A little sketch (kind of)

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I’m in the process of starting a new work commissioned by the kick-ass saxophonist Meriel Price (for saxophone, cello and piano). I don’t usually post sketches but I thought I’d share this as it’s a little difference (for me).

The project is a kind of chain reaction starting with a piece I wrote back in 2006 for saxophone and piano. Meriel (who is a saxophonist, artist, improviser and composer herself) has made a film in response to my original piece and then has commissioned different practitioners to respond to each preceding piece in the chain. I’m now in the process of making a new piece to round the process off. You can read more about her project, Stimuli, here.

In the spirit of this multi-disciplinary approach I thought I’d have a go at making a little visual sketch. This is somewhat cathartic in itself. When I was 14 I was taken aside and gently told that despite my wide-eyed enthusiasm, extra time spent in the relevant part of the school, love of the subject, and saved pocket money to unnecessarily buy high quality materials (I could go on); that it would be in my best interest if I did not apply to take GCSE art. I believe that an unintentionally abstract expressionist interpretation of a still life pencil drawing is ultimately to blame. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m still not entirely over this.

I’ve also been thinking about an approach relevant to two recent(ish)pieces; the first movement of the orchestral work The Rules and the first movement of the ensemble work The Devotions. In both cases musical material is confined to specific instrumental groups and gradually transforms and overlaps (in the former case against a borrowed chorale and in the latter far more starkly). In the sketch above the three layers are these three instruments/instrumental groupings. The fixed element is the darkening blue squares that are initially separated and, in groups of three, gradually overlap. All the other shapes and colours are what emerges naturally from this pattern; pairs from left to right that reduce in size (red/brown and green); a pair that seems like it might behave in the same way but vanishes half way through (pale blue); and two ‘solos’ that increase and decrease in size in the right hand two-thirds of the sketch.

I haven’t decided how I’m going to employ this. It has really just been a way or organising my thoughts at the start of a new piece. However in my own naive way I think it looks kinda pretty (although the colours look very different here to how they look in the original software, a fitting testament to my monumental lack of knowledge of web colours etc.) however much it may vindicate the opinion of a GCSE art teacher two decades ago.

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Just stuff people do – out today

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So a new CD featuring music I wrote between 2008 – 2012 has been released today. I’m really pleased with the selection for this recording – it features three quite distinct pieces which nevertheless are very representative of that time and have, to me at least, interesting musical things in common.

I am particularly happy that some of my closest performer collaborators are featured on the recording. The London Sinfonietta first played my music back in 2001 and have been incredibly generous with their support ever since (the fact that Things that are blue, things that are white and things that are black, the longest piece of the CD and written for the Sinfonietta and Sarah Nicolls, features a minimum of 16 violins (there were actually 24 for this recording) as well as two pianos and a considerable electronic setup

Olly recording 'the terminus wreck'
Olly recording ‘the terminus wreck’

demonstrates the support in what was, for me a least, an ambitious idea and piece). Oliver Coates, Sarah Nicolls, André de Ridder and Sound Intermedia have, as well as playing numerous pieces of mine between them, also been among the friends and colleagues that I would turn to for music discussion and I hope they don’t mind me saying that they have helped shape this music.

My first ‘new classical music’ (whatever that means) CD I bought was an NMC one (it was Melinda Maxwell playing Simon Holt, Harrison Birtwistle and her own composition) and I have known and enjoyed this label ever since. So much of the music I love; Michael Finnissy, Simon Holt, Harrison Birtwistle, Richard Barrett, Anthony Gilbert, Richard Ayres and, well, I could go on for a long time, is featured on it. I feel very privileged to have a CD of my music on this label.

I chose the title for the CD for various reasons. In part this is because of the literary references that litter the pieces. Things that are blue… is explicitly inspired by Paul Auster’s novel Ghosts, part of his New York Trilogy, and the terminus wreck is in part inspired by a poem by Paul Celan. The CD title is from Steinbeck’s Grapes of WrathThere ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue, there’s just stuff people do. I find a particular fascination in my preoccupation with people and behaviour when I write pieces of music and then trying to consider or even reverse engineer those thoughts from the music when it is finished and played. At that point the music is just (hopefully) pleasing sounds, patterns and artificial relationships.

I certainly wouldn’t want the title to trivialise the enormous amount or work that has gone into bringing this music, some of which is extremely demanding to play, to life. I just like to dwell on the fact that all the people I know well involved with this CD would be making music absolutely regardless of any other circumstances. It is just stuff we do.

I find that having a CD released feels a bit like archiving a period of work and I am inclined to reflect on this in a very particular way. For the piece I’m working on now, similar in duration to the half-hour piano concerto, I’m responding to features of these pieces in a differently than I would have done if they had not been grouped together in this way. I find it strangely liberating. I’ll write something about the new piece very soon.

If you would like to buy the CD or a download of the music there here is the relevant link to Amazonthe NMC shop and further information on the release from NMC here.

A glimpse of the sea in a fold of the hills

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New music ensemble Psappha have just released a film of my piece A glimpse of the sea in a fold of the hills from a concert from November last year at the University of Manchester. The concert was part of the New Music Northwest Festival. You can watch the film at Psappha’s website here or on Vimeo here.

This 12-ish minute long piece was originally written for French ensemble L’Instant Donné and I think of it as being one of the more gently peculiar pieces I have made. I wrote it while preoccupied with repeating melodies and with considering composition from a performer-interaction point of view (so the piece ranges from angular(ish) unison melodies to very pointillist material (sometimes free sometimes very controlled) with different smaller groups breaking away from the pack and conductor to play their own material often confused by pre-recorded instrumental sounds.

I’m grateful to Psappha for a beautiful and committed performance and fantastically well made film. Psappha have been filming all of their concerts for some time now and there is an amazing archive of performances on their website. Well worth a peruse.

 

the clouds flew round with the clouds – live

Here is one more preview before I start making the new house of bedlam website.

Last year on 30 October the house of bedlam performed two short concerts at the RNCM. We closed the late night set with a live version of my cello and electronics piece the clouds flew round with the clouds which features on Olly Coates’s new record Towards the blessed islands. The cello is heavily retuned (from high to low the strings are a, c, g and d flat) and, at the end of the piece, Olly uses a curved bow so he can play all four strings at once.

the house of bedlam – some stills from forthcoming films

In the next couple of months I’ll be making a new website for the house of bedlam which will include the films of our recent concerts. This will include music by Alvin Lucier, Ian Vine, Matthew Sergeant, Fabrice Fitch, David Horne, Tom Rose, Bethan Morgan-Williams as well as myself. I’ll also be announcing some new concerts, music and other plans. In the meantime here are some stills from the films.

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the house of bedlam in Tokyo and Gramophone

Nonclassicl_Tower Records Shibuya 2A quick update on the house of bedlam record Talking microtonal blues.

I’ve just been sent some images from Tower Records in the Shibuya and Shinjuku districts of Tokyo. The nonclassical records stand feature the new CD. It’s good to think of this music, mostly written around manchester some time ago now, off on a more extensive journey.

Also many thanks to Richard Whitehouse for his kind review in Gramophone Magazine. Amongst other things he writes:

Their musical variety is vividly demonstrated by the initial nine tracks here – whether in the coiled angularity of ‘Sinew’, the fractious give and take of Riviniana, the quizzical interplay of timbre and gesture in the triptych ‘Deaf John’s dark house’ and the ominous build up of ‘Skein’.

Also, the thought of evoking ‘Fith’ era Soft Machine inevitably makes me smile.

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So if you want to buy this CD then get in touch with me directly, buy one at amazon here or, if you can, pop down to your local Tokyo Tower Records and pick one up today…

the house of bedlam – full lineup concerts

So I’m really excited that the house of bedlam will be playing together for the first time in years next week as part of the New Music North West Festival at the RNCM.

This has been an interesting pair of concerts to programme. I originally formed the house of bedlam back in 2007 to play mainly my music. I wanted to incorporate electronic sound into my music after an amazingly positive experience at Aldeburgh’s New Music New Media course. I wanted to be less precious about my music and use the group to explore new sounds, new ways of thinking about composition and the relationship between composer and performer.

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In fact the whole experience was completely invigorating and a music making that I thought would be confined to the ensemble has found its way into my composition and music across the board. Although we have not done a straightforward concert for a very long time over the years the ensemble formed the backbone of the instrumentalists for mine and Matthew Welton’s opera workshops at Aldeburgh Music, we did a project together with David Sheppard where the two of us made instruments for the ensemble to play and I have made various pieces with members of the ensemble including songs with text of Matt’s for EXAUDI and Trio Atem, a guitar concerto interspersing sections of Britten’s Nocturnal with new music for guitar and string orchestra and new pieces for Olly Coates for cello and electronic sound including Filakr on the Slip Discs release A creche for the lonely and peculiar and the clouds flew round with the clouds on Towards the blessed islands released on PRAH next month.

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These concerts are also a week away from the nonclassical bedlam release which, as mentioned in an earlier post, is music from the first two years of the ensemble.

All of these things have affected the programming for the next two concerts. I have tried to take some of the original ideas that inspired the house of bedlam and finding a way to incorporate them into the New Music North West Festival

So the first concert is almost all solo pieces. There is solo music from Fabrice Fitch, Matthew Sergeant and Bethan Morgan-Williams. These are all friends and collaborators. Matt, as well as being a colleague at the RNCM, has written for the ensemble before. Fabrice is a composer and academic colleague at the RNCM and we have talked a great deal about music, composition and research. Bethan is a student at the RNCM and she has been kind enough to play the violin with me in some duo shows around Manchester. These are tied together by three other pieces. There is Alvin Lucier’s monolithic masterwork Music for cello and one or more amplified vases and Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, performed by Matt, from which the ensemble takes its name. I am making a new piece of simple fragmented and unison melodies inspired by Matt’s poem I must say at first this was difficult work. I am interested to hear the solo pieces positioned in the performance space, a solo work that uses objects placed about the same space to make music and a simple spatialised chamber work together.

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One other element to the house of bedlam was to try and integrate myself as a performer. Although I do perform live electronics I have never considered the physical and showy side of this performance practice key to my own work. I was simply interested in being part of the group rather than outside of it and complicit in the rehearsal process as a collaborator and performer rather than as the director or composer. It has affected how I think about my composition and my relationship with the performers I work with. The three new pieces in the late night concert, therefore, all include the composers as performers. David Horne, an extraordinary pianist as well as composer, has made a new work for piano, saxophone and guitar which also uses a keyboard to trigger sounds in a playful response to a piece of mine, My name is Peter Stillman. That is not my real name. which uses a full size electric keyboard as well as acoustic piano. This is a piece that David has played and we have discussed at length. Ian Vine, who like Matthew Sergeant is one of my closest composition friends and has written for the group before, has made a new work where he joins the ensemble as one of two electric guitars. Recently Ian has been making OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa number of pieces for himself to play which I think has distilled music of his thinking about composition over the last few years and has produced ravishing music of immense fragility and stillness. Finally Tom Rose, a current RNCM student, has made a new piece for the ensemble and we will be performing the two laptop parts together. Given that I have been teaching Tom for over a year before he arrived at the RNCM and since and we have also collaborated on the Slip Discs label it’s a real treat to be able to share the electronic component of this new work. The rest of the pieces in the concert are mine and Matthew Welton’s. These are some of the original pieces written for the ensemble an it is a particular pleasure to revisit these ahead of the nonclassical album.

So this is the house of bedlam back in business. Next year new pieces, new collaborations and new projects. Below are the programmes for the concerts. I hope to see you there.

Wednesday 30 November 2013 : 5.15pm – RNCM Carole Nash Recital Room 

Fabrice Fitch – Agricola IXe (world premiere of a new arrangement)
Elizabeth Bishtop – Visit to St Elizabeth’s
Matthew Sergeant – bet maryam
Bethan Morgan-Williams – a thornbush in my strength (world premiere)
Alvin Lucier – Music for cello with one or more amplified vases
Larry Goves/Matthew Welton – I must say that at first it was difficult work (world premiere)

Matthew Welton – spoken word
Carl Raven – clarinet/saxophone
Oliver Coates – cello
tbc – percussion
Tom McKinney – guitar
Larry Goves – live electronics

Wednesday 30 November 2013 : 10.00pm – RNCM Carole Nash Recital Room

Larry Goves – blind Jack’s silent house
Matthew Welton – Writing 21
David Horne – Severed Scherzos (world premiere)
Larry Goves/Matthew Welton – Talking microtonal blues
Tom Rose – Going. Coming. Leaving. (world premiere)
Larry Goves/Matthew Welton – Poppy
Ian Vine – replica (world premiere)
Larry Goves – deaf John’s dark house

Matthew Welton – spoken word
Carl Raven – clarinet/saxophone
Oliver Coates – cello
Mark Norman – percussion
Tom McKinney – guitar
Larry Goves – electronic sounds
with special guests
Ian Vine – electric guitar
David Horne – piano/keyboard
Tom Rose – live electronics