Mainly Slow Ensemble

On 23 September, I had the privilege of performing with the Mainly Slow Ensemble at St Stephen’s Church, in the centre of Bristol. This concert was organised by Huw Morgan as an offshoot of his Mainly Slow Organ Music series. The ensemble featured Huw on organ, Daniel Fordham on saxophone, Claire Hamlen on violin, Joe Hamlen on trumpet, Richard P John on piano and myself on guitar. The other musicians were all lovely (as well as fantastic players) and I really enjoyed working with them.

The music we performed featured new works by members of the ensemble, including my own Pitches Through Time. This work is comprised of a series of chords with time stamps, which the performers use as a basis for improvisation. The chords and durations are generated using a spreadsheet, performing calculations based on the date of the performance.

Huw has published a compilation of some highlights from the performance on Bandcamp, which you can listen to here:

https://mainlysloworganmusic.bandcamp.com/album/bristol-23923

Cyborg Soloists

On 18 May, Harry Matthews and I performed our newly-commisioned work Aeolian Fantasy at Iklektik in London. We composed this piece as part of a project organised by Cyborg Soloists, a UKRI-funded research project based at Royal Holloway and led by Dr Zubin Kanga. We worked closely with Vochlea, a company that developed Dubler 2, a piece of software that translates audio signals into MIDI data. We used Dubler 2 to translate wind noise from field recordings and desk fans (which Harry and I ‘played’ live using microphones) into aleatoric synthesised music, tuned in just intonation. This material accompanied more structured material played on guitar and piano, composed by me and Harry.

The concert also featured great performances by another duo commissioned by Cyborg Soloists, Ed Cooper and Kathryn Williams, and by clarinettist Heather Roche. The concert was filmed and we hope to be able to share documentation in the near future. This was the outcome of a long-running project that we have been working hard on for some time, so it was great to finally be able to share our work with the world.

Mainly Slow Organ Music

On 11 February, Huw Morgan gave a fantastic performance of a new piece I wrote for him, ‘Mainly Slow Descending Chords’, as part of his Mainly Slow Organ Music concert at All Saints Church, Clifton. I have been attending Huw’s Saturday morning organ concerts for quite a while and they have become an important part of my post-pandemic musical life. When I decided to reach out to Huw and ask to write him a piece, I was delighted that he was keen to work together, and it’s fantastic to be able to share this wonderful recording of his performance:

Cartopodes podcast

I recently submitted a realisation of my most recent piece Spreadsheet Music #1 for inclusion in the latest episode of the Cartopodes podcast from Switzerland. The recording was made in collaboration with Harry Matthews, who made field recordings, which were used by a sampler instrument to perform his part.

The title of the piece refers to the use of an Excel spreadsheet to catalogue and organise pitch materials. The work is modular, and the spreadsheet will generate different pitch content and durations depending on the date and required duration of the performance. This is thus just one realisation of the piece, and I hope to perform it in different versions in future. The theme of the podcast episode was “29.02.2022”, so I used this imaginary date to generate the materials for the recording from the spreadsheet.

You can find and listen to all of the contributions to the podcast at their website here.

My piece is also available to listen to on Soundcloud.

Review of Bristol Choral Society concert

On 16 November I attended a concert by Bristol Choral Society, who asked me to write a review of their performance. This is what I wrote about the evening:

Bristol Choral Society’s latest performance at Bristol Cathedral was the third of their concerts that I have attended. Having previously heard them tackle perennially popular large-scale works by Handel and Mozart, I was pleased to see them stepping outside of the classical canon in this programme and performing material by living composers. Having said that, the programme did feature several names who have managed to establish themselves as staple features in the choral repertoire.

The concert began with British Composer Award winner Cecilia MacDowell’s cantata A Time for All Seasons, which set a well-known text from the book of Ecclesiastes (‘to everything there is a season…’) alongside a contemporary reflection by Kevin Crossley-Holland. The piece created effective contrasts between the biblical text, which inhabited a brighter sound world, and the modern insertions, which explored darker themes and occasional dissonant harmonies. These were paired with knotty, often jazz-influenced writing for the piano accompaniment, ably performed here by Ian Tindale, and occasional percussion flourishes. The younger voices of Bristol Youth Choir provided commentary on the text and allowed the exploration of spatial effects within the resonant acoustic of the cathedral, while soprano Nina Bennet handled the more intimate moments for solo voice. These varied forces were well coordinated by conductor Hilary Campbell, and some of the most engaging sections of the piece were those that explored the interaction between the different groups of voices and instruments.

The programme then moved on to a composer who has become a minor celebrity in the choral music world. Eric Whitacre has become well-known both for his use of closely spaced ‘cluster’ harmonies and for his flowing mane of blonde hair. We first heard two short percussion pieces of his (performed by Oliver Butterworth and Oliver Pooley), before two of his best-known choral works, Water Night and Cloudburst, which both set texts by Mexican poet Octavio Paz. These two pieces provided the best opportunities of the evening to hear Bristol Choral Society’s sound largely unadorned by instrumental accompaniment or other supplementary voices (although the use of piano and percussion, including handbells and body percussion played by the members of the choir, in the finale of the latter work was rather evocative). They exhibited a warm, well-balanced choral sound, well-suited to Whitacre’s dense, sustained sonorities and the cathedral’s acoustic. They made effective use of a wide range of dynamics, which helped to give the works a sense of direction and shape.

The second half of the concert opened with a short performance (by Ian Tindale and Annabel Thwaite) of a work for four hands piano by nineteenth-century American composer Edward MacDowell, before the evening concluded with Bob Chilcott’s The Songs and Cries of London Town. This work featured traditional tunes from various historical eras arranged for the choir, accompanied by chiming piano ostinatos and driving percussion. Bristol Youth Choir also returned to the stage to sing the familiar London Bells (‘oranges and lemons ring the bells of St Clemens…’) for the third movement. I found the most effective sections of this piece to be in the more reflective second and fourth movements, as the driving percussion of the first and final movements occasionally became a bit blurred in the reverberation of the cathedral. The pairing of folksy tunes with bell-like piano writing created an almost Christmassy atmosphere that may have had some audience members looking forward to upcoming carol concerts!

Bristol Choral Society’s effective handling of this contemporary repertoire bodes well for their upcoming performance of Stravinsky’s magnificent Symphony of Psalms and Fauré’s much-loved Requiem in March, to which I am very much looking forward. However, if you would like to hear them before then, they will also be performing excerpts from Handel’s Messiah at Redmaids School on 21 December – details can of course be found on their website (www.bristolchoral.co.uk).

Post-Paradise

On the 29th March, Harry Matthews and I were delighted to be invited to perform in Birmingham’s Post-Paradise concert series, which is held at the Centrala gallery in Digbeth every month. Although we have performed together many times before as part of OUT-TAKE Ensemble, this was our first performance as part of a new duo project that we have been talking about for a while.

We started our set with the premiere of Harry’s new noise-pollution inspired work electric guitar, in Southmead (1m55sec), which the two of us have been working on together for several months. This was followed with the first performance of my latest work, Quiet Pint at The King Bill, for electric guitar and synthesiser, which explores microtonal tuning systems and polyrhythmic delays, to expand on ideas that I began investigating in 2017’s Quiet Pint at The Butcher’s Hook.

You can listen to a newly released recording of my piece here: