Barry o'Halpin

Composer & GUITARIST


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Barry O’ Halpin (b.1987) is a composer and experimental guitarist based in Dublin, Ireland.

“It wasn’t just tuning that went beyond “confines”. O’Halpin deploys the sonic possibilities of the electric guitar in ways that are pretty much alien to those of its familiar role in rock music. Michael Dungan, The Irish Times

Written for diverse ensembles, his compositions frequently draw inspiration from the sounds and patterns of natural phenomena, weaving musical materials from animal choruses, electromagnetic spectra and the imagery of microbiology. 

His music combines liminal timbres and microtonal sonorities with a strongly intuitive approach to harmony and gesture. As a composer-performer, he uses invented tunings and unorthodox techniques to explore new uses of the electric guitar in the contemporary chamber ensemble. 

He composes & performs with experimental rock group Alarmist, and is a member of Ireland's leading new music group Crash Ensemble.  

He is currently 2018-19 Arts & Humanities Artist in Residence at Parity Studios, University college Dublin, and a Composer-In-Residence with Crash Ensemble, developing a large scale ensemble work for completion in 2019.


“ O’Halpin is masterful in the way he manipulates this altered background. He controls it so that it is always precisely that – gentle – never an overt Eastern coloration, not an accent. Just whispers…This on its own was not actually what made grave goods so arresting at its world premiere in Sunday’s concert by Crash Ensemble at the Hugh Lane Gallery. Its real impact came from the quiet totality of its soundworld: hesitant, random and delicate, several different registers – high, middle and low – all in subdued, intimate discourse with one another, the separation and combination of distinct voices on a solo string instrument reminiscent of Bach.” ‘grave goods’ premiere review, Michael Dungan, The Irish Times.

“the beating of tones, the rustle of the cello, the clicking slide of a pen on the piano keys. Energy is gathered and the music finishes with playful stops-and-starts….“ 'Catarrh', Kirkos premiere review, GoldenPlec

“The next piece takes the concert on a spectacular detour from 1740s Dublin, as Barry O’Halpin’s newly commissioned Toric is presented. Extended string techniques create a soundboard of dissonance, glissando, and shrieking high notes, as if this was the part of Dublin that had been infested by the bubonic plague” 'Toric', Fishamble Sinfonia premiere review, David Scott, Goldenplec.

"Genres are harvested and manipulated, and [they] take a quasi orchestral approach that allows their music to hover in its own instrumental space, gravitationally pulled toward a rock aesthetic but constantly implying other philosophies in a way that excites." Improvised Music Company on Alarmist.

"Like the original prerequisites of the term post-rock, they use their instruments of rock in ways that incorporate jazz, electronic and truly experimental textures to create something unlike the standard. Alarmist’s music spins and pivots in motion and colour.' Alarmist 'Pal Magnet' EP review,

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Selected excerpts from compositions.

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Difference Fumes                                                         7’       (2017)

  • Flute/picc, clarinet, piano, violin, cello.                            

Free Cells Drinking The Medium                                  9’       (2016)

  • Bass flute, viola, electric guitar

  • Commissioned by Bastard Assignments for Fresh & Clean, Block 336 Brixton, Feb 2014.

Lipids                                                                             7’       (2015) 

  • Bass clarinet, cello, electric guitar.

  • Premiered & toured by Crash Ensemble as part of Born in the 80s Irish tour 2015-2016. Programmed in Composing the Island festival, National Concert Hall, Dublin.

Catarrh                                                                         4’       (2014)

  • Flute, clarinet, piano, cello.

  • Premiered by Kirkos Ensemble, ICC10 Festival, Project Arts Centre, Apr 2014.

Twin Molluscs                                                              9’       (2013)

  • Flute & bass flute

  • Finalist at Rarescale Student Composition Competition 2013. Performed at Tokyo Wonder Site festival 2016 by Lina Andonovska & Janet McKay (BINARY)

Coinage                                                                         9'   (2013/14)

  • 2 electric guitars, flute, synthesiser & mixed instrumentation.

  • Performed with Bastard Assignments at Big Red, London June 2013. Revised version at Block T, Dublin, July 2014.

Image:   Rouzbeh Rashidi   (2017)

Image: Rouzbeh Rashidi (2017)


Vargvarde                                                                     7'        (2018)

  • For choir (SSAATTBB).

  • Written for Chamber Choir Ireland, as part of Choral Sketches 2018 Professional development initiative with Contemporary Music Centre Ireland & mentor composer Tarik O’Regan.

Sleep Flare                                                                  24’      (2017)

  • Alto fl./picc, bass cl, piano, e.guitar, 2 vlns, vla, vc, fixed electronics, film by Rouzbeh Rashidi.

  • Commissioned by Kirkos Ensemble & Experimental Film Society w/funds from Arts Council Ireland. Premiere screening/performance at Wilderness Notes, Filmbase, Dublin, Sept 2017.

Toric                                                                              10’          (2015)

  • String Orchestra/Ensemble (8 vlns, 2 vlas, 2 vcls, Db)

  • Commissioned & premiered by Fishamble Sinfonia w/guest director Darragh Morgan at Death of Castrucci concert, D-Light Studios, Dublin, Sept 2015.

Lethargarian                                                                 6'       (2014)

  • Picc, cl, tbn, vib, pno, vln, vla, vcl, Db

  • Selected from open call submission by Crash Ensemble & composer/curator Raymond Deane for premiere performance, Free State 8, Project Arts Centre, Dublin, Apr 2014.

The Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment                             3’30”    (2012)

Wind Orchestra. Commissioned & premiered by Trinity Laban Wind Orchestra,                                                                                                         Blackheath Halls, London, November 2012.

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Grave GOODS 9’ (2018)

Electric guitar (scordatura). Premiered at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin , December 2018.

Berkelsemere                                                               8-9’    (2016)

Solo voice & electronics. Composed for singer Michelle O’Rourke, premiered at                                                                                             Irish Composers Collective Vox concert, Lutheran Hall, Dublin, October 2016.

Telomere                                                                       4’       (2015)

Bb Clarinet. Premiered by Léonie Bluett, Lutheran Hall, Dublin, September 2015.                                                                                                Programmed at Ensemble Music's Future Composers event, Chocolate Factory, Dublin, March 2016.

Miniature                                                                       3’       (2013)

Piano.  Premiered by Clare Simmonds at Bastard Assignments: Rude Health at                                                                                                Trinity Laban Conservatoire, 2013.  Featured in composer Raymond Deane's piano recital, Irish Composers                                                         on Irish Music series, National Concert Hall Dublin, Jan 2015.


Barry's music has been performed and workshopped internationally by groups including Crash Ensemble, Kirkos Ensemble, Chamber Choir Ireland, Rarescale, Bastard Assignments, Fishamble Sinfonia, Benyounes Quartet, BINARY flute duo and ConTempo Quartet.

He is the 2018-19 Arts & Humanities Artist in Residence at Parity Studios, University college Dublin, and current Composer-In-Residence with Crash Ensemble, developing a large scale ensemble work for completion in 2019.

His work has featured in festivals & concert series including Bang On A Can Summer Music Festival (US), Tokyo Wonder Site (JPN), New Music Dublin (IRL), and Borough New Music (UK). 

In recent years, Barry's music has heavily drawn upon the sounds and patterns of the natural world as a source of inspiration both abstract and direct. He is fascinated by the process of delving as an outsider into hidden worlds revealed through biology and microscopy, emerging with uncanny yet inherently musical material.

Hist works have woven vivid musical shapes, sonorities and gestures from the merging of wolf and frog choruses, the colour and motion of cells under interference microscopy, the vibration of electromagnetic spectra and the slow dissolution of aging chromosomes. 



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From beginnings immersed in experimental rock, electronica and jazz influences, Barry found himself gradually drawn into the contemporary classical world as a hybrid composer-performer.

A tactile preoccupation with his instrument’s capacity for unique timbres and microtonal tunings has shaped an exploratory approach to the role of the electric guitar in contemporary chamber music, seen in works such as grave goods, Lipids, Coinage and Free Cells Drinking the Medium.

Since 2015 he has been a regular performing member of leading Irish contemporary music group Crash Ensemble. Highlights have included: performing his own piece Lipids with the group at New Music Dublin 2016; world premieres of works by Tansy Davies, Ann Cleare, David Lang & more; festival appearances at Musica Nova (Finland), Gaida (Lithuania), Sounds from a Safe Harbour (Cork) & Kilkenny Arts; appearances on recordings of work by Donnacha Dennehy & Christopher Mayo. In 2019 he performed the Irish premiere of Fausto Romitelli’s seminal Professor Bad Trip triptych.

Festival performance highlights with Alarmist include Ottawa Jazz (CAN), Arctangent (UK), 12 Points (SWE/IR) and Match & Fuse (FR/UK), with tours of Ireland, UK, Europe & Canada.






He is currently a Composition PhD candidate at Queen’s University Belfast with Simon Mawhinney, with previous MMus Composition studies at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, London with Gwyn Pritchard & Paul Newland, and undergraduate at Trinity College Dublin with Donnacha Dennehy, where he was awarded the Geoffrey Singleton Prize for his final portfolio.

His band Alarmist blends experimental rock, jazz and electronic influences, and have gained an international following with their three records Popular Demain (2015), Pal Magnet (2013) and Alarmist (2011). They are currently writing & recording their next album.


He was Guitar Fellow at Bang On A Can’s Summer Music Festival 2017 (US) and the same group’s 2016 Villa Musica academy (Germany), performing in numerous works including those by composers in attendance Louis Andriessen and Michael Gordon, and receiving mentoring from renowned faculty such as Mark Stewart (guitar) & Ken Thomson (sax), and Vicki Ray (piano).