A journey to Achill Sounds - EU・ジャパンフェスト日本委員会

A journey to Achill Sounds

Denise McDonagh |Creative Producer, Culture Works

On the enchanting island of Achill, a musical journey unfolded, bringing together two talented musicians from different corners of the world. The Achill Sounds project, a collaboration between Japanese composer Hiroaki Yokoyama and Achill musician Graham Sweeney, was about to captivate the hearts and minds of those who were fortunate enough to experience it.

From left to Right: Hiroaki Yokoyama and Graham Sweeney ©︎ Heverin photography.

Supported by Mayo County Council Arts Service, Film Mayo, and EU-Japan Fest Japan Committee in partnership with the Heinrich Böll Cottage and produced by Culture Works, this project aimed to merge the distinct sounds and traditions of Achill Island with Yokoyama and Sweeney’s musical expertise. As the artists embarked on their artistic residency at the Heinrich Böll Cottage, anticipation filled the air.
The residency became a haven for creativity and inspiration. Yokoyama and Sweeney delved into their collaboration, drawing inspiration from field recordings of Achill Island’s sounds and the melodic allure of traditional Irish instruments. The wooden tree house that Sweeney had cherished as a child became a catalyst for Yokoyama, igniting a desire to create music that would trace Sweeney’s cherished memories.
As the project progressed, it was time to share their knowledge and passion with the local community. The workshop, held at the Lannagh Suite of the Leisure Complex* in Castlebar, was a gathering of eager musicians and aspiring composers. Yokoyama, with his wealth of experience in arranging and composing pop music, electronic music, film music, and stage music, guided the participants through his creative process. It was a rare opportunity to learn from a master, and the workshop left the attendees inspired and enriched.
The crescendo of the Achill Sounds project was the eagerly anticipated work-in-progress performance. On a tranquil evening, the Valley House on Achill Island was transformed into a haven of sights and sounds. The audience, filled with anticipation, gathered as Yokoyama and Sweeney prepared to unveil their collaborative masterpiece.

Achill Sounds performance – The Valley House, Achill Island, County Mayo, Ireland ©︎ Culture Works

With a seamless blend of ambient electronic melodies, field recordings of Achill Island’s natural symphony, and the haunting allure of traditional Irish instruments, the performance became an ethereal experience. The music reverberated through the room, accompanied by mesmerizing visuals that transported the audience to the heart of Achill’s captivating landscapes.

The 50 attendees were enraptured by the artistic fusion before them. A collective sense of awe and wonder filled the air, as Yokoyama and Sweeney’s combined influences and ideas resonated with each listener. It was a testament to the power of collaboration, bridging cultures and transcending boundaries to create something truly unique.

The success of the Achill Sounds project was not without its challenges. Time, as always, was a fleeting companion. But Yokoyama and Sweeney, fueled by their shared vision, pressed forward with unwavering determination. Their commitment to creating a 30-minute work-in-progress performance from scratch showcased their ingenuity and resilience and exceeded all expectations.

Sweeney acknowledged the immense value of collaborating with artists from different genres, recognising the endless opportunities for growth and creative expression that such partnerships presented. Through music and visuals, the Achill Sounds project had become a conduit for exploring the similarities and differences between cultures—a harmonious celebration of diversity.

The project’s partnership structure made possible through the support of Mayo County Council Arts Service, Film Mayo, and EU-Japan Fest, underscored the significance of collaborations in the arts. The merging of ambient electronic music, Achill’s natural soundscape, and the stirring melodies of traditional Irish instruments showcased the power of unity and cross-cultural exchange.

As the final notes lingered in the air, the echoes of the Achill Sounds project reverberated far beyond the Valley House. The project unlocked the potential of collaborations, pushing the boundaries of conventional art forms. It breathed life into the profound connection between music and visual art, captivating audiences who might not have been initially drawn to traditional art forms.

The Achill Sounds project was not just a standalone endeavour but a steppingstone towards future opportunities. Hiro and Graham recognized the significance of their work and aspired to develop it further. They envisioned a more detailed proposal, seeking funding opportunities from the Arts Council in Ireland to continue their artistic exploration.

Their ambitions extended beyond the confines of a performance hall. They aimed to create an outdoor performance, allowing the music and sounds to intertwine with the very environment that had inspired them. The ambition is to invite the audience to immerse themselves in the essence of Achill Island, breathing life into its landscapes through a harmonious marriage of music and nature.

Achill Sounds performance – Graham Sweeney, Denise McDonagh, Orlagh Heverin,Sheila McHugh,Hiroaki Yokoyama, Sean O’Malley and Siobhán O’Malley ©︎ Culture Works

The impact of the Achill Sounds project was felt deeply, not only by the audience but also by the Heinrich Böll Cottage. Sheila McHugh and Sean O’Malley, the caretakers of the cottage, were captivated by the magical night of found sounds, field recordings, and improvisation. They marvelled at the genuine beauty created by Hiroaki Yokoyama and Graham Sweeney, two exceptional musicians who effortlessly explored a shared language of music across cultures. Inspired by their performance, they eagerly anticipated the further progression of their work, eager to witness the evolution of their artistic journey.

The Achill Sounds project was a resounding success. It showcased the transformative power of collaboration, bringing together two musicians from different backgrounds to create an enchanting fusion of sounds. The workshop and work-in-progress performance were testaments to the project’s impact, providing invaluable insights into the local community and attracting new audiences to the world of music and visual art.

This project stood as a testament to the potential of the arts to bridge cultures, celebrate diversity, and create profound connections between people. It became a blueprint for future collaborations, inspiring artists to come together, create, and embrace their differences. Through Achill Sounds, the melodies of Achill Island reached beyond its shores, echoing the harmonious blend of music and art for all to behold.