Artists James O’Callaghan

James O’Callaghan is a composer and sound artist based in Montréal praised for his “mastery of materials and musical form” (Électromania, Radio France) and “highly refined sense of colour” (Vancouver Sun).

His music intersects acoustic and electroacoustic media, employing field recordings, amplified found objects, computer-assisted transcription of environmental sounds, and unique performance conditions.

His work, spanning chamber, orchestral, live electronic and acousmatic idioms, audio installations, and site-specific performances, has been variously commissioned by the Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM), NYO Canada, Ensemble Paramirabo, Quasar, and Standing Wave, among others.

James O’Callaghan is the recipient of the Canada Council for the Arts’ Robert Fleming Prize (Canada, 2015), and his music has been awarded first prizes in the Salvatore Martirano Memorial Composition Award (USA, 2016), the Musicworks’ electronic music competition (Canada, 2015), the SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Composers (Canada, 2013, ’14), including its 2014 John Weinzweig Grand Prize, and the Canadian Electroacoustic Community’s competition Jeu de temps / Times Play (CEC, Canada, 2013). His music was nominated for the Gaudeamus Award (The Netherlands, 2016) and the Juno Award for Classical Composition of the Year (Canada, 2014), and was a finalist in the the 8e Prix collégien de musique contemporaine (Québec, 2016) and the Klang competition (France, 2015).

Originally from Vancouver, he received a Master of Music degree in composition from McGill University in 2014, studying with Philippe Leroux, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts honours degree from Simon Fraser University in 2011, studying with Barry Truax.


James O’Callaghan

Burnaby (British Columbia, Canada), 1988

Residence: Montréal (Québec)

  • Composer

On the Web

James O’Callaghan [Photo: Michael Slobodian, Montréal (Québec), September 25, 2011]
James O’Callaghan [Photo: Michael Slobodian, Montréal (Québec), September 25, 2011]
  • James O’Callaghan [Photo: Suzane O’Neill / CQM, Montréal (Québec), February 4, 2018]
  • James O’Callaghan [Photo: Jean-François Denis, Utrecht (Netherlands), September 7, 2016]
  • James O’Callaghan [Photo: Anna Van Kooij]

Selected Works

  • Bodies-Soundings (2014), 10:19
    stereo fixed medium (with optional additional sound diffusion inside an acoustic guitar and a toy piano)
  • Empties-Impetus (2014-15), 20:02
    4-channel fixed medium (with optional additional sound diffusion inside the instruments of a string quartet)
  • Isomorphic (2011-14), 9:58
    5.1-channel fixed medium
  • Objects-Interiors (2013), 10:12
    stereo fixed medium (with optional additional sound diffusion inside a piano)

Main Releases

empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 16140, IMED 16140_NUM / 2016


Various artists
CEC-PeP / PEP 018 / 2015

In the Press

James O’Callaghan and Objects-Interiors: (Re)presenting Space

Ellen Ringler, Sound Symposium Blog, July 14, 2015

On Tuesday July 12, 2016 at the LPSU theatre James O’Callaghan shared his [concert] entitled “Objects-Interiors: the piano as an acoustic Space” as a part of St John’s Sound Symposium. O’Callaghan’s work haunts the theatre and defers the traditional repertoire of (re)presentation. As described by the artist in the programme, “Objects-Interiors is the first in the series of extended-acousmatic pieces investigating the acoustic interior properties of musical instruments. This first piece for piano will scrutinize the piano as an acoustic space, and its possible metaphoric associations with ‘real spaces’. It will move from the ‘rational’ world of the piano-as-space to a surreal juxtaposition of outside and unexpected spaces integrated into the acoustic space of the piano.” O’Callaghan placed speakers inside the piano and weighted its pedals in order to allow the strings to resonate freely, and he employed the GRAIL (surround sound speaker array) in order to play his electroacoustic piece. While the audience listened carefully in the darkness, the artist executed his work from behind a laptop. It seems to me as though O’Callaghan employs his music as a series of deferrals, in order to emphasize the social implications of representation.

All representation is misrepresentation in the world of the stage, in that as an audience we recognize and subsequently misrecognize what is presented to us. Because sound is representational the audience will consistently and constantly misrecognize what they are hearing and ultimately what it ‘means’. We will always experience misrepresentation because it is mediated by performance and we will always misrecognize representation because it is mediated by the composer. O’Callaghan’s work seems to invite us to think about (mis)representation and the space that it inhabits. By diffusing an electroacoustic piece of music through speakers inside the piano as well as through the sound system of the theatre (itself a kind of performance of his composition), he invites the audience, sitting in darkness, to defer representations of sounds.

These representations are deferred through the visual of the piano, the sound emanating from the piano, and the sound surrounding the entirety of the theatre space itself. The speakers within the piano help to ‘colour’ the sound, but also invite the audience to ask who/what is represented as well as who/what is absent. When we hear the sound of a piano we may expect to see a musician physically playing the piano on stage – but we do not. Instead the sound emanating from the speakers ‘plays’ the piano by vibrating its strings. When we hear the sound of this piano and wonder about the potential pianist we may ask ourselves who this (absent) pianist could be. What do they look like? What is their skill level? What is their gender, race, cultural background, ability etc? The representation of or lack of representation of a pianist on stage allows us to question ad infinitum who we may expect to see at the St John’s eighteenth Sound Symposium. This deferral of representation invites the audience to develop avoid (mis)recognition and challenge expectations through sound metaphor.

O’Callaghan’s Objects-Interiors is sonically haunting. Perhaps a part of this haunt is its evocation of the mystery of representation. I was left uneasy most likely because my expectations regarding who is represented in any given space were challenged. The deferral of meaning, the sonic bounce from space to space and place to place disavowed any common assumptions I may have about who and what is (re)presented and who or what is misrecognized at the St John’s Sound Symposium.

… is sonically haunting.


By continuing browsing our site, you agree to the use of cookies, which allow audience analytics.