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The sounds of where it all began

THE inaugural Ennis Fringe Festival of the Arts will open on Thursday with a host of artists, musicians and photographers showcasing their wares at a variety of venues across the county town.
Organised by a small committee of artists, the event has been organised to help provide a space to exhibit work, while at the same time encouraging the public to support local businesses.
Among the line up is Wombience, a recording which captures the tranquil ambience of the womb as heard by the baby in utero.
Created by Kilmihil-based sound engineer Conan Brophy, Wombience will be revealed at the official opening of the festival on Friday at Custom Tattoo and Art Gallery, No 8 Carmody Street from 7pm.
Conan has played in bands since he was about 14-years-old but at 16, he became more interested in the recording side of things.
“I bought a cassette four track recorder and haven’t looked back. I studied sound engineering after the Leaving Cert and continued playing and recording with various projects. Then, when I moved to Clare about five years ago, I set up a studio in the house and began experimenting with different recording methods and software and I now have a couple of projects that I’m involved in, Wombience being one of them,” he said.
Speaking about the development of this technique, Conan said, “It seems perfectly natural to me that once I hear a sound that is interesting, I’ll want to record it, whether it’s a child’s toy or a thunder storm. Once I heard my daughters heartbeat for the first time, I just thought it sounded amazing. And it wasn’t just the heartbeat either it was the whole ambient thing, the swooshing fluid, throbbing bass sounds that seemed to move closer or further away as you listened. It was a bit like an Orb record, or any of those ambient groups that were big in the 1990s, Future Sound of London, The Orb, John Beltran, all that stuff”.
When it came to recording this sound, Conan says his wife was already used to him running microphone leads all over the place and recording the toaster and slamming cutlery drawers. “She just treated it as normal,” he added.
Asked what it is about Wombience that draws the ear and makes it musical, he said “I was talking to a woman about this the last time I performed Wombience and she was making the comparison between the womb and nightclubs or loud concerts. I think people are always seeking out that womb experience, whether it’s a dark hot club with a really heavy bass beat or a big gig with huge speakers in a field, it’s all about being enveloped in sound and really feeling the music in a physical sense. There’s got to be some sensory memory of that safe, warm womb that we all started in that we’re all trying to get back to in one way or another,” he said.
Going from a simple recording to developing Wombience into a live show was something that came naturally to Conan. He feels the low frequency drones and nature recordings of babbling brooks and birdsong would add to the recordings.
“They complement each other very well. It was then a short hop, skip and a jump to include some chanting and tribal drum sounds and just build it up. I’m using software called Ableton Live, which allows me to perform the show in a very spontaneous way. I activate and manipulate the sounds in real time and I can react to the people there or the surroundings and cater the performance for different people and places. It’s actually different every time I play it, which keeps me interested too,” he revealed.
All of this was created by making a rough 40 minute recording using one ultrasound. It was then edited to remove some of the crackles and handling noises, leaving Conan with a smooth, meditative sounding track.
“That track is then brought in and out during the show, it’s the basis of everything, but the show kind of ebbs and flows from very minimalist sounds to very big crescendos where there’s lots of stuff going off at once. It never kicks off into heavy rave music or anything just kind of more active moments and more sedate ones,” he said.
While Conan says he would be reluctant to say it’s a completely unique technique, he believes the way that he is using the recordings is probably quite unique.
“I’ve certainly never heard of anyone performing an ambient show based around womb sounds. The fact that it’s my wife’s womb with my daughter inside makes it particularly special to me. I would like to add a live womb at some stage, we just haven’t got the technology yet. If we could get a pregnant woman hooked up to an ultrasound device on stage and I could actually ‘play live’ that would be special. Unfortunately, they don’t make ultrasound devices for concert quality sound so the recordings would need a good bit of treatment before you could play them through a speaker system,” he outlined. For more information about Conan Brophy see www.conanbrophy.com.
Meanwhile, The Fringe Festival kicks off this Thursday when an exhibition of contemporary photographs will be unveiled featuring Tommy Kelly, Patrick Ryan and David Cremins.
A painting exhibition will be on display in Café Roma featuring David O’Rourke, Kevin Quinlan, Sinéad Slattery, James Halley, Hilary Gilmore and Philip Brennan.
A buskers festival will be held in Brogan’s from 4pm to 6pm and this will be followed by a performance by artist Alex Conway on the first floor of 40 Coats 50 Pockets, Courthouse View, Lifford between 6 and 9pm.
Meanwhile, bands Buzzmonkeys and four piece Trampoline Scene will showcase their original music at Brandon’s on Saturday night from 9pm, where there will also be a video installation. Currently working on their third album, Buzzmonkeys have no definite form, apart from the nucleus of Dooley and Palfreyman and each gig is a unique affair, in mood, menace and musicality.
Trampoline Scene’s music is described as melodic/indie/rock and their debut EP Painted Day was recorded last September receiving airplay on both local and regional stations to date.
The Fringe Festival of Arts weekend will draw to a close on Sunday at 4pm with a short theatrical piece in Brandon’s by Immediate Theatre featuring Kelly Guilfoyle. 
All events and venues are free of charge.

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