Decontamination #10: Songs of mourning/music of suppression

Image from the score of Emily Hall’s Rest

Monday 8th May, Royal Northern College of Music Concert Hall

Tickets/info here.


Kleine Trommel und UKW-Rauschen (“Conceptio”) [2000] – Peter Ablinger

Piccolo und Rauchen [1996/97] – Peter Ablinger             

Rest (extracts) – Emily Hall & Toby Litt

Weiss/Weisslich 17 (extracts) – Peter Ablinger
Weiss/Weisslich 17b: Violine und Rauschen [1995]
Weiss/Weisslich 17g: Gitarre und Rauschen [1997/2011]
Weiss/Weisslich 17d: Flöte und Rauchen [1996]
Weiss/Weisslich 17c: Kleine Trommel und Rauschen [1994/2017]

Rest (extracts) – Emily Hall

Violine und Rauchen “Veronica” [1995/96] – Peter Ablinger

Rest (extracts) – Emily Hall

Olivia Carrell, Anna McLuckie & Eleanore Cockerham (voices)

Aiden Marsden (snare drum), Callum Coomber (guitar/FM radio), Henry Rankin (violin), Meera Maharaj (piccolo/flute)


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).



Emily Hall: Photo by @cardigankate & @RobOrchard

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.

Peter Ablinger

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 seriesThese 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.

Extracts from South Korea and Japan 2002

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.

Decontamination #9 – Three Voices

Decontamination 9 – CNRR, Royal Northern College of Music, 8pm

Morton Feldman – Three Voices

Juliet Fraser – soprano

Tickets here.

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.




Decontamination #8 – exterior/interior

Next Tuesday Decontamination continues with:

Tuesday 22 November, 8pm, Carol Nash Recital Room, RNCM

Artificial Environment No.8 – Joanna Bailie
1. …and the dreams that you dare to dream…
2. Babel
3. Street

Receiving the Approaching Memory – Bryn Harrison

Aisha Orazbayeva (violin)
Mark Knoop (piano)

Joanna Bailie‘s Artificial Landscape No 8 is one in a sequence of fantasy landscapes that places instruments within field recordings both modified and literal. In this beautiful piece for piano and soundtrack, the instrument becomes a mediator between the real and the imagined. Bryn Harrison‘s recent long work for violin and piano explores the idea of non-goal orientated structures by (as he writes) dealing directly with the opposition of static and mobile structures. He explores the juxtaposition of near and exact repetition in close proximity dealing with issues of duration, memory and disorientation.

This is music by composers whose work I love by two of the most daring and committed interpreters of new music in the world. Worth, I think, a detour.

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).

Decontamination #7 – Boulez/Bowie


I’m a fan of Pierre Boulez and David Bowie and both have had a formative impact on me. This is part of the reason to put on this modest tribute. Furthermore, if the thread running through Decontamination is unusual or surprising connections between different starting points, territories, lines of enquiry and sounds, then the coincidence of these two artists passing away so close together is cause for reflection. Both of these men were icons in their field, made new music of significance and had extremely complex relationships with mainstream classical and pop music culture respectively.

Opening of Pierre Boulez’s ‘Sonatine’ for flute and piano (1946)

The concert is music of Boulez and Bowie’s or new music inspired by their practice and lives and is performed and (where relevant) written or arranged by RNCM students.  The concert opens with a performance of Boulez’s Sonatine for flute and piano. I’m grateful that Meera Maharaj and Aaron Breeze have agreed to take on this monumentally demanding work.

Ellen Lewis, James Davis, Sean Rogan & George Garside, RNCM Popular Music degree students, are going to play following James, Sean and Anna Mcluckie’s (unable to perform on this occasion but has contributed to the writing) amazing set in New Music North West last year where they made new and imaginative versions of songs from Manchester bands. This time they are responding to Bowie songs with covers and originals as well as interludes inspired by Boulez.

Finally two RNCM composers have written new pieces for the occasion for string quartet and electronics. Grace Evangeline-Mason has written …by the atmosphere of a room – the title a quote from Francis Bacon (who had a documented influence on Boulez)  – and the piece seeks to define a dense and complex musical space employing some of the compositional techniques used by Boulez. Grace write:

Inspired by the interests and piano works of Pierre Boulez, who has been referred to as ‘An Eternal Musical Icon’ and an ‘Eternal Enigma’, the piece is an immersive, and seemingly eternal, harmonic soundworld.

John Uren has written a new work responding to Bowie; Her own dying moments. He writes:

For my piece I was particularly inspired by a letter I found online written by Dr Mark Taubert. I was fortunate enough to get in touch with Mark who has been incredibly helpful in providing me with a recording of himself reading his own letter, which forms the basis for the electronic part of my piece. 

This reading, alongside subtle electronic sounds and an understated string quartet part which plays with the opening pitches of Bowie’s Lazarus – is part thank you to Bowie and part exploration of palliative care in the UK. This makes for a desperately moving short new work.

Come along. Tickets here. It’ll be a goodun.

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.