Behind the Door by Giulia Berto

A number of weeks ago, I was invited to be photographed in my workspace for a project. Now, my workspace is not very exciting, it is the room in which I sleep with a desk in the corner. There are a few images around the place mostly from art exhibitions I have been to over the years, it is very tidy and everything is in the right place, but for the most part it is not what most people would consider very inspiring. Yet this is where the majority of my work has been composed since 2006. (Not in this exact room, I have moved many times but in rooms like it – a bed in the corner a desk in the other corner and images on the wall). The whole project made me think about what it is about workspaces that fascinates us. I think of Francis Bacon’s studio in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin and how chaotic it is, and I think of the many composer’s workspaces I have visited over the years and how often their space is a reflection of their art and what great work was created in these rooms. But why do we find this interesting? More to the point, what it is about the lives of others that interest us?

I mention these things because I was recently taken aback by Behind the Door a photo essay by Giulia Berto in which she has documented the inhabitants of 83 Meserole Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. I was attracted to this photo essay because I think the images are incredibly well composed and very beautifully shot, but I think the most striking thing is that she has managed to capture a sense of ease about the subjects.

In today’s society, it seems as if many people have two personas (particularly in the art world), the public and the private. Often the public persona is a little more guarded, a little less edgy and a little safer. However, what I like about Giulia’s photos is there is a sense that all of the subjects are comfortable. They don’t seem to be putting on their public faces.

Maybe this is why we have a fascination with people behind closed doors. It is here, either in their workspaces or dwellings that they are most at ease, where there is no pretence.

Morton Feldman talks in his interview with Walter Zimmermann published in Desert Plants about artists having to be comfortable with loneliness and having to deal with this sense of loneliness for six or seven hours a day to create. I think this is what Giulia has captured in these photographs: A sense of ease with loneliness facilitated by being behind the door.


Frontiers Festival Birmingham


(Andy Ingamells pictured with the remains of the day)

So we’ve all just about recovered from two weeks of Frontiers at Birmingham Conservatoire, which has been the most ambitious and extensive festival to date and in the space of two weeks we had a host of events written and performed by our fantastic students, my incredible colleagues as well as such American luminaries like Pauline Oliveros, Elliott Sharp, Carl Stone and Object Collection. The festival culminated in a special concert dedicated to the late great Robert Ashley which also highlighted the brilliant work of my colleagues Joe Cutler, Michael Wolters, Ed Bennett & Andrew Hamilton performed by Trojan workers Decibel.

So much has happened in the past two weeks that it’s kick-off two weeks ago seemed like an ocean away; nevertheless, I’ll try to recount the festival for those unlucky enough to have missed some of these incredible events.

Sarah Farmer got proceedings underway with an incredibly dedicated response to Laurie Anderson’s As:if where she performed solidified in ice skates encased in blocks of ice for around three hours on a wet and windy Birmingham Afternoon, such dedication is hard to find and we are fortunate to have such amazing performers studying at Birmingham Conservatoire. At the same time Ryan Probert’s 36 views of Mount Fuji were given a beautiful and delicate performance by the Vickers-Bovey Guitar Duo, both composer and performers are ones to watch. In addition, in Birmingham’s new state of the art library Joe Scarffe & Beth Derbyshire curated a fantastic exhibition of graphic scores through the ages which were complimented by thought-provoking performances of Andy Ingamells & Beth Derbyshire’s Ringing Out. This exhibition continued throughout the festival and was enhanced by a graphic score performance at 3pm every day in the new Library of Birmingham by students at Birmingham Conservatoire. These library events were further enhanced by events such as Little Composers in a Day and Kirsty Devaney‘s Young Composers Project encouraging school children to experiment with their own music making producing startling wonderful effects.

On 25th of March we were treated to James Oldham‘s Waste Paper Opera Production of Bastien und Bastienne. James has sifted the original material through centuries of baggage and his own unique mind whilst bringing it kicking and screaming into the 21st century in one of the most imaginative uses of space and resources I’ve seen in a very long time. The following night standards remained high with Luke Iveson‘s Dorothy Hale: Oratorio which amplified Dorothy Hale’s life, through her own voice and through the people who knew her using a variety of sources which was sensitively set with some strikingly poignant music.

Due to other commitments I missed out on events from the 27th-29th of March but I returned to Birmingham on the 30th to hear Vicky Bonham perform wonderfully in a concert featuring stunning performances of Henry Cowell, John Zorn and a new piece by myself which was given a delicate and sensitive performance by Vicky for which I’m very grateful. This event was followed by the wonderfully imaginative Crimson Pangolin Private Collection: Artefacts of Contemporary Music which saw many priceless artefacts being auctioned off to the public. The day continued with a fantastic performance of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint performed by Daniel Bovey and diffused by Matthew O’malley as well as really stunning pieces from Conservatoire students Ryan Probert & Sam Taylor. The evening concluded with a fantastic concert by Apartment House which featured an incredibly intimate performance of Lou Reed‘s poignant Songs for Drella with Leo Chadburn as well as stunning performance of Phill Niblock‘s incredible drone music (one of my festival highlights!)

Monday began for me with an acrobatic and concentrated performance of Robert Ashley’s Maneuvers for Small Hands performed by Reinier van Houdt which saw pianist as gymnast cum trapeze artist as he balanced, danced, fell and jumped to execute the smallest of sounds and gestures. Something I won’t forget in a hurry. This concert was followed by Pauline Oliveros in conversation which was later followed by a fantastic concert of the ever imaginative Maya VerlaakJohn Cage, Morton Feldman and Earl Brown. This concert was very special not only because it was directed by a clearly delighted Howard Skempton (I don’t think I have seen someone smiling so much than Howard after directing the European premiere of Feldman’s The Swallows of Salangan), but both Howard and Michael Wolters gave the most beautiful performance of Cage’s Variations I & IV I have ever seen. Imagination knows no boundaries. The evening concluded with the Conservatoire’s Thallein Ensemble joined by members of BCMG and soloist Jack McNeill for a most striking and controlled performance of my old mentor David Lang’s The Passing Measures which is truly one of the great pieces written.

Tuesday was taken up with two very special events. Pauline Oliveros performed via the internet, a quartet with players from 3 other countries (Quartto Telematico) whilst Decibel rose to the challenge of not only performing an entire programme of incredibly exposed and difficult early Philip Glass pieces, but did so with great style, energy and fastidiousness. Most performing groups perform one, sometimes two early Philip Glass compositions in a single programme, but Decibel did several! Moreover, this programme also featured the fantastic work of four of our 3rd year composers which showcased the wealth of student talent we have. Decibel deserved a day off after this programme, but the continued on to give another concert on Wednesday!

Wednesday saw our Marathon Festival in a Day programme which had many, many highlights. Pauline Oliveros got proceedings underway with a Deep Listening Meditation at the IKON Gallery whilst the Recital Hall was set up for the world premiere of Robert Ashley’s remarkable String Quartet Describing the Motions of Large Real Bodies. I ended up being an electronic performer in this piece and it was incredibly exciting to be involved with a realisation of  such a subtle, delicate and beautiful piece. also included in this concert were Pauline Oiveros’ remarkably beautiful 70 Chords for Terry and Elliott Sharp’s energetic and complex Occam’s Razor excitingly performed by the Elysian Quartet and Nuntempa. Excitement grew for what was potentially my festival highlight in the guise of Andy Ingamells Piano Recital. It is the second time I have seen this piece and it is as close to a perfect gesamtkunstwerk as I have seen. A meditation on contemporary composition, piano recitals, video diaries, social media and narcissism. Next, Howard Skempton led Via Nova (conducted by Daniel Galbreath) in Robert Ashley’s striking piece She Was a Visitor and Pauline Oliveros’ Sound Patterns. Next came two concerts by Decibel & Noszferatu highlighting the diverse range of talent and interests amongst our students at Birmingham Conservatoire of which I am very proud. These concerts were followed by another of my festival highlights; Elliott Sharp’s solo performance of Momentum Anomaly which displayed the composer as performer blistering through a set highlighting Elliott’s concern with structure, improvisation and sound in a truly breathtaking performance which had everyone’s jaw on the floor. The evening concluded with computer music pioneer Carl Stone’s Fujiken which blended filed recordings made throughout Japan and Southeast Asia.

Due to teaching commitments I missed some events on the Thursday, but I managed to catch Object Collection’s imaginative interpretation of Robert Ashley’s Automatic Writing staging something which for many (including Ashley himself!) was considered impossible. This was followed by a big band performance of Elliott Sharp’s immensely complex and graphically beautiful Foliage a tour de force in interpretation, group dynamic and sound.

The real highlights came for me with events taking place on Friday. The day began with a resoundingly positive and uplifting performance of Terry Riley’s In C led by one of the most fantastic musicians I know Sid Peacock. This event was followed by a concert which I programmed and performed in which saw two of my students Anthony Leung & Sam Taylor performing a spectacularly creative response to a call for ‘a drone piece’ as well as my dear friends and colleagues Andrew Hamilton and Howard Skepmton performing their wonderful music on their own instruments. I was honoured to also be able to write a short piece for Howard, which he performed brilliantly. The concert concluded with me performing the premiere of my own piece Thirty Minutes of Music on the Subject of Soap Operas for piano & electronics which seemed to have been positively received. This concert was very special for me as highlighted three generations of Birmingham composers. My own teacher Howard, myself and my students, as well as our most recent member of staff Andrew.

The festival culminated in a very special concert given by Decibel conducted by Daniele Rosina in which the fantastic music of Joe Cutler (Extended Play), Michael Wolters (The Lady Plays Rachmaninov), Andrew Hamilton (Product No. 1) and Artistic Director Ed Bennett (Sometimes Everything Falls Apart, Heavy Western) were programmed alongside Robert Ashley’s Outcome Inevitable, Quartet and Hidden Similarities. This concert had an immense degree of sadness and poignancy attached to it owing to the recent death of Robert Ashley who was meant to attend to receive an honorary doctorate from Birmingham City University. In his place, emotive video tributes were paid by those who loved and knew him best adding a degree of pathos to what is usually the most joyous event in frontiers. Nevertheless, Decibel were stunning and played brilliantly all works with energy, sophistication, delicacy and beauty concluding their residency in which they performed some 30 works in the space of a single week.

This account was just the live music aspect of the festival and there was so much more on including talks, exhibitions, readings and film screenings. Moreover, there is much more to come in June which sees another week of extraordinary music from Birmingham, New York and beyond.

Each year Frontiers festival is the highlight of our composition department calendar and we all love getting involved (both staff and students) in welcoming visiting composers and visiting ensembles and putting things on. This year the festival happened on an unparalleled scale and magnitude and it in no way would have been possible without the tireless work of the festival director Ed McKeon whose vision and execution of the festival was incredible. This was matched in trumps by staff and students of Birmingham Conservatoire from the concert office staff Emily Bartlett, Libby Hall and Mark Scott (and their team) to student volunteers Rosie Clements, Christine Cornwell and Ed Denham (and their team) to tech support, Simon Hall, Matthew O’malley, James Dooley Jamie Bullock and Richard Cornock (and their team), our composition department administrator Lynsey Satchell and Orchestral manager Zoe Poyser. Not to mention all of the students that met and greeted visitors, documented every aspect of the festival and performed in a multiplicity of incredible events.

This year’s festival involved every single facet of the conservatoire and highlighted what a vibrant, dynamic, active, dedicated and talented conservatoire we have and what can be achieved by masses working together. I have wonderful students who always surprise me with their resourcefulness, creativity and imagination and I have heroic colleagues who go above and beyond what is asked of them in making things happen and fostering the attributes of our students. I am immensely proud and privileged to be part of such a community of musicians and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the second part of Frontiers in June!



This is the News


(Chiharu Shiota: Dialogues, New Art Gallery Walsall)

It has been an incredibly busy time over the past few months and I have neglected to post anything here in the past while. However, for those of you interested I’ve been extremely busy multitasking between teaching at Birmingham Conservatoire, writing new pieces, scoring films (The Inquiry), attending performances (notably my Horizons concert with the RTÉ NSO!), giving guest lectures at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and Royal Holloway, University of London and graduating from my PhD. (In this space of time I also turned thirty…) That’s all in the past though and we must look (and sing!) to the future.

This past weekend our Birmingham Conservatoire’s annual new music festival Frontiers kicked off in style and it continues over the next two weeks with incredible music from New York and Birmingham. Highlights include A stellar line up of US artists including Elliott SharpCarl StonePauline OliverosRhys Chatham, Warren Smith, Henry Hills, Object Collection, John O’Gallagher, my old teacher David Lang  and we make a special feature of works by the recently deceased Robert Ashley. The festival also features work by many of our students as well as my dear colleagues Ed Bennett, Joe Cutler, Andrew Hamilton, Howard Skempton and Michael Wolters. My own work features with performances by Vicky Bonham on 30 March (Thirteen Minutes of Music on the Subject of the Transformation of things), Howard Skempton on 4 April (One Minute & Thirty Seconds of Music for Howard Skempton) and myself performing Thirty Minutes of Music on the Subject of Soap Operas again on 4 April. My work will also feature in the second part of the festival in June in a very special event (More details to follow!)

From this festival I travel to London to hear Noszferatu perform Five Minutes of Music on the Subject of Noszferatu alongside works by my colleagues at Birmingham Conservatoire on 9 April as part of the Wednesdays at the Forge series. The following week I travel to Dublin to hear the wonderful Crash Ensemble performing Fourteen Minutes of Music on the Subject of Greeting Cards on 17 April at the Project Arts Centre.

I have a small respite before travelling to Stockholm in Sweden to undertake a residency at EMS at the beginning of May which is immediately followed by a trip to Izmir in turkey to work with students from across Europe on the IICS. From here I return to teaching at Birmingham Conservatoire before heading back to Dublin to hear Matthew Schellhorn performing Thirteen Minutes of Music on the Subject of the Transformation of things on 28 May at the National Concert Hall.

June and July are mostly concerned with realising a fantastic project with the Swedish group Ensemble KROCK and writing. But for now, that should keep me going!

Forthcoming Performances

Here is a list of some forthcoming performances that I’m involved in.

I would be delighted if you could make them!

Tuesday 4 February 2014 National Concert Hall, Dublin 1pm

Changing Rates of Change for Symphony Orchestra Performed by RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gavin Maloney.

Ten Minutes of Music on The Subject of IKEA for Symphony Orchestra performed by RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gavin Maloney

Both works featured as part of my RTÉ NSO Horizons concert. Also features works by Joe Cutler, Michael Wolters, Ed Bennett and Howard Skempton.

Also features a pre-concert talk by myself at 12.30pm

Sunday 30 march 2014 Recital Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham 12.30pm 

Thirteen Minutes of Music on the Subject of the Transformation of Things for solo piano performed by Vicky Bonham

Part of Birmingham Conservatoire’s Frontiers + Festival also featuring works by John Zorn, Henry Cowell and Bobbie Gardner

Friday 4 April 2014 Recital Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham 3pm

Thirty Minutes of Music on the Subject of Soap Operas for piano and electronics performed by Seán Clancy

Part of Birmingham Conservatoire’s Frontiers + Festival also featuring works by Sam Taylor, Anthony Leung, Andrew Hamilton and Howard Skempton

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, So does 2013 hasten to its end

DSCN2071 - Version 2

It is that time of year again to reflect (in a profoundly public arena) upon what I have been doing for the past year, as well as looking ahead as to what’s in store for 2014. As has been the case for the past number of years, things have been incredibly busy with virtually no time off (not a bad complaint)! Many fortunate opportunities came my way, affording me the great pleasure to meet and work with some incredibly brilliant musicians and allowing me to create art of which I am very proud.

2013 got off to a fantastic start with a wonderful performance of Findetotenlieder in Birmingham by Thumb conducted by Dan Watson. It is always a pleasure to work with Thumb and Dan. They work so hard on my music and really seem to understand it, resulting in brilliant performances. The year continued with me having the good fortune to work again with Thumb and Dan in March, this time joined by BCMG musicians Alexandra Wood and Kyle Horch for a performance of a new double concerto Strange to See You Again. I was so delighted both with this piece and its superb performance as I took many structural chances with this piece; which for me, completely paid off. I am indebted to the RVW trust for making this project possible. Staying with the early part of the year, I was commissioned by the UCD Ad Astra Scholars to set a WB Yeats text, resulting in the piece Décès for mixed voices and mixed ensemble which received its premiere in February conducted by Ciaran Crilly. It’s great to work with Ciaran and students from UCD, having been a student there myself with many fond memories; I always relish any opportunity to go back.

Also in the Spring, I workshopped a short piece Red, Blue, Orange with the incredible Fidelio Trio as part of New Music Dublin which was part of Ireland’s EU Presidency Cultural Programme in March. Although I was unhappy with the composed piece, I got a sense of what worked and what didn’t work within the medium of a piano trio. Nevertheless, I love working with Darragh, Mary and Robin. They are amongst the best players around and are so encouraging and dedicated to new music, performing with a heart and fastidiousness that is difficult to match. March also saw a number of repeat performances of I See Now Why People Hide in London and Birmingham by my close friends collaborators, Decibel conducted by Daniele Rosina. Having worked with Decibel a number of times on different pieces they really know my music inside out. It’s in their blood. They have so much energy and know exactly what I want. With such a dedicated group, I can only hope that this collaborative partnership lasts long into the future.

In addition to these early 2013 events, my band Nippons released their debut album to critical acclaim in the Irish Times, Red Bull Music and a number of independent music blogs, examples of which can be found here and here. A free download of the album can be obtained from our Bandcamp page here.

Later on in the year, I had the good fortune to be commissioned by the Britten-Pears foundation and Little Missenden Festival to write the piece Fourteen Minutes of Music on the Subject of Greeting Cards for Sara Minelli, Aisha Orazbayeva & Matthew Schellhorn. This piece marked a radical shift in direction for me in which I explored writing a music that explores singular activities that are devoid of drama. These are the ideas that currently occupy my thoughts and manifesting themselves in my work. Memetically, these same ideas found their way into a number of pieces composed during the Summer months; including, Fifteen Minutes of Music on the Subject of Butterfly Dreams, a meditation on a philosophical premise by the Chinese philosopher, Zhuangzi (to be realised in 2014), Ten Minutes of Music on the Subject of IKEA, (to be realised in 2014) and Three Minutes of Music performed a number of times by my new friends Workers Union Ensemble.  In addition to these Summer activities, I also wrote a short piano piece, Karnity June 2013 for my friends Emmet and Kashia to celebrate their beautiful Wedding in Poland as well as recording a second album with my band Nippons, featuring just two extended tracks and scheduled to be released in 2014. Whilst keeping with the subject of record releases, The CMC released an orchestral piece of mine Changing Rates of Change on their latest CD entitled New Music::New Ireland. This is a beautifully packaged CD featuring many new voices from Ireland and featuring a superb performance by the RTÉ NSO conducted by Gavin Moloney. I am grateful to all at the CMC  for selecting one of my pieces to be released and for all their hard work in getting it disseminated.

In the Autumn, I had the great pleasure of meeting and working with new collaborators in the form of the Workers Union Ensemble. It is so great to meet new ensembles that have a passion and excitement for new music and they performed Three Minutes of Music with great energy and precision on a number of occasions in London and Birmingham. I hope we can work together again in the very near future and I wish them every success in their bright future.

Special mention must be given this year to my time spent with the Bozzini Quartet. On two separate occasions, the first in Montreal and the second at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, I had the great privilege of working with this amazing quartet as part of their Composer’s Kitchen Project. Here I was a participant alongside fellow composers Marielle Groven, Simon Martin and Amber Priestley, as well as mentor composers Laurence Crane and Michael Oesterle. It was such a fantastic experience to get to know my peer composers Marielle, Simon and Amber and Mentors Laurence and Michael on these two separate occasions. A pleasure to hear their music, hear them talk about their music and experience all their little eccentricities and how these filtered into their music. Their music for me was an extension of their personality and it was so heart warming to hear this play out. It was incredibly beautiful to hear their work develop over the two separate weeks and how it was tweaked, refined, rendered and given birth to in high-definition. It was also an honour to work with a quartet so dedicated to our music and so interested in bringing it to life. This was trumped only by their friendliness, hospitality, generosity and genuine warmth. Moreover, it was extremely fruitful getting to see this project through over two separate legs; hearing the pieces grow and becoming more and more refined, developing a strong relationship with the performers and seeing an incredibly polished object at the end of the project at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. I don’t think I have ever witnessed a group working as hard over such an extended period of time as the Bozzini Quartet. They performed my piece Neue Kraft Fühlend superbly, with the energy and delicacy that it deserves, balancing light and darkness perfectly. I am immensely proud of this piece as I am with this collaboration. This project had a huge impact on my aesthetic and working method and I am so incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to work with such a class act as the Bozzini Quartet and I hope our creative paths cross again in the very near future.

All of this compositional work has taken place in tandem with my teaching at Birmingham Conservatoire where I am now a lecturer in composition. I am so fortunate to have a group of incredibly gifted colleagues and students who inspire me on a daily basis. It’s so interesting being in such a healthily creative environment and I am constantly stimulated and kept on my toes! Moreover, this year saw the launch of our new record label Birmingham Record Company that already has seen two releases by my esteemed colleague Michael Wolters in the form of Danserye and the double disc Kathryn and Peter Play the Recorder. This will soon be followed by a release by the remarkable composer Joe Cutler with future releases planed by Ed Bennett and myself later on in 2014.

As 2013 comes to a close, there is still much to look forward to at the very end of the year. My band Nippons play on 28 December in Dublin celebrating our convergence on the same geographical land mass. This event includes a number of great support acts including Liz is Evil, Monotone Bower and a new venture by myself and Thomas Parx called Appliance City.  As I move into 2014 there are many interesting projects and events lined up, including teaching at Birmingham Conservatoire, my RTÉ NSO Horizons concert in Dublin on 4 February, as well as the first part of Birmingham Conservatoire’s Frontiers Festival which will focus on Downtown Music, including performances of Robert Ashley, Philip Glass, David Lang, Rhys Chatham, Pauline Oliveros, Elliott Sharp, Carl Stone as well as many student and faculty pieces.  I will be composing a new solo piano piece for Vicky Bonham for this festival as well as composing and performing in a new piece entitled Thirty Minutes of Music on the Subject of Soap Operas. Furthermore, I am incredibly excited to be working with the fantastic Swedish Ensemble KROCK and production company The Practice Tapes on an extended electric guitar quartet entitled Forty Five Minutes on the Subject of Football that will be realised in the summer of 2014. Also to look forward to is the release of Nippons second record, which is one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in.

It’s an incredibly busy time ahead, but sure what else would I be doing! I hope you have had an equally brilliant and busy 2013 and I wish you every success in 2014.

Forthcoming performances

Below is a list of some forthcoming performances of my music:

Wednesday 4 September 2013 – 8pm @NonClassical, The Shacklewell Arms, Dalston, London, UK.  

Three Minutes of Music – performed by Workers Union Ensemble conducted by Ben Oliver.

Details here

Sunday 13 October 2013 – 3pm Little Missenden Festival, Little Missenden Church, Little Missenden, UK.

Fourteen Minutes of Music on the Subject of Greeting Cards – performed by Sara Minelli, Aisha Orazbayeva & Matthew Schellhorn

Details here

Tuesday 29 October – 7.30pm Recital Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham, UK.

Three Minutes of Music - performed by Workers Union Ensemble conducted by Ben Oliver.

Details here

Sunday 24 November 2013 – Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Huddersfield, UK.

Neue Kraft Fühlend – performed by Bozzini Quartet.

Details here

Tuesday 4 February 2014 – RTÉ Horizons Series, National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland.

Changing Rates of Change – Performed by RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland conducted by Gavin Maloney.

Ten Minutes of Music on the Subject of IKEA - Performed by RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland conducted by Gavin Maloney.

Details here

Hope you can make it to some of these performances!

Towards a monolithic non-teleological music

I’ve been writing a lot of music recently. Come to think of it, I’ve written seven pieces since January.  Currently, I’m engaged in writing an orchestral piece. After this, I move onto something on a much bigger scale, which will hopefully be realised in 2014. In addition to this compositional activity, I’m recording another record with my band in a few weeks, which more likely than not will feature just two tracks. I’ve also been listening to a lot of music this past while. A lot, a lot of music. Both live and recorded in many, many different styles & genres. Moreover, I’ve been talking about music and talking to other people about music. All of this activity has led me to think about a lot of things.

I have for the past three or four years, been engaged with a compositional practice which I refer to as artistic intervention. This practice resonates very strongly with the working methods of a large proportion of visual artists, architects, poets, playwrights etc. that have been active for the past twenty years or so, but heretofore has not really been taken up by composers. I am fairly certain I know why this is the case, but for reasons pertaining to clarity, I shall not go into this here. For my own part, this working method generally involved me taking pre-existing structures from various different phenomena be it rock songs, contemporary and (or) classical pieces, poetry, visual art, video pieces etc. and filling these structures with my own musical material, thus presenting these familiar objects in a new light and by the same token offering my own subjective reading of such phenomena. In many cases this resulted in the transference of the aura of a piece of art or experience from one medium to another. I have talked about this practice and working method at length elsewhere (this was the subject of my PhD thesis), but what I would like to address presently is the actual material I am currently filling these structures with and how it might differ from what I have previously done.

Much of the music that I have heard since say April of this year has not really appealed to me that much. I have heard some stunning pieces and bands between then and now, but I have heard much more that I probably could continue my life without ever hearing again. In times gone by, I would have suggested that why I did not like these pieces was because their focal point was novelty for the sake of novelty and rather than presenting anything inherently new, they reiterated a sense of newness that pertained to that same concept more than forty years ago. I like the music that was written forty years ago. I like a lot of different musics and generally try to be as non-partisan as possible. I like Luigi Nono. I like Gérard Grisey. I like Helmut Lachenmann. I like Salvatore Sciarrino. I also really, really like hard-core modernism, but it is precisely because I like this music and these composers that I don’t want to hear it from other composers. If I want to listen to a piece that sounds like Lachenmann, I’ll go out and listen to Lachenmann. I don’t want to hear something that produces this sound world because the composer is interested in the alleged novelty of the sounds but rejects the conceptual, aesthetic and structural basis of this compositional approach. Art and (or) music for me, is not about what we can do, but what I’m thinking about.

I suggested that this would have been my thinking in past times and in many respects I still hold these views, but recently I think I have discovered more pertinently why this music is uninteresting to me and it is here that I shall segue from my initial line of argument. To put it simply, much of the recent music I have heard of late does absolutely nothing to test the listener’s attention span in any way. It’s seems to me that it is all too easy and too instantly gratifying, focusing a little too much on episodes and drama in an easily digestible timeframe. We hear something for a minute, the composer gets bored of the material, we hear something else for a couple of minutes, the composer gets bored of the material and moves on to something else and so on and so on. It all works somehow because the composer uses a number of interesting sounds, might use some strange looking (or sounding) playing technique, has a number of climaxes that sound very impressive when played by an orchestra or large ensemble and lets the audience know when to clap either through disintegrating to absolute silence or by ending with an extremely grandiose gesture. To put it another way these kinds of compositions rely on drama and a sense of narrative to carry the listener from beginning to end. It’s a classic case of teleology at work in music, the same kind of operational procedure that carried music from beginning to end since the systemisation of tonality. This time only without the tonality. I’ve seen this procedure in my own music too, particularly in my more well-known and better-received compositions. They too, have for the most part been teleological. These pieces have I think, a strong sense of narrative with a beginning middle and end and also have grand gestures often resulting in climatic points from which the music never quite recovers. I always had extra-musical, philosophical and aesthetic reasons for doing this, but I’m not so interested in these issues anymore. I’m still interested in intervention, just intervention without the drama.

We live in an age of instant gratification. Everything is available everywhere, all of the time and very easily obtainable. We receive a lot more information than ever before on a daily basis but we digest it in much smaller chunks, A 140 character tweet, a ten minute YouTube video, but more importantly, if our attention isn’t grabbed in the first thirty seconds, we skip through to something else. It’s modern advertising. Not only are we receiving information in smaller chunks, but we are also receiving information from a multiplicity of sources simultaneously. It is not uncommon to walk into a household and find a person watching television, listening to a radio programme, checking Facebook, texting, watching YouTube videos all happening across a number of different devices; a smartphone, a laptop, a tablet. Not only this, but people still manage to engage with other people in the room whilst information on all of these disparate medias is being consumed. This is just the way things have gone and it’s a fantastic age to exist in, but I can’t help but feel something is being lost in the process. Art in simplistic terms is essentially a reflection or a reaction to what is going on around us as individuals and I feel that much of the music that I have heard of late is simply a reflection of how we engage with these extra-musical phenomena. This for me though, is a far too literal approach. I want to engage with art in a way that I can’t or don’t get the opportunity to do in day-to-day existence. Art is far more important than day-to-day existence (Art is long, life short, experience difficult). I want it to be ineffable, I want to have to think about it, but above all, I want to listen to the sounds interacting with one another without drama, narrative or the composer’s own boredom with their own material getting in the way.

This is why I feel I am moving towards a monolithic non-teleological music. As I noted earlier, art should not be about what I can do, but what I am thinking about and since what I think about most is listening, I am always approaching composition from a listener’s point of view. When I write, I ‘listen’ to how long I can listen to a given section or block of material and then make it longer. Switching between writing and listening is a difficult procedure, because the act of writing is a much longer process than the act of listening, but making this switch during the compositional process is of paramount importance and in my opinion often results in better composition. I approach composition from a listener’s point of view and because I’m currently interested in listening to musics of extended durations that do not develop or use drama, my current music has become monolithic and non-developmental. James Tenney has often noted that ‘the unadorned use of musical structures and the avoidance of drama will produce meditative perceptual states, allowing the listener to listen to the sounds for themselves rather than in relation to what preceded or what will follow.’ This is precisely what I currently value in music and in these recent pieces there is essentially only one gesture containing no drama, no development and no process, only change allowing the listener to listen to, comprehend and experience the sounds for themselves.

I mentioned above that a simplistic concept of art might be that it either exists as a reaction or reflection on the society around us. These new pieces for me, paradoxically address both issues. I’m still interested in artistic intervention and these new pieces are interventions on pre-existing phenomena, this for me is a true reflection of where we are as a society, both artistically and more generally, but the material I am using seems to be a reaction to everything else that happens around us. I don’t want my art to be a literal representation on how we digest information. I want it to be ineffable. I want it to have a sense of mystery and to have secrets that are not yielded easily. I don’t want to hear the composer’s (mine or others) boredom with their own material. I want to listen to things for a long time. I want to contemplate the existence of a sound or a series of sounds beside each other or on top of each other. I want to see where this brings my mind and above all, I want to create moments of real beauty. As I’ve suggested, how I think these objectives are manifesting themselves is by moving towards a monolithic non-teleological music.

This is a working method and conceptual framework that is currently proving fruitful for me and I have no intention of suggesting it be prescriptive. If anything, I hope that at the very least, it can prove to be an addition to the already amazingly diverse ecosystem that is our current musical landscape.