James O'Callaghan

2012 - 2013 RBC Foundation Emerging Composers Program

James O’Callaghan is a composer and sound artist based in Montréal who has been praised by the Vancouver Sun for his “real orchestral imagination” and
“highly refined sense of colour.” His music, equally concentrated in acoustic and electroacoustic idioms, often draws on found sounds and objects from natural and urban environments. His output includes more than forty works of concert music, music for dance, theatre and film, as well as audio-visual installations.

His principal teachers include Philippe Leroux, Barry Truax, and David MacIntyre. He has also studied and attended workshops with Rodney Sharman, Michel Gonneville, Giorgio Magnanensi, R. Murray Schafer, and Kaija Saariaho. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Composition from Simon Fraser University and is currently a MMus candidate at McGill University, where he also teaches an introductory course on Electroacoustic Music Composition.

His music has been performed across North America, Europe, New Zealand, and Japan, and his research has been presented at international conferences and published in Organised Sound. In 2011, he was selected for the inaugural Canadian League of Composers / Canadian Music Centre Composer Mentoring Project. He is a founding member and co-director of the Montréal Contemporary Music Lab and was a featured artist in Winnipeg’s Cluster New Music + Integrated Arts Festival in 2013.

Isomorphia by James O'Callaghan

Isomorphia was commissioned by the National Youth Orchestra of Canada in 2013.

Isomorphia is part of a trio of pieces with the same shape, mirroring the title, including an acousmatic piece, an orchestral piece, and a mixed piece interpolating between environmental sounds and their orchestral transcriptions. The piece’s genesis is in a collection of field recordings, including various animal vocalisations, natural soundscapes, and urban environments. O’Callaghan unlocks the tensions and commonalities between these sounds and the kinds of spaces they represent, while embedding them in the cultural memory and context of an orchestra.

The orchestra is re-imagined as an ecology through writing that is based on transcriptions of environmental sounds. The instruments are assembled into distinct ‘ecological niches’, with different registers and timbres that exist in balance and unbalance. In the mixed version, the sound’s source is always in flux: a bird call transforms into an oboe line, a car horn to a dense orchestral chord – the model becomes the copy. Placing these sounds in an aesthetic context is as much about calling into question their fragility and negotiating their post-industrial context; the reproduction of the sound attempts at once to preserve and manufacture.

Most of the field recordings used in this piece were made by the composer, but some are taken with permission from Jean C. Roché and the World Soundscape Project library. 

James O’Callaghan