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:
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.
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 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!
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.
20 September 2014
I spent this week with Ensemble Thing, producing their preview performance of Independence by John De Simone.
The work explores the cultural identity of its composer, a half-Scottish / half-Italian raised in England but now resident in Scotland, whose grandfather was a founder of the Scottish National Party.
After rehearsals at the RCS, the performance took place at the Old Hairdresser’s in Glasgow on the night before the independence referendum.
The work blended electronic bagpipe drones, traditional Scottish tunes and John talking about his family and their role in the SNP. It was all held together by some great playing from the band.
Like the referendum itself, we had a pleasantly large turnout!
The piece will be performed again at the Sound Festival on Saturday 1st November at 1pm in Aberdeen Art Gallery. Like the independence debate itself, this isn’t over!
6 August 2014
Ensemble Thing’s new show Replaceable Things opens next week at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The show features John De Simone’s Panic Diary and my Replaceable Parts for the Irreplaceable You. I’m really looking forward to this. Catch it when you can — there are only three performances! Friday 15th – Sunday 17th August, 11:35am, Red Lecture Theatre, Summerhall, Edinburgh.
31 October 2013
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).