Despite it being just over a month ago, I’m still reeling from hearing the first live music of mine in the flesh since March 2020. On the 23rd of July I took my first trip to London since 2019(!!) to hear Gerry Cornelius conduct mezzo soprano Camille Maalawy and the London Sinfonietta in a new commission setting some delicious words by the most excellent Kayo Chingonyi.
It was a good day.
I’ve set the embedded YouTube link here to start at mine and Kayo’s piece as it was the last in the programme and this is, well, my website. But do listen to the whole thing with great pieces and readings from Gavin Higgins with Joe Kriss, Robert Mitchell with Fatima Zahra, and a particularly moving collaboration between Kerry Andrew and Nazneen Ahmed as well as Kayo reading some of his work.
It was so good to be commissioned to write some new music for a live performance after so much working online. It was also strangely contrasting. Compositionally the previous year was dominated by a new record for The House of Bedlam which involved everyone recording at home and sending to me for mixing and producing. While remote, it was a process that brought us together against the odds. This experience, for reasons beyond any of our control, meant that Kayo and I weren’t able to chat about the piece, and I didn’t know that Camille would be singing until after the piece was finished.
But in this case I love how this has shaped the music. The poems, that exist like short fantastical dictionary definitions, capture some of the very private delight of leafing through dictionaries when I was a child (and as an adult), tiny windows into colourful worlds that are briefly completely absorbing, then gone. I’ve tried to capture this in these short songs, with a first poem that gradually incorporates musical ginnels (narrow alleyways between terraced houses) with increasing gaps in the music and a second poem, three definitions of love, that consider sentimental and harder-edged possibilities simultaneously. I’m really happy with how this piece has come together, largely down to Gerry and Camille’s skill and warmth, and the razor sharp London Sinfonietta.
To celebrate finally having gotten around to making a video click track for an old cello piece of mine, Filakr, I’ve decided to offer the performance materials for this piece for for free until 5pm on the 17th of May. All you have to do is email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line FREE MUSIC! (and hopefully a friendly message) and I’ll email you a download link for the performance materials. I’d love to hear about it if you do decide to play the piece but there are no strings attached – just thought I’d share something while most of us are stuck at home.
The piece is scored for solo cello and soundtrack (although I’ve programmed this with a few other instruments over the years – easy enough to transpose octaves etc. as required) and the video click track means this can be played without any specialist audio equipment – all you need is a hi-fi to play the soundtrack from and somethign to watch the click track on.
The music is pretty simple (compared to most of what I’ve written) – I’ve been told about ABRSM Grade 6+ (which surprised me – I thought it was easier – (he writes not being able to play a cello)). It’s from the from the gentler end of the music I’ve made essentially inspired by some of the ambient music I love. I wrote it for Oliver Coates and the lovely people at Slip when they were just staring out and you can still hear (and buy) that here.
You can watch cellist extraordinaire Steph Tress playing the piece here as part of The Solem quartets lates concert at Manchester’s Soup Kitchen almost exactly a year ago.
Very much enjoying being in the middle of a substantial messy sequence of interlocking pieces currently sitting under the banner Paraphernalia. I recently premiered one of these pieces with the wonderful Berlin based performance duo Aside and I thought I’d share the score here. It’s a video score and the piece involves copying the actions of the hands in the score, in this case Donald Trump shaking hands, with objects attached to the arms to make sounds.
Pretty pleased with the editing and find watching it compelling albeit pretty distasteful. The harrowing power-play evident in his handshakes – tapping the other person’s hand, sharp pulling, distasteful brevity – are, to me, strangely musical. It’s also great when Macron beats him at his own game.
Part of this sequence is looking at chamber music relationships alongside stylised real-world situation (so I’m making a trio that corresponds precisely with the final showdown in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and another which is based around the bits of TV shows where someone catches their boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/husband/wife in bed with with someone else. Suggestions for quartets, quintets, and sextets welcome…
Very happy to share the full version of Air Pressure 2 – a video piece made for/with Kathryn Williams.
My first Air Pressure piece was made as part of Kathryn’s Coming up for air project – a commissioning project which requests pieces limited to a single breath. I responded to Bruce Nauman’s Body Pressure, an action/event score which acts as an invitation to explore you body through surface pressure.
In Air Pressure the end of the flute is sealed and all the holes are closed. The instruction is to put as much air into the flute as possible and to allow it to escape slowly.
In Air Pressure 2 the resistance is gradually released through each simultaneous set of four breaths (i.e. the first is a sealed flute, the second is open at the end and the mouth covers the air hole, and the sixth is the most open embouchure possible). The final two sets are a low cluster and a high harmonic cluster – here the resistance is in the aspiration of the pitch rather than the inherent resistance of the instrument.
Each of the 32 films are different and I find the surprising similarities in Kathryn’s body movements that don’t necessarily seem connected to the sound (for example the placement of the flute after she’s finished playing) utterly compelling. I find myself more preoccupied with this close set of instrumental-theatre variations than the original intended content of the piece. The exception is the first of the eight sets; this was filmed at the end of the session and by this time Kathryn’s asthma was causing considerable wheezing. This creates a strange high-pitched set of contrary motion movements – a sound I hadn’t expected would be quite so effective.
The first six parts were premiered as part of Kathryn’s Kammer Klang set.
1) Proposition (after Alison Knowles)
Make some eclairs.
2) Distance learning
Bite off both ends of the eclair. Blow as hard as you can through the eclair and think of some music you love.
3) for Meriel Price (after Le Monte Young)
Bring some eclairs and milk onto the stage for Meriel to eat and drink. The performer may then feed Meriel or leave her to eat by herself. The piece is over when Meriel asks for more eclairs.
4) Personal Hygiene (after Ken Friedman)
Brush your teeth using a different eclair for each tooth.
Count all the eclairs in the sky.
Count all the eclairs in your heart.
Very excited to be welcoming the wonderful composer and performer Andy Ingamells to the RNCM tomorrow. He’ll be performing four short pieces (one made in collaboration with Ana Ribeiro) alongside music by Charlotte Marlow, Sarah Hennies, Laurence Crane, and Erwin Schulhoff as well as three short poems by Matthew Welton performed by RNCM students and staff.
There is a rich history of maverick musical performance problematising the nature of music. I’ve never felt much of a compulsion to worry about this. However I’m saddened at the stories from Andy and others where his work has been dismissed because it’s too far removed from a listeners’ usual musical experience. This collection of music and text pieces are all examples of adventurous practices that might, in some circumstances, cause problems in assessment.
Not at Decontamination however. The programme will be:
Decontamination #15 – the unassessables
Royal Northern College of Music Carole Nash Recital Room, 1930, tickets here.
Green Gauge – Matthew Welton The Sound of a Marathon – Andy Ingamells & Ana Ribeiro Three pieces for guitar – Laurence Crane Blues Scale – Matthew Welton InFuturum – Erwin Schulhoff Psalm 2 – Sarah Hennies Black List – Matthew Welton Strip Polka – Charlotte Marlow Waschen – Andy Ingamells worse than nothing – Andy Ingamells
On the 24th of November there is a fantastic afternoon of new music. This event is part of the national Being Human festival of the humanities, which will be taking place in around 50 towns and cities across the UK between 15-24 November.
Being Human is the only national festival dedicated entirely to celebrating research across the humanities – from archaeology, history, languages, philosophy and more. This year the festival explore the theme of ‘Origins and Endings’. Being Human aims to make the humanities accessible and fun for all, and is run by the School of Advanced Study, University of London in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.
Our take on this these is to explore a range of compositions, performance and research projects that focus on the fundamentals of the body in producing sounds and musical interactions. This includes music by researchers Larry Goves, Mark Dyer and Bofan Ma (RNCM); Claudia Molitor (City University London); James Saunders (Bath Spa); Annie Hui Hsin Hsieh (Carnegie Mellon University) and; Kathryn Williams (University of Huddersfield). This event also launches a new book from Peeters Publishers edited by Rebecca Thumpston and Nicholas Reyland (RNCM), Music, analysis and the body: Experiments, explorations and embodiments. This will include a new half hour film with three of the contributors talking about their chapters.
Extract from my new film AIR PRESSURE 2 performed by Kathryn Williams
As well as three concerts showcasing a variety of compositional and performance research we also have an interactive exhibition dedicated to music and body. This will include a new installation from Bofan Ma; new music to perform by James Saunders exploring group behaviour; a personal trainer who has worked with Kathryn Williams on PIXERCISE; an exhibition of films from Coming up for air (Kathryn Williams’ commissioning research project of pieces restricted to a single breath) as well as pieces for you to try; and a chance to try out happy/boomf/fat (sing the score while eating marshmallows) or devise you own visual or audio version of Claudia Molitor’s happy/boomf/fat.
Concert One – Embodied Sounds 1200 – Carole Nash Recital Room – Royal Northern College of Music Coming up for air – various composers I decide what it is I’m going to do – James Saunders To go along, however, is to thread one’s way – Mark Dyer Voice Box – Claudia Molitor Music for virtual airports – Larry Goves
Performed by The House of Bedlam
Films Showing One – Music, analysis and the body: Experiments, explorations and embodiments 1300 – Carole Nash Recital Room – Royal Northern College of Music
Concert Two – Embodied Sounds 1400 – Carole Nash Recital Room – Royal Northern College of Music PIXERCISE – Kathryn Williams & Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh I tell you what to do – James Saunders happy/boomf/fat – Larry Goves
Performed by The House of Bedlam
Films Showing Two – Music, analysis and the body: Experiments, explorations and embodiments 1500 – Carole Nash Recital Room – Royal Northern College of Music
Concert Three – Embodied Sounds 1600 – Carole Nash Recital Room – Royal Northern College of Music Coming up for air – various composers choose who tells you what to do – James Saunders To go along, however, is to thread one’s way – Mark Dyer Voice Box – Claudia Molitor for Jess and Anna (2) – Larry Goves
Performed by The House of Bedlam
Looking forward to our House of Bedlam concert this Saturday at LSO St Luke’s. I thought I’d share the score to a new piece hot off the press for this concert.
I’m trying to work out what’s led me to a (partially) open scored piece where half the performers are playing objects. Sort of just the right tools for the job I think. However I don’t think I can deny the influence of the new creative practice course (CAPPA) I ran at Snape Maltings over the summer – especially when the participants were so open, James Saunders and Tim Parkinson gave such a great performance, and Hanna Harman and Amber Priestley spoke so beguilingly about their work. I think I just kinda want in.
I’ve also been mainlining Sarah Hennies’ pieces though Spotify, Soundcloud and vinyl for over a few months now. Guest lecturing at the Manchester School of Fine Art last week I was bowled over to the students’ performance of her Everything Else (not least becuase of the objects they chose) and her new Blume record Embedded Environment just haemorrhages class from start to finish. Decontamination is featuring her extraordinary long film/documentary/video art/live performance piece Contralto next March. More on that soon but you heard it here first (unless you’re one of the billion people I’ve already told becuase I’m pretty excited about this).
So this new piece is for melody instruments that can play in unison – at least two and an even number – and two objects performers (again at least two etc.). It’s a kind of arrangement of hollow yellow willow, an orchestral piece from last year, but pared down to bare bones and with plenty of choices for the players to make. The electronics can be chosen by the players (although I’m happy to make suggestions) and the objects are ideally metal balls swirled in metal bowls and corks swirled in wooden or plastic bowls (but I’m open to suggestions). It’s 4-5 minutes long and weirdly slightly but dense. I’m looking forward to hearing the first rehearsal this week.
I have a new piece on the 2nd of May. I can’t wait. It’s for two alto saxophones and electronic sounds. It was commissioned by Anthony Brown and he’ll be performing it with Carl Raven as part of The House of Bedlam’s Decontamination concert.
At the forefront of my mind when writing this was the way the players coordinate, interact and communicate. The opening requires constant communication between the duo then, as the piece progresses, the players gradually appear less and less coordinated. However this is sometimes at odds with the sound of the music. There are three kinds of notation to emphasise/play-with this: conventional, time-space and ‘speech’. The speech notation informs the rhythm and the quality of sound and moves through chant (i.e. unison), conversation, argument and soliloquy. The text is from Lars Von Trier’s extraordinary film Antichrist responding to the breakdown of the relationship of the two protagonists and the mix of different natural and stylised filming techniques (not, in this case, the sensationalised sexual and violent imagery). The title, also from the film, originates in Malleus Maleficarum, the fifteenth-century treatise on witches, in which there is a description of the hailstorms alleged to have been caused by two women in Ratisbon, Germany.
In my mind my last three pieces (hollow yellow willow, happy/boomf/fat and this one) are three very different approaches to comparable ideas leading to radically different sounds. In each case they are concerned with antiphonal movement, duo relationships and sharing materials. This piece is, in some respects, the most elaborate (and I suspect the most difficult to play).
I’m so grateful to Anthony and Carl for learning it; it’s a commitment.
Rainbirds* – Hanna Hartman
for amplified flute and two water sprinklers
The two from Rastibon could start a hailstorm** – Larry Goves
for two alto saxophones and electronics
The Grand Tour – Joanna Baillie
Horizontal cracking on concrete pavements – Hanna Hartman
for two alto saxophones and electronics
Meeting the Universe Halfway** – Matthew Sergeant
for flute, soprano saxophone, electric guitar and cello (both with preparations) and three apparatuses
*Pending final logistical confirmation.
** First performance
The House of Bedlam
Kathryn Williams (flutes)
Carl Raven (saxophones)
Anthony Brown (alto saxophone)
Tom McKinney (electric guitar)
Paul Grennan (cello)
Larry Goves (director)
Great news that The House of Bedlam are returning to the RNCM with a new programme of excellent pieces. Also exciting that two of the featured composers will be giving presentations on the day; Hanna Hartman will be talking to the RNCM composers as part of their regular Wednesday seminar series and Matthew Sergeant will be presenting as part of the RNCM’s public research forum series.
These pieces are all connected by idiosyncratic approaches to material. In Hanna Hartman’sRainbirds the sounds of the flute intermingle and blend with the sound of two water sprinklers spraying into and filling two large buckets. In her Horizontal Cracking in Concrete Pavements electronically prepared sounds of body and environment blend, are enhanced, confused and contradicted by two saxophones.
Matthew Sergeant has kindly written us a new piece. In his Meeting the Universe Halfway (inspired by Karen Barad’s extraordinary book of the same name), three new apparatuses (each made of a specific material (i.e. wood, metal etc.)) behave as analogues for compositional behaviours within the piece except with little/minimal human involvement. So cascading nails behaves like canon, an irregular pendulum like hocket and descending wooden balls on bamboo like organum. Read more about it on Matt’s website. Here is a film of the first apparatus in action and images of the other two.
In Joanna Bailie’s short film The Grand Tour the starting material is a box of old photographs from her late’s father’s various trips abroad. The piece explores themes of memory, loss and love through an entanglement of this source material with techniques typical to the sampling and manipulation found in her compositional work. Joanna writes:
The box of photos goes far beyond a traditionally captured film, or even a time-lapse film in terms of its gappiness, and we might imagine that the irregular spans of time that lie between each photo are filled with whole undocumented chunks of my father’s story. Much of the film is concerned with a kind of futile attempt at reconstituting a whole from this sparse set of samples.
Finally I’ve written a new piece, The two from Rasiton could start a hailstorm, commissioned by saxophonist Anthony Brown and premiered here ahead of his planned recording project. This new work is, in my mind, the partner piece to hollow yellow willow in that it deals with antiphonal communication. However the paths these two pieces have taken could not by more different. The piece gradually moves from complex and problematised communication between the two players to straightforward communication and independence; for me the communication between the players is the primary material. As this instrumental theatre drives the piece the sonic interactions don’t always fall into line. The notation is partially conventional, partially time-space and partially based on speech (starting with chant and going, via conversation and argument to speech/soliloquy). This text (and the title) is borrowed from Lars Von Trier’s script for Antichrist; this is for the intensity and clarity with which the two protagonists’ relationship falls apart rather than the violent and controversial imagery.
One great shame about this concert is the decision to postpone the second performance of Mauricio Pauly’s Fold Explain Fold Leave revisited (backdoor). Freshly revised and now with two electronics operators I have exciting plans for this piece later in the year and will be posting about this soon.