Virtual airport / SHUCK!

SHUCK_VirtualAirport_previewAhead of the Slip Discs release of my and Matthew Welton’s 2009 song cycle Virtual airport with Laurie Tompkins and Sam Quill’s extraordinary SHUCK! I thought I’d release a sneak preview of the artwork here as well as a link to one of the songs from the cycle.

Recently Matt has been in the difficult situation of having been plagiarised by another poet and Virtual airport is one of relevant poems. He has written an amazing short article on the case here. This kind of appropriation of Matt’s work seems in brutal contrast to the life of this poem and piece. The poem was originally made in collaboration with visual artist Clare Bleakley and it is interesting to trace this starting point, via Matt’s and my long collaborative relationship, through the input of an extraordinary group of performers up to now. The imminent release in combination with Laurie and Sam’s starkly different but complimentary new work.

The performers are Seaming To and Sofia Jernberg (voices), Sarah Nicolls (piano), Oliver Coates (cello), I’m performing electronics and it was recorded live by David Sheppard at the Howard Assembly Rooms in Leeds back in 2009. Thanks to them all.



the house of bedlam album launch & the RNCM’s New Music Northwest Festival


Next month nonclassical are releasing a long overdue first record from my ensemble the house of bedlam. You can see a sneak preview of some of the artwork above and some more information from nonclassical here.

This is great news. nonclassical have been really kind in putting this together with me and I’ve been lax prioritising this as other projects, pieces and music for the house of bedlam has taken centre stage.

In some ways this record feels like a bit of an archive. All of the pieces are from the early stages of the ensemble and we have done several other projects and sets since. It has been such a pleasure to revisit these pieces over the last few months and remind myself why I formed this ensemble and acknowledge the extent that it has affected my concert music over the last few years.

There are four great remixes on the record as well. Three of these are new (Dale Jonthan Perkins, Devil Dandy and label-head Gabriel Prokofiev) and one is from mira calix which she made when we were working together a few years ago. For me these really breathe new life into this collection.

It’s easy to be preoccupied with new music, commissions, pieces and projects. I’m also aware that having taken responsibility for promoting the live element of all this music we’ve not played nearly enough together and not at all for a long time. I’m going to remedy that this year.


We already have two concert booked in this month as part of the RNCM’s New Music Northwest Festival. This has proven a little bit of a quandary. the house of bedlam was formed to play music of my own and occasionally music by other people. The festival exists to promote and represent a variety of composers across the northwest. I’m really pleased with the two programmes we’re playing which I think showcases a broad cross section of my favourite northwest composers and stay true to the spirit of the group. In the early evening there is a sequence of solo pieces by Fabrice Fitch, Matthew Sergeant and Bethan Morgan-William. These are three composers who are variously colleagues, friends and collaborators. We will also be playing Alvin Lucier’s Music for cello with one or more amplified vases, a new work from me that will involve the whole ensemble and Matthew Welton will be reading Elizabeth Bishop’s wonderful poem Vistis to St Elizabeths (which is responsible for the name of the ensemble).

The evening concert is a more traditional bedlam concert and will include pieces from the album, new music of mine and, most excitingly, new pieces from David Horne, Aaron Parker, Tom Rose and Ian Vine. These composers will all be joining us to perform the pieces as well. There are information about the two concerts here and here.

Finally I have one more piece in the New Music Northwest festival this year. I’m very happy that Psappha are performing the UK premiere of a piece I wrote for Paris based ensemble L’Instand Donné. This piece is for seven instruments and some electronic sounds and, as perhaps the title suggests (A glipse of the sea in a fold of the hills) is a strange collection of pastoral melodies and fragments held together by recordings of acoustic instruments and more pointillist compositional textures. It’s great to be alongside pieces by Richard Norris, Philip Grange and Mark Simpson but I’m particularly excited to hear a substantial new piece from Trio Atem‘s Nina Whiteman. More information here.

the clouds flew round with the clouds

Last night a fairly recent work the clouds flew round with the clouds was broadcast on Late Junction. This is one of my favourite radio programmes and it has always been a bit of an ambition to have music on the programme. It will be available on iplayer for a week and you can find it here. I thought I’d write a few words about the piece.

The title of this piece comes from a favourite Wallace Stevens poem The Pleasures of Merely Circulating. As I have made/am making a whole series of pieces that are simple repeating melodies this short poem has been in my mind for a while:

The Pleasures of Merely Circulating
Wallace Stevens

The garden flew round with the angel,
The angel flew round with the cloud.
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.
Yet that things go round and again go round
Has rather a classical sound.

I have borrowed features from this poem for my own piece. When I read this I take pleasure in the poem transforming throughout while simultaneously the first and last stanza having more in common than the middle. My piece is made up of two layers. There is a soundtrack which is made up of the manipulation of the first two bars of Lívia Rév’s Hyperion (many thanks to Hyperion for allowing me to use this sample) recording of Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major Op.62 No.1. These first two bars are repeated a number of times in quick succession to simulate a delay effect. There are two processes at work on this short piano sample. The first is a very idiosyncratic reverb which gradually increases towards the middle of the piece then gradually recedes. The second is a sequence of re-tunings and transpositions, different for each repetition, which continue throughout the entire work.

On top of that are three distinct sections for cello. Firstly a simply line repeats and, each time it repeats, lengthens. The middle section is a longer melody now with more double stopping from the cello, which, with each repetition, gradually shortens. Finally there is a melody that is embedded in four note chords (played with a curved ‘polyphonic’ bow). The distinctiveness of the cello sound in this piece is helped with a fairly extreme scordatura  including the C string being tuned down a seventh.

prah-logo-1I wrote the piece for Olly Coates’ 30th birthday as a gift and I really grateful he has played it and played it so beautifully. He has also included it on a forthcoming release from new imprint PRAH. There is and will be more information on that here.



Very happy that SLP005 is not out. It’s three new pieces for guitar by myself, Tom Rose and David Futers and we’ve swapped pieces for remixes. I’m really proud to be a part of this record. I’ve been enjoying the remixes and am made-up by the balance between new electronic music and re-imagined acoustic music. The pieces are played by Tom McKinney (hence TMK) and are fantastically meticulous performances. You can hear and buy from bandcamp here or Boomkat here. Enjoy the characteristically kind, considered and verbose review from Boomkat. And artwork from Tom Rose:


Britten Dances // Dream Weaver

BRITTEN-beeld-72dpi-560px-v3Next week is the premiere of Dream Weaver – a new piece of choreography by Cameron McMillan which I have contributed music for. The piece is a joint commission between Aldeburgh Music and the Royal Ballet Flanders. In fact I’ve only contributed half the music for the piece; the concept was to take sections of the Britten’s seminal solo guitar piece Nocturnal after John Dowland and add new sections of music for classical guitar and string orchestra. I have found this a pretty steep learning curve mainly because I’ve not written music for dance before so the working process for a new piece of dance was a compete mystery.

In the Britten centenary year I thought that a piece exactly 50 years old which references early music in the Dowland was an excellent starting point. There are moments in the new music which refer directly to the Britten and the Dowland, moments are are more elusively related and sections which are deliberately more/entirely separate. If the Britten is a set of variations moving towards the Dowland I think of the music I’ve written as a set of diversions that start with the Britten and Dowland then move into new territory.


One of the most exciting features of this commission is that the piece is going to be played by Tom McKinney; guitarist, birder, scenester & Radio 3 presenter. It’s going to be amazing to hear him play the new music as well as the Britten and I’m pleased to have been able to write a substantial piece for a big project with Tom.

I’ve seen films of the choreography as it has taken shape in the studio an it look ravishing. I’ve also been hearing about the design concept, costume and staging which all sound spectacular. I think it’s going to be a pretty humbling experience. If you want to go or read more about the project here are som relevant links.
Tom McKinney’s website
Cameron McMillan’s website
Britten Dances event on the Aldeburgh Music Britten Centenary website
The Royal Ballet Flanders Britten Dances page (English version)

Two from Dr Suss – recording of first live performance.

Here is the recording of a new piece Two from Dr Suss. The piece is a setting of two sections of Matthew Welton’s wonderful long poem Dr Suss and was commissioned by Trio Atem. It’s scored for bass flute, low female voice and prepared cello. This is the first performance of the piece at the University of Manchester and I’m very grateful to Trio Atem for their skill and sincerity in preparing and performing this music.

Movement 1. Getting into the car of the south side of Main Street, ‘It’s just a lot of cold treacle,’ was all Filippino Lippi would say.

Movement 2. ‘And I was feeling a little worried before you mentioned James Watt.’

Sounds from the other city.

Next Sunday I’m doing a short set for the lovely folk of slips discs and Sounds of the Other City – a music festival of interesting music  in mainly small venues on or near  Chapel Street in Salford. I have three reasons to be happy about this – Ian Vine is going to be doing live guitar and electronics from his new album held/always/immer/gehalten, I’m going to be alongside slip discs veterans Tom Rose, Aaron Parker and Chaines and I’m also going to be joined by composer and violinist Bethan Morgan-Williams. See you there. Details here and festival poster below.