Conference of the Birds (Sweeney)


Date: 2019
Location: Dublin

Online Workshops | up to 15 people per session | practice-led | applied discussion | learn new writing approaches |  Duration: 3 hours per session |


Conversation-performance for 1 host, 6 speakers, migratory birds and treated songline.

A cross-disciplinary performative discussion using the mad King Sweeney legend as a starting point for live discussion and spacious sonic transformation.

Taking its starting-point in the old Irish tale of mad King Sweeney’s transformation into a bird and condemned to roam over Ireland in perpetual exile, the artist has invited six speakers from different disciplines to discuss its contemporary resonance. The conversation will explore ideas of journeying, ask how languages migrate and settle, how love poetry crosses histories, how traces create places, and will address urgent questions around resettlement, translation, elemental languages and endangered species.

The speakers are: Ceara Conway (Irish singer and visual artist) Vahni Capildeo, (Trinidadian Scottish poet),  Prof. Vera Regan, (Sociolinguist, Tracker of Bilingual Dublin communities), Geoff Sample (Bird recordist and sound artist), David Wallace (Medievalist Scholar and Cruise guide), James L. Smith, (Geographer of the Sea, Trinity Dublin). Programmed by Rob Blazey for live processing, Conference (after Sweeney) develops into a cycle of sounds and vocal frequencies. It also includes migratory songbirds recorded on their way out from Ballyhoorisky and Claddaghduff early September 2018 and a vocal bassline based on an old Irish melody.

As speech changes into waves and sound particulates, the discussion unearths shadows of song and infuses the voices with other memory.

Commissioned by International Literature festival Dublin (ILFD).



from 2018 iteration

Photo credit: Thierry Bal

“An ambitious meditation on the way people, birds and words live in
perpetual migration”

Jonathan Jones, The Guardian


First developed as a commission for the Whitstable Biennale 2018, this exploratory discussion format aims to shift and enhance our attention between speech-led discussion and a more holistic and perceptual listening process.

Each Conference is recreated and redeveloped according to its hosting context, yet it always takes as its starting point a transformational narrative using birds as its leading metamorphic figure. Each invited speaker is asked to reflect on their own trajectory and how their specialist field/practice and concerns  respond to this transformational motif.

The subtitle to the Dublin commission points to one of the more famous imaginary birds of Ireland and comes from a beautiful and harsh medieval poem: the legend of Buile Shuibhne, Mad King Sweeney, cursed during battle and condemned to fly over many of Ireland’s geographies as a metamorphic and unresting talking/singing bird-shape. It has been the subject of many poetic (and now TV manifestation) and was translated as Sweeney Astray by Seamus Heaney (1983). A  tormented yet also intensely rich figure and poem.


Greetings! To each of you,
and of each of you more than you know,
and more of you than I know,
some of you in listening seats
some of you I rely on to speak,
and I will be your host.”

Don`t copy text!