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Longer to write than to speak: longer to think than to write (2016)

A sound installation in response to the poem ‘Corncrakes’ by Maria McManus.


This ‘sound art’ piece presents two versions of Maria’s poem, one spoken by the poet, and one written (and overheard). The rest of the sound-world is intended to evoke the fragility and tenuous life of any organism as it adapts to the unforeseen-ness of its environment - an abstract reflection of the corncrake’s tenuous hold on life in a world which has moved on from haymaking, and of the precariousness of migration.


The sound work lasts 17 minutes, followed in its installed form by three minutes silence, and therefore plays approximately three times in each hour in a gallery installation. In keeping with the title , the spoken version of the poem occupies only the first two and a half minutes of the work’s cycle. It was first exhibited in the joint exhibition by Cirque des Oiseaux - a loose collective of artists including the composer, the poet and visual artists - at Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick, from 30 Sept - 29 October 2016 (slideshow here) and subsequently at the Sonorities Festival (Sonic Arts Research Centre, Belfast, 24-28 November 2016) and the Higher Bridges Gallery, Clinton Centre, Enniskillen (7-30 April, 2017). The title refers to the different speeds of imaginative 'effort' (and inertias) involved in various types of word-based making.

The work was made from a pre-publication version of the text, which has slight variations from the definitive published version (below). This is taken from Maria McManus's 2018 volume 'Available Light' (Arlen House/SyracuseUniversity Press) and is reproduced with her permission.

The original installation is designed for an extended single line of small loudspeakers, each reproducing a single channel of the works twelve strands. The disposition of the loudspeakers across the gallery space de-emphasises the notion of a single privileged listening position, and draws attention to the migratory spatial movement of the various (mostly rather gentle, fragile) lines of the piece. A spatialised stereo mix of the work may be listened to here:



Not one among the rushes,

none in the meadows,

none where the farmer dropped to his knees

lamenting the crumpled nest its requiem,

wringing his hands

like a chaplain

bringing bad news

to the door

in the night-time.


Them’s rare wee things,

them’s rare.



…and rarer still,

the small clutch

a universe among the rushes –

small planets  grounded in troubled heavens.


These scraplings

scurrying in frantic sorties

to grub in the undergrowth

amongst the brackens.


It is the night,

it is the stars



Africa. Africa. Africa.



Opening the night,

terra incognita –

there is no map,

only opening the night…

Listen; first intently,

closely – no further than at arms length

and then, when everything is detailed,

clocked and inventoried, and only then,

double the circle.


Listen. Double the circle. Listen.



Sense unreachable places,


chance positions,

calm places at the eye

of hurricanes.


Flee your fever

and with unholy impetus

hurl into the nomadic sky,

into severe places

into unbreachable theatres,


Into mystery, uncertainty, doubt,

into ablation,


and tell everything,

when you return.

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