The House of Bedlam @ Café OTO

Extracts from the three new pieces recorded in Aldeburgh workshops earlier in the year.

The House of Bedlam are playing at Café OTO on 5 December 2016 as part of the #ddmmyy concert series. I’m chuffed to be taking the group to this great venue and particularly that we will be playing the three new pieces developed in Aldeburgh earlier this year. These are all piece which started with conversation about projected text with live music and ended up as three pieces gradually unravelling narrative. They are:

Disappointment and Small Relief, Hospital Scenes – Joe Snape

The book of Matthew – Larry Goves & Matthew Welton

Tithonus, DrunkLaurie Tompkins & Sam Quill

Joe’s piece is a oddball tale of two lovers – one prone to photosensitive seizures, the other with a smile like a strobe, – from the perspective on an infirmary-bound protagonist. Mine and Matt’s is a ‘setting’ of his long set of poetic variations. The book of Matthew is a hauntingly beautiful collection of poems arranged according to Roget’s Thesaurus. Laurie and Sam’s Tithonus, drunk is a short soap about life on the sauce for four instrumentalists, electronics, and projected drinker.

We owe a great deal to the RVW Trust (who contributed to Laurie’s and Joe’s commission fees) and Aldeburgh Music who provided us with luxurious space to workshop and prepare the music.

RVW Trust Aldeburgh Music



Matthew Welton will also be reading at the start of the evening. This coincides with the release of his third collection The Number Poems so expect some new poems. The book is formal severity and gorgeous language. Here is a short extract:

Exactly what I’m saying is: the sunset comes,

and, in it, something anaesthetic mutes my mind.
The flock of flies doubles in size; the blackberries bloom.

A budgie in the sludge begins a song so long
a heap of people hear it in the year it takes
and none of them remembers where they heard it first.

The seriously delirious kid lets out his breath
and stipulates the apples which he’ll polish up
and juggle with the plums and crimson damsons at

the middle of my mind. The light grows alluvial;
a gust of hasty melody measures the air.
The mind is modulation. It’s a short haul home.

From ‘Construction with Stencil’, The Number Poems, Matthew Welton, Carcanet (2016).

And as is increasingly the case #ddmmyy lay on an embarrassment of riches; there is also an installation from Laurence Crane and Dori Deng.

There’s information on all there here (OTO), here (#ddmmyy) and here (Bedlam).

The House of Bedlam in Aldeburgh

23355772009_330e9086f7_zThe House of Bedlam has been to Aldeburgh twice this year. Back in February we went (with some extras including composer Michael Perrett and trumpeter Gary Farr) to teach two Aldeburgh Young Musicians courses. One of these was focused on the music of Steve Reich and the other, slightly more unusually, looked at enhancing performing, composing and improvising by studying ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ music (starting with music by Lucier and Ferneyhough). It was excellent to be back in Snape. We needed to go back for a residency…

So we did. In mid-May we were back. This time with composers Laurie Tompkins and Joe Snape and poet Sam Quill. It was a typical Aldeburgh residency. There was Joe, dressed as a donkey, disappearing into the sea, copious pizza, a stolen car (yep, in Aldeburgh), too much fish and chips, the gentle rhythm from between the White Hart and The Cross Keys and, of course, some melancholic staring out to sea.

BedlamF&C (1)

We also managed some work. We concentrated on rehearsing and performing three new works. Laurie and Sam had made a new work Renku: Tithonus, Drunk. These mesmerising new pieces, complete with live visuals projecting the texts, involve synthetic sound, instrumental anarchy, beer can, off-license plastic bags and moments of incredibly seductive fragility. Joe’s Disappointment and Small Relief: Hospital Scenes combines new music to his own projected text. It is a moving, surreal and hauntingly beautiful narrative with characteristic playful moments.

My own piece is a work in progress. This is a ‘setting’, for instruments and projected text, of Matthew Welton’s extraordinary long poem The book of Matthew (Carcanet, 2003). Characteristically playful and moving, this is a beautiful poem with 32 variations based on the organisation of Roget’s Thesaurus. In my version poems are projected individually then in combination, closely associated with the movement of the instrumental music. Here are some extracts of the work so far; there’s more to come and some alterations/edits however I think this gives a good sense of how its shaping up.

I’ll be posting extracts from Laurie’s and Joe’s pieces soon with some live video footage from our Aldeburgh concert. We’ll also be performing these pieces in London later in the year, Liverpool next year and in Manchester soon. I’ll be posting more information soon.

‘the clouds flew round with the clouds’ – new version for chamber orchestra

I’m in the process of making a chamber orchestra version of the clouds flew round with the clouds, a short piece originally for cello and electronic sounds. This is for a nonclassical concert on 15 April with Southbank Sinfonia conducted by Gerry Cornelius at Ambika P3. The concert is dominated by new and recent music by Gabriel Prokofiev alongside various other interesting pieces. There is a full programme and more information here.

My piece was originally written as a gift for Oliver Coates’ 30th birthday and was released on his debut album with PRAH; the beautiful and evocatively titled Towards the blessed islands. The piece is a gradually transforming opening two bars of Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major (Op.62 No.1) performed by Lívia Rév (thanks to Hyperion for letting me use this short sample) and a cello part that evolves, in three sections, from solo line to four part chorale (with the help of a curved bow).

I’ve never orchestrated an existing work before. I’m taking some pleasure in exploring new changing parameters for the orchestra part to compliment the gradual transformations in the original and in trying to find an equivalent sound in the orchestra for the to the extreme retuning of the cello. I’m also enjoying a score that, given it’s an adaption of a solo cello line, has some of the simplicity and transparency that characterises much of the chamber orchestra music I love (that’s the aspiration anyway).

While it’s on my mind I thought I’d relink a video recording of Olly playing the original live in Manchester back in 2013.

And share the poem that provided the title:

The Pleasures of Merely Circulating
by Wallace Stevens

The garden flew round with the angel,
The angel flew round with the clouds,
And the clouds flew round and the clouds flew round
And the clouds flew round with the clouds.

Is there any secret in skulls,
The cattle skulls in the woods?
Do the drummers in black hoods
Rumble anything out of their drums?

Mrs. Anderson’s Swedish baby
Might well have been German or Spanish,
But that things go round and again go round
Has rather a classical sound.

The dance along the artery 2

Below is the complete score and recording of a recent work for solo flute written for Kathryn Williams. This is a recent live performance recorded at Manchester’s International Anthony Burgess Foundation.

The piece is essentially in progress and is eventually intended as part of a substantial set.

The starting point for the piece was a conversation and some ideas surrounding Dalcroze. The pieces will all be based on techniques and ideas inspired by Dalcroze and movement.

The dance along the artery

I’m very happy that my new solo flute piece The dance along the artery is going to be premiered by flutist extraordinaire Kathryn Williams at the 2nd International Dalcroze Conference tomorrow alongside a second performance and her presentation of a joint paper partially on the process of writing and collaborating on this. Rather dauntingly this piece is being premiered alongside Kathryn’s interpretation of Brian Ferneyhough’s monolithic solo flute work Unity Capsule.

The piece marks the start of a collaborative project exploring how observing and learning about The Dalcroze Method might inform an approach to composition as well as examining how Kathryn has employed the method in complex repertoire and music than has elements of parametric decoupling.

piece extract 3_0002 copy

The piece has, at its core, a very simple physical limitation; it only features fingerings that either use all the fingers, all the fingers of the left hand, all the fingers of right hand or no fingers at all. This has led to a surprising palette of pitches (more, given the range of harmonics and some multiphonics, than I might have expected initially). As part of the trajectory of the piece it has been fun to have some sections in which Kathryn has to battle with the instrument to pick out potentially problematic pitches, and at other points allows the fingering, embouchure, dynamic and embouchure indications to suggest the pitches (which are not specified).

piece extract 4_0003

It has, in some respects, been (for me) a refreshingly different approach to writing a short piece and I’m looking forward to being able to post a recording soon and developing the set and the related writing.

New track extract

Ahead of The House of Bedlam playing at the Sandbar for Tom Rose and Jack Sheen’s ddmmyy series a week today here is an extract from a new track. This is the opening of Rta in its electronic form – next week it will be for flute, clarinet, guitar, cello as well as electronic sounds.

It’s always a pleasure bringing the group together and I’m also chuffed we’re playing, for the first time, Small brown spots by David Fennessy.

Also looking forward to Laurence Crane playing his own music with Michael Perrett.

Details here and here.

A couple of Radio links

I have a couple of pieces being featured on radio shows this week that I’d like to share.

Firstly the Norwegian broadcast of my piece for HCMF 2014 and Borealis 2015 is now online. This is a 30-minute piece for eleven instruments and was an enormously rewarding process with Ensemble BIT20 (and an outcome I’m proud of). You can hear it on NRK Radio here.

Also very happy to have ‘Radio tune’, a short bit of my EP for Slip Discs ‘A creche for the lonely and peculiar’, played on Beatrice Dillon’s NTS Radio Show which you can hear here. She plays it at 33rpm and I’ve come to much prefer this slower speed for this track. If you’re interested my track is about 1 hour and 40 minutes in but I’d listen to the whole show. I have and enjoyed it.