Creating a Circus of Words, Music, and Sound: From Roaratorio to Owenvarragh

Martin Dowling, Úna Monaghan

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issuepeer-review


This article documents the creation of a work by the authors based on a score written by the composer John Cage entitled 'Owenvarragh: A Belfast Circus on The Star Factory.' The article is part of a documentary portfolio in the journal which also includes a volume of the poetry created by Dowling in accordance with the instructions of the Cage score, and a series of documentary videos on the creation of the work and its first performance. Cage's score is based on his work 'Roaratorio: An Irish Circus on Finnegan's Wake' (1979) and it provides a set of detailed instructions for the musical realisation of a literary work. The article documents this first fully realised version of the score since Cage first produced 'Roaratorio' in 1979. The work, which was motivated by the Cage centenary year in 2012, musically realises Carson's book 'The Star Factory' (1998), a novelestic autobiography of Carson's Belfast childhood. The score required the creation of a fixed media piece based on over 300 field recordings of the sounds and places mentioned in the book, a volume of poetry created from the book which is recited to form the rhythmic spine of the work, and the arrangement of a performance including these two components along with live musical performance by the authors in collaboration with three other musicians under their direction, and a video installation created for the work. The piece has been performed three times: in association with the Sonorities 2012 Festival at Queen's University of Belfast (March 2012), at The Belfast Festival at Queen's (October 2012), and in the Rymer Auditoium of the University of York (June 2013).

Additional information:

The work which the article documents was conceived by Monaghan and Dowling, and the project was initiated by Monaghan after a she received a student prize to support its development and first performance. Elements of the project will be included in her PhD dissertation for which Dowling is a supervisor. Monaghan created the fixed media piece based on over 300 field recordings, the largest single aspect of realising Cage's score. Dowling was responsible for initiating the collaboration with Ciaran Carson, and for two other components: the creation of a volume of poetry derived from the literary work which is recited in the performance, and the creation of and supervision of the technical work on a video which accompanies the piece. The co-authors consulted closely during the work on these large components from May 2011 until March 2012 when the first performance took place. The co-authors also shared in numerous other artistic and organisational aspects of the production, including the arrangement and performnance of the music, musical direction to other performers, and marketing.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
JournalThe Journal of Black Mountain College Studies
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

The Journal of Black Mountain College Studies is an online, peer reviewed journal with the following address: Volume four of the general had two guest editors who assembled a collection of essays and works created to mark the centenary of the birth of John Cage.


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