My new orchestral piece is now on iPlayer and will remain there for the next couple of weeks. It’s part of a show celebrating the New Music North West festival centred around the RNCM and University of Manchester. This show includes good things from current staff, student and alumni from these institutions performed by the BBC Philharmonic (conducted by Mark Heron) and Psappha.
If you want to hear my piece you can listen here (it’s first on in the show).
This is a piece written in the autumn about patterns and movement, tainted by sadness.
Thank you to Matthew Welton for letting me pinch three words from The Number Poems for the title.
Soundspace: Wonder Inn 30/10/2017 – Carmel Smickersgill, Stephen Morris, Adrian Wong and Johnathan Heyes
Ottis Enokido Lineham (conductor), Wei Ling Thong, Will McGahon, Izzy Baker (violins), Elizabeth Elliott (cello), Aidan Marsden, Callum Coomber (wine glasses)
Nam June Paik’s iconic 1962 Fluxus performance One for Solo Violin may be a reactionay destructive event (the sudden smashing of a violin), but it also hints at the possibilities of a creative and performance practice untethered from restrictive instrumental tradition. Each of the pieces in this concert address Paik’s implied question by inventing or modifying instruments or their performance practice. Amir Sadeghi Konjani’s prepared cello connects tubes to the strings with springs and creates a natural spatialised delay (for him, instrumental shadowing). Claudia Molitor’s installation (here as a short audio/video presentation) and Bofan Ma’s new work employ the score itself as an instrument, in both cases playing games with the
position of the score and the resultant sound. Artist and improviser Kelly Jayne Jones shares a new piece she has devised in collaboration with Gavin Osborn; ‘a partially structured interaction between amplified rocks and flute. A counterbalance between bedrock and breath and an investigation into the fragile yet monstrous power of the human animal’ . David Pocknee’s playful response to a string trio is to design new instruments with strings and plastic cups. Carmel Smickersgill collaborates with architects Stephen Morris, Adrian Wong and Johnathan Heyes to create a piece of music in which a building is a compositional agent. Eleanor Cully’s Fixations brings us full circle. As with the Paik these pieces address/undermine traditional performance practice and, also like the Paik, they are defined by their brevity; these are pieces that hint at elusive possibilities.
The questions raised by Fluxus artists about traditionalism and conservatism were not limited to compositional/performance/artistic practice. Questions relating to commercialism, elitism, sex, gender and race (to scratch the surface) were also confronted. It’s an easy provocation to raise this in the context of a concert at a British conservatoire. I don’t want to trivialise these issues through a token gesture but do want to explore work that aspires to greater equality as well as reflect on my own commitments for the Decontamination series. I’m happy that these issues seem so central to the conversation around new music at the moment and, happily, increasingly at the RNCM as well.
For me it is entirely humbling that such a diverse range of artists from all over the world (including experienced professionals and RNCM students) have given their time and energy just for the love of doing somethign worthwhile. I can’t wait.
Next week Kathryn Williams is performing her concert Coming up for air. This concert, preoccupied with breathing and breath, is being put on to raise some money for Help Musicians UK.
Last year Kathryn was in serious risk of having to rethink her career. A long-standing sinus problem aggravated by allergy and infection was making it increasingly painful and impractical to play the flute. She required an operation and had been on an NHS waiting list for over 18 months.
Help Musicians UK acted within a fortnight of Kathryn contacting them. They were warm, understanding and completely helpful. They paid for the operation which was done within a month. I am in awe of the efficiency of their system. I’m also aware that Kathryn’s is one story amongst many. In the music profession, where even relatively minor injury or illness can prove career damaging or ending, this charity is so important. In this uncertain political climate, an efficiently run charity that prioritises the wellbeing of musicians, regardless of genre, is essential.
You can make a donation to Help Musicians UK through Kathryn’s Coming up for air JustGiving page here. Please donate; they do good things.
The concert is at 1900 on the 7th of June at Islington Mill. Info here.
Rather excitingly the concert includes new pieces by a diverse bunch of composer friends including:
Decontamination continues on Monday with a concert of characteristically stark contrasts. Here the ‘pop up secular requiem’ Rest, by Emily Hall & Toby Litt is punctuated by music for instruments and noise by Peter Ablinger.
Emily and Toby’s Rest emerged as the third in a cycle of pieces dealing with love, birth and death. Toby talks about the sequence eloquently in this short trailer which also includes some extracts from the music (performed by Lady Maisery for whom it was written).
I was seduced by the trajectory of this sequence of songs. The first is conventional, beautiful and folk-like. The second retains all these qualities and crafts them into a large scale narrative. This third cycle, designed to be sung by professionals, amateurs or friends, is true chamber music. I’ve been hearing about the rehearsals in the singers’ house; this is as appropriate a platform for this music as any concert hall. When I first heard these songs I could hear how they might be comforting at times of loss.
I have chosen two selections of piece for instruments and noise by Peter Ablinger; some from Weiss/Weisslich 17 and the rest from the Instruments und Rauchen series. These two collections engage with elusive features of looking at and listening to music with the sound of the instruments embedded in, behind or alongside a veil of electronically produced noise; a kind of strange take on a live instrumental acousmatic music. Ablinger writes about Violine und Rauchen “Veronica”:
The first in the series of pieces for instruments and noise. A piece about complementary noise, about disappearing, about audibility.
The language of form in this pieces the composer sometimes decribes as “suprematistic” (after Melewitch), because of its use of “geometric” elements, like the surface, the line, the dot, which appear in sequences of a kind of “abstract” narration.
Here is the new version of a fairly recent piece Extracts from South Korea and Japan 2002 – a ‘setting’ for solo flute and projected text of extracts of Matthew Welton’s long poem responding to fixtures from the 2002 World Cup. It is played extremely well by Kathryn Williams in a live recording from Café OTO last December (performing as part of the #ddmmyy series).
This was originally written in 2015 in response to a commission from The London Sinfonietta. That version had a rather demur projection and was scored for oboe. This update is definitely an improvement. This was the first piece I wrote with projected text, something I’m still exploring. I’m fascinated by how, as I read the text, the sounds are coloured. This goes further in The book of Matthew (performed in the same concert) and I have more experiments planned.
This is also part of an ongoing set of pieces with Kathryn. The first one in the set The dance along the artery is being revised now and I’m adding a small projected part.
The final Decontamination of 2016 happens tomorrow I am entirely chuffed that the RNCM welcomes Juliet Fraser to perform her new interpretation of this classic late Feldman work.
There is a sense of loss elusively embedded in Morton Feldman’s Three Voices, a spectacularly unusual setting of Frank O’Hara’s short poem Wind. Written, in part, as a response to the deaths of Philip Guston and O’Hara himself, Feldman consider this in the music. He later said:
Frank O’Hara had died several years before. I saw the piece with Joan in front and these two loudspeakers behind her. There is something kind of tombstoney about the look of loudspeakers. I thought of the piece as an exchange of the live voice with the dead ones – a mixture of the living and the dead.
Like much of his late work this is long (55-minute) and in this case inspired by the pattern and weave of fabric. It’s a particularly surprising setting given that O’Hara is a poet who’s work is often associated with the pithy, scenester and urban. Characteristically small motifs are repeated irregularly to create asymmetrical patterns and intricate permutations; a weave of sound.
Juliet has recently recorded this work. You should buy one if you haven’t already and if you haven’t then, well, the perfect Christmas gift for all your friends and relatives… Buy it direct from Juliet here.