29 August 2018
Here are some great photos by Kinagram Limited of Ensemble Thing’s recent performances of Emily Doolittle’s opera Jan Tait and the Bear, which I conducted. In August we gave six performances of the piece at Summerhall, Edinburgh, as part of the 2018 Made in Scotland Showcase.
The production starred Catherine Backhouse as Jan Tait, Brian McBride in a multitude of roles, and Alan McHugh as the narrator. It was directed by Stasi Schaeffer.
The band, costumed and on stage throughout, also doubles as the chorus and has some tricksy singing passages and speaking roles to perform. August’s performances featured Alex South (clarinet), Aileen Sweeney (accordion) and Emily Walker (cello).
Made in Scotland supports Scottish artists to bring work to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and to take advantage of international opportunities received from performing at the festival. Since 2009, the showcase has featured over 200 shows.
8 August 2018
Following two previous appearances at the Made in Scotland Showcase at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (with 2014’s Replaceable Things and 2015’s Independence), I’m very happy to say that Ensemble Thing, the new music group I direct, will return to Summerhall as part of the Showcase to perform Emily Doolittle’s delightful opera Jan Tait and the Bear.
Jan Tait and the Bear had its origins in 2010 when Emily visited Shetland for the first time and wrote an opera based on the local tale of Jan Tait: when he is overcharged by an unscrupulous tax collector, Jan Tait strikes back. He is transported to Norway to account for his crimes before the king, but instead of meeting his fate, he meets a fearsome bear who needs Jan as much as Jan needs him.
Ensemble Thing premiered the work at the CCA, Glasgow, in October 2016 and we’re delighted to reunite our original cast and production team for this run of six performances in Edinburgh. The opera is directed by Stasi Shaeffer and stars Catherine Backhouse as Jan Tait, Brian McBride in a multitude of roles, and the show is narrated by Alan McHugh. It’s been great fun to revisit this work!
Ensemble Thing will perform Emily Doolittle’s Jan Tait and the Bear at Summerhall, Edinburgh, on 8th, 9th, 13th and 14th August 2018 at 1pm, and on 15th and 16th August 2018 at 10:30am. Tickets are available here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
16 August 2014
Here’s a little interview from Summerhall TV: John De Simone and myself discuss Replaceable Things, Ensemble Thing’s Made in Scotland Showcase performance, which receives its final outing at the Edinburgh Fringe tomorrow (Sunday 17th August), 11:35AM at Summerhall. The performances have been great so far, we’re all sad the run isn’t longer!
27 May 2014
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.