5 November 2015
Back in August, I performed Independence by John De Simone with Ensemble Thing as part of the Made in Scotland Showcase at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. One of our performances, at Summerhall, was captured by director Sarah Hodgetts for her work-in-progress film about John and the personal stories behind his music. The video above is just a snippet from Sarah’s footage. The audio is raw and unmixed — and best listened to through headphones — but the film gives a good impression of what we were up to with Thing this summer.
3 November 2015
Sandglass, my new dance/music work with choreographer Lucy Boyes, had its first performance on Friday 23rd October at The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen as part of Sound Festival and DanceLive. Here are some photographs of the performance, given by Lucy, Mhairi Allan and Robbie Synge with lighting by Francis Stevenson.
Images courtesy of Hannah Imlach.
22 October 2015
The end of the universe will be announced by bass clarinet and trombone duet. From Colin Broom’s piece for You Can’t Get There From Here.
21 October 2015
On Friday afternoon (23rd October, 3:30pm, ACT Aberdeen) as part of In Cahoots, Jenny Stephenson will perform a short recital of works for solo clarinet: my piece My Life in Ventriloquism alongside a recent work by Neil Tòmas Smith. My Life in Ventriloquism was originally written for Jenny back in 2012 and it’s been great to revisit the piece with her for this performance.
Friday evening (8pm, The Lemon Tree) sees the première performance of my new collaborative project with choreographer Lucy Boyes, Sandglass. The piece is based around the recollections and imaginations of people from Aberdeen, captured in recorded interviews and workshops conducted especially for this project. We hear the voices of older and younger residents as they discuss the cultural change to the city seen through their lifetime, encompassing the remembered past and the imagined future. Lucy and myself will be discussing this work in a Soundconversation event after the Friday performance and then again with Nele Hertling at the In Cahoots Dance and Contemporary Music Workshop on Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday afternoon (24th October, 1pm, ACT Aberdeen) I’ll be conducting Ensemble Thing for the first performance of an interesting and original project called You Can’t Get There From Here. Arising from a residency at Cove Park, YCGTFH is a collaborative project between six Scottish composers – Francis Macdonald, Sonia Allori, Colin Broom, Drew Hammond, John De Simone and Oliver Searle – where each composer’s work was edited and re-written by all the other composers in sequence. The resulting scores are fascinating, surprisingly distinctive and perhaps proof that good art can be made by committee! The band’s been sounding great in rehearsals, too.
24 August 2015
In the last ICWID! podcast from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015, PianoPiano (AKA Karen Maciver and Hillary Brooks) talk about their show Dedicated, a series of new works for two pianos which celebrate the lives of women who have changed history.
24 August 2015
In the fourth episode of ICWID! from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, we speak to Scottish/Burmese producer-vocalist Fiona Soe Paing about her multimedia work Alien Lullabies which blends other-worldly live vocals with detailed electronica and mesmerizing animations by Zennor Alexander.
23 August 2015
In the third I’LL CADENCE WHEN I DIE! show from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, John De Simone talks about his work Independence, an exploration of cultural and political identity in Scotland from his perspective as an English-born Scottish-Italian whose grandfather, John McCormick, was instrumental in founding the Scottish National Party.
23 August 2015
In the second I’LL CADENCE WHEN I DIE! podcast from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015, John Harris talks about his opera The Garden which is being performed at the Traverse Theatre. Based on an original play by Zinnie Harris, The Garden is set in a dystopian future where a husband and wife find a plant growing through the lino in their kitchen. Originally performed in a real kitchen, this intimate and moving work is scored for two singing actors accompanied by a trusty Yamaha DX7.
21 August 2015
My new music podcast, I’LL CADENCE WHEN I DIE!, is reporting from this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe: I’ll be talking to some of the composers who are presenting exciting new work there. In this first episode, Matthew Collings talks about his work A Requiem for Edward Snowden which is being performed as part of the Made in Scotland Showcase at the Fringe before performances at the Gaudeamus Muziekweek (Utrecht) and Sound Festival (Aberdeen) later this year. The piece uses live audio-visual processing to explore issues raised in the fallout of Edward Snowden’s revelations of mass covert surveillance and memorialises the death of the innocence of the Internet.
17 August 2015
I spent last week in residence at Citymoves Dance Agency in Aberdeen with choreographer Lucy Boyes and dance artist Mhairi Allan where we were developing our new work, Sandglass, for Sound Festival and DanceLive.
The piece takes as its starting point the recollections of older residents of Aberdeen, although at present the work is not warmly nostalgic. I’ve made several trips to the city over the last few months to meet some wonderful people and record interviews with them about how Aberdeen has changed over the years. Each of my interviewees spoke about how the arrival of the oil industry into Aberdeen drastically changed the city and the lives of those who live there. As explored in my recent work Elbow Room, I’m fascinated by the role cities have in shaping the lives of those who live in them and how the fabric of the city responds to broader changes and societal trends.
I enjoy collaborating with artists from different disciplines but this is my first time working with dance artists. We spent the week exploring how sound can be made though dance and how physical gesture and sonic gesture can relate to each other — an experimental approach for all concerned. There was a lot of listening, particularly to the recordings of those beautiful Aberdonian voices I have captured over the last few months.
Sandglass will be performed at 8pm on Friday 23rd October 2015 at The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen.
23 July 2015
Here’s a trailer for a production I’m involved in at the Made in Scotland Showcase at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. The music is by John De Simone and the group is Ensemble Thing. Performances are at 11:20am on 18th, 20th, 22nd and 23rd August at Summerhall and tickets are on sale now!
6 July 2015
I’m happy to announce the publication of Volume 2, Issue 2 of the Scottish Journal of Performance, which can be viewed here or downloaded as a PDF. Co-editors Ben Fletcher-Watson and Kirsty Kay have put together another thought-provoking and diverse issue which includes articles on clowning, relaxed performance, marathon running in prison, El Sistema, and several book reviews.
This is the last edition of SJoP that I’ll work on. Having helped establish the journal back in 2012, it’s time to move on. I’m very proud of what we created and would like to thank all those who’ve worked on, written for, and funded the journal over the last few years. Special thanks to my colleagues Ben Fletcher-Watson and Bethany Whiteside, the original editorial team who guided SJoP from nascent idea to fully-fledged academic journal. We’ll be leaving SJoP in the very capable hands of “the next generation”: Kirsty Kay (University of Glasgow), Bede Williams (University of St Andrews) and Lucy Hollingworth (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland). The best of luck to all involved!
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.
25 May 2015
I’m looking forward to working on Ensemble Thing‘s production of John De Simone’s Independence as Musical Director this summer. The performances will be part of the prestigious Made in Scotland Showcase at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a curated programme of 21 productions encompassing theatre, dance and music. This is the second year Ensemble Thing has been part of the line-up having presented Replaceable Things — which featured music from myself and John — in 2014.
As the title of John’s work suggests, it was written amidst the debates leading up to last year’s independence referendum in Scotland and was premiered on the night before the vote. It was a privilege to work on one of the few (the only?) musical works to directly and artistically address issues surrounding the referendum. Despite the wealth of indyref-related discussion across Scotland, including several high-profile contributions from other artforms (including the National Theatre of Scotland’s The Great Don’t Know Show), the world of (broadly-defined) “classical” music generally stayed tight-lipped and unresponsive to the issue. Those composers who did speak out tended to do so through the press rather than through their work. John’s piece tackled the issue head-on.
Now, whilst preparing for these new performances of Independence away from the excitement of the referendum, I am struck by just how unpolitical the work is. The first performances were very much of a moment but the strength of John’s work lies in its questioning of personal and cultural identity rather than in the tub-thumping of a political cause. Yes, the work is political (isn’t everything?), but it’s not polemical. Instead, John uses autobiography to explore how we construct our own identity. In spoken-word interludes between movements, John considers how his upbringing and family history has helped create his identity: he’s a Scottish-Italian who was born and raised in England, his grandfather was instrumental in the founding of the Scottish National Party and John considers himself Scottish despite speaking with a broad English accent. Musically, the piece includes elements of Scottish trad music (some of it composed by John’s forebears) tinged with a post-minimalism picked-up during years spent in the Netherlands. Can one really speak of possessing a true national identity when one’s influences, outlooks and personal history are so… international?
Ensemble Thing perform John De Simone’s Independence at Summerhall on 18th, 20th, 22nd and 23rd August 2015 at 11:20am. Tickets (£10/£8) are available here.
21 March 2015
This weekend sees the culmination of a unique education project on which I am composition and conducting tutor. New Found Sound, now in its fifth year and run by Falkirk Community Trust, sees school-age musicians compose and conduct music to accompany an old silent film at a public performance as part of the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Bo’ness. Since the first NFS project in 2011, 20 young composer-conductors, usually aged 16–18 and drawn from the Falkirk area, have taken part. This year six composer-conductors have taken-up the challenge.
The task these young musicians are set is enormous and outwith anything they have experienced previously. Whilst most would have composed before (either instrumental pieces or songs), the scale of the project means they are likely to be writing music with a much longer duration than they’re used to. They also have the added challenge of writing music that somehow reflects the silent film (which is provided by the Scottish Screen Archive) and then arrange their piece for an orchestra made up of their peers.
The films vary from year to year and range from fictional narratives made by ambitious local amateurs in the 1920s and ’30s to long-play commercials extolling the virtues of Scotland as a holiday destination or centre of industry. Each type of film presents its own challenge to the young composers: how do you time the music to coincide precisely with the story? What do you do if there’s no story to coincide with? This year the young composers have tackled a film made for the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Glasgow which advertises the social amenities and industrial productivity of Falkirk. The film hasn’t been seen in public for many years and examines each facet of the town, including the hospital, swimming baths, fire service, bus station, parkland, and manufacturing companies.
To date, no pupil has had any previous experience of conducting. This is usually the hardest and most nerve-racking part of the project for the young musicians. Standing in front of an ensemble to conduct for the first time is hard enough, but there is the added pressure of conducting their peers and coordinating music and film without a clicktrack, all put together in only a handful of rehearsals before the final performance. By conducing their own work they also get an abrupt lesson in practical composition: some things that are easy to conceive whilst writing are not so easy to put together in the rehearsal room, particularly when conducting a youth orchestra.
However, despite these difficulties, each year I am pleased to see how these young people rise to the challenge set them. This year’s cohort is no different: however their performance goes this weekend they can be proud of what they have achieved in only a few months and for revitalizing an old film with some new music.
New Found Sound takes place at 11:30am on Sunday 22nd March 2015 at the Hippodrome, 10 Hope Street, Bo’ness, West Lothian, EH51 0AA.