Last week, I gave a pair of seminars at Purcell School on tuning and microtonality. I had a huge amount of fun, facilitated both by the excellent guidance of Mira Benjamin and some fun, silly new inventions: the Hyasynths.
I had a brilliant time last year recording three of my solo works with recordist Alex Mackay. I was lucky to be working with some of the best players I know: guitarist Sam Cave, bassist Marianne Schofield, and harpist Oliver Wass. I'll be posting score follower videos with excerpts from the recordings, but in the long term I'm hoping to collect them together as a release.
Wound Honey is my new piece for the wonderful trio terra invisus. Honey has been used to dress wounds for millenia. This new piece investigates its sugar sweetness with the astringency of iron-rich blood; its amber and red and bandange; its crystalline wax and clotting stasis.
The piece is an experiment in two different types of harmony: modal harmony and combination tone harmony. I thought I’d dig into the details. (I hope you find hand-drawn examples charming rather than exasperating: I didn't have time for the typesetting today!)
I'm writing a piece for the wonderful trio Terra Invisus. The piece contains two difference tone chorales, where the ensemble plays complex chords based on the harmonic series. The piano, of course, is limited in how it can interact with this. I wondered if there were any good harmonics I was missing that sit near to 12TET, and wanted a list organised by closeness. I couldn't find one online with a cursory search, so I made my own (with octave duplications removed)! Who knew that the 57th harmonic was so close to the minor tenth, huh? Here it is, if it's useful to you:
My new piece for solo violin, Phasmid, was performed last month in York by the amazing Jeanne-Marie Conquer. We had a whale of a time in workshop. She engages with what I think of as technical issues around tuning or arpeggiation primarily through their emotional impact. You can hear a recording of her commanding performance on Soundcloud:
I have a pair of recordings out on the wonderful label October House! The first is Us Alone: a duet between a cellist and a pair of Sound Icons - retuned, upended grand pianos that are bowed with nylon and, in this piece, struck with spoons.
It’s a Filthy Lucre project, that stemmed from our Radulescu concert and exhibition back in 2016. Rolf Hind then brought us in for a follow up at Occupy The Pianos, where he commissioned this piece. Originated by the amazing Zoe Martlew, with Ben Smith joining me on Sound Icons, the piece was conceived as a partner piece to Radulescu’s Intimate Rituals. But where that work inhabits a kind of static transcendence, mine is always pushing upwards, struggling towards something.
Enormous thanks are due to both cellists: Zoe, without whom the piece would never have happened, and Séverine, whose remarkable and committed playing you hear on this record.
Sadly, in 2022, we had to get rid of the Sound Icons. My cellar, where they were stored, flooded, and long-term storage in London proved far too expensive. October House gamely sprung to the rescue, putting on the recording session for Us Alone and an improvised concert. That concert is now released as Fourth Act, featuring me, Ben Smith, Colin Alexander, Rocío Bolaños, and Angela Wai Nok Hui.
Both discs are available exclusive from October House.
I’m going to be heading up to York next month to rehearse my new piece Absence with the wonderful Micklegate Singers. They commissioned me to set a beautiful Quaker funerary text by William Penn. They will be giving it premiere at York's Late Music series on December 3rd at 1pm, please do join us.
The piece I’ve written builds on my deep interest in the rituals we create around death. This interest first surfaced in my piece Ceasing for Sansara, which used stories of death to build a kaleidoscopic, personal text from the choir’s experiences and my own.
At Lammermuir Festival on 15th September, I will get to perform a piece I’ve wanted to hear since 2018: Jonathan Harvey’s Stabat Mater.
Remember 2018? No, me neither. But my notes tell me that Tom Herring and I were planning a big programme of choir and electronic music for the Barbican’s Sound Unbound festival. There isn’t, it transpires, a huge amount of music for choir with live electronics.
We settled early on the idea of giving the UK premiere of Jonathan Harvey’s Stabat Mater. There was little information available on this eerie Palestrina arrangement, but Faber kindly provided us with a recording and a score, which had us determined to give it a go.
It was with Harvey’s piece in mind that I wrote my own work for choir and electronics, Ceasing. I find the Stabat Mater a curiously moving text and wanted to write something that reflected on how one experiences the deaths of those we love. I’ve written more about my thought process here.
In putting together the concert we hit a major snag: digital obsolescence. Electronic works are precarious things that require constant upkeep to remain playable, and it turns out that the Stabat Mater needed some real TLC. We had to pull the work from Sound Unbound but promised Lammermuir we’d have it ready for September 2020.
Covid happened, but now, thanks to huge amounts of creative restoration work from Gilbert Nuono, we have a working patch. It’s been fascinating seeing the inside of Gilbert’s work: in particularly, how essential to the piece the spatial aspect of performance is. In other words: you have to see it live, so come see us do it!
We’ll be performing it in Musselburgh on September 15th, and in England several times next year. Tickets are available here.
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