Anna Mullarkey


Galway musician Anna Mullarkey is a one-woman genre-bending powerhouse.


Looping, layering and flitting between instruments at will, her compositions unearth creative gems from the uncertain terrain of life. Anna’s haunting voice flooded Eyre Square last September at the Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture Programme Launch, when she performed music written especially for the occasion.

From the refuge of her studio, the composer tells us about her influences, process and what it means to be in flow.

Can you tell us about the pieces you composed for the Galway 2020 programme launch?

For me, it was based around the seasons, mainly exploring the idea of dark and light in Irish Pagan festivals. When we come into darkness, we’re into the winter and when we come into light, it’s spring, it’s growth. I love that duality; the whole arc of the music is based around that. Gratte Ciel, the French company we were working with, were more about earth, sky and the elements. Bringing the elements into the idea of seasons – that’s really what it was all about.


How many tracks did you compose?

There were five tracks altogether and the intro for me was seasonless; it welcomed people into the transition in season, the Welcome Ceremony song. Craig [Flaherty, Galway 2020 Cultural Producer] really had this vision of a landmark, this moment, this pinnacle. The season is 2020, let’s go into it, here. The first track was the idea of spring. Then summer was the big one, the dancier one. “Passing” was the very end of a season.


Can you talk us through the writing process?

I had about 3–4 weeks. It was pretty intense. I downloaded loads of pictures of old Pagan rituals to get my head into a ritualistic mindset. I got some crayons and did loads of colouring; then the songs just started coming in. I need to get creative to be creative, tricking myself into it, so I’m not feeling stressed. I’m calm, chilled; I play the piano and it sort of happens. It was interesting writing it all as Gaeilge. It kind of narrowed the scope of what I could say.


How did you feel after that performance?

I felt really good. I would say exhilarated, relieved and grateful.

What kind of sounds and instruments spring into mind when you think of Galway?

The accordion comes to mind first. When I was young, we lived beside Máirtín O’Connor in Annaghdown. I remember being at his house, and him playing tunes that he wrote. They were amazing, but at a young age, you almost take it for granted that you’re looking at this genius. I know a few accordion players and they’re fantastic. [Galway] feels like a real home of trad.


What is your favourite season and how does it play into your creative mindset?

Autumn is the best season ever. It’s not too cold, it’s not too warm. The dry days are crisp, the leaves are changing colours right in front of your eyes. Halloween is the best of all because it’s the welcoming of the darkness, through play. That’s a winner.

“When I’m in flow; it’s this feeling like you can do no wrong because it’s not about being right. It’s not about making a finished piece, it’s about being completely at one with an instrument or whoever I’m working with.”

Where do you go to in your mind when you need to recenter yourself before a gig?

For the last two years, it’s been Star Trek. I like sci-fi, it helps me so much – the idea of utopian future, and fighting for the good of all worlds, not just humanity!


How did your love for music begin and where would you like to take it next?

I began by playing the piano with my dad, we used to jam together for hours. Mom would be putting dinner on the table and telling us to get off the piano. My parents are artists and they would always have artist friends over. I remember listening to an opera singer at a young age and kind of hating it because it was so different, it was scary. I’m really glad I had that experience; I would love to work with opera at some point in my life. I would definitely like to combine classical with electronic music more – that electro-acoustic style with strings, piano and voice.


How would you describe your sound right now?

An easy way [to describe it] is to say electro-acoustic. Because it’s changing all the time and I’m going a little more classical now. I am definitely influenced by house but also minimalist music. But it’s not minimal house music, like I thought at one point!


What instruments do you play?

I play a little bit of bodhrán, a little bit of guitar, ukulele, piano and I sing.

What has been the most innovative way you’ve approached music?

Working on [Brú Theatre production] Selvage with James Riordan comes to mind. That work was all electronic, combining sounds and sound cues. I don’t know that my method was unorthodox but I was combining skills that I didn’t know existed, trying to find sounds and combine them into soundtracks for live. It was definitely an experience, I loved it.


How would you describe Galway to someone?

Galway is a city that has maintained its medieval structure and yet, has amazing buskers that create a wonderful ambiance on the streets. Every pub has live music. Walking into Neachtains, you don’t know what kind of music genre you’re going to get and that’s very exciting.


What are the biggest positive changes that you have seen take place in Galway over the years?

The Blue Teapot is pretty phenomenal and its integration of people with disabilities. They’re doing work that is super meaningful and difficult. Acting is hard, learning lines is hard but they encourage these things without fear; that’s big. To me, it’s all about integration, community and making people feel that their voice is important.


What is an unusual place in Galway where you’d like to perform?

It’s not too unusual but I really want to play upstairs in the Druid. I want to do an ambiance show there; it’s the most stunning room.

Where in the creative process do you find most joy?

When I’m in flow; it’s this feeling like you can do no wrong because it’s not about being right. It’s not about making a finished piece, it’s about being completely at one with an instrument or whoever I’m working with.


What do you enjoy most about making music?

Performing is fun. It’s really nice when you can see that people are on the same page as you and you’re really connecting. I love that.


When have you surprised yourself most in the last three years?

This year was a surprise. Working with both James Riordan and with Elaine Mears on Are you there Una? It was my first time working with theatre as a musician where it was just me, making an entire soundscape for a piece. That really shocked me. I think it’s amazing when you make something and then you hear it in a speaker. When other people experience it, it changes. Then the 2020 project was just a whirlwind. I couldn’t believe I did that. Whoa, it was really cool.


Which local artists inspire you, beyond music?

I’m a massive fan of the work of [street artists] Shane O’Malley and Finbar McHugh. The two of them have just the most amazing use of colour. I just find it so mesmerising and calming at the same time. There is a great use of line in Shane’s work and texture in Finbar’s.

Hundreds of creatives have been involved in the making of the Galway 2020 programme. In our Meet the Makers series, we meet the people who are making it  happen.

Photos and interviews by Julia Monard.

Videography by Lakshika Serasinhe.


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