Calle O'Reilly

This intriguing project was sprung on me a mere 4 weeks ago. The concept was the brainchild of my friend and colleague Joe Lakes—with whom I have studied and worked closely on several projects. It was submitted to Project Brand New and was accepted. The performance will take place on Thursday 29 April at the Project Arts Centre, in Dublin.


Every Sunday in Havana, Cuba, a group of Afro-Cuban musicians and dancers gather in a small side-street called Callejón De Hamel to perform and preserve their folkloric music. The project was initiated by a sculptor and painter called Salvador Gonzáles, and his work has taken over the street. The music is very different to the well known Buena Vista Social Club sound, and is very rarely heard in Ireland.

Joe's idea is to create a performance of an Afro-Cuban song called Compa Galletano using six percussionists, a bass player and two digital media artists. The musicians will perform a Rumba Guaguancó (pronounced Wa Wan Co), while the artists will use interactive digital projections to interpret and augment the performance.
Why do we want to put on this performance?
  1. There are many similarities between Irish and Cuban arts. Both have a strong tradition in music as a community expression of a shared culture. The music of both islands can be an expression of historical tragedy and oppression. In both cultures, music is alive and breathing, and in both places there exists a tension between preserving the old and inventing the new. The audience play an integral part in the performances - they are not there simply to observe.
  2. There are strong links between Cuba and Ireland. One of the main streets in Havana Vieja is named after Irishman Alejandro O’Reilly. He was one of the Wild Geese and served with the Spanish army in Cuba and Puerto Rico. This project will be called “Calle O’Reilly” in his honour, and also in reference to a performance of Compa Galletano by the late Orlando “Puntilla” Ríos in the movie Calle 54.
  3. To showcase the rarely heard music of the Afro-Cuban tradition, and to try to develop an interest in this very old and very exciting music here in Ireland.
  4. To demonstrate the fantastic possibilities available to the performing arts when collaborating with technology based disciplines.

My brief for the project is to come up with some reactive visuals that will compliment the performance, which evoke the intensely rhythmic spirit of Afro-Cubano music. It is for this reason that I decided the best approach to the problem would be to directly tap into the biorhythmic patterns generated by the percussionists themselves, and then to creatively visualise this kinesthetic data. It was decided that the best way to channel this data created by the musicians was to place piezoelectric sensors on the instruments themselves. Therefore each time the drum is struck some digital data is created which I can then use to generate live graphics in synchrony with the performers' percussive gesticulations. My colleague and friend Colin O'Sullivan was instrumental in coding, developing and refining the visualisations for this project. 

There is a detailed explanation—on my blog—of the process through which I underwent to create these electronic circuits and get the technology working with the visuals.