a short test video, playing around with open-circuit percussion practice (as heard in Bonnie Jones, Machinefabriek, etc.), but used to drive passive loudspeakers and transducers on percussion instruments.
I am delighted to have received the Kranichsteiner Music Prize at this year’s Darmstadt International Summer Course. While I’m currently still a bit overwhelmed, this is a real honour and I’m truly thankful to the jury for their support. I’d like to also congratulate the other prize winners Sara Glojnarić, Martin Hirsti-Kvam, and Carlo Siega.
I want to make particular special thanks to the people who brought my music to life in the festival: Rahel Schweizer who played o horizon, gloa on the forest floor for solo harp, and Nate Chivers and Thilo Ruck who both worked on my guitar etude polynya, or ever less. Without their hard work and trust none of this would have happened, and I can’t overstate how much of a privilege it was to work with them throughout the festival. I also want to thank Yaron Deutsch, Gunnhildur Einarsdóttir, Martin Iddon and everyone in the Harp workshops for their amazing support.
You can read more about the prize here, and yes, there’s a reason why I’m not in the picture. I’ll tell you about it at Darmstadt 2020.
After an absence of over two years I’m brushing the dust off. I’m powering machines back up, replacing snapped strings, retuning and broadcasting once more from West Yorkshire.
A lot has changed since the last transmission: I completed my PhD in Composition and have taken up a teaching fellowship at the University of Leeds. I also stopped making music for nearly two years (PhD burnout is real and unpleasant), which was difficult. But after some time away, some self-care/discipline, and good conversations/ttrpgs with friends, 2018 has seen the wheels begin to turn again. It hasn’t been pretty, but it’s getting there. I know you didn’t ask, but here’s a run-down of what has been happening recently:
Seth Parker Woods (USA), a supremely brilliant cellist and a very dear friend, commissioned khepri for Cluster festival in Winnipeg, CA. khepri for solo cello focuses on the tiny noises of the cello as Seth performs some fiercely quiet bow taps and finger strikes. Premiered 2nd March 2018, Winnipeg, CA. There is no recording of the premiere, so instead check out Seth performing Iced Bodies here with Spencer Topel. An intense re-imagining of Jim McWilliams’ Ice Music (1972).
abate ablaze abrade was commission by London’s Plus-Minus ensemble and premiered 27th March 2018 at City University, London. Other new works by Ben Jameson; Alice Jeffreys; Lawrence Dunn; Caitlin Rowley ; and Monika Dalach. It’s a slow, tangling trio for bass clarinet, piano and cello. Due to noisy lights (a sure sign that your music is quiet), the performance took place in the dark which was wonderfully evocative and testament to how brilliant these musicians are. Bass clarinet—Vicky Wright; piano—Mark Knoop; cello—Alice Purton.
In July, I’ll be at the 49th Darmstadt Ferienkurse Internationales Musikinstitut. I’ll have two new pieces being performed and workshopped:
polynya, or ever less is an etude for electric guitar, written for Yaron Deutsch’s concert and guitar studio. The piece uses a glass test tube to bow the strings, while the free hand plays soft hammer-ons. It’s quiet in spite of the amplifier. Glacial shredding.
o horizon, gloa on the forest floor was written for harp and a hand full of metal, and will be workshopped by Gunnhildur Einarsdóttir’s Harp studio. The piece builds up a number of tectonic hums and scrapes, as the player slides along the string with a hand of metal. Sensual scratching.
Further ahead, Ensemble Nikel (who, I suspect, a couple of you will have seen at last year’s hcmf//) will be ensemble in residence at Gaudeamus festival in Utrecht, NLD. If you’re there, they’ll be playing my whose veil remains inscrutable on 6th September 2018.
At the start of 2016, before everything went dark, I released something without fanfare. Listening back I still quite like it, so for your consideration: larynx, closing
In 2017 Ensemble Nikel released their retrospective 4CD+DVD+BOOK box-set A DECADE. It features their recording of my whose veil remains inscrutable that we made in Bern in 2015. It’s an exceptional performance and a wonderful album that I’m delighted to feature on. Audio excerpt here.
If you read my 2015 article Disappearing Sounds: Fragility in the Music of Jakob Ullmann in TEMPO (Vol 69, Issue 274, Cambridge University Press), I’ve written a sequel. Rebuilding Babel: On Fragility And The Palimpsest In Jakob Ullmann’s voice, books and FIRE (Vol 71, Issue 282, Cambridge University Press) was published in October 2017. It focuses on Ullmann’s huge cycle voice, books and FIRE and is similarly unwieldly.
I also reviewed Apartment House’s premiere of a new Christian Wolff piece, performed alongside Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra(1957–58) for TEMPO’s January 2018 issue. It was good.
That’s it for now. I’m going to try to make an effort to post more as I make more work, so, err… consider yourself warned?
Until next time,
In the last month or so, I’ve been reading a lot of Jeff VanderMeer and Cixin Liu. I’ve been listening to Taku Sugimoto’s h from Another Timbre and I’ve been watching the university of Leeds’ newly hatched peregrines. [If you made it this far, you owe it to yourself to watch cute baby chicks eating other birds]
last week, I released a new album of solo material. larynx, closing is a collection of two, or maybe three, or maybe four pieces across one hour and twenty minutes. it is very quiet.
1 – grid of four: first, across (16:07)
2 – against the grain, larynx (24:45)
3 – against the grain, larynx (continued, end) (16:34)
4 – grid of four: first (alternate take) and second, across (23:40)
Last November I made a short film with Klaus Lang up on Ilkley Moor. I wrote a piece for Klaus and, together with Viola d’Amore player Barbara Konrad, we carried a harmonium up onto the moor. The film documents two pieces, my ‘a technical diagram for the abstraction of ockeghem’s missa pro defunctis: kyrie, side elevation‘ and a section from Klaus’ longer cycle: ‘viola. harmonium.‘
This film couldn’t have been made without Ollie Jenkins, who took care of all the filming and editing, and Elspeth Mitchell, who helped organise and produce everything. The project was part-funded by the Centre for Practice-Led Research in the Arts (CePRA) at the University of Leeds. Thanks also to Helen Barker and Rex Russell for their assistance.
A slight digression from the usual “contemporary classical(ish)” stuff, I’ve released a new tape under my WITH ZERO moniker. NOCTURNES is a 60-minute slow-burning new age piece, intended for deep nighttime listening, meditation and states of half waking/consciousness.
The cassette comes in a limited edition of 50, pro-dubbed on transparent glittering shells (because, y’know…) and is available via bandcamp.
The WITH ZERO project has been around since about 2012, mainly as a hard drive with which to store miscellaneous synthesiser sketches. This is the first proper release, with a few more in the pipeline for the next couple of months.
Janez Uršej (baritone saxophone) & Stefanie Mirwald (accordion)
premiere performance: MUWA gallery. Graz, Austria. 21/02/2015
[listen quietly, on headphones.]
There is some excellent research on performance techniques over at CelloMap.com on a variety of subjects, but the area of most interest to me lately has been string multiphonics. A criminally overlooked and beautifully fragile technique.
It seems a slightly murky area (a lot folk-lore, hearsay, speculation), but an interesting one that I hope people continue to plug away at. The two best resources I’ve found so far are Ellen Fallowfield and Thomas Resch’s aforementioned Cello Map project, and Seth Josel and Ming Tsao’s excellent new book ‘The Techniques of Guitar Playing‘ (2014; Bärenreiter, pp.118-24). Both map out the location of their partials in similar ways. Despite the different instruments the authors address, we are ultimately just dealing with a vibrating string and as such should not be too difficult to figure out…
A recent composition of mine, yet another example of the porousness of certain borders (score .pdf, 15mb) for solo double bass uses quite a few multiphonics, and as part of the composing process I created a little Processing script which uses the Cello Map scheme. The script allows one to calculate and map out (theoretical) partials for a string of any tuning (my piece was initially going to feature some evolving scordatura but this was written out early on).
The benefit of coding this out that you can quickly generate a partial map of any tuning and as many partials as you like (though by default this is capped at 15, past then it gets tricky to find what you’re looking for). This becomes pretty helpful when searching for and identifying clustered sounding partials within multiphonics. It is worth noting however, that this is all fairly theoretical, and that real-world physics may not play as nicely on your string of choice…
My thanks to the Cello Map project for doing all the hard work on this and many other subjects.
A new piece (maybe two pieces, or a piece and an ‘epilogue’ perhaps): with the very same twist to their faces for baritone saxophone and accordion.
Here is the first page of the ‘epilogue’, with the very same twist to their faces (under erasure), which is made up of trace layers/ palimpsestic readings of the ‘main’ version.