Here’s a new recording of my piece Nightmusic for solo violin. This performance was given by violinist Kay Stephen at the beautiful Sherbrooke St. Gilbert’s Church in the Southside of Glasgow. The recording was made by Timothy Cooper and partly funded by Sound and Music for inclusion on the New Voices website.
I’m very happy to (belatedly) announce that I’m one of 56 emerging composers to make up this year’s New Voices cohort. The recently re-launched New Voices website, part of the British Music Collection, showcases the work of those who have been composer-in-residence with some of the UKs leading creative organizations through Sound and Music’s Embedded and Portfolio schemes. I’m honoured to be in such illustrious company.
Listen to the work of the other New Voices composers here.
My new music podcast I’LL CADENCE WHEN I DIE! is back for a second series, the first episode of which is available now. I speak to David Fennessy about his piece Hauptstimme which recently received its first performance at HCMF//. A sort-of viola concerto, the piece explores David’s interest in the relationship between the voices of an ensemble, and between the individual and the crowd. He also discusses how a work conceived in the Pearl River Delta came to feature the clacking sound of a loom from the Isle of Lewis, and how he was inspired to create a trilogy of works based on the writings of film director Werner Herzog. This episode features performances given by the Red Note Ensemble, Talea Ensemble and Ensemble Klang.
I am happy to announce that the second issue of the Scottish Journal of Performance has been released today and is now available online at www.scottishjournalofperformance.org.
Editors Bethany Whiteside and Ben Fletcher-Watson have assembled a diverse range of papers for this edition including a timely eyewitness account of the spectacular opening ceremony of the Kelpies at Helix Park, Falkirk by Claire Warden, a Bourdieusian examination of training trajectories into ballet and contemporary dance by Lito Tsitsou, and a report by Bethany Whiteside from the British Dance Edition 2014 (held for this first time in Scotland) which illustrates that “many of the deliberations in the macro dance world are shared by dance researcher and worker alike”. There are also reviews of newly published books by authors Stella Bruzzi, Stacey Prickett and Peter Harrison, amongst others.
I spent this afternoon in a bright and sunny Edinburgh at the official launch of the Made in Scotland Showcase 2014. Made in Scotland is a curated showcase of Scottish performance on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, supported through the Scottish Government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund. I was there with my colleagues from Ensemble Thing: our show Replaceable Things is part of this year’s showcase and comprises my Replaceable Parts for the Irreplaceable You and John De Simone’s Panic Diary.
John’s piece is a deeply personal work about living with an anxiety disorder. My piece is an extensive re-write of a work first performed by the Red Note Ensemble last year which critiques our use of, and reliance upon, new technologies. Both works combine spoken word and cold electronic sound tracks with the virtuosic musicianship of Ensemble Thing.
Ensemble Thing will perform Replaceable Things at 11.35am, 15th/16th/17th August 2014 at Summerhall (venue 26), Edinburgh.
After Wednesday’s performance of Elbow Room at Summerhall I was interviewed by Ryan Van Winkle for his excellent Culture Laser podcast. Listen to what I had to say below. You can find the other episodes in the series here (also well worth a listen!).
Ahead of it’s first performance tomorrow night in Edinburgh, here are the five video blogs / trailers made by Red Note about Elbow Room.
UPDATE! Here’s another!
This year’s Commonwealth Games will not longer be inaugurated by the synchronized destruction of five thirty-storey tower blocks. The buildings, the Red Road flats which have been home to hundreds of families since their construction in the 1960s, were due to be demolished as part of the opening ceremony to Glasgow’s Games which take place this summer. Organisers had promised that, by beaming television coverage of these implosions across the globe, Glasgow would be celebrated as a city of “authenticity, passion and ambition”. Others were not so sure: 17,000 people signed an online petition to stop the destruction of Red Road as part of the opening ceremony, forcing the plans to be dropped.
The size of the backlash against the plan indicates how strongly many feel about the symbolism of Red Road and the infrastructure of Glasgow’s regeneration more generally. Many accused the organisers of insensitivity, not least for the asylum seekers housed in a sixth tower who would have to spend years living in a rubble-filled wasteland. The flats are due to be demolished regardless of the Commonwealth Games, but by attempting to include their destruction in a broadly artistic event, and by insisting that razing the buildings is purely a celebratory affair, the organisers appeared to overlook the nuanced and contradictory symbolism of such an act. Since construction began in 1964 the Red Road flats have been home to thousands, initially providing an improvement in living conditions for many. For some they once represented the dawning of a Utopian way of life; a functional, modernist approach to city dwelling. Others see only an eyesore. The flats later became synonymous with urban decay and crime, and were also the scene of several widely-reported suicides.
It is contradictions such as these which have been both a cause for concern and a driving force behind my new work Elbow Room which I have written for the Red Note Ensemble as part of my Sound and Music Embedded residency with the group. Although not specifically about Red Road, the piece is about Glasgow’s redevelopment more generally and tells the story of the real-life mid-twentieth century plan to re-build Glasgow as a concrete paradise of skyscrapers and motorways. Although never fully realized, the plan did lay down some of the principles which shaped the development of the city in the coming decades.
I live in Glasgow, the city which has a motorway running though its heart. As a composer I feel it’s important to engage with the world around me and writing about this road, and the other radical improvements made to the city, is of great personal importance. But it’s a big, complicated topic that needs to be completed with great sensitivity, particularly for someone like me who lives in Glasgow but is not Glaswegian. Finding a way into the subject, and working out how I was going to be able to write music about it, proved to be very difficult.
My solution was to use period films made in Glasgow about the proposed urban regeneration, alongside sound recordings of today’s city. The films I have used were essentially propaganda tools to convince the people of Glasgow that the proposed years of disruption to their lives would be worth the new, healthy, futuristic city that would be created around them. The plans for the city were bold: one envisioned the total destruction of the centre of Glasgow, and the building of the motorway itself (now the M8) required the razing of many healthy, attractive parts of the city. Rather than underscoring the films, I wanted the music of Elbow Room to reflect the optimism and sense of progress inherent in them. I then re-edited the films to fit the music whist also allowing them to contributing to the overall narrative.
There were undoubtedly many problems in mid-twentieth century Glasgow that needed to be solved, including slum housing and poor health. However, looking back from 2014 with our ideas of efficiency, usability and sustainability, many plans for the city now seem completely over the top. With the benefit of hindsight, the optimism of the period films seems misplaced: although many improvements were made, the promised Utopia never materialized. It remains a fantasy on a drawing board and yet the remnants of these improvement schemes still affect the day-to-day lives of many in the city.
The key to completing Elbow Room was this fantasy. If the first two movements of the piece are concerned with the imaginings of architects and town planners, the third and final movement would be my fantasy: a musical reinterpretation of the sounds of the city recorded this year at locations still affected by the plans drawn-up in the 1940s.
Plug, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s new music festival, returns this week. As I’m approaching the end of my PhD studies at the RCS, this will be the last time I take part in the festival. I’m signing-off with a new video work, titled Espial, which is made from hours of CCTV footage whittled down and assembled into a 15-minute piece of music. The (unwitting) performers in Espial are the Astrid String Quartet, who will also be performing pieces by fellow RCS researchers Lucy Hollingworth and Shona Mackay. The concert will also feature performances by the Red Note Ensemble.
Espial will be shown at 7:30pm, Wednesday 30th May at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, 100 Renfrew Street, Glasgow. Tickets are available from the RCS box office.
We had fun at the Gregor SAMSA 2 event at The Old Hairdresser’s last night. My collaborative film/spoken word piece with Shona Mackay received its first outing and also all this happened:
I recently spent a weekend on the beautiful Isle of Mull, the second largest of the Inner Hebrides, as part of a residency which aimed to explore the question “What would it mean to be an artist working in a sustainable Scotland in fifty years’ time?”. Organized by Creative Carbon Scotland in partnership with Comar, the residency comprised eight artists who work in diverse disciplines (including textiles, the visual arts, theatre and music), who consider their practice in terms of environmental sustainability. Through a series of discussions and workshops, facilitated by producer Suzy Glass and composer Dave Fennessy, the group considered how the arts could help shape a sustainable future for Scotland.
This was a new departure for me. My motivation for composing usually comes from wanting to explore through music something from the outside (non-musical) world. However, I hadn’t previously considered how sustainability could be expressed through musical performance. The concert hall, despite its propensity for pastoral-themed works, feels to me very unattached to the natural world – an artificial and contrived environment. Only my most recent work, Elbow Room, comes close to the topic of sustainability: this new piece is about the mid-twentieth century plan to demolish Glasgow and replace it with a car-heavy concrete utopia (more on this piece in another blog post!).
After travelling from Edinburgh, through Glasgow, to Tobermory on the Friday afternoon, the discussions began in earnest first thing Saturday morning at Druimfin Theatre, a short walk through the woods from our hotel. We started the day with a series of introductions: each participant presented to the group a single object which represented their work. There was a wonderful, wide range of artistic practice amongst the group, all well-considered and of very high quality. After small group discussions about the role of art and artists in society (prompted by a series of quotations from high-profile artists), we undertook a listening/recording exercise whilst walking back to Tobermory.
For this exercise we were grouped in pairs and asked to either find and record sounds that represented Utopia, or sounds that represented Distopia. I was paired with Natalie McIlroy and we were asked to find sounds that represented Utopia. This forced us to question what our ideal future would consist of. The two of us had similar ideas: there would still be people in the future, they would have food and there would be water. There would also be art and fun. Like all pairs who were asked to record Utopian sounds, we also prized quiet, tranquillity and a sense of space. This contrasted with the numerous Distopian sounds of diesel engines and general noise. Generally the Utopian sounds hinted at a future where people lived in harmony with the natural world, the Distopian visions highlighted the most unsustainable practices of today’s everyday life.
On Sunday, having listened to the recordings made the previous day, we discussed the opportunities and problems of artists working in the field of sustainability. Several stories were told about the (unrealistic) expectations upon artists who explore these themes – many are expected, quite unfairly, to know the intricacies of recycling and energy conservation. Also, when working in a residency, there is often confusion over what form the final artwork will take, particularly when working amongst scientists. In the early evening we held a public forum at An Tobar: although attended by only a handful of locals, those who came shared their belief that the arts can (indeed, should) communicate environmental issues. This gave us a sense of validation for the weekend as a whole.
I’d like to thank Gemma and Ben at Creative Carbon Scotland for the opportunity to participate in this residency, and also thank Suzy and Dave for stimulating our conversations. Despite the serious subject matter, the weekend was great fun – we laughed a lot! – but I felt my lack of experience in the area of sustainability prevented me from making a significant contribution to proceedings. However, from a personal point of view this hardly matters as I found the weekend to be of great inspiration for two reasons: firstly, asking questions of ourselves in relation to sustainability is undeniably important if we are to build for ourselves, for our children, a comfortable future. I left Mull with a moral imperative to address these issues in my work (somehow!). There is a relationship between art and sustainability: ultimately we are all responsible for our future and this responsibility needs reflecting in artistic practice. However, this doesn’t mean that artists have to be experts in the everyday practicalities of recycling, energy conservation etc. Artistic practices that embody sustainability can also be subtle; it doesn’t have to be about ramming-home big messages with environmentalist slogans.
Secondly, I was fortunate to meet a wonderful group of artists, possibly the nicest, most interesting bunch I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Each combined artistic excellence with a desire for relevance that stretched beyond the traditional scope of their field. There was a common desire to create bold and useful work that engages with the wider world in a positive way. Hearing how these artists took their practice out of the studio, possibly to work within a community or to explore a new creative process, was of great interest to me and reinforced my growing frustration with the isolation of the concert-hall and introspection of the new music world.
Find out more about this brilliant group of people: Creative Carbon Scotland: Ben Twist on Twitter, Gemma Lawrence on Twitter. Facilitators: Suzy Glass, Dave Fennessy. Artists: Alex South (clarinettist), Angharad McLaren (textiles), Hannah Imlach (visual art), Jake Bee (visual art), Katrin Evans (theatre maker), Natalie McIlroy (visual art) and Rachel Duckhouse (printmaking, drawing).
Between the Lines is a new music + spoken word + video piece by myself and composer Shona Mackay which is receiving its first performance this week in Glasgow. It’s a collaborative project in the truest sense – we both worked on each part of the piece together at the same time. Myself and Shona are good friends but this is the first time we’ve worked together, and the first time either of us has composed with someone else.
There’s nothing like a collaboration to throw light on your own working practices. I have discovered that I need to relate every part of a piece to a central concept before writing, whilst Shona is happier to try anything out and see what fits. I’ve also discovered that I change my mind a lot whilst composing, often quickly (much to Shona’s frustration). We often went back to an idea we’d previously rejected – a normal thing to happen, I feel, although a lot more noticeable when one partner rejects and later accepts an idea of the other.
Shona’s recent work has been mainly autobiographical and she often appears in her pieces. I tend to think of musical structures as a form of storytelling so we opted to write a short story in which Shona plays the central character. A mutual interest in mixed-media work led to us to include a series of still images (presented as a video) which accompany Shona’s reading of the text. The music combines sound-recordings of the scenes depicted in the stills and cello music performed by Laura Sergeant.
The story went through many iterations. Originally we based the piece on a Greek myth, but updated to contemporary society. We always knew that the story would “drift” as we began to include more elements that interested us. Each draft took us further away from the original myth (with its supernatural occurrences) towards something far more personal.
The original plan was for both Shona and myself to perform this piece: I was going to make my first public outing as a guitarist. However, the guitar part didn’t make the final version so I had to cut myself from my own performance! Tuesday’s premiere will see Shona and cellist Laura take to the stage in front of these six stills (and about ninety others).
We’d been wanting to work together for quite a while, so when the opportunity to create this piece arose we jumped at the chance. We had two aims for this project: 1) to remain friends by the end of it and 2) to create something interesting. I can vouch for the first aim being met. As for the second: you’ll have to judge for yourselves…
Between the Lines is performed this coming Tuesday (22nd April), 8pm, at the Old Hairdresser’s (Renfield Lane, Glasgow) as part of Gregor SAMSA 2.
The Scottish Journal of Performance, the peer-reviewed journal which I manage, has issued the following call for papers.
The Scottish Journal of Performance is a peer-reviewed open access journal which promotes and stimulates discussion, development and dissemination of original research, focusing both on performance in Scotland (contemporary and historical) and / or wider aspects of performance presented by scholars and reflective practitioners based in Scotland. We invite contributions from a wide and diverse community of researchers, providing opportunities for both established and early career scholars to submit work. We encourage a wide range of research methods and approaches, including practice-led research and practice as research. The first issue was published in December 2013.
We welcome submissions for our third issue. Possible submission formats include audio and video recordings with commentary, practitioner reports, reflective journals and scholarly articles.
Performance in this context encompasses a wide range of arts and entertainment and takes as central themes dance, drama, film, music and television. The research field of the Scottish Journal of Performance takes as a key focus the creation and execution of performance in various contexts. Examples include the role and value of performance, performance education, teaching and learning in performance, theory and practice, performance psychology, community performance, performance in society (class, economics, ethnicity, gender, religion), youth performance, performance aesthetics, research methods and methodologies. This list is not intended to be exhaustive.
Deadline for submission: 5pm, 27th June 2014.
Publication date: December 2014.
Information for authors: Information and Style Guide (.pdf)
Submission method: By email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.