Karen Power

Featured Composer

Photo: John Godfrey

Karen Power’s compositions utilise two primary sources; acoustic instruments and everyday sounds, spaces and soundscapes. Her output is diverse – both in its approach and delivery – and her primary aim is to capture and translate the essence of an idea through any artistic means necessary. For example, recent projects have been presented as orchestral works, sonic installations, chamber music, collaborations between sound and dance, image and experimental film, free improvisations and musical happenings.

Everyday environments and how we hear everyday sounds lies at the core of Karen Power’s practice with a continued interest in blurring the distinction between what most of us call ‘music’ and all other sounds. She has found inspiration in the natural world and how we respond to spaces we occupy. She continually utilises our inherent familiarity with such sounds and spaces as a means of engaging with audiences. Resulting works challenge the listener’s memory of hearing while simultaneously shifting focus and presenting new contexts for such sounds. Karen’s current practice revolves around her development of aural scores + parts as alternate methods of communication with performers.

In 2009 she completed a PhD in acoustic and electroacoustic composition at SARC (Sonic Arts Research Centre), Belfast, with Prof. Michael Alcorn. Throughout her PhD, Karen’s works focused on the commonalities and individualities of both acoustic and electroacoustic composition aiming to develop a more integrated language, which acknowledges and utilizes such strengths.

Recently Karen has spent time in residency at The Arctic Circle, The Banff Centre, Canada, The Guesthouse, Ireland, UCDavis, California, USA and in 2015/16 was an artist in Berlin through a DAAD Award. She has been composer in Residence with Galway Music Residency and Music Generation. Karen has been commissioned by RTÉ, Bozzini Quartet, SCAW, Carin Levine, Sonar Quartet, Ensemble Mosaik, ConTempo, Ultraschall Festival, MikroMusik, NMD Festival, Isabelle O’ Connell, Other performances include RTÉ Symphony Orchestra, Alarm Will Sound, Ensemble Modern, the Ulster Orchestra, Kate Ellis, Mmm Trio and Quiet Music Ensemble. She has been awarded national and international awards and honorary mentions for her work and has represented Ireland internationally on a number of occasions. Karen’s installation work and her recent interest in field recordings have taken her music across many genres and art mediums including video, dance, film, painting, sculpture and glass. This cross-arts approach has enabled some of her more open-time music to be presented in spaces like galleries, parks, warehouses and houses, which offer audiences choice in how and when we listen.

In 2017 Karen became chair of Sounding the Feminists, a collective seeking equality in music across Ireland.

In 2018 her work represented Ireland at ISCM in Beijing.

Some exciting recent projects include; Gorging Limpet, which is a collaborative project between sound and experimental film, a commission from UK pianist Andrew Zolinsky – focusing on the subtle individual tuning of pianos, The Arctic Circle Residency, hearSpace (2014) – an exploration into the world of Radio with a new interactive radio art composition, a large-scale commission for Bozzini Quartet, a DAAD Artist-in-Berlin Award, Instruments of Ice (2015) for QME + Arctic Ice, once below a double installation + soloists based on Berlin’s underground bunkers and veiled babble (2016) for Ensemble Mosaik + underwater Spree River sounds + a commission for Sonar Quartett merging string quartet with Laotian ricefields + Berlin. Current explorations include a fluxus-style work: those are the dangers of round vegetables in a major train station where players and environmental sounds became 1, sounds like… for brass quartet, voices from hidden places (2018) for BAM Festival, Germany + location location location (2018) for NMD.

Karen is an active improviser, who specializes in using environmental and everyday sounds as catalysts for constructing new soundworlds, which also feeds into her educational work with children and adults.

In her education work, she is specifically interested in creating new music and sounds with children through active workshops, which allow children to explore, create and perform their own compositions. She has developed and delivered an early years program Natural Creators. Children are intuitively open and my aim as an artistic educator is to introduce new sounds, musical experiences and draw out creative impulses in my work. Much of Karen’s work in this area includes the use of improvisation, an awareness of our natural soundscape and the creation of alternative natural instruments as performance tools. Her current program is called Natural Creators and is suitable for 3-5 years.