Alma Kelliher is a composer, sound designer and musician based in Dublin.
Recent international theatre credits include productions by TheEmergencyRoom, Lyric Theatre Belfast, National Theatre London, Fearghus Ó Conchuir, THISISPOPBABY, Talking Shop Ensemble, Rough Magic Theatre Company, 15th Oak, and as assistant sound designer/composer on Hansel and Gretel and Beauty and the Beast (Katie Mitchell, National Theatre, London).
Alma has worked with a number of artists for sculpture and film including Sarah Browne, Karen Donnellan, and Ailbhe Keoghan.
She has a BA in Music from Trinity College, Dublin and an MSc in Sound Design from Edinburgh University. She studied Organ to diploma level with the London College of Music and Media and is a graduate of the Rough Magic SEEDS Programme 2010-11 and the Next Stage Programme 2011.
Alma is a member of The Evertides – a musical trio influenced by folk, gospel and close vocal harmony. Following a series sell out runs at Dublin’s Whelan’s, Chancery Lane and Peacock Theatres, The Evertides recorded their original work in 2015.
- Best Sound Design, Irish Times Theatre Awards 2013 for "riverrun" (TheEmergencyRoom)
- Edinburgh Fringe First award 2011 for "Minute After Midday" (15th Oak)
riverrun is a very special project. It has a life of its own, a path of its own and it guided us towards a design aesthetic rather than the other way around.
The thing about Finnegan’s Wake is there is no wrong interpretation – no incorrect way of looking at it. This was briefly terrifying when approaching the project but ultimately very freeing and made the whole production quite a spiritual experience. Once the team were all on the same page, we could float down the river together and see where it took us.
The sound design went through many permutations before settling on its current form. Olwen (our co-director, performer and Finnegan’s Wake interpreter) is really interested in the use of vocal and sound effects so we tried many options along the way. These included phase vocoders on her voice (creating a live, tonal robotic sound) and noise gates where the volume of her voice triggered a palate of sound effects. We went through a period where I would stand up at the end of the show and sing a song! Ultimately though we settled on a more earthy and fluid soundscape with tones drawn from river and water sounds, melded and fused with sounds of thunder and song to create a subtly pulsing and undulating river of sound. We also included some NASA recordings taken from microphones on the exterior of some of their space shuttles. The most important decision though was to perform the sounds live, in direct reaction to Olwen’s movements. So each performance is instinctive and unique.
A key point in the process was 18 months after we first worked on it in April 2013. Following the advice of acclaimed composer Susan Stenger, I drew a map of the show. I followed the energy of the piece over time and made a sort of graph. This took the onus off the sound itself to lead and created a sort of visual narrative for me. We hung it on the wall of the rehearsal room and referred to it every day, with both Olwen’s performance and Stephen’s design also drawing from the map.
Another crucial relationship was between Olwen and the microphone. We went through a number of types of microphone before settling on our current choice (AKG 414). This is very much Olwen’s instrument and she plays it musically, whispering, blowing, speaking and breathing with it throughout.
The way I think about riverrun is that in order to contribute to the process, you must always look at it out the corner of your eye, as you do at a star. If you look at it too directly or hold it too tightly, it disappears. If it remains always just at the edge of your field of vision and understanding then with a light touch, one can join the river, however briefly, to create a special theatrical moment.
I love working with Fearghus Ó Conchúir. His work is instinctive and always heartfelt and is led by true and honest feelings rather than an aesthetic or technical goal to be reached. Because of this, there’s a unique relationship between the music and movement.
Fearghus always comes to me with a deeply considered idea. It’s rarely narrative, more of a description of a state of mind of a person or people. He’s incredibly emotionally articulate which allows me to immerse myself fully in this state of mind and think from within the piece.
Taking Fearghus’ lead, I think about these feelings for a while and then I just sit and see what flows out. Sometimes it’s rhythmic, sometimes almost industrial and very often vocal.
The vocal is important in my work with him because it represents my ‘truest’ voice. And sometimes it’s about that voice not being heard, or not being able to shine, but it’s always a sung idea to begin with. This was most apparent in our work on The Rhythm of Fierce which was almost entirely vocal work.
That said, it’s not about sounding ‘pretty’ either. Sometimes what’s called for is grit, and electricity, strength and difficulty. I think that power is heard a lot in Cure – Fearghus’ piece about recovery and renewal. In that piece I used a lot of pulsating electronic sounds which undulated and sparked as we watched his growth and renewal in movement.
The most crucial part of our creative relationship though is a deep level of trust and respect. Fearghus is always hugely supportive and respectful of my art and allows it to inform his choreography in return. It’s not about a person being ‘in charge’ but more someone to guide the process along.
So far I’m not discussing my composition process itself in great detail. I think that’s because with Fearghus, I don’t think about it. I don’t sit down to compose until I fully understand the sentiments so that when I do begin to write, the music knows what it needs to be. Because of this, my work with Fearghus is among the proudest and most varied in my repertoire.