The two from Rastibon could start a hailstorm

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.

From Antichrist, Lars Von Trier, 2009

In my mind my last three pieces (hollow yellow willowhappy/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.

Decontamination #14 – material things

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 19.49.22Decontamination #14 – Material things

02/05/2018, Carole Nash Recital Room, Royal Northern College of Music, 20.00

Tickets here.

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’s Rainbirds 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.

Still from The Grand Tour

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.

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 23.29.59

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 23.30.22
Extracts from The Two from Rastibon could start a hailstorm – the first two systems are about a quarter of the way through the piece and the latter approximately three quarters through.

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.



hollow yellow willow

Two new(ish) tracks. The first is hollow yellow willow a piece written in the autumn for the BBC Philharmonic. The second is a very simple little remix of it that puts the electronic sounds centre stage (as I like them and they’re a little masked in the orchestral version).



Decontamination #12 & #13

Two decontamination concerts tomorrow evening in the RNCM Carole Nash Recital Room starting at 8pm featuring excellent performers and music. They’re going to be awesome and you should get your tickets here and come along.

I’m delighted to welcome back Aisha Orazbayeva to Decontamination after her performance of Bryn Harrison’s Receiving the approaching memory last year with Mark Knoop. I’m particularly happy that she’s sharing performances of these two composers; I have enjoyed the daring and debate of her interpretation of Telemann as well as vivid performances of Sciarrino. This is not the first time Kathryn Williams has performed Sciarrino at the RNCM however these two pieces, originally designed as a pair, are rarely performed as such because of the extraordinary physical demands of the former. For a performer obsessed with breath control and physical exercise with performance these form the perfect challenge. I’m delighted that she is including two pieces from her Coming up for air project, a creative and commissioning project of pieces limited to a single breath. Both have special connections to the RNCM; Josh Mock is a former Junior RNCM Student and current composer with the National Youth Orchesta of Great Britain. His piece was developed with Kathryn on their most recent residency. Mark Dyer is a current RNCM PhD student and his work on musical ruin, in this case off well known early 20th Century music for flute, fits perfectly into this short concert.

It’s always a little strange to have a concert of a single piece in a series that, for the most parts, looks at different musical/performance outcomes from comparable ideas and starting points. However in this case the juxtapositions seems built in; happy music, sad dance and a collaborative triangle of three performers (Matthew Shlomowitz, Aisha Orazbayeve and Shila Anaraki)  in distinct roles asking and answering questions through music, speech and movement. I enjoy the unpretentious immediacy of pieces that wear their questions on their sleeves and the pieces that I know that take the form of lectures (for example pieces by Johannes Kreidler or Trond Reinholdtsen as well as others by/with Matthew) tend towards the exploratory, strange, approachable and fun.

Here is related, unnecessary and joyous little extra; a link to Mark Dyer performing Matthew Shlomowitz’s Letter Piece 1 with Elizabeth Ditmanson. I really like this performance.


Salvatore Sciarrino

Decontamination #12: Fragmentation and Distortion 

In this short concert, violinist Aisha Orazbayeva and flautist Kathryn Williams perform solo music by Salvatore Sciarrino alongside radical interpretations of early music. Sciarrino’s often fleeting, fragmentary, inherently exploratory music that pushes instrumentalists to their limits is matched with early music imagined through extended techniques and maverick performance practice.

Let it all out – Joshua Mock
Come vengono prodotti gli incantesimi? – Salvatore Sciarrino
Canzona di Ringraziamento – Salvatore Sciarrino
Momento – Mark Dyer
1-3 from Six Caprices for violin – Salvatore Sciarrino
1 & 6 from 12 Fantasias for violin without bass – Georg Philipp Telemann

Aisha Orazbayeva (violin)
Kathryn Williams (flute)



Decontamination #13: Lecture about sad music and happy dance

The third of Matthew Shlomowitz’s provocative lecture pieces, Lecture About Sad Music and Happy Dance, is a collaboration between himself, dancer-choreographer Shila Anaraki and violinist Aisha Orazbayeva. He asks: How can abstract music and dance elicit emotional responses from audiences? What can evolutionary biology tell us about emotional reactions to art? Do the sonic qualities of sad music relate to the physical qualities of sad dance? How does the happy dance of France compare with the happy dance of Indonesia? What emotion does sadness plus surprise combine to make? Why do we want to see art that makes us feel sad, and why does sad art sometimes make us happy?




hollow yellow willow – now on iPlayer

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.

Here’s a little sketch for it:


Decontamination #11: New, reimagined and modified instruments

Instruments/speakers from David Pocknee’s String Trio No.1

Decontamination #11: New, reimagined and modified instruments

12 December 2017, 2000, CNRR, RNCM – TICKETS HERE

One for Solo Violin – Nam June Paik
Callum Coomber (violin)

la roche mère moutonne – Kelly Jayne Jones
Gavin Osborn (flute), Kelly Jayne Jones (rocks)

Taasian – Amir Sadeghi Konjani
Jacob Barns (prepared cello)

String Trio No.1 – David Pocknee
Shoal (Callum Coomber, Rosalind Ridout & Lucy Nolan)

Booklet: visual-audio-thing – Claudia Molitor
Video with soundtrack

offset ii – Nocturne !@#$% – Bofan Ma
Eldad Diamant – accordion and score objects

Fixations – Eleanor Cully
Shoal (Callum Coomber, Rosalind Ridout & Lucy Nolan)

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)

Claudia Molitor from Booklet
From Booklet: visual-audio-thing – Claudia Molitor


Amir by MM
Amir Sadeghi Konjani (by MM)

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

Bofan Ma
Bofan Ma

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.

Kelly Jayne Jones

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.

Carmel Smickersgill
Carmel Smickersgill