Call for papers – Scottish Journal of Performance

April 12, 2014 18:29

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: submissions@

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March 23, 2014 13:24


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Recording Nightmusic

March 18, 2014 23:43

Sherbrooke St. Gilbert's Church

I spent Saturday afternoon in good company at Sherbrooke St. Gilbert’s Church in the Southside of Glasgow – a beautiful building architecturally and acoustically. Violinist Kay Stephen, sound recordist Tim Cooper and I were recording Nightmusic, a work for solo violin I wrote a couple of years ago. It was really great to hear the piece being played so well in such a nice space – the acoustics of the building added so much to Kay’s performances. I’m looking forward to reviewing the recordings we made later on this week.

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Ensemble Thing at the Composition Marathon

March 12, 2014 10:54

I spent the weekend with Ensemble Thing at the Scottish Music Centre’s third (and final) Composition Marathon. Inspired by New York-based collective Bang On A Can’s iconic Performance Marathons, the project challenged ten composers, selected through application, to compose a new work for professional premiere by one of five ensembles in less than twenty-four hours. Ensemble Thing was paired with composers Gemma McGregor and Sarah Lianne Lewis, who each produced a brand new work before final rehearsals on Sunday morning. Hats off to the composers… I don’t think I would be brave enough to write a piece in such a short time!

Thing Comp Marathon 1

It’s just after 9am on Saturday. The composers get to grips with the intricacies of Lizy’s accordion.

Thing Comp Marathon 2

Saturday afternoon: the pieces are taking shape and the buffet has been demolished.

Thing Comp Marathon 6

Sunday morning: Ensemble Thing gets to grips with the new pieces.

Thing Comp Marathon 3

Sarah’s piece requires Basso con la carta.

Thing Comp Marathon 5

Christine Cooper (double bass), Lizy Stirrat (accordion) and Jenny Stephenson (clarinets).

Thing Comp Marathon 4

Rui Pedro Alves (trombone).

Thing Comp Marathon 7

The composers take a bow at the end of the performance which took place at The Arches.

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On Geoff Hannan’s Joyrider

January 17, 2014 15:54

To celebrate the release by Sound and Music and NMC Recordings of “Digital Discoveries” — eight volumes of previously unreleased new music from the British Music Collection — I asked some of the most exciting emerging composers what the works featured in this release meant to them. Having asked composers Martin Scheuregger, Shiori Usui and Chris Mayo to select their favorite Digital Discovery, I was also asked to make my own selection: the complete version of this article appeared in December’s Classical Music Magazine but here’s what I had to say about Geoff Hannan’s Joyrider:

Sound and Music: Of all the pieces you could have chosen, why this one? What did you find compelling about this music and why should I listen to it?

Thomas Butler: Geoff Hannan’s Joyrider is a compelling and exuberant work for solo piano. A pile-up of pianistic tropes borrowed from the virtuoso repertoire, it is at once exciting and deliberately confrontational. The piece exists in a constant state of joyous free-fall, which by the end I found as unnerving as a clown’s perma-smile.

SaM: As a listener, how does the piece unfold? What is the piece about (musically or conceptually) and were there any surprises along the way?

TB: The composer suggests that the piece “does not do what good music is traditionally supposed to do” and certainly the narrative thrust of Joyrider could have been created from the crazed output of a malfunctioning sampler, with its insistent repetitions and disregard for continuity (the only predictable thing about this music is its unpredictability). The composer is keen to draw parallels between his piece and the “spectrum of masculinity”; the slick, virtuosic display of bravado is actually a barrage of near-quotations – pure music-geekery disguised as swagger.

By its very nature, the piece is full of surprises (so many that these surprises cease to be surprising!). However, for me the ending of the piece was quite unexpected. It avoids the big-final-chord cliché that I was anticipating.

SaM: As a composer, how does the piece, or any element within the piece, relate to your own output? Are there any ideas here that you’d like to steal for your own work?

TB: One could consider Joyrider to be entirely made-up of “stolen” material, although it is in itself an original and unique work. What I love about this piece is its inherent theatricality, which is a theme that runs through my own work. You can feel (and see) the frenzied exertions of the soloist with each flurry of notes. Joyrider also reminds me that I haven’t written a piano piece in quite a while…

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I’LL CADENCE WHEN I DIE! – a new podcast about new music in Scotland

October 31, 2013 22:17

I’LL CADENCE WHEN I DIE! is my new podcast about new music and sonic art in Scotland. I started producing the show earlier this year in an attempt to showcase some of the brilliant and diverse work that’s going on here, work that often gets overlooked by more mainstream media.

Each month I interview a composer who lives in, or is visiting, Scotland about their work. There’s no script and very few prepared questions. The interviews (so far, at least) can meander into some interesting and unexpected areas. Not all this material makes the final cut, of course, but hopefully listeners find out a little more about what, why and how the featured composer composes. We get to hear some of that composer’s music along the way, too.

As a composer myself, I often talk about music and compositional “issues” with other composers. I’d always felt that edited versions of this shop talk may be of some interest to listeners; these sprawling discussions, and frequent disagreements, often see my fellow composers speak about music in simple and accessible terms far removed from the Academicese that often blights programme notes and other formal, written, discussions of music.

After considering creating a website or e-zine to allow these discussions to reach a wider audience, I decided on the podcast format after hearing WNYC’s Radiolab and Roman Mars’ 99% Invisible. While I wouldn’t want ICWID! to be compared with these brilliant and slick shows, the way both make obscure subject matter accessible and enjoyable has been a great inspiration.

There have been five episodes of ICWID! released so far. In the most recent episode, composer François Sarhan discusses his upcoming show Enough Already! (or, Lâchez Tout!) – a surreal and political work which combines film, speaking musicians, an actor and two Foley artists – which is to be performed by Red Note Ensemble this winter in Glasgow, Edinburgh and at HCMF//.

In September’s edition, composer Bill Sweeney talked about the influences behind his recent music for cello, including the work of poets Hugh MacDiarmid and Jorge Luis Borges. Always blending the traditional with the cutting-edge, Bill discusses how imitating Gaelic psalm singing and using Pure Data both contribute to his soundworld. The episode also features wonderful performances of Bill’s work by cellist Robert Irvine.

Earlier shows have featured diverse styles of music: Episode One saw composer John De Simone explain why (and how) he escaped the influence of Dutch-style minimalism to write a Neo-Romantic (-ish) violin concerto. Episode Two featured Sound and Music Embedded Composer Shiori Usui discussing her music derived from the sounds of the human body and includes a brilliant performance of Shiori’s work In Digestion given by A Far Cry. Episode Three saw Scottish Opera’s Composer-in-Residence Gareth Williams talk about two of his site-specific operas, one which took place at the top of an Aberdeenshire lighthouse and another that played-out in a Glasgow pub (whilst the pub was still open).

Listen to or download the podcast at Follow the show on Twitter: @CADENCEWHENIDIE.

Categories: Audio,I'LL CADENCE WHEN I DIE!,Podcast

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Go Compose! in Banchory, day three

October 26, 2013 09:55

It’s the third and final day of Go Compose! where I am assisting composer Brian Irvine and Red Note Ensemble as they guide a group of school-age composers through writing and rehearsing brand new pieces. We’ve just enjoyed the final concert of the opening night of the Sound Festival, the grand finale of the course where each new work received its première.

It was a wonderful event. Banchory’s Woodend Barn hosted a large and enthusiastic audience for the occasion. Buoyed by a warm reception, each of the Go Compose! participants introduced their own pieces and explained how stories found in Monday’s newspapers provided the initial inspiration for their work. Some composers were keen to stress that, although these news articles provided the genesis of each work, the music had transformed into something entirely different, unrelated to current affairs. In all cases it was apparent that the composers had not become stifled by doggedly re-telling the news story in music – each had allowed their work to be structured by the requirements of the musical material they had created.

The concert not only marked the end of the course, but also the end of a long day. The composers had an early start and spent the first part of the morning adding finishing touches to their new scores. Learning from the previous day’s session, some took time to re-write tricky bars whilst others perfected phrasing, dynamics, colour and – the thing the young composers seemed to find hardest of all – the transitions between sections. They also had to make instrumental parts for the three performers in time for final rehearsals.

In all, each young composer created three new works during Go Compose! – two short pieces created under strict time limits imposed by Brian Irvine, and the final five-minute-long composition. This is an extraordinary amount of music for an inexperienced composer to write in such a short time and credit must be given to Brian for providing much of the energy and ‘can do’ attitude that energised the composers to achieve this. Likewise, the musicians from Red Note were approachable and positive at all times and offered the young composers some of the highest-quality feedback I’ve ever seen in a workshop situation.

The youngsters have quite obviously been empowered by this process: only on Monday queries and suggestions from the ensemble were met by the meekest of responses (“OK, whatever you think is best”). Now, only two days later, the young composers are far more bold and quick to point-out where balances need to be checked, tempos need adjusting and phrasing altered. This also indicates an assuredness about their compositional output – they knew what their piece should sound like and they now have the confidence to demand their work be realized as envisioned!

By Midday their work was complete. The evening’s performance concluded what was a creative and inspiring three days at Go Compose!.

Categories: Music Education,Red Note

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Go Compose! in Banchory, day two

October 24, 2013 20:28

It’s day two of Go Compose! here in Banchory. I am assisting composer Brian Irvine as he guides a group of school-age composers through the process of writing a new piece to be performed tomorrow by Red Note Ensemble on the opening night of Aberdeenshire’s Sound Festival. Our young composers have worked overnight on their scores in preparation for this performance. There’s still quite a long way to go but each composer has made considerable headway.

In all cases, pencil and paper has been abandoned for laptop and notation software. Gone, therefore, are the scribbles and crossings-out of yesterday, but gone too is much of the detail evident in their hand-written pieces. Phrasing has become something added to a musical line rather than being integral to it and there is a general lack of detail in the computer scores at present. Of course, some of this is due to not knowing the intricacies of the notation software, but the computer also promotes a certain fluidity in the compositional process; the composers ‘stand back’ from their pieces a little more and things are often left to be ‘fixed later’.

Of course, there are many pros to using the computer as a compositional tool. Aside from the almost effortless creation of instrumental parts, the ability to quickly rearrange their musical material has allowed the young composers to experiment with structure with comparable ease. The copy/paste function is great in this respect but can also be a hindrance, as one composer found out when copying sections of his riff-driven work: the resulting pile-up of material may have been musically satisfying but was also confusing to read and play due to the way the copied material fell across barlines of mixed-metre.

Jackie Shave (violin), Ruth Morley (flute) and Robert Irvine (cello), the three Red Note musicians in residence here at Go Compose!, read each iteration of each score with the same precision and commitment they show towards work by established composers. They all have considerable experience of performing new music and are an invaluable resource to the young composers. They are always on hand to answer questions: today’s most popular queries all concerned the confusing world of double-stops on string instruments.

The most common questions to Brian and myself all relate to structure: ‘I’m not sure how to extend this passage’ and ‘I’m not sure how to link these ideas’. The young composers have no problem inventing new material but integrating it into a larger, coherent, musical structure can prove to be a bit of a headache. They have each been asked to write a piece of five minutes duration, no easy feat for an inexperienced composer. However, they have been encouraged to experiment and, as a result, each young composer has taken a different approach to musical form; some have attempted to blend and contrast different sections of music whilst others have deliberately developed limited material.

The composers will need to have their scores completed by 11 o’clock tomorrow morning in order to allow time for final rehearsals. Despite a promise of an earlier-than-normal start tomorrow, one or two seem a little daunted by what they have to achieve by tomorrow morning. Their audience awaits…

Categories: Music Education,Red Note

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Go Compose! in Banchory, day one

October 23, 2013 13:59

I’m in Banchory, about eighteen miles west of Aberdeen, with three members of Red Note Ensemble and composer Brian Irvine. I’m assisting Brian as he works with four young composers at Go Compose!, an initiative based at Woodend Barn and developed by Sound Festival, Sound and Music and Red Note. This is the third annual Go Compose!, a course which aims to create an environment for school-aged composers to develop their craft.

The challenge set by Go Compose! to its participants is simple: to compose (and typeset) a completely new piece of music.. However, the pieces will have to written in only two days and will be publicly performed by the Red Note Ensemble on the opening night of Aberdeenshire’s Sound Festival.

Far from being a daunted by this situation, our group of young composers have approached the task with calm enthusiasm. They’re a talented bunch and, as evidenced by the music written on this first day, are able to produce interesting and original pieces at a surprisingly fast speed.

To begin the day, members of Red Note demonstrated not only the basics of their instruments but also some of the more crazy sounds the composers could use in their pieces. The highs, lows, squeaks, pops and clicks of the instruments having been fully explored (with Ruth Morley’s ‘draining bath plug’ flute sound causing the most hilarity), Brian set the first challenge: to compose a short piece for the ensemble in only fifteen minutes. Although each composer had access to a piano, computer and other composing tools, most were content to scribble away with pencil on paper with only their imagination for guidance.

The resulting pieces were diverse in style and demonstrated the emerging compositional voices of the young composers – some pieces were lyrical and harmonically driven, others full of mixed-metre exuberance. These short pieces were then extensively workshopped by the ensemble, not only to fix the few (inevitable) notational issues, but also to introduce the composers to the intricacies of instrumentation and the myriad ways a phrase can be performed: should this be legato? Would you like to try this up an octave? We could try a colder sound. With vibrato – how much vibrato? What type of vibrato and so on.

The composer’s second challenge was to write a piece of music somehow inspired by an article in today’s papers. With pages of newsprint strewn around the venue, the composers got to work and produced pieces inspired by the genuinely tragic and more off-beat stories they could find. After a second round of workshops, and considerable insight from the Red Note musicians, it was time to take the plunge as the young composers began writing their final works for performance in only two days time. Some are incorporating the shorter pieces composed earlier in the day, others are beginning all over again. However, they have Brian, myself and the three members of Red Note to consult at all times. They wrote solidly until we forced them to stop at five o’clock but all took their work home with them. I look forward to hearing their “homework” tomorrow morning.

Categories: Music Education,Red Note

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In the studio

June 9, 2013 23:00

Studio Jun 13

I spent today with violinist Kay Stephen, recording a piece I wrote last year. That’s her on the monitor. Behind her is Tim Cooper, who was recording. He’s the guy who knows what all those buttons do…

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January 17, 2013 00:18

The first piece of the year has been written! So it’s probably the right time for the first performance of the year. In 2013 that dubious honour goes to Glasgow’s Ensemble Thing who are playing my new piece next Wednesday (23rd January) at The Old Hairdresser’s in what’s shaping-up to be an awesome gig. I say “my new piece” because it hasn’t got a title yet (hot-off-the-press); suggestions on a postcard, please, or perhaps in the comments below.

Also in the concert is another chance to hear my clarinet work My Life in Ventriloquism and two pieces taken from John De Simone’s Panic Diary. Oh… and Fredric Rzewski’s epic Coming Together. All for only three of your British pounds.

We are ventriloquists. We are not ventriloquists.

Ensemble Thing poster

PS: Is it too late to wish you all a Happy New Year? Probably not… Happy New year!

Categories: Performance

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You wait ages for a new piece…

April 4, 2012 00:51

…and then two come along at once.

Friday 27th April sees the performance of my two most recent pieces as part of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland‘s annual week of new music; PLUG. The lunchtime concert at 1pm features, amongst other things, my Postlude to Nightfishing for solo violin and the evening concert at 7:30pm includes the brand-new My Life in Ventriloquism for solo clarinet.

The theme for this year’s PLUG is “Postludes”. Composers at the Conservatoire were asked to write short pieces that somehow reflected upon works performed in previous PLUG festivals, the only catch being these originals are not being performed again this year. In the case of my postlude, which is based on Oliver Searle‘s Nightfishing, original work and postlude are divorced by a couple of years (but you can hear to Ol’s piece here – recommended listening!). I was attracted to the uneasy stillness at the beginning of this piece; instead of borrowing its dots I borrowed its atmosphere and took it from there. Postlude to Nightfishing will be performed by Darragh Morgan.

I am a ventriloquist of sorts (gottle o’ geer), aren’t all composers? We are forever throwing our voices and speaking through others. My Life in Ventriloquism is a quick foray into an art form where the relationship between act and audience is fundamentally different to that of the concert hall. Ventriloquism as entertainment relies upon an acknowledged deceit and the suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience (it’s a puppet!) whilst the concert hall and related industry is mostly concerned with notions of authenticity and truth. These differences between art forms interest me greatly. More on ventriloquism in a future post but for now these ideas have spawned an 11-minute virtuosic clarinet piece which will be played on the 27th by Jenny Stephenson.

I’m not sure what other pieces are on the bill, although the lunchtime concert will feature a work by Richard Ayres and the evening performance includes new music for new films made at the RCS. More details on the performances page when I know them.

Categories: Performance

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New recording

December 31, 2011 14:26

A recording of my recent piece Struction (how I attempted… is now available here. It’s a bootleg-esque recording from the first performance given by Red Note.

A little confession: I’m not entirely sure this piece works as an audio recording. If you do listen, bear in mind that the voice of the composer is disembodied – the “composer” isn’t in the room and his voice is delivered through loudspeakers. Without pictures, however, you won’t see the physical exertions of the ensemble as they react to this voice. It’s deliberately physical music.

As normal, Struction was conceived as a concert piece (and these days I’m always thinking about the relationship between music its context) and hearing this recording reinforces my belief that live musical performance and audio recordings are two completely different mediums, each with their idiosyncrasies. Why do we so often consider them the same when composing?

Categories: Audio,Performance,Research,Works

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Beethoven dies in hot cars

July 8, 2011 22:55

This week I’m fortunate enough to be a member of Benjamin Zander’s conducting class at the London Master Classes, held annually at the Royal Academy of Music in London. I’d like to share one of the things he said…

“We’ve tamed Beethoven, this wild animal shaking his fist at the world. We want to play his dangerous music in our cars when driving down the road. Our job is to bring Beethoven back to life”

Categories: Musings

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May 19, 2011 16:50

Like new music? Like Edinburgh? Like intimate, red-painted concert halls? Then you’ll like this…

Categories: Performance

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