Kormac: Equivalent Exchange, commissioned by St. Patrick’s Festival 2018, takes place in Vicar Street on Sunday, March 18th.

This collaborative evening features acclaimed musician, DJ, and producer Kormac alongside the Irish Chamber Orchestra, his own Big Band and an array of guests, including ArtSoul singer/songwriter Loah, famed composer and conductor Eímear Noone, moody synth-pop balladeer Jack O’Rourke, spoken word artist Stephen James Smith, and Persian classical musicians Shahab and Shayan Coohe. Here, Kormac writes for Culture about assembling a collaborative project to remember...

When I think of someone composing for a chamber orchestra, I imagine that person wearing a polo neck, with a sprawling, beautifully crafted manuscript in front of them, making final touches in between poignant stares into the middle distance.

As I sit in my studio working on my show, I’m surrounded by little scraps of paper. Hundreds of little yellow and white sticky things with 10-15, barely legible, characters scrawled on each. They’re everywhere. I keep finding them in odd places at home. 

I spent a month in Bulgaria working with a 38-piece ensemble while being roared at by a grouchy Bulgarian for making mistakes on my scores. I was well outside my comfort zone, but I learned a hell of a lot.

I guess I’m known for releasing records, DJing and playing my material in clubs and at festivals, often, not starting till well after midnight, often, carnage. I don’t think of what I do as dance music, per se, but it’s a big influence. Sometimes, I perform with my own ensemble, Kormac’s Big Band, combining my electronics with brass, bass, drums, synths, vocals and visuals to try and best represent what I do in clubs and fields all over Europe, but this is a bit of a leap. 

This weekend, I’ll be performing a suite of music I’ve composed for the Irish Chamber Orchestra and my Big Band in Vicar Street. It was all borne out an idea to create a show by planting myself so far out of my comfort zone that I’d be forced to react musically in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. A "What if" discussion with my manager led to a meeting with the Irish Chamber Orchestra which led to Karen Walshe, Artistic Director of the St. Patricks’ Day Festival, offering to give the show a home and made Equivalent Exchange one of this year’s flagship events at the festival. 

Over the last twelve months, I’ve been studying music theory, composition and orchestration. I spent a month in Bulgaria working with a 38-piece ensemble while being roared at by a grouchy Bulgarian for making mistakes on my scores. I was well outside my comfort zone, but I learned a hell of a lot.

When I think of someone composing for a chamber orchestra, I imagine that person wearing a polo neck, with a sprawling, beautifully crafted manuscript in front of them, making final touches in between poignant stares into the middle distance...

There will be 30+ musicians on stage on March 18th and I’m writing lines for each one of them. The little scraps of paper help me keep track of what note each instrument is playing at any one time. I should really be using a traditional manuscript, but I prefer to have one hand scribbling on the paper with one hand adjusting sounds on my computer. I can read the musical charts but I’d be all day, and I’m too skinny for polo necks.

I’ve invited a bunch of artists who I’ve wanted to do something with for ages to collaborate with me on all this new music. For Equivalent Exchange I’ve sent them music that’s at a much earlier stage - sketches and ideas, really. They were free to express themselves a lot more and everyone’s come back with tonnes of ideas, pushing the tracks in directions they wouldn’t have gone had I given them 'finished pieces' to write over. In this way, I’m foregoing a degree of control over the tracks to gain something new. 

Loah was the first person I approached, having long held the idea that her voice was exactly the type of thing I wanted. Jack O’ Rourke kindly transformed my moody, dissonant, 7 minute piece into an anthemic radio single, while Eimear Noone, best known for writing for and conducting massive orchestral pieces for the video game world, turned my title track into a breathtaking, drumless, behemoth. I found myself recording the santoor, tar and tomback with Persian classical musicians, Shayan and Shahab Coohe and right now, Maser is sketching shapes for visuals, reacting to what he’s hearing from the speakers in my studio. 

I’ve never worked harder on anything, but I’m so proud of what everyone involved has helped this show become. Do come see it on March 18th.

Kormac: Equivalent Exchange takes place in Vicar Street on Sunday March 18th. Find out more here.