Ailís Ní Ríain


Ailís Ní Ríain is an Irish contemporary classical composer who aims to produce work that challenges, provokes and engages. A regular collaborator with artists in other art-forms, her artistic interests are diverse and combined with an unwavering desire to develop her artistic practice with each new project or commission. In 2016 she was awarded the prestigious Paul Hamlyn Award for Composers.

Her music has been performed at London’s Purcell Room, The Royal Festival Hall, The National Concert Hall in Dublin, Carnegie Hall in New York, throughout Europe and in the USA as well as featured on BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, RTÉ Lyric FM and RTÉ Television.


A period upon the Celtic Explorer is an enticing prospect; a dedicated period to focus on something completely new in my creative practice. I am a classical composer, improvising pianist and writer for stage. An idea I have been thinking about for a while is based around the idea of ‘ugly’ sealife. Initially inspired by the book by Simon Watt ‘We Can’t All Be Pandas’ in which he details 60 of the world’s most ugly (and endangered) animals, features rare imagery and explanatory text. The author is a high-pro le biologist but also a stand-up comedian, and the text combines expert research with a light tone. Many of the creatures within are marine life and this struck me as a fascinating area for consideration as an artistic project, something that might also give me an opportunity to bring together both my music and writing in one work. 

I’ve often thought that scientists and artists have much in common, especially with those of us exploring sound. In fact, I suspect there are many scientists who might well be more creative than some artists. Society requires both innovative scientists and innovative artists to drive forward new ways of thinking, doing, making and living. The work that I have done in my music installations (for unusual and/or historic spaces) have developed my interest in research-heavy projects with a broad range of outcomes [not just artistic]. These projects include a song for a decommissioned lighthouse, a 1:1 piece of music/text for a K6 red British telephone box, a street music installation for the area of Old Dublin City near the Contemporary Music Centre where Handel’s Messiah had its first performance and a piece for harp and 12 voices for a grade I listed castle keep in Pennine Lancashire based on the infamous Pendle Witch Trials of 1612. 

As with any artistic project, the outcome is often driven by the experience and is idea-led. Through conversation with fellow researchers on the vessel, and time to observe and think, I have no doubt would lead me to see the world differently and ideally begin a new journey into the deep.