The Quiet Land

A new original score by Phil Kieran

"Digging into the archive it was no mean feat to pick just one film to score. I chose The Quiet Land (1974) because I loved the story behind its existence as much as the visuals within. Its filmed during the height of the Troubles to promote tourism. Escalating conflict led to pressure to close the Tourist Board but resilient staff adapted to find ways and places where they could responsibly encourage tourists to visit. I imagine they used the title ‘The Quiet Land’ as an antidote to all the violence and noise emanating from the news at home and worldwide about Northern Ireland.

The film contains beautiful footage, shot from dawn to dusk, of the North of Ireland’s wide open spaces, unspoilt nature, people at work and play, heritage houses and ruins, lakes and waterfalls, peat bogs, ferns and lichen; all the familiar, timeless features of NI which remain constant whether in times of trouble or peace.

The original film had dialogue and music stereotypical of that time so I watched the film several times with no audio, imagining and planning how to create a completely new score. I was heavily influenced by the ambience and techniques used in the film Epic Of Everest scored by Simon Fisher Turner. I wanted to use music and natural found sounds and foley to narrate the story rather than dialogue. I made ten original pieces of music before I even started working on synchronising or overdubbing any audio to the actual film. I created tracks that captured the essence of the images, trying to imagine certain moods or pictures I’d have in my mind if I were living inside the film.

Throughout the process I pretended to be an eccentric 1970’s musician trying to create a futuristic sound to an alternate reality with only the instruments and techniques available to me during that era. The word ‘escape’ kept popping into my mind and became a theme. I see most music as a form of escapism, like dance music and nightclubs are used by people as a fast eject from everyday life. During the Troubles, people who stayed in Northern Ireland needed a mental escape as they couldn’t always physically avoid conflict and violence. Some of those ways of escaping were destructive to their being and our society is still paying the price of generational trauma, I wanted to create an imagining of a utopian Northern Ireland with an otherworldly soundscape to match the stunning landscapes in the visuals.

For authenticity, the music was mostly made with instruments and synthesisers from the 1970’s keeping the use of modern music tools as minimal as possible. However, In the process of stripping the pre-existing music from the original archive footage I also lost a lot of its original sounds, for example, of waves or bird song. So, I resorted to using a modern day zoom recorder to create fake foley to overdub newly created sound effects, like recording waterfall sounds at Cregagh Glen in Belfast to replicate waterfalls in the Glens of Antrim. 

I’ve tried to create music that mimics the shape of the image it portrays. In some scenes of the sea I’ve made cyclical waves of ebbing and flowing music but I’ve also blended in literal sounds of the sea recorded at Dundrum Bay during a recent trip to a car-boot sale. There is a sequence of craftspeople at work. I used pin dots of frequencies to match the movements and intricacies of their tasks. In one a man is weaving, we’d lost the sound of the loom operating so I made foley sounds by recording myself hitting chairs on the ground which my kids thought was a bit strange at the time. 

I hope what I’ve created immerses viewers and enhances their sense of connection and harmony with the scenes on screen. I want viewers to experience it as a 23 minute mini-retreat from their modern day stresses and to escape into The Quiet Land.”

Phil Kieran 2022, programmed by Johanna Leech (Strand Arts Centre)

Project Media

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