In Conversation with Sam Perkin

Sam Perkin is a supremely talented Irish composer of new orchestral, chamber, instrumental and choral music. Sam was commissioned by the West Wicklow Festival to compose a new piece of music to mark the centenary of the Irish War of Independence which will be premiered at the 2019 West Wicklow Festival.

The piece is called “For Piano and Gun Sounds” and has been written for Solo Piano and Three Off-Stage Smartphones. This new commission will receive its premiere on 15th May and will be performed by the West Wicklow Festival’s Founder & Artistic Director, Fiachra Garvey.

Ahead of the premiere of his latest composition, we sat down with Sam to ask a few questions about the piece as well as learning more about his diverse portfolio as an innovative composer…

What’s your earliest musical memory and how do you think this has affected your ambition to become a musician, and more importantly, a composer? 

My earliest memory involving music is playing all of the different sounds on a synthesiser, kneeling on the floor for hours, endlessly fascinated. The keyboard was placed on an old box in front of a window. It’s those small details that you remember. The piano and the guitar were my route into music. I loved improvising, just playing whatever came to me. Also, figuring out how music works was such a natural interest for me. After school, I decided to stop music. Two years later, it was confirmed for me that something was missing. I think the decision to stop for a while was actually one of the best decisions I have ever made. From then on it was a lot easier to dedicate myself wholly to music as it had been confirmed as a necessity. I had no choice in the matter.


Was there a particular point in your career where you realised that composition was the avenue you wanted to pursue or was that a gradual process? 

It was a bit of both really. Having always had a fascination with the inner workings of music, even when I was young enough I would very regularly have moments where I’d be thinking musical thoughts throughout the day. So from that perspective it was gradual. Although, the real conscious decision came quite a bit later, in my third year at the CIT Cork School of Music. I would just always compose anyway, so I decided to chance my arm at making a living form it as well. It wasn’t an easy decision really, deciding to pursue life as an artist usually comes with lots of other implications and societal judgements.


Your portfolio of work is extremely diverse, from a piece for “Ensemble and Street Skateboarding Film” to an attempted self-cure for tinnitus, to a work for “Orchestra and Whale Sounds”… where do you find the inspiration for innovative compositions like these? 

As an artist, I love to collect ideas. I have notebooks full of ideas that I guard safely. Some of these turn into pieces. However, most of these ideas will never see the light of day. There’s just not enough time or opportunity. It’s the extra-special ideas that usually get chosen, if, the occasion arises. I love playing around with ideas, exploring how they could be the best they can be.


You’ve been commissioned to write a new piece for pianist Fiachra Garvey and the West Wicklow Festival which will be premiered on 15th May and which commemorates the centenary of the Irish War of Independence. What was your initial reaction to this commission and the subject matter? 

Initially, I said of course I’m interested, especially as Fiachra is involved. Then it hit me what a difficult subject matter this is – How can you create a meaningful piece of art in commemoration of war? It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Trying to talk about this subject is like walking a tightrope. We’re so violent as a species, that’s the bottom line. So after a very difficult but rewarding phone call with Fiachra, we both decided that not shying away from this was the best way to actually say something artistically. In essence, the piece is about non-violence.


Can you tell us a bit more about the piece and what we can expect from its premiere on 15th May at Russborough House? 

There will be three off-stage smartphones that trigger the sounds of guns in the distance, while music floats from the piano. Even bringing the sounds of guns into such a sacred place as a sanctuary for music feels like it shouldn’t need to be done. You will be enveloped by the three offstage smartphones playing the sounds of guns, weapons and war. I tried to create the feeling of being in a fragile cocoon. While we hear the beautiful sounds of a piano, outside there is mayhem.


What would you say to anyone out there wanting to pursue a career as a composer? What piece of advice would you give them? 

Music is one of the few things that exists which has the power to bring people together, regardless of who you are or where you’re from. Never underestimate the power of this, Trust your instincts. It’s not a smooth, fast motorway; the life of the artist can be a tough, but infinitely rewarding off-road path. Find your tribe.

Sam Perkin’s new work, “For Piano & Gun Sounds” will receive its world premiere at the 2019 West Wicklow Festival on Wednesday 15th May at Russborough House. The piece will be performed by the Founder & Artistic Director of the West Wicklow Festival, Fiachra Garvey. For tickets, please click here or call (01) 417 0000.