Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Haven't posted since I got back, not because I haven't been working, but just because I felt like it wasn't worth talking about the slog of making US4 'look nice'. Basically I've been poring over the score in order to make sure that the notation explains exactly what is happening, so that if someone wants to make a new patch for the piece (or use analogue equipment for that matter), then they can.

Despite the fact that I haven't had anything noteworthy (pun intended but not really excusable) to report regarding composition, I have been reading, listening, and posting on the Radio 3 Message Boards. The result is that I have far too much to talk about in one entry. I'll be gentle.

The first thing I wanted to say was, that I went back and listened to the whole of Kurt Schwertsik's Twilight Music - A Celtic Serenade for Octet, (from Hear & Now broadcast 26/11/05, see my post dated 28/02/06) and decided that I didn't find it interesting any more. The overworked clichés that drew attention to the basic nature of the material and to the sound production itself came across as being unintentional. I have problems with a lot of the MOB/ART crowd's music. I love H K Grüber's stuff, but the MOB pieces leave me a little cold. It's probably because I don't get the political engagement. I should find out more.

I'll talk about my Birmingham reading matter in a later post. I'm going to Cork on Thursday so I'll try to read the rest of the Lachenmann CMR issue while I'm there.

I've started to post on the Radio 3 Message Boards. In the past, I have posted on other MBs, but I've been a little surprised by the attitudes of some of the posters. There seems to be a fundamental rift between those who post because they are Serious Music Lovers, and more conversational, tangental posters. In the context of a thread attempting to rate composers as first-rate, second-rate, etc., I'm a bit non-plussed by this. Also, there are people who are fanatical in their devotion to certain performers/composers, and will hear no bad word said. To the extent that, despite the fact that they state their opinion in message 2, every time someone says something less-than favourable regarding their idol, they have to restate their position in a way that is slightly bullying. Some people on the MB have said nice things about the blog, and someone compared it to the Diary of a Nobody. Good point! I don't think that this is as good as that though.

Just a quick word about Hear & Now broadcast on 11/03/06. I enjoyed it. I didn't think that I would but I did. I listened to it after attempting to listen to Saariaho's Du cristal and ...à la fumée, which gave me a headache (Spectralism doesn't usually give me a headache, just on this occasion!). I do have a question about piano quintets however. Does anyone know of a modern piano quintet where they feel that the instrumentation works? It often feels like a piano piece accompanied by a string quartet piece. I'll try to give a more detailed critique at a later date. When I have more brain.

Basically I've worked out the fine details of US4 now. Tomorrow will involve putting it all on computer...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Back from Birmingham, feeling rather more like a composer than when I left. I'll give my impressions concerning what I read while away in another post. I'm a bit wiped out so I just wanted to write down a few thoughts about the piece that I started imagining on the train.
It's for a trio of flute, oboe and bassoon. I'm basically working on this for the Aeolian Trio (Carin Levine, Peter Veale, and Pascal Gallois) for their workshops at Darmstadt this year (
I think that it's going to include some really basic material: single iterated notes, scales (mainly chromatic), and triads (arpeggiated). All of these materials are hocketed between the three instruments. It's all going very fast as well. There are accent patterns splashed across the ensemble that aren't in synch with either the hocketing patterns or pitch patterns. There are also going to be big pauses.
And then...
In the middle there's a ridiculously difficult section with plenty of complex rhythms and separate staves for articulation.

Although a lot of the details haven't been worked out, there are plenty of ideas. I'm only worried it's a little unproblematic at the moment. Only time will tell!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

It's been a weird week. Doesn't feel like I've got much done. Frustrating.
Going to see C tomorrow and I'm taking some reading with me: Volumes 23 and 24 of Contemporary Music Review (Lachenmann issues), Volume 34 no 2 of Perspectives of New Music, and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen part 2. Hopefully just taking the pressure off and reading about someone else's music will mean I return to Durham full of energy and focus.
We'll see.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

After all that, I realised that I had got completely confused about whether the numbers I had in front of me referred to the tape loops (represented by numbers 1-8) or the speaker layout (represented by numbers 1-8). I had used them interchangeably. Doh! So I started again.
This time, I went for the sensible option. I drew some diagrams of the speaker layout and applied the tape loop distribution over them. This made a lot more sense than any kind of mathematical modelling (it's rather obvious now I come to actually think about it) and produced an answer that I'm fairly sure is what I want. This just leaves final proofreading and making pretty. The plan is to have this done by Saturday, when I'm going to Birmingham to visit C.

Speaking of C, following her comments concerning my blog, she's started her own: I suppose that this may begin to function as a complement to my own blog. She may well tell you the stuff about my life that I don't include here.

Today I listened to last Saturday's (04/03/06) Hear & Now. It featured a concert from LSO St Luke's in London, and excerpts from a concert given at Huddersfield.
The first concert, from LSO St Luke's, was given by the Arditti quartet with Nicholas Hodges. This was my first chance to hear the new lineup of the Ardittis. I didn't realise that Rohan de Saram had left... The theme seemed to be British and German composers.
The first piece was Wolfgang Rihm's Interscriptum for piano and quartet. I found this quite nice, but I didn't really feel that I grappled with it. It's an over-writing of his 12th quartet and I would be interested to compare the two pieces. Does the piano add anything to the piece?
Philipp Maintz's Inner Circle (or its first movement at least) was more satisfying for me. I can't say that I really listened to it intently, in order to hear the circular references, but it did something for me, and I'm going to listen again.
Hanspeter Kyburz's String Quartet was also very appealing. I wasn't completely convinced by the Bergian harmonies that were going on at times, but it was certainly very expressive and very interesting.
Paul Newland's Mie was less convincing for me, but having said this, it grows on me each time I hear it. I don't think that the soundworld is entirely confident but the balance that emerges, between sound and silence, motion and petrification, mechanism and organism is very attractive. I just felt it was a shame that this balance emerged during the piece, rather than being stamped on it from the start.
Finally James Dillon's The Soadie Waste was disappointing (this goes for a lot of recent Dillon as far as I'm concerned). In his earlier work, the folk-like melodies were problematised sufficiently to make them interesting sub-strata, but now, as they are pushed more and more to the fore, they strike me as a little tired and (dare I say it?) obvious.
Next, the Cikada quartet with Frode Haltli on accordion, recorded at the Huddersfield festival in Hans Abrahamsen's Three Little Nocturnes. This fell between two stools. It was neither short enough to form an appealing set of miniatures, nor was it substantial enough to do interesting things with either the oompah of the accordion, or the rhyming of the sound of the accordion with high harmonics in the strings. Both were there in embryo but neither really became anything.
The last piece in the concert was Fabio Nieder's Sogno 10 lunedi/in una casa/molte gente/musiche son tornato a casa. This was kind of Sciarrino meets Accanto (Lachenmann) and was dedicated to Lachenmann. There was a percussionist/DJ whose role it was to include some 'cheesy Italian pop', of which HL is apparently a big fan. So far so good. But it was too short. The inserts from the DJ weren't really long enough for us to work out what it was, until the end where it kind of erupts (Sciarrino does this sort of thing in pieces like Introduzione al'oscuro, where I think it works- the material that erupts is archetypal and characteristic enough for it to stamp its authority before evaporating). The whistling was also a nice touch, but over a longer duration this piece would have worked incredibly well.

Tomorrow, two friends are coming to dinner and I'm going to pop round to see F and have a coffee. No idea if I'll get to write anything during the day... Watch this space.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I have a solution. It's not elegant or pretty, and it doesn't work like magic, but it's tolerable. I'm quite happy to admit that there isn't an elegant or pretty solution, and there's no magic equation to put all my numbers in that will come up with the correct answer.
It's actually all come down to pragmatism and the extent to which I'll tolerate inaccuracies. For each section of the piece, I've worked out an 'ideal' distribution of voices to speakers, and several possible distributions. I total the difference between the two, and the distribution with least differences is the one that I take forward. This probably doesn't make any sense without the context but I hope that it gives an impression of the compromise that I've reached.
Of course, it's time consuming to work out but that's life. I'd rather hack away at a system that I know will produce results that I'm happy with, than come up with a quick fix which almost-but-not-quite does what I want it to.

Having taken nearly 24 hours to find this solution, I am now taking to my bed.

C had a look at the blog today and remarked: 'I'm not reading all that. It's boring.'
My language is also 'poncey'.
Sighs. Rolls eyes. Presses 'Publish Post'.

Friday, March 03, 2006

I've been working on the speaker layout for US4, a piece for oboe and live electronics. I say I've been working on the speaker layout, but actually it's just a tiny little aspect of the distribution of one of the delay lines. It's caused me a lot of grief trying to sort it out though. F suggested a great solution. Except I don't like it. It's too easy. Knowing when to back down from the technical challenge posed by a very small detail is not something I'm terribly good at. I've nearly got a great solution. But I've just found a flaw.

On the up side, I've decided that US4 is part of a trilogy of works that overlaps with two other of my cycles: The Star Spangled Banner for detuned violin will form the final part of my 10-part Americana cycle, and an as-yet-unnamed percussion solo will feature in An Evening with Ezra Pound. I'm thinking of calling the trilogy: American Icons or American Heroes. The heroes of US4 are Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld (at the head of the score is a quote: 'almost all our language has been taxed by war' from Ginsberg's Howl). The Star Spangled Banner (I think) will touch on Jimi Hendrix's iconic meditation whilst taking a backward glance at the rest of the cycle. The percussion solo will have something to do with Pound's American cantos (posited title: God Save Liberty, The Congress, And Adams). I call this the up side because it gives US4 a home. Also, seeing as I'm going to be applying for funding for a post doctoral project focussing on the idea of cycles, it adds an additional twist to an already polyvalent concept. Also, it allows me to begin the percussion piece as a stepping stone into An Evening with Ezra Pound... I was intending to produce it during my 30th birthday year, but thinking sensibly, I'm not going to have the time. One year late is acceptable!

I was going to explain more about this problem with the speakers in US4 but I don't want to. It's such a ridiculously small problem. It's probably not worth spending this much time on because the effect of all this fussing won't be audible. But, for whatever reason, it annoys me that I haven't come up with a satisfying (to me) solution. Once it's sorted, there's only the cosmetic side of the score to remedy. Then it's done and I can send it to Chris Redgate. And Cheney will grunt and Bush will address the faithful. And Rumsfeld will sing and Wolfowitz will squeak. Everywhere.

Received in the post a CD of music by Aldo Clementi called Punctum contra Punctum. It's amazing. If you've never heard any of his stuff you really should. The CD has four tracks and verges from the bizarre (GiAn(ca)rlo CArDini for prepared piano) to the thoroughly weird (Fantasia su roBErto FABriCiAni for solo flute with twenty four recorded flutes). I finally ordered the CD of Madrigale by the Ives Ensemble, which is the only CD of Clementi's music you'll find on

Also received the Decca LP of Brian Ferneyhough's Transit. I've been looking for this recording for about five years so I'm very happy that I actually own it now. It's a very clean recording and you can hear a lot of what's going on. I'm looking forward to getting the score out of the library again and following it with the recording. It's such a shame that the plans to reissue it on CD fell through. Transit is a great piece and it's really unfortunate that there is no CD recording of it.

Managed to do one of my favourite things last night: took a bath while listening to the latest podcast from the Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland. This month it featured an interview with Judith Ring, a (largely) electroacoustic composer currently working at York university. I can't say that I was blown away either by her ideas or by her music, but she seemed to be an interesting sort of composer. She seemed to be very much against any idea of conformity. Which is great. Should be encouraged. And she has a website ( If nothing else, these podcasts are fantastic for finding out about a large number of composers that we never hear about in Britain. You can find out about the podcasts at

I feel I should attack the US4 problem again before retiring for the night. The last thing I want is to be facing it again tomorrow. I will prevail.