Brian Lally tells us about his retrospective look at five decades of celebrated composer and the “godfather of Irish electronic music” Roger Doyle and observes him presenting one of his most ambitious musical projects to the general public – his first electronic opera.
I met Roger Doyle at the Fleadh way back in 2004. I had been aware of his work and the music he had done for films like Pigs and for Joe Comerford’s short experimental films, both of which feature in the documentary.
I met him at a retrospective on the work of Bob Quinn. Bob was showing Budawanny and he pointed out Roger Doyle in the audience. I ended up chatting to him afterwards. At the time, I was making Aftermath, an experimental film and he gave me some of his music to use in the film. It was something very new that he was working on and was very otherworldly. It had an enormous impact on the actual film. The film went around the world playing at festivals and seemed to have an enormous impact on the audience. Half of it was down to his music.
I started thinking maybe I should make a documentary about his work. I started filming Roger’s concerts with a view to using them in a documentary at some point. But nobody seemed interested. I got rejected everywhere.
Then in 2015, Roger told me his opera had been funded. This was his first electronic opera, Heresy, a big 2-hour production about the Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno. I’d seen a short version of it, which was a work in progress, a few years earlier and I knew it would be good. That was kind of what I needed because the one thing the documentary lacked was a solid structure but I knew I could build a future documentary about the preparations for the Opera, leading up to the opening night, which would be the climax of the documentary.
I set the documentary up so that you’re introduced to Roger leading a quiet life in Bray. Here’s a guy who has brought out 27 albums but, outside of the Dublin art scene, there’s not that many people who know Roger Doyle – so it was a great subject for a documentary. Someone said that the purpose of a documentary is to make the unseen seen, or in this case to make the unheard heard.
Roger has had an amazing career spanning 50 years. He has an incredible work ethic. He composes every single day. He is highly disciplined and highly focused. Plus, he’s one of those people who has that rare quality that as he gets older he’s actually getting better. I’ve looked back at all his work, I’ve listened to every single one of those 27 albums and I think, as a single piece of work, the Opera is his finest achievement, particularly when you see it live.
I didn’t want to make a documentary about an obscure talent who remains obscure. The Opera allowed me to make a story about an obscure talent who has this big career-defining moment quite late in life. There’s a theme in the documentary of an artist in search of an audience and the payoff at the end is a mind-blowing performance in front of that audience.
And so the structure took shape – a fly-on-the-wall style documentary following the preparations for Roger’s first electronic opera and along the way a look back at Roger’s 50 year-long career in music, avant garde theatre and film.
By the time we came to 2016 I’d been filming Roger on and off for about 10 years so I had a wealth of archive from about 2005 onwards. Plus the remarkable work he’s done has attracted other filmmakers beforehand, so there was very rich material for me to draw on when it came to putting the actual feature documentary together.
As for the fly-on-the-wall footage, I attended about half the rehearsals for Heresy, picked the very best moments from that and filmed the Opera itself. Thankfully, it proved to be spectacular, visually striking and just a treat overall.
I hope I’ve captured the spectacle of his opera and done justice to his remarkable career.
From an interview conducted by Gemma Creagh