Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Plug 2010 03

The third concert of the Plug festival 'Music Lab Does Theatre' was incredibly strong. First up was Chris Duncan's Every Little Hurts, four harps plus a soprano who also played glockenspiel; a stunningly good piece singing and acting by Claire Thompson, in a checkout-girl pinafore, looking bored and dowdy, pecking away in a desultory way at the glock, and singing about… well, actually, I couldn't make out any of the words, but something about the sadness of supermarkets, one assumes. Various other wee bits of colour in the piece to give us some hints in this direction, occasional supermarket-style announcements coming over the loudspeakers, conductor Bryan Allen in costume, some props. A very nice sounding piece, how can you go wrong with four harps plus glockenspiel, really sold by Claire's performance, exactly the kind of 'I get it' singer which every composer would want to work with.

The next piece was an entertaining what's-not-to-like piece Building Goliat by Claire McKenzie, with percussionist Calum Huggan mugging through the business of putting together a piece of flatpack furniture to a musical accompaniment provided by a an eleven piece ensemble of four saxes, five strings, piano and drums, conducted by Bede Williams. Actually, I kind of did find some things not to like about this piece, essentially to do with the kind of so-called 'music theatre' we were getting here. The hint is in the word 'mugging'; the furniture-building was overacted, while the musicians were, um, underacting? Not part of the theatre at all. The music was good, especially in the sections where the drumkit cut in, things got distinctly jazzier and the ensemble started to hang together better in rhythmic terms.

Joshua Payne's Should'nt've. Should've. Should'nt. Should. was a stunning tour de force, that's the only way to describe it, with Josh both composing and dancing the piece himself. His presence on stage was strong, dominating, tying his left leg to the stage with a length of rope before executing… well, to call it a 'tap dance' kind of gives the wrong impression, more like a piece of serious and intense physical theatre which happened to incorporate tap. And of course, seamlessly wedded to the music, to which I didn't pay as much attention as I might have, a large mixed ensemble with a sort of composed-out-jazz feel, very well held together as ever by conductor Duk Kyung Chang.

The second half of the concert was entirely taken up with Gareth Williams' Gethsemane, featuring the tenor voice of Barry McAleer together with eight female voices, four clarinets, four cellos and a piano. As Gareth said in his programme note, 'either a piece of Religious Music, or a piece of music about religion', the Catholic religion in this case. Oddly enough, although this piece was ostensibly the least theatrical, it was in another way to me the most succesfully theatrical. The theatre here was in very simple things, the dramatic structure of the piece, the tenor moving from a central spot to a stage-right pulpit for different movements, a section where the musicians in the ensemble spoke responses to the liturgy delivered by the tenor soloist, the grouping of the musicians of the ensemble into fours.

This was a piece by a mature composer right in the centre of his stride, with a completely assured approach and a relaxed mastery of his own idiom. For me, I have a problem sometimes with going all the way into the extended climactic ecstasies of a Gareth Williams piece, but that's my problem.

A brief mention of the pre-concert event, which was four more of the series of piano études which runs throughout the week. Alexander Horowitz had a piece about 'stretches', physically dramatic, with Chris Baxter contorting himself satisfactorily to execute simultaneous high spread chords and low inside-the-piano gestures. Shona Mackay's piece was played by Lucie Bebbington, a perhaps not entirely thoroughgoing attempt to make use of the what-does-it-do-anyway central sustaining pedal on a grand piano. Alasdair Spratt's was a solidly pianistic and musical piece of work, Flavia Casari in a simple but well-drawn exploration of a particular upper middle register and a particular kind of touch. The last piece on the programme I'm not really permitted to comment on, except to say that I was delighted, overjoyed with the way in which Silviya Mihaylova sold my Poème-Étude pour Pianiste Récitant to the audience.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Plug 2010 02

This year's electroacoustic concert was a game of two halves. In the first half we got, er a game, a game of Chess, in fact, as the piece by Joshua Payne and Alexander Horowitz was entitled. The idea was good. Downstage, we had a chessboard and two chairs, illuminated by a table lamp, with a CCTV  camera looking down on the board and projected above the stage. Behind them was a performer, Richard Greer, who's job seemed to be to enter the moves into a laptop; upstage from that was percussionist Glynn Forrest with an amplifed set up of untuned instruments.

There was no explanation of the piece in the programme note, but what seemed to be happening - well, what I kind of know was happening, as I was party to some of the very early discussions of the piece - was that Josh and Alex were playing a game of chess and that the moves, interpreted in some way by Richard and Glynn, would form a musical background the evolution of which would be directed in some way by the course of the game.

The sound world produced was quite attractive; there seemed to be some self-effacing tuned sounds coming from the laptop, whilst in the foreground were some very attractive amplified percussion sounds, I think resampled and replayed by the computer. The piece also looked quite good, with the two protagonists coming on in appropriately black and white costume, Richard dressed as a - king? - and some appropriate lighting.

How one would appreciate this piece probably depends on whether or not you can play chess; I can, a bit, and this was a lousy game of chess, very frustrating towards the end with both players missing blindingly obvious mates. Or, probably; the other frustrating aspect of the piece was that the pieces were only distinguishable with difficulty on the screen. And the board was sideways on, reversed left and right.

This sounds petty, but the fact is that for me the drama of the piece was bound up in the game, rather than the music. The relationship between the game play and the music was very unclear; about the only thing one could detect was that the bass drum played loudly when the queen made a move. The image on the screen dominated the piece to the extent that I thought it would have been stronger had the players not been dressed up; one had no inclination to look at them in person.

Overall, though, all power to Josh and Alex for trying something a bit different. By contrast, I have to say, the second half of the concert, which featured purely loudspeaker/diffusion pieces, was rather grey and samey. Really, very samey; the first three pieces in the concert felt like the same piece three times, the same kind of source sounds, the same treatments, the same favouring of high-pitched noise-like sounds, the same avoidance of pitched sounds, the same kind of gestures in time. The fourth piece started from a different sonic premiss, using sung sounds, but again seemed to get stuck in a bit of a granular-delay-ish-plugin rut; the last couple of pieces were kind of back where we started.

I'm not sure whether it is fairer to name the composers and the pieces or not; at any rate, I've decided not too. And, I may not be being fair at all; people that sneer at electroacoustic music should probably be made to try to do it themselves; I readily admit it ain't that easy to make satisfying music out of nothing more than sound, and all power to these students for trying.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Études 01

If I'm quick, just time to write about the first set études before the next concert. Flavia Casari played Tim Cooper's postcard piece, sort of minimalist in its repeated sections, but without the scented-candle harmonies; a study in keeping-going perhaps. Joshua Payne's piece, played by Alasdair Macaskill, was kind of a jazz free association piece, jazz without the four bar phrases, longish, clearly structured. Duncan Strachan's étude, played by George Duthie, started out with very dry two part material with driving and insistant rhythms, before making an unexpected turn to more lyrical material before, also quite unexpectedly, stopping.

John Roy Garrod's piece, played by Sage Pearce Higgins, sounded quite odd to me, rhapsodising warmly but puzzlingly between very conventional-sounding chords and very wrong-sounding ones. Finishing up with a rather beautiful, intense and poetic approach by Carlisle Anderson-Frank to what seemed to the ear quite trivial material in James Black's piece, revolving cipher-like around continually repeated pitches in the right hand.

As for the informal setting of the concert in the café; I kind of liked it, although I'm a little worried as to whether the pianist's voice will be heard clearly in my piece tomorrow.

Plug 2010 01

The Plug festival of new music at the RSAMD in Glasgow just started today. I wasn't sure whether I would have time to do the blog this year, but as I've just come out of the first concert and seem to have some thoughts in my mind, let's have a go.

The first concert was billed as Guitars & Friends, featuring two stellar young guitarists, Sean Shibe and Ian Watt, and had the Guinness Room completely packed out. The first piece up was Umbilical Chord by Anna Shucksmith, which pitted Sean Shibe against a woodwind quintet. Sometimes jazzy, sometimes reflective, this piece was for me a little obsessed with two of the three notes in the three note tune which seemed to form most of the material. The piece did not draw on the virtuosity of the players in the way one might have anticipated, apart from giving them some opportunities to demonstrate good intonation under demanding circumstances.

Rory Boyle's Partita a Quattro is a solo work, played by Ian Watt, a revision of an earlier sonata for guitar. A helluva piece, and helluva performance, made me wish I could play guitar like that; made me wish I could write music like that, especially the lively outer movements.

Richard Greer's If Destroyed Still True (IDST) made reference to the Urban Dictionary in its programme note, and the approach was suitably urban and contemporary, po-mo even. A sort of prog rock meets moto perpetuo piece, likeable, energetic and foot-tapping. The players were Sean Shibe on guitar, Basia Misiewicz on cello and Sarah Hayes on piccolo; the latter rather stealing the show for me with a great understanding of how to attack the long jazzy modal lines in this piece.

Ian Anderson's Jackson was the duet feature for Sean and Ian together; I found it a bit large and shapeless, and didn't get much of a feeling of Michael Jackson from the piece, to whom it was ('vaguely') intended as a tribute.

Finally, Gordon McPherson's Upbeat Destroyer was Ian Watt as part of a seven piece ensemble, viola, cello, double bass, two clarinets and vibraphone/anvil as well as the guitar. A big sounding piece, despite the relatively small forces, like a sort of reduced orchestra. Which, like some of Gordon's other pieces, I found good but I'm not sure why.

This evening we get the first of a series of piano études which are being run every night as a pre-concert event in the café bar. Mine is tomorrow night; I finally had the opportunity today to meet my pianist Silviya Mihaylova and discuss the piece with her, and I'm really pleased at how much she seems to 'get' the piece. (As anyone knowing my work might suspect, there is a strong performative and theatrical element in my piece, not perhasp the kind of thing one would expect in an étude. Or maybe exactly the kind of thing one would expect in an étude?!)

Anyway, that's tomorrow. Later tonight, the electroacoustic concert, featuring... a game of chess?

Monday, 30 November 2009

Gamelan Weekend at the RNCM - Sunday

First up on Sunday morning was a super delightful concert of Sundanese degung by the Manchester group Degung Manchung. In the west, Sundanese gamelan is much rarer than Balinese or Central Javanese ensembles, and it's historical and cultural importance has regrettably been somewhat neglected. From a sheer enjoyment point of view, the music is highly attractive to listen to, especially on a Sunday morning after being up late for a wayang. The group played a mix of pieces, including a strongly executed polyrhythmic composition Fill It Up With Ghosts by Christophe de Bézenac, and a number of traditional styles often featuring Rachel Swindell's excellent suling playing. This fresh little group completely won the audience over; could have had more of this.

Two workshops followed during the course of the afternoon, both led by members of the Southbank Players, both of the highest quality and interest. As someone with an investment in this area, I've naturally read a fair number of books and articles on wayang kulit, and seen it performed both in the UK and Java. In the opening sentences of his super clear introduction to Javanese puppetry, Jonathan Roberts made plain to me five or six things key things which I had never noticed or thought about or read before. Perhaps it's because he's used to presenting this material to schools, but he went right back to the very beginning in terms of how these puppets look to the western eye compared to what they mean to the Javanese. This is exactly the kind of information which is so hard to glean, because it is so obvious to anyone immersed in the culture. He went on to show us the basics of how the different types of characters moved, and let us have a hands-on go at manipulating our puppets on the screen.

Esther Wilds' workshop on Javanese singing was also extremely clear and engaging, and pitched exactly right for the quite large and mixed group who had turned up. By the end of an hour the whole group had learned to sing short unaccompanied piece in the Javanese language, with a fair approximation to the rather difficult pronunciation and (to many) unfamiliar scales. Then, with half an hour to spare, she split us into three groups to learn a children's song, with actions. Like Robert her skill was in breaking this material down into clear easily-grasped chunks, rather than having to attempt to swallow the whole of Javanese culture and language in one go.

Oops, I've skipped over the lunchtime concert. This was by the York University group Sekar Petak, who had brought their own set of instruments with them. Like our own group Naga Mas in Glasgow, this is a group which does a great deal of composition, although perhaps with a slightly more academic slant.

I'm a composer myself, of course, of both academic and gamelan music, so I have some personal knots to untie here. David Hammond's piece Tainted Lunch left me thinking about whether and how and why one should use the existing formulas when writing new gamelan music; which many of my pieces have done, and which this one did. My jury is out on this one; on the one hand I felt I wanted to bin some of my pieces which are rewritings of sampaks or whatever, but on the other hand I like those pieces. But I was disappointed by David's piece; should I be disappointed by my own?

Peter Moran's Bonang Quartets 1 and 2 showed good original thinking, treating the four bonangs (in two different tunings!) as if they were as standard and sensible an ensemble to write for as string quartet. The actual pieces seemed perhaps to try to do too much in a short space of time; the ending of the second piece sticks in the mind (although inaudible to my deafening ears), the four players sliding bonang pots gently around on a piece of carpet.

Jon Hughes First chorus from The Women of Trachis (Sophocles) also seemed to me to display a kind of flawed thinking of which I have also sometimes been guilty in the past; that one could take two ancient and noble traditions, central Javanese karawitan and Ancient Greek strophic forms, and somehow marry them into something which might have existed if history had taken a different turn. Which in this case, unfortunately just seemed to produce something which was vastly long, slow, and not very engaging, as opposed to perhaps sitting through a klenengan or a Greek play, which might also be long and slow, but would perhaps be of some cultural or historical interest.

Clive Wilkinson's Spindrift was performed by a four-piece subgroup called The Gong Agenda, who evidently take a more experimental and improvisatory approach. I got over the rather pretentious sounding programme note, which might have been intended ironically, but still found it hard to engage with this textural piece. Many of the sounds were very quiet and subtle, long notes on a clarinet, stroking the bonang pots with wire brushes, blowing into the resonators of a gender, quiet sustained tones from a laptop. These were counterpointed by occasional bumps of sound; a loud note on the clarinet, a sudden gesture from the gender, and so forth. Probably it was quite a good piece honestly and well-performed; perhaps I wasn't in the mood for it.

Aris Daryono's piece for gender and electronics had disappointingly been cut from the programme for length, so we were left with John Jacob's Lancaran Bentwrong to end the concert.

Now; music; postmodernism. We are free to read anything we like postmodernly these days, but it seems to me that not that many composers are consciously writing postmodernly. By which I mean in particular (what do we mean by postmodernism, anyway?) a certain sense of irony, of playfulness, openness to our work being read and misread by different audiences, music which is about other music, music which comments wryly about itself. Is it possible to be playfully ironic in a language which you don't natively speak? And which your audience doesn't fully understand?

In short, is it possible for a composer to write postmodern gamelan music? It ought to be possible for an Indonesian musician in Indonesia, but is it possible for a western composer? Do we speak the language well enough to tell lies in it?

John Jacob's piece seemed to go some way in that direction, if I'm not reading too much into it. We start with a title, which is obviously a pun on the rather well known, even tired teaching piece 'Ladrang Bendrong'. It started with the bonang player confidently playing the buka, before descending into what may well have been a sort of self-doubt, the players attempting uncertain duets with one another, or attempting to play the instruments next to them. After a while we got a sort of syncopated post-minijazzamilist riff, again with perhaps an element of self-consciousness; this is exactly the kind of thing we all end up writing.

I don't know, perhaps I'm reading too much here. At any rate, a good piece, and good to have a concert dedicated to new music for gamelan, although the overall mode of the thing was perhaps a little... composatorial.

And finally, The Worst Gig I Have Ever Been To In My Entire Life. Now, I don't want to criticise any of the sidemen here, or even less the gamelan players, who were only playing their part. But, Sugeng Tindak (Farewell) Finn Peters' Butterflies was an indulgent mess of complete rubbish. The idea of having a jazz band ignore, play over and drown out a gamelan group might under some circumstances be framed so as to have some point or purpose, but here it was just lazy and ignorant. The music itself was lazy and ignorant, with the gamelan being given nothing to play but the simplest of one-bar ostinati, while the leader rambled meaninglessly over the top on flute.

The second piece in the concert was more or less identical to the first, with the gamelan playing an almost identical ostinato at an almost identical slow-rock tempo. The final piece in the concert was a rendering, by which I mean a tragic tearing up of, the well-known Buburan Hudan Mas. The concert started late, which is a clue; I'm guessing the leader was short of material, and had most likely sprung this piece on the band and gamelan at the last minute. Which was desperately unfair on the gamelan, who evidently did not know it very well. But even if they had, in what way were they possibly supposed to join in with the pointless jazz ravings on the tune into which the jazz band were goaded by their leader.

If I'd had the courage, I would have walked out, and I was also minded to ask for my money back. Give it to the degung group instead.

Gamelan Weekend at the RNCM - Saturday

Just got back from Manchester, attending a weekend of gamelan concerts and workshops at the Royal Northern College of Music, which turned out to be well worth the trip down from Glasgow.

The first thing we were able go get to on the Saturday morning was the RNCM Chamber Orchestra doing Lou Harrison's Suite for violin, piano and small orchestra. A very small orchestra indeed, in fact, really a chamber piece. I've lost my copy of the programme note, but if memory serves this was quite an early piece, dating from the early 1950s, showing a fascination with writing gamelan-like music before he actually got around to constructing instruments. A couple of the movements were entitled 'gamelan', and these were the most sucessful, with celesta, harp, percussion and tack piano playing simple ostinati throughout against a bell-like melody on the piano.

The second concert was also West-looks-at-the-East, but less satisfactory. Evan Ziporyn's gamelan-incorporating music is a bit of a recent discovery for me, particularly his excellent opera A House in Bali which I had the good fortune to see in Ubud. This concert of his Kebyar Maya missed the mark for me on several levels, however. The piece is for eight cellos, and consists pretty much of a direct mapping of the layers and textures of Balinese kebyar onto those instruments. So, it was kind of a 'this is what kebyar would sound like if you played it on a cello' piece; a slightly weak idea.

I also was suspicious of the approach taken by the conductor and players. In the pre-publicity material it talked about the players being asked to 'strike their de-tuned strings with gong beaters'. But, the conductor muttered something at the start about their having 'adapted' the piece, and there were no gong beaters in evidence. The playing was highly cello-istic, with the conductor drawing out heartfelt lyrical phrasing from long notes which on a percussion instrument would be struck and then die. The overall impression was of a performance where the western players had payed the composer to do the engaging with Other music on their behalf.

The lunchtime concert by the Southbank Gamelan Players was one of the highlights of the weekend. In some ways, this was pretty hardcore stuff, an entire programme organised around the Javanese måcåpat tradition of sung poetry. (But then, when it comes to gamelan music in the UK, this is the hardcore team, all of them long-time experts in Javanese music and culture; always a slightly daunting for a semi-dilettante village musician like myself to be around this crew!) They worked their way through a well-planned and varied programme, including in two places working with the dancer Ni Madé Pujawati. The instruments on which they were playing were a fabulously ornate set recently tuned by Pak Cokrik; the whole thing looked and sounded great.

A few hours later they were back in much more relaxed mode, in the cafe bar, for a wayang performance in English by Matthew Isaac Cohen. This was more than anything else what I had come to Manchester to see. I've seen wayang in Indonesia, but the language barrier is really quite steep, and it's a big part of what's going on; from high-flown court Javanese to crude street slang, its a form which traverses a great range of linguistic and performative registers.

Matthew and the South Bank Players have done a number of wayang recently, and this is the first chance I've been able to see them. It seems to me they are doing a fantastic job of translating waying into a shorter form in a different language, making it understandable and enjoyable to UK audiences while retaining a great deal of honesty to the original. Matthew has a great sense of humour, which was on this occasion slighly lost on a noisy audience in a reverberant space. I look forward to seeing him perform again.

A long drive back, last night; off for a cup of tea now, hopefully find the energy to write up some notes on the Sunday performances later. Including, perhaps, The Worst Concert I Have Ever Been To In My Entire Life.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Wrong concert

Last night I went to the wrong concert; I should have been at the Red Note gig at the RSAMD, but Tramway is just around the corner making a last-minute decision to pop out easier.

So, BCMGs' Rumpelstiltskin instead; which turned out to be a pointless piece of work, a waste of time and money, mine, yours, theirs. The actual artistic materials all had a certain hollow slickness. David Sawers music was spare, well-orchestrated, in places very clever, in places going through certain motions in a annoying way. The set had one of those clever versatile constructions with doors and sliding panels, allowing predictably surprising hidings and revealings. The physical theatre was in an odd place between cleverly over-histrionic and stupidly am-dram.

I've been reading Christopher Small's 'Musicking' recently. One of the sharp sticks he pokes in the eye of classical music is to paint it as a bedtime story for the middle classes. This was just a bedtime story. Comforting, perhaps, for people who like their art to pose no challenges and ask no questions.

I'd been to see it because of my interest in music as a performance art, but the approach here was token, emaciated. The ensemble were in costume and make-up, which looked better than the default black which one might have expected. At times the musicians walked from one spot to the other, which was effective in articulating the structure and attention in the piece; and they had been taught to walk well.

But, the musicians were not involved in the piece in any particularly deep way. One of them actually, literally, stifled a yawn. No-one in this piece seemed involved with anything. Any element - performer, music, costume, set - could have been taken away and replaced by something else, and it wouldn't really have mattered.

Expensive, but worthless; pointless, with no sense of exploration, novelty, irony or self-awareness. Should have gone to the other gig.

Saturday, 2 May 2009


So, we finally made it to the end of Plug 09 and the vast and wonderful John De Simone's Symphony, by John De Simone. But first a couple of curtain raisers. Pre-concert in the café bar we had my own sequenza for trombone Exercise performed with great humour the wonderful Davur Magnussen. As it's my own piece I'll pass over this quietly, except to note that one of Scotland's other great trombonists was in the audience, John Kenny. A personal joy for me to have him there; many years ago it was a workshop and performance he did of the Berio trombone sequenza which helped set me on the musical path I am on today. I'll have to talk to him seriously about doing this piece at some point...

The evening concert was always going to be an odd piece of programming, with three sequenzas in the first half before the symphony. First on was Yvonne Paterson to do Rory Boyle's Touch. A very professional piece of writing, well performed, with a good range of by now fairly well-known extended techniques for the flute. Excellent decision here to put a mic on the flute, which really helped bring forward the subtleties of the sounds. Unfortunately, somebody then left the PA turned on and humming quietly throughout the entire remainder of the concert; rather distracting!

Second sequenza was for double bass, by Blair Russell, performed by Edward Lucas. In a different mood I might have criticised this piece for lack of sequenza-icity, as I have some of the other pieces this week. However, this simple and characterful work won me over, kind of treating the bass as if it was a huge cello, or a huge viola even, with lyrical, bowed melodies only occasionally counterpointed with more percussive sounds.

Julia MacDonell had a good go at Nicholas Scott's sequenza for french horn, but for me was unable to make very much of the two ideas which seemed to be all this piece had to offer, a loud and distinctive stopped note glissando, and some less distinctive moto jazzio syncopated material. And tritones; lots of 'em, perhaps in rebellion against the harmonic intervals native to the instrument.

So, the long awaited John De Simone's Symphony, by John De Simone. From the programme note;

'I need to be writing the music I want to write, not what I think I should be writing. So I decided to compose what I always wanted to compose, even before I was a composer, and that's a large symphony'

There's something about this endeavour which really resonates with me. John talks about the joy of sitting in an orchestra and playing tuba parts, particularly early C20th century ones. I've not had a chance to play much of that repertoire, but certainly as a listener I feel like I know what he means; I could spend entire evenings happily listening to symphonic works by Prokofiev, or Shostakovich, or Walton, or even Rachmaninov… But, that's not the kind of thing a contemporary composer is 'meant' to be into. Bit of a guilty pleasure, really.

Anyway, of course, John's fifty-minute, four movement symphony was a tour de force. How could it be otherwise; he is a virtuoso composer with a complete grasp of the harmonic, rhythmic, textural and orchestral means needed for a work like this. The first movement was very clearly structured, climaxes in the right places, and really made out of quite straightforward musical stuff; repeated notes, long notes, ostinati, chordal punctuations.

The second movement was a scherzo, as one might expect. I kind of wished I hadn't been at the rehearsal for this, otherwise I might not have have been bothered about how tricky this was for the band to pull off, triplets and quintuplets across changing time signatures. If I'm not mistaken, some of this same material appeared a few days ago in John's Panic Diaries, where it seemed more apt for a one-instrument-to-a-part chamber ensemble than here. Overall, I felt that it got a bit bogged down in complex rhythmic detail which didn't quite come off, like a flatpack wardrobe which won't quite go together, a couple of screws left over at the end...

Third movement, slow movement. And, yes, beautiful; here we had some of those high notes which John seems to hear, but poetic and aching rather than screeching, a single high note dissolving into a minor third, a definite post-Shostakovich moment. Very, very good use of instrumental colour later in this movement; one of those instances where one is, umm, charmed to use an old fashioned term by some novel instrumental colour, looking round the orchestra in puzzlement to see which combination of instruments is actually making that wonderful sound. Later on this movement seemed to subvert it's own beauty, almost ugly, screamings and stabbings; self-criticism perhaps, and the only place where this work lost me somewhat.

The last movement of course a finale, moving from a simple minor ostinato to a long, complex thread of semiquaver melody passed round the orchestra, then an unexpected passage of comedy triplets rhythmically cross-modulating into a shortish but appropriately rousing 2/4 ending.

Questions I ask myself; a couple of days ago I was arrogant enough to dismiss four of my fellow composers' works as sounding like 'indifferent 80s TV music'. What is the difference here? Is there one? Is it just my expectations? Is it that John is a chum, a fellow postgrad, and generally regarded around here as someone who is pretty near the top of the tree? Am I just hearing what I expect to hear, once I've seen the composer's name on the programme?

No, I don't think so. There is something distinctively different and original going on here. If a composer like John writes a passage which sounds like, I don't know, Stravinsky, then he is competely in control of that; it's like someone writing about Stravinsky, in his own words. With less skilled and experienced composers, it's often just that they haven't yet figured out how to get beyond writing something that just happens to sound like Stravinsky; in which case it would probably be better to just go and listen to the original.

Then, the means. This symphony it seems to me works as a symphony without doing any of the things which are supposed to make a symphony work. As musicians and listeners, we're indoctrinated with hundreds of years of analysis which tell us very firmly that what makes a symphony great is thematic unity and large scale harmonic organisation, or, for a more modernist take, a deep formal structure and novel instrumental sounds. None of it! None of it! It's not there! There were no 'themes' here, barely any melodic material at all; no tonal forms, no formal structures and no cheap C20th special effects. Yet, for fifty minutes it held our attention, while remaining completely true to the symphonic tradition. A great achievement, really, and it certainly left a small part of the composer in me feeling a little jealous of what this guy had managed to pull off.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Two favours to ask

Two things; if anyone is coming to see my trombone sequenza tonight, it would be really great if you felt like taking photos or even video clips on your phone and passing them on to me? I need some documentation of the piece for my PhD, and that would be a nice form to have it in. Email me files on, or my academy email address, or share with me on facebook or catch up with me and bluetooth the files, whatever...

Second favour, I have a proper video camera as well; anyone with a steady hand and a clear eye fancy operating that for me during the piece?

Thursday night

I had an interesting conversation with Rory Boyle yesterday, one of the senior composition teachers here. He thought I was on difficult ground with this blog, trying to both be a critic and a composer. He's right; I've always found this a bit of a strange balancing act. Maybe I should just shut up criticising and write a piece. On the other hand, some people reckon I'm pulling my punches, even though I feel like I've been quite harsh on occasion.

Which preamble leads up to me saying that I'm slightly going to partially shy away from reviewing last night's concert. Principally from a lack of time; I have to run around and organise my own piece today, the already notorious sequenza for trombone Exercise, at 1730 tonight in the cafe foyer.

So, briefly then, last night's concert featured a new one-of-everything sinfonia-type ensemble made up of some of the best student players; The Music Lab. It started off, though, with a sequenza for violin by head of composition and my PhD tutor Gordon McPherson. It was played by a performer with whom I am also to some extent entangled, Kay Stephen, who was one of the players in my extended devised performance work of last year The Other Other Hand. So, with interests declared, I thought it was brilliant. What Gordon has done here is to compose not merely a piece of music, but an entire performance. Specifically written for Kay, it featured both her singing along with the violin and stamping her feet violently on the floor; the violin writing was full of attack and drive. It was all very Gordon, and all very Kay. Heathen, it's called.

Four of the pieces on the programme I'm going to skip lightly over; Shona Mackay's Turn, Alan James Macdermid's Reaching, Marcos Fernandez Barrero's L'Ombra de Barcino and Marek Pasieczny's Essay, for sixteen players. Last night I think I wasn't really in the mood for this kind of ensemble, falling somewhere between chamber and symphonic; these three pieces all treated this ensemble in an entirely conventional way, and I'm afraid a lot of this music came across to me rather like indifferent 80s TV music, without the irony. Shona's piece was competent but bland, Alan's piece was not very well written, Marcos was well written, a mini-symphony almost, whilst Marek's was to my mind perhaps the most original and succesful of the three.

I'm glad I asked somebody about Claire McKenzie's Game Over, a csardas, otherwise wouldn't have known that as well as being about the computer game Tetris, it also made extensive and apparently humourous use of that game's theme tune. I've never played computer games, you see, on some sort of bizarre personal principle, so I patently didn't entirely 'get' this piece. On the other hand, without even recognising the quote, it's obvious that Claire's thinking here was on a different level. What she was evidently trying to pull off, mostly succesfully, was the trick of having more than one piece of music going on at once, different strands of activity going off in their own directions and then converging again on a point of articulation. Sometimes the single strings of the ensemble seemed rather drowned out, but then probably drowning out is part of this compositional approach. Extremely well conducted by Duk-Kyung Chang, I thought, and all the players, throughout the evening, did a thoroughly good job.

(Oops I forgot to mention Chris Duncan's sequenza for viola Eulogy Capriccio, played by Ronan MacManus, wearing distinctive yellow shoes not unlike those sported by the composer himself. Shoes 2, sequenza 1.)

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Thursday lunchtime

Now, the lunchtime concert, Pianopianopiano. A piano concert, then, with a couple of woodwind sequenzae slipped in as well. The first of these, for alto flute by John Roy Garrod, was given an absolutely stunning performance by Jo Ashcroft. Really. She played the piece not just with her breath, or her lips, but with her entire body; every single gesture in the piece was practically danced; stamping her feet, looking at the audience, crouching down, standing erect, to the point where I actually started to wonder whether the composer had written it into the score. And, an entirely succesful piece of writing as well, if it can produce a performance like this.

On the subject of sequenzas, sooner or later someone is going to notice that there wasn't one for piano. What's that piece, is it by Christian Wolff, where the pianist is asked to push the piano against a wall, then keep pushing? That's kind of the way many composers feel about the piano in these days, that it is a nineteenth century obstacle, a piece of furniture perhaps better replaced by something nice and new from Ikea.

So we decided not to have a piano sequenza. However, that doesn't stop many of us from wanting to write for and with the piano. Jekabs Nimanis To Observe. To Listen. was... an ok piece, starting out with chords, then some almost but not quite minimalist single note material, then some almost but not quite C20th stride, finishing up with some inside the piano material, very carefully executed by Flavia Casari. (Back in the land of the perfunctory nods again; even Jekabs gave one. Mind you, composers always give the perfunctory nod. 'Cept me, natch.)

Dusty Bits by Justin Fung was a great piano piece, concentrating on but not restricted to the top bit of the piano, the 'dusty bit' of the title. A really great piece this, kind of a toccata or a moto perpetuo, with an opening somewhat reminiscent of Ligeti's Volumina for harpsichord, but by no means restricted to that language; well structured, with a perfectly poised ending. Very, very good piano writing here, absolutely nailed by Junlan Zhao.

Anna Shucksmith's sequenza for oboe came next, performed by Arlene Cochrane. The piece seemed to mainly alternated between intense, long, low slung notes alternating with pointy material, with some deliberately overblown notes placed along the way. A very convincing performance, perhaps not quite as overtly physical as Jo on the alto flute, but completely engaged with the piece in any case. Good.

I was rather unkind to Alexei Khevelev's piece of two days ago, but today's set of ten preludes Russian Roulette I found myself somewhat better disposed to. An entirely conventional idea expressed in entirely conventional pianistic terms, mostly conveying an appropriate atmosphere of threat. A little over the top in places, but maybe that's just the way Alexei likes to play.

The big piece of the afternoon was Kevan O'Reilly's Nobody has the answer, for two synthesisers and two amplified pianos. Yes, amplifed pianos, tick, and a really rather tasteless square wave patch on the synths, tick. The piece was long, and had continual layers of rhythm, so in that sense one had to say it seemed be conciously using the minimalist keyboard idiom, but in a freely composed way, without any sense of 'process'. The harmony was much muddier than the bland or poised (to taste) approach of Reich or Glass, kind of pop aesthetic I-don't-care-what-the-notes-are-I-like-them harmony, sometimes very dense and obscure, sometimes quite attractive, sometimes really rather ugly. My overall impression of this piece - I should really have checked with Kevan before writing this, I mean it as a compliment - was of somebody straining over a really big, long, dump, and finally suceeding.

And... the force is strong in the piano department these days, under the leadership of Aaron Shorr; in particular a very disciplined approach to Kevan's really rather difficult piece, unconducted, by Junlan Zhao, Chenfei Zhu, Jessica Leong, and Ayako Kanazawa.


I missed the afternoon concert of Plug, through at Stevenson College Edinburgh teaching, but got back through to Glasgow in good time for the electroacoustic concert; to be precise a concert of works for instrument plus live electronics and/or 'tape', as we still rather charmingly call prerecorded material.

It was a great gig. The first piece we heard was Mays' ('maze…') by Marek Pasieczny, which is by far the best work of Marek's I've ever heard. Very simple, just amplifed piano and 'tape'; starting off with the wonderfully refreshing sound of the amplified piano alone before introducing a prerecorded part made up of very similar piano material to that being played, sometimes just the same chord reversed. Quite jazzy in places; the title being an unfortunate pun on the name Lyle Mays, jazz pianist and composer, alluded to in the programme note. An excellent, captivating, bold, precise, glittering performance by Sylvia Sze-Hua Jen on piano.

David Jervis' Friction seemed to be for cello and laptop, although my guess is that effectively it was a 'tape' piece again, with the laptop there to give cues to the cellist. The piece was well-structured, with some quite loud and sharp gestures, which had the pleasant effect of pushing cellist Abigail Hayward in the direction of some almost vicious playing. A middle section used a kind of accelerating aleatoric mess of short water drop ish sounds, perhaps a bit of an ea cliché. It's a shame it couldn't have been played on an electric cello, or using a bug on the bridge; the cello was miked up but did not seem to entirely sit in the mix with the treated sounds.

Juliette Philogene's Colouring for 'tape' and clarinet had something of the same problem; the clarinet was not particularly closely miked and as a result was heard largely acoustically. This is not just a matter of loudness; rather a feeling that one wanted the instrument to really join in with the treated sounds, for the player to be in the same virtual world, right in the loudspeakers. The piece was given a characterful performance by saxist George Kastanos, moonlighting on clarinet in replacement for the indisposed Fraser A. M. Langton, for whom the piece had been written. The piece itself I found a bit confused, and it lost my attention for a while. And, a trill, of all things, on the clarinet, of all things, is not perhaps the best way to open a piece like this.

Flavia Casari's Dark shining light was a piece which had the same effect on me as several other people I spoke to afterwards; initial dislike followed by growing warmth. Part of this seemed to be down to this composer/performer's rather offputting stage manner. First of all, she didn't appear to have got it together to write the programme note in time for printing, leaving it to Alistair MacDonald to read out some back-of-an-envelope thoughts on her behalf. Then she wandered on stage, gave the most perfunctory nod to the audience imaginable, and carried on through the piece as though we weren't there, fumbling with her music, and generally looking as though she was a million miles away from anywhere exept giving a performance on stage.

Oddly enough, this kind of anti-stage presence really worked for this piece. The programme note read out was kind of cosmic, something about the background of the sky. The sounds of the piece fitted; a kind of background radiation of sustained, almost synthy sounds from the computer part, with sparse Henry Cowell/Olivier Messiaen-type gestures from the piano. Later in the piece we got what I think was the first instance of live transformation of the instrument in any of the pieces, with the piano played through what sounded suspiciously like a ring-modulator. Synthy? Ring modulator?! Sounds kind of tasteless, doesn't it? But it really, really worked.

Tim Cooper finished off the concert for us with his piece Switch 'for C trumpet, tape and live electronics' given an at-the-top-of-his-game performance by Tom Pouslon. Tim is a powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm at the academy, one of the wires the current goes through I think, and I've had the pleasure of working with him on a number of projects. His musical approach is kind of a million miles away from mine; a proper modernist, his music is all about, er, the music, the structure even. The 'tape' part here was made up of pre-recorded and treated fragments of Tom's playing, not entirely fixed it seemed but in places triggered by the performer, and with some transformation of the trumpet sound, some reverbs and delays, I think. Some touches of trumpet-player humour as well, for all my modernist slurs, with a tiny pre-recorded sound of Tom splitting a note poking slyly into the texture every once in a while. Oh, and for some unexplained reason the piece also seemed to feature the Shostakovich D-S-C-H motive (D Eb C B), which we left the concert whistling.

A great concert. There was a real feeling of engagement here, with all the performers either playing their own music or diffusing their own music or both, or teamed up with another performer with whom they had embarked together an sonic journey into the unkown. Mention must also go to Alistair MacDonald who in his wonderfully quiet and humourous way makes the electroacoustic wheels at the RSAMD go round. Yup, a very good concert indeed.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Tuesday's gig

The Tuesday night concert for Plug 09 started with the next sequenza in the series, for voice, written by Richard Greer and performed by soprano Claire Thompson. From the word go I was completely on board with this theatrically conceived piece. We first heard Claire warming up off stage, then she swanned in and took an A, but... all seemed not right. After a few bars she seemed lost, pulled a crumped sheet of manuscript out of her cleavage, and attempted to carry on. The piece went on like this, with the singer trying for notes which were too high or too low, coughing, delicately running out of breath...

To describe in words this sounds a bit naff, but in performance Claire pulled it off superbly, drawing on her own strong personality and sense of stage presence. For the second half of the piece, Claire sang with her back to us, finally singing some words, at last seeming fully confident and in control. The piece could have been longer and more fully developed, and there was one obvious gag I would love to have seen - at one point she goes to the piano, checks a tricky interval, then sings it back; if it had been me I would have had her sing it back wrong - but overall this was exactly the kind of thing a sequenza should be, in my opinion. (But as my music is all about this kind of stuff, I would say that, wouldn't I!)

Justin Fung's sequenza 'for solo cello and light' did not work at all in my prejudiced opinion. The cellist Feargus Eagan was bathed in a spot, which kind of went on and off a bit, the idea being, according to the programme note 'an attempt to explore […] a rhythm which one could experience visually rather than sonically'. For me, the idea of trying to separate 'light' and 'sound' into two conceptual categories and then try to recombine them is a fundamental misconception. The piece was also very unfortunately marred by somebody who happened to be wandering around backstage and turned on a light, which could be seen hovering over the performers head for the latter part of the piece. Oops, not really Justin's fault, that one.

On the other hand, the musical material I thought was really wonderful; virtually the entire piece done in harmonics, with just nine pizz notes and a couple of open strings, if I observed correctly. That I am able to sit here and say 'nice piece, shame about the light' points up, I think, what is wrong with this approach; with Richard's piece, one couldn't say 'nice piece, shame about the acting', because the 'acting' and the 'piece' were one and the same thing. IMHO.

Gareth Williams Discipline was for the female vocal ensemble Les Sirènes, with the addition of vibraphone and harp. I'm going to skip over this lightly; a straighforward piece, very well written and elegantly directed by Andrew Nunn, who appeared to grow longer arms as the piece went on. Alexei Khevelev's Les fenêtres du verre souillé de Chagall started very well - 'bring back the composer/pianist', I thought, as he sat to the piano sans music and launched into his own piece, honest, virtuosic stuff, quite like Mussorgsky in places - but then it went on. And on, and on, great crashing waves of it, a seemingly endless series of wrong-note Rachmaninovisms, one climax after another... by the eventual end I was thinking cruelly of that old banjo joke? About the definition of a gentleman? As in, a gentleman is someone who can play the banjo - but doesn't.

Next sequenza; for percussion, by Shona McKay, Succession. A reasonable enough piece, well played on the vibraphone by James Swan, in three clear sections, fast slow fast, but... not quite what I would expect for a 'sequenza'. To me there was not very much distinctively vibraphone-istic about it, and the motor wasn't even used, which seems unpardonable to me in this context.

Finally, Steve Forman's Sloop Dreams - what a fantastic piece! There exists rather a lot of sucky repertoire for the percussion ensemble which I've had to sit through in the past; they should throw all that in the bin and play this piece instead. A great start, with washes of recorded ocean starting even while the percussionists were setting up. Three grooves made up the piece; a kind of rumba overlayed with tuned percussion gestures, then a section with Steve playing what looked like a baby orchestral bass drum with his fingers like a giant riq, then a driving groove for cajón and - yes! - car-chase style triangle. Beautifully paced, colourful, inventive, wonderful sounds, and a great performance by all the percussionists, with just enough help from conductor Bede Williams to keep them all together. I left the concert full of joy.


It was loud. Whatever else one might think of to say about the Icebreaker concert, everyone seems to agree it was very, very loud. Most of the people who've been talking about coming out with their ears bleeding have been saying it with relish; also a small but strong minority who found it far too loud. So, loud then.

My problem was not so much with the loudness, I think but with… indigestibility. Maybe it was the plateful of kwetiau I wolfed down just before the concert, but I found the whole thing just too much music to listen to at a single sitting. Several of the pieces (ok, Steve's piece, Colin's, John's, and Gordon's) were extremely dense, complex, and multi-layered as well as in some cases quite long. That plus the loudness (did I mention that?)… my listening capacity was overwhelmed, leaving me with only a frustratingly vague impressions of these pieces.

Which bothers me, because I'm pretty sure these were all excellent. Steve Forman's TONIGHT'S EPISODE - The Crunch started off the concert with the drummer, sitting downstage in front of the band, giving a rockist four on the stix to kick off the band. It was billed as 'an 80's TV-movie' style piece and pretty much did that, with a lot of very straight four on the drums, although imagined as a cue it would have to be some kind of crazy show which got cancelled in the middle of series one.

Colin Broom is an old friend and colleague of mine, who, for those who don't know, formed Glasgow's own post-minimalist amplified contemporary group Invention Ensemble back in the 90s; I was in that band too. Colin writing a piece for Icebreaker is something that feels like it was always meant to happen, and I'm very glad that it now has. I suspect BLEED was a really very good piece indeed; some trademark Broom-isms (fanatically detailed nervous repetitions of single notes, extremely complex poly-everything textures), and something which seemed distinctly new, a pretty tune at the end. I could do with hearing this again.

John De Simone's Anti-Hero Fantasy is the piece which I retain least of in my memory, I can't really say a lot about it. It opened with a passage in deliberately piercing high notes which, what with the extreme amplification (loud) must have been particularly trying for some people. At the end there was an entertaining passage in thrash metal triplets which people who know more about this kind of thing than I do seemed to think was in serious danger of a suing?

Gordon McPherson is the head of composition at the RSAMD, and my PhD supervisor. The Baby Bear's Bed is not a new piece, dating from 2003, but this was it's first Scottish outing. It opened with a very simple and I thought brilliantly composed and executed gesture, a guitar solo which keeps returning to a single note; which is different each time. After that came a long piece of music, some of it very dense and busy, some of it quite clear in texture, then it was the end. I'm sorry, I can't remember much more about it than that.

I've skipped over three pieces. Chris Duncan's Icebreaker piece Waking Step, Falling Wall succeeded in finding different territory to the others, with gently strummed guitar chords (could have been more gently strummed, perhaps; loud) and a kind of pop-music-gone-wrong aesthetic.

In between the Icebreaker pieces were the first two of the sequenzas which are to feature throughout this year's Plug. Going from a fully-amplified rock band to unaccompanied piccolo worked surprisingly well, with performer Sarah Hayes completely unfazed by the act she had to follow. Tom Wilson's sequenza Courante was full of piccoloicity, a lot of extremely agile writing counterpointed with some perhaps uncomfortable sounding vocal multiphonic effects. Alan MacDermid's Jalapeño Snowballing performed by Gillian Skingley on soprano sax was cheered to the rafters; the performance was good, but the piece seemed perhaps to not entirely p0wn the instrument in the way one would expect for a sequenza.

Going back to the loudness; there is some kind of a problem with the whole Icebreaker thing, somewhere. I feel distinctly uncomfortable saying this, as I've long been a card-carrying member of the team who go around saying that what is wrong with classical music is that it's never properly amplified, the players dress up too stuffy and play sitting down, and they can't keep time anyway. Icebreaker untick all of those boxes, but somehow... well, it all sounds a bit samey really, particularly the chuffing panpipes. Loudness is not the problem.

Friday, 24 April 2009

I'll give you three and four, and then you're in

I was at not one but two concerts tonight which function as a kind of anacrusis to Plug, the annual festival of new music at the RSAMD in Glasgow. The first concert at Adelaides was by the Viridian Quartet, one of those keen and talented groups you get made up from recent and soon-to graduate students, in this case Lamond Gillespie, Daniel Paterson, Emma Peebles, and Patrick Johnson. The concert kicked off with a kind of opus zero piece by Steve Forman Freeway Quartet, a single movement piece 'conceived on the road, usually in excruciatingly frustrating traffic' according to the programme note. A shortish, dense piece, very well written, rhythmic, with some sometimes quite strong dissonances. I liked it.

This was followed up by Peteris Vasks' fourth string quartet, in five movements, the even numbered molto tedioso, the odd movements, so-called 'toccatas', allegro pointlessioso. You can probably tell I was bored.

The big piece of the night was Steve Reich's Different Trains. A treat to be able to hear this piece live, with the amplified Viridians playing over the tape material. I never conciously noticed before, but the 'train' material is almost entirely made up from the drumming rudiment known as a 'paradiddle'; I made up my own programme for this piece, imagining the young percussionist Reich on a train, drumming along on his knees, as one does. Good work in diffusing the concert by Tim Cooper.

Back round at the RSAMD, I was glad to finally get the chance to hear Symposia do John De Simone's Panic Diary, which I have managed to miss on several previous occasions. A big and very personal work, a look under the hood of a guy who generally chooses to subsume his musical personality under several layers of postmodern irony. Here, it's like we're right inside John, mind and body. I enjoyed the music in it very much, although I did have the impression that some of the more rhythmic material had probably been conceived by the composer at a rather faster tempo than the ensemble achieved. Major credit to them however for attempting these very difficult Dutch post-minimalist gestures as they should be played; unconducted.

An added layer to the piece was Trent Kim's detailed and innovative lighting realisation, which, taken together with the (amplified) ensemble and some tape material, attempted to take the piece into the realms of an audiovisual synthesis; with mixed results, perhaps.

The rest of Plug starts on Monday night with no less a band than Icebreaker. I'm particularly looking forward to my friend Colin Broom's Bleed, to be followed by an Invention Ensemble reunion in the pub. Post-minimalistastic.

Sunday, 13 April 2008


I was at the BBC SSO in Glasgow this week, Thursday and Saturday. Two long, but pretty interesting concerts, revolving around a collaboration with IRCAM.

On the Thursday there was a Boulez piece for clarinet and live electronics 'Dialoge de l'Ombre Double', with the clarinettist Alain Billard gradually processing around an upper balcony, with his sound also being moved around the space electronically. Good clarinet writing and playing, not sure about the 'spatial' aspect.

Unsuk Chin's 'Xi' for orchestra with live electronics didn't grab me massively; neither frankly did Jonathan Harvey's talk about and performance of his 'String Quartet No.4'. Two highlights of this concert were Richard Ayres' 'No.37b', an entirely acoustic work, admittedly perhaps a bit of a one trick pony, and Stockhuasen's 'Telemusik', admirably diffused by Alistair MacDonald.

The second concert on the Saturday had more Stockhausen ('Gesang der Jünglinge'), and some Xenakis played by the Scottish Ensemble ('Aroura' and 'Ittidra'). Both good; particularly impressed by the performance approach of the strings, all standing, no conductor. Yan Maresz's 'Metallics' for trumpet and live electronics was lively and colourful, although I gather from the way the player was gesturing at his headset that there were some technical problems. (In fact, I heard later that the IRCAM engineer said that the Max/MSP patch for the piece 'doesn't really work'.)

Big, big treat was the incomparable, immortal Trevor Wishart diffusing his own forty-minute 'Globalalia', with 8000-odd individual phonemes from 26 languages cut up and reassembled into a sometimes funky, sometimes humourous whole. After listening to such a thorough deconstruction of the human voice, the excerpt from Jonathan Harvey's opera 'Wagner Dream' fell completely flat for me, with it's unreconstructed use of the voice; er, a soprano. Singing operatically. Huh.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

This year's Plug

The programme for this year's Plug festival is out, here it is as a .pdf. I kind of doubt whether I will have time to blog it this year, though, as I'll be busy with rehearsals for my own piece 'The Other Other Hand'; which has it's own blog.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Money where mouth is

To wind up, I should explain why there hasn't been any of my music in Plug this year. I've taken a self-enforced break from putting notes on paper to work towards the piece I want to do at next year's Plug in May 2008. What else does a composer do, other than put notes on paper?

Well, I've been trying to persuade the powers that be that I need to use a drama space for this piece, specifically the Chandler Studio Theatre, rather than a concert hall. Then, I've been trying to put in place eight musicians who are prepared to give (and whose teacher's are prepared to allow them to give!) much more time to devising and rehearsing the piece than would be usual within the world of classical music, although not an unusual schedule in the world of theatre. I need costume, lighting, video and stage management, and I'm looking for a theatrical collaborator to help me through the project.

From previous experience I know that the minute I'd accepted any of the tempting writing opportunities which presented theselves this year I'd be off in the garret and scribbling, with no time to pursue any of the above. As it is, I'm still trying to put many elements of this project into place. If anyone reading this is intrigued and thinks they might want to take part in some capacity, the project outline as it currently stands is at - drop me a line if you're interested.

Plug VII recordings

Some bits from Gordon McPherson's Ghosts;


In the extract from The Winchester Mystery House you can hear what Gordon described in his talk as 'lots of scales which go nowhere', which he connected to the staircases to nowhere in the building itself. In Chopin and Spiricom I've chosen extracts where you hear the bits of found-on-the-internet audio material which Gordon has included in these pieces. I'm in two minds about the use of these extracts; maybe they raise more sonic questions than they answer?

More Herald reviews

More reviews in the Herald; Plug IV from Michael Tumelty, who was pretty up on the Thing concert, and Plug VII, while Amy Parker writes on Plug V and VI. (If anyone knows of any other reviews I should link to, please drop me a line.)