31 January 2017
Robert Irvine’s recent release on Delphian Records, Songs and Lullabies, which features one of my pieces, has been nominated for a Scottish Award for New Music. This is the inaugural year of the awards, an endeavour of New Music Scotland. Songs and Lullabies has been nominated in the Recorded New Work category, and Robert also receives a nomination for New Music Performer of the Year.
Songs and Lullabies is now available to buy on CD and download.
UPDATE: Robert won! Well done, Robert!
14 August 2016
For the next 29 days, you can catch a preview of a short piece of mine, Lament, from Robert Irvine’s new Delphian CD Songs and Lullabies: new works for solo cello, courtesy of BBC Radio 3’s Record Review programme. Those in the UK can listen to the programme on iPlayer.
17 December 2015
Last week saw the first ANTHEM! workshop take place at the CCA in Glasgow. ANTHEM! is a workshop about protest and song in which I lead participants to collectively create and perform a single new protest song, written by the group, for the group, on a subject dictated by the group. ANTHEM! is open to all, no previous experience of songwriting or musical performance is required. ANTHEM! was part of ArtCOP Scotland, a local artistic response to what some are calling the most important event of this century, the COP21 UN climate change negotiations in Paris.
To get us warmed up, and to introduce the group to a variety of different styles of protest song, we began the session by singing three existing songs: the 17th century Diggers’ Song, Phil Ochs’ 1964 anti-war song I Ain’t Marching Anymore and Ding Dong Dollar, a Glaswegian anti-Polaris song from the 1960s.
Despite being part of ArtCOP, there was no compulsion for the participants of ANTHEM! to compose a song about climate change and/or sustainability. However, this was a large part of the conversations that proceeded our songwriting — ANTHEM! is all about open discussion, finding common ground and collectively creating something new. The discussions were wide-ranging and interesting, and eventually the group settled on a topic for their song, the complicity of one’s money in warfare and environmental damage. Group members told of their shock on finding out that their electricity bills were paid to companies that contributed to environmental damage and discovering their pension funds had invested in the arms trade — actions which did not meet the ethical approval of the customer and pension holder.
In protest songs, text is key. Having decided upon the subject matter for the song, I asked each group member to write a short scenario where the simple payment of a bill, or other everyday action, had directly or indirectly financed an activity the group member found morally offensive. These scenarios were then distilled into the verses of the song. Next, the music was composed collectively as group members argued for their preferred twists and turns in the melody.
This is the song written by the group: Not in my name (but with my money). Within five minutes of finishing the song, we performed it to an unsuspecting audience in the cafe at the CCA. As you’ll see in the video below, we stood on the balcony above the cafe and sung to anyone who’d listen. I hope to run further ANTHEM! workshops in the future.
19 November 2015
Last weekend I took part in Enterprise Music Scotland’s Creative Exchange with Red Note Ensemble at Crear on the west coast of Scotland. I was joined by fellow composers Shiori Usui, Chris Hutchings and John De Simone, all of whom I’ve known for many years.
Crear is in a beautiful part of the country where the sky and light are constantly changing. The rehearsal room at Crear has floor-to-ceiling windows with stunning views of the Isle of Jura. Our stay coincided with the arrival of Hurricane Abigail which limited the amount of time we spent exploring the surrounding area but gave us a good excuse to sit in front of Crear’s open log fire. At night we were surprised by clear skies and an impressive view of the Milky Way.
I spent most of the weekend completing a short solo work for Red Note cellist Robert Irvine (more on that another time) who was joined by violinist Tony Moffat and violist Jessica Beeston.
On Sunday morning, having completed the cello piece, I wrote this little ditty:
9 November 2015
The recent performance I gave with Ensemble Thing at Sound Festival, You Can’t Get There From Here, was broadcast by BBC Radio Scotland as part of its Classics Unwrapped programme. The whole programme is now available on the BBC iPlayer and clips of the pieces can be heard on the Classics Unwrapped homepage.
26 May 2015
I’m happy to share with you this recording of a recent piece of mine for solo harp. The Joy of Shipwrecks comprises three miniatures, each based on a work by Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888–1970). Each of the three poems — Half Asleep, Nostalgia and The Rivers — were written whilst Ungaretti served in the trenches of the Italian front during the First World War. Each of my pieces reflects on the imagery, mood, and autobiography of these remarkable but fragmentary poems. The title, borrowed from Ungaretti’s second collection, stands in the poet’s own words for the “exultation that the moment gives, as it happens, because it is fleeting; the moment that only love can wrench from time”.
This work was a response to the Composers and Conflict online exhibition I curated last year, and a small commemoration of the sacrifice made by so many one hundred years ago. For the exhibition, I researched how composers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have responded to the topic of warfare and I wondered how I might do the same, particularly as a pacifist who has (thankfully) never experienced war at first hand. In some ways, responding to Ungaretti’s poetry made the process easier: it allowed me to create a response to another artistic artifact rather than attempting to tackle the incomprehensible barbarity of warfare in a musical work. However, this method came with a responsibility to carefully respect the original poems — Ungaretti’s war poetry is revered in Italy in the same way the work of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen is treasured in the UK — which weighed upon the composition process.
This was (surprisingly) the first time I’d composed for harp. The construction of the instrument means it can be quite hard to write for — its idiosyncrasies often drive composers around the bend. However, I enjoyed writing for these quirks and composed the piece for the sympathetic Nana Sotirova, who you’ll hear in the recording.
24 September 2014
Here are two new videos from performances of my work that have taken place this year.
The first is two extracts from Elbow Room, the piece I wrote as part of my Sound and Music Embedded Residency with the Red Note Ensemble. The piece explores the psychogeography of cites: how we affect them, and them us, and tells the story of the real mid-twentieth century plan to demolish Glasgow and replace it with a high-rise concrete utopia.
The second video is a complete movement from Replaceable Parts for the Irreplaceable You which was performed by Ensemble Thing as part of the Made in Scotland Showcase at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This particular movement, Instructions for Curing the Human Heart, comes at the very end of the work which is concerned with what it means to be human in a world inundated with machines.
Both videos were filmed at Summerhall in Edinburgh by the lovely folk at Dotbot.