me the creative freedom to conceptualise the music with my own imagination. One particularly refreshing aspect of our collaboration was the absence of any reference tracks to imitate, which is surprisingly rare. Instead, Laura and I engaged in extensive discussions about the sonic character of this specific piece, drawing inspiration directly from the work's themes. In this way, I believe the music organically evolves with the overall performance.
Q: What about this work excites you?
Callum: I have always wanted to make some sort of performance at the beach. I have spent so much time in the ocean in my life since I was very young. There's a great tranquility in being submerged in the water, surrounded by the rhythmic flow of the waves, and it always gives me a continuous flow of ideas. It feels rather appropriate for me in my life that this show will be set in the ocean at sunset, an experience I've never personally witnessed before but have always thought about.
Q: What is inspiring your composition? Are there any particular elements that you are drawing on?
Callum: The performance has a lot of signal sounds including sonar sounds, bells, horns, and even Morse code. This choice of sound palette aligns thematically with the work and has acoustic relevance, particularly in the case of bells and horns. These have been utilised in maritime settings for millennia due to their ability to send signals across vast distances in the open ocean.
Q: How are you working with the beach/ocean environment in terms of your composition and design?
Callum: I composed the music to integrate with the overall environment. Often, I incorporated sounds that mimic the ocean, aiming to have the music harmoniously blend with the natural soundscape of the beach. My hope is that this would create the impression that the music gradually emerges from the surroundings. In this specific work, we've used numerous megaphones, which have been a lot of fun to play with. While I won't give too much away, these megaphones play a significant role in the performance.
What fascinates me about megaphones is that, individually, they can produce a harsh and metallic sound that might seem harsh. However, when multiple megaphones are played together, they generate a beautiful and expansive wash of sound, making the acoustic space feel much larger than it actually is.
Q: Are there any challenges you’ve faced in terms of design?
Callum: Making sure that the music is audible outdoors by the ocean presents a real challenge due to the huge space and the often overpowering presence of waves and wind, which can be quite loud, depending on the weather conditions.
Another hurdle has been creating a sense of timelessness in the music, as if it exists in a realm separate from our conventional understanding of time. Given the nature of the performance, many of the pieces needed to stretch out to up to 18 minutes in duration. Our approach involved allowing the music to evolve gradually along with the performers, yet at the same time, maintaining a sense that it's not progressing towards any specific destination. Laura's is particularly brilliant at capturing this timeless quality through movement, which serves as a source of inspiration for me.
Q: What would you say to any emerging composers who are looking to collaborate with artists in different art forms? Any advice?
Callum: Absolutely go for it! Collaborating with professional artists from different artistic disciplines is an incredibly gratifying experience. It quickly becomes evident that art revolves around the intricate processes that define each artist's practice and that we’re each doing the same thing with different tools.
In a collaborative performance, it's crucial to recognise that while having an attentive audience for your music is rewarding, you are one element within a larger, multifaceted picture. What might appear as a mundane or uninteresting piece of music in a traditional concert hall setting can come to life and make perfect sense when integrated with visual elements. I believe that my primary focus should be on shaping the overall end product of the show as a cohesive and holistic experience.
On top of that, you should collaborate with artists because they’re awesome and you can learn so much. I’m especially thankful to Laura for having me, for the support and mentorship of Tristen Parr and Tura and the Fremantle Biennale for having such a cool festival.
Find out more about Subliminal Drift here. Images by Emma Fishwick.