The International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) Blog

Encounters with Contemporary Women Composers Part 4

Posted in Theresa_Sauer by iawmblog on July 1, 2010

The World of Linda O’Keefe: Color, Concept, and Composition…

In 2008, Linda, a Dublin born composer, was in Chicago experimenting with building her own instruments, including small synthesizers. She started to compose music for these new instruments. In the past, her works were primarily based on manipulated recorded sounds and vocal performances. She had worked with instrumentalists whose backgrounds were in jazz and the idea of composing in the “traditional” sense was never part of her training.

While in Chicago, she met Guillermo Gregorio and discovered his works of graphic notation. Guillermo uses color in his notation systems, and this piqued Linda’s interest to study the works of Schoenberg and Kandinsky. Now newly inspired, Linda continued her study of how instruments worked and what information she could provide a musician that would enable the interpretation of her ideas, while still allowing room for improvisation in composition. This lead to her writing a composition that was performed by Eric Leonardson and Guillermo Gregorio entitled ‘Anomaly of Memory’.

She says, “It was an enlightening process, as there were issues of control which arose from this type of composition. Guillermo performed on sax and clarinet, while Eric performed on his instrument the Springboard. Linda performed with her computer. There are moments when you are composing with the graphic score that you are looking for a very specific type of sound or emotion expressed. This means exploring in detail how this is written, drawn or notated, and understanding that each performer will interpret it differently. The interpretation is the area where the composer gives up a measure of control. In the performance of the piece, there was a definite tension, a search for meaning within the score, and a time for improvising. The improvisation helped make the experience both terrifying and very exciting.

‘Anomaly of Memory’ is about the idea of repetition, endings and beginnings. The design was based on images from moments of memory, miniature drawings that she had done of parts of places and pieces of things…tiny parts of a bigger whole. The images were there for improvisational purposes, and the notation was there as a guide to startle the memory and then to find a sound that each performer wished to repeat. Linda explained, “Each performer starts to listen to each other and repeat what each performer is doing even sub-consciously, which happens in a number of sections. Tension happens when dissonance occurs and each performer is somewhere else in the interpretation of the image.” She used color in this work to see if it had any effect on the performance. “Apparently it did,” she said, but she can’t explain how just yet.

What is Linda up to now? She has been working on two projects, one of which is a graphic score composition exploring Marxist-Capitalist ideas. She wants to research industrialization in the modern period and its influence on music and sound.  This is a very large project and she has been working on it for two years. She wishes create this composition for singers, sound artists and acoustic instrumentalists while at the same time designing a graphic score that is both interpretive and guiding and as she says, “a balancing act.”

Her second project is expected to be on CD this August 2010 by Farpoint recordings. It is a digital composition about sound and Christian Evangelicism. The concept explores sexuality and religion, and the use of the voice as a tool in street preaching. She started the piece as a soundscape of American street evangelism and then continued on with the examination of sexuality within Christianity. She says, “The link between the ecstasy of preaching and sexuality and the dichotomy this has in the church fascinates me.”

For more information about Linda O’Keefe, PhD Fellow N.U.I.M

Theresa Sauer is the author/editor of Notations 21, an anthology of innovative visual notation from around the world. She is the Director of the Notations 21 Project. She lectures, curates exhibits, produces concerts, and also composes music using innovative music notation. She is in the process of developing a documentary about Notations 21.

For more information visit: website: and blog: