Cristín Leach introduces this year's HearSay HomeFires audio arts festival, which takes place online and in Kilfinane, County Limerick from 7- 14 May - she talks to RTÉ Arena above.

I have been a judge for the Hearsay International Audio Arts Festival Prize since 2014. It's a festival that has always been about community, and the synergy that comes from bringing people from all over the world together, in a physical place.

In normal times, around 150 audio-makers from various sound disciplines, backgrounds, and locations arrive in Kilfinane, County Limerick and are hosted by the people of the town, on the streets, in the buildings, businesses and in their homes. Some kind of remarkable synergy happens. New ideas are born, new connections are made, new stories are heard and told, and a world of possibility opens up. Every HearSay Festival builds on the next by sparking future contributions.

Mary McDonnell, who will host Live Audio Baking

This year, along with the rest of the judging panel, I listened to the shortlisted audio prize pieces in my room, in my home, on my headphones, before the festival began. I heard the last fluent speaker of the Mojave language sing a clan song about the water beetle. I heard a voice in Arabic say, "…we will sit at Maha's studio. We will not be talking to her. And she won’t be talking to us either. We will only listen to her as she works in her studio that is filled with clay and ceramics." I heard about the hundreds of thousands of African adults and children who died on British-owned ships bound for the Americas between 1551 and 1866. I heard the 1982-85 President of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association talk about jam-making and feminism. I heard stories of life and death, essential truths and necessary fictions. I heard entries in French, English, Dutch, Danish, German, Swahili. I listened to heart-breaking and heart-opening sounds recorded in places all over the world. And I heard the bits that hit home in the silence between the sounds.

Listening to Invasive Specials by Slavek Kwi

Entries for the 2021 prize have come from every continent. They have come from prisons and deserts, living rooms and farms, climbing gyms and bedrooms, hospital rooms and rehearsal rooms; from the coast of Northern Japan, from Cape Town in South Africa; from the past, the present, and the imagined future.

All of this will still converge on the town of Kilfinane as part of a programme that features for the first time live online listening sessions for each of the 58 shortlisted works. HearSay HomeFires is online and free for attendees everywhere, and on the streets of Kilfinane, with physical installations, for those for whom the town is home. The festival has always been a global phenomenon. With audio from 18 different countries, in 2021 it is also hyper-local. Beyond the prize entries, the HomeFires programme gathers the moments when the international festivalgoers turned the microphone on the place itself.

Megaloceros Cill Fionain by Donnacha Cahill

How Sweet the Sound, in which Kilfinane Piper and multi-instrumentalist Conor Ryan walks slow airs through the streets of Kilfinane will open the festival online on Friday 7 May at 7pm Irish time. There will be communal Live Audio Baking with Mary McDonnell, a pandemic reworking of Lucy Dearlove's eating installation, Table for One and Haikus and HearSay with Gabriel Rosenstock, John Delore and Brenden Francis Newnam. On the street, you'll find the premiere of Kilfinane artist and writer Deirdre Carr’s With These Words, sound installations by Benoit Bories, Danny McCarthy, Slavek Kwi and Gramaphone, and Megaloceros Cill Fionáin by Donnacha Cahill.

Table for One by Lucy Dearlove

The HearSay Audio Prize goes every year to the best piece of audio submitted, but the remit for judging is much broader than that. The festival will close on Friday 14 May with an online awards ceremony in which, as well as the overall prize, awards will be given for the best piece in any language other than English (the GanBearla Award), the best piece by a student or anyone under 21 (the Rising Award), audio that foregrounds under-represented voices and experiences (the Heard Award), audio that breaks the rule books (the Fearless Award), audio that hits with a punch (the Provoke Award), audio that forges a connection (the Human Award), audio that surprizes (the Zest award), and audio that operates somewhere on the edge of our senses (the Art award).

Festival events usually take place in homes and businesses in the town

This is a festival of two communities, driven by stories, shared experience, and human connection, through a love of recorded sounds. The pandemic has made some space for stocktaking, renewal, and forging a new relationship with our sense of place. In 2021, HearSay HomeFires is about embracing that.

HearSay HomeFires 2021 takes place online and in Kilfinane, County Limerick from 7- 14 May. Access the full programme of events here and register to attend here - attendance is free.

Find updates and share your festival experience on social media using the hashtags #HearSayHomeFires #NotYourNormalHearSay #AudioVillage