This Is The New Music: Unstained Melodies

Monday 11 September 2017

I’m sorry, everyone.

It started out with the urge to test music to destruction, removing structure, context, all momentum and teleology from existing pieces of music to see what musical qualities may still survive in the desiccated remains. (This test was to prove that musical ‘meaning’ is an irreducible quality induced through any phenomenon being perceived as music.) I had previously composed a piano piece titled Benches, made entirely from the final bar taken from a large number of compositions. Each quotation was taken from a point at which all supposed momentum had been exhausted, yet when pieced together they could not help but form a new continuity.

Unstained Melodies is a set of piano miniatures designed to test internal continuity in harmonically-structured composition. The source material was a found object: a very old and damaged edition of pedagogical organ pieces demonstrating “Stainer’s Organ Method.” (I do not recall if the book was by John Stainer himself.) Taking only what was presumably the least valuable material, I systematically extracted only the last beat of each bar from each piece. To disorient the material, the extracted up-beats were reassembled in reverse order. In fact, I started with the last intact page and steadily worked backwards through the book, assuming that the pieces would tend to become shorter and simpler until the process ceased to be viable; a study in regression. This recording is a crude realisation of the written music, using computer-controlled piano samples, playing from algorithmically edited MIDI files. No physical keyboard playing was involved.

The Presence of Julius Eastman, in full

Monday 14 August 2017

While I was away a new issue of Tempo came out, which includes my review of last December’s London Contemporary Music Festival. This is a much expanded and improved version of the post I made here at the time, discussing the remarkable music of Julius Eastman, Arthur Russell and Frederic Rzewski. More context is given and Gay Guerrilla is misspelled – entirely my oversight. If you have access to journal articles you can read the whole thing on the Tempo website.

New Gig, New Album (+ free offer)

Monday 20 February 2017

It’s a busy week. Just got notice of a gig I’m playing this Thursday, at Silver Road in Lewisham. This is a great new venue inside a disused water tank; unfortunately it’s about to close as the developers have moved in earlier than expected.

I’ll be playing live versions of pieces from Chain of Ponds, so this is a chance for London people to hear what I was doing at the Inland concerts in Australia last year. Thursday 23 February, 1 Silver Road Lewisham SE13 7BQ. With Adam Christensen and Animal Choir. Doors 7.30pm, £5 on the door.

I’ve also uploaded another album to Bandcamp; it’s called Haunted Comma. It’s an older piece but I still like it. I tuned four sine waves to a major seventh chord and then let them slowly slide into increasingly rarefied mutations of Pythagorean intonation. It’s currently available as a free download for early birds or until I remember to update the Bandcamp page.

Chain Of Ponds, Live. (+ new mp3)

Monday 12 December 2016

I want to thank Alexander Garsden and everyone involved in the Inland concert series in Australia. I had a great time, all the other musicians were cooler than me and they showed me you can still have late night fun in Melbourne if not in Sydney.

I’ve only just listened to the recordings from both shows now and my sets went about as well as I remembered. Performing live music from a laptop, without using the monitor screen, was a success and the pieces took on a life of their own when played in a way that allowed unexpected aspects of the sound to creep in.

I played three pieces from Chain Of Ponds, adapted for live performance. An album of studio performances is available on Bandcamp, but for these Australian gigs I decided to include new versions of some pieces that haven’t previously gone public.

I’ve uploaded a piece from the Melbourne gig – you should be able to stream or download it.

Chain Of Ponds: Thirteenth Pond (18 April 2015, take 1)

Getting There: preparing for the next gig.

Thursday 27 October 2016

The original premise behind this piece was quite simple.

After some trial and error, a working model was hammered into shape.

A further year of development and the piece is now perfected.

The patch was constructed in AudioMulch, using only the components that come as standard with the software except for one freeware signal modeller at the very last stage.

In the above diagram it should be clear that there are no inputs to the system. None of the components play samples or generate signals. The patch is a network of interacting feedback circuits.

The network is played by sending MIDI instructions to the various controls on each component. During a performance, the system typically receives about 1000 MIDI commands per minute. To do this, I had to write a script that would generate a MIDI file containing all the instructions.

The script inserts commands and controller values according to (pseudo)random numbers. Randomness has to be used thoughtfully to get interesting, distinctive results, so a lot of revising, tweaking and polishing went into writing the script. The user can define basic parameters and bias weightings (duration, amount of activity) when the script is run.

The result?

Just now I’ve added another element: human intervention. For my upcoming live shows I will be playing these pieces directly from the patch and the script. Even when playing from the same score, the system will produce different sounds each time it is run: the score determines its behaviour, not its output. In the live shows I will be playing a MIDI controller to insert additional commands, which may have an immediate or delayed effect on the system.

New gigs! Playing live in Australia real soon

Monday 24 October 2016

In a couple of weeks I’ll be travelling to Australia to play some live shows, as part of the Inland concert series.

I’ll be playing a specially-prepared live version of Chain Of Ponds, my piece for computer-generated feedback. Lucky punters will get to hear chance-determined feedback signals created right on the spot. A sample of what you’re in for can be heard on Bandcamp.

I’ll be in Melbourne on Thursday 10 November 2016, 8pm at the Church of All Nations, 180 Palmerston St, Carlton. The Sydney gig will be on Monday 14 November 2016, 8pm at Glebe Justice Centre, 37-47 St. Johns Road, Glebe. Both shows are packed with great musicians I can’t wait to hear.

This Is The New Music: 144 Pieces For Organ

Monday 19 September 2016

I’ve added another album to my Bandcamp store. The album costs £5, or you can download (most, not all) of the individual tracks individually for free. There are 144 tracks so you can feel like a big shot and pay for pure convenience. It’s about 90 minutes of music and the album comes with printable cover art, detailed sleeve notes and a video displaying attractive colour study scores for each piece.

The 144 Pieces For Organ were composed in 2014, generated entirely from a set of formulas in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Think of them as musical snowflakes: each one a unique outcome from a single set of rules.

William S. Burroughs: Curse Go Back

Sunday 21 August 2016

In 2016 I wrote the sleeve notes for a new LP release of a long, obscure tape experiment by William S. Burroughs. Recorded in London around 1968, only a tiny number copies of the tape have ever been publicly available until now. A slightly edited version of the tape is now released by Paradigm Discs with the title Curse Go Back.

In the late 1960s, the streets of Swinging London were haunted by the grim spectre of William Burroughs. Amidst the free love, paisley and rock’n’roll he slipped like a shadow, bent on a dark magic to wreak revenge and revolution. A perpetual exile, he found himself once again hiding in the margins. He had been the godfather of the 1950s counter-culture but in the 1960s, while the counter-culture became mainstream, he remained a cult figure, a touchstone for the underground’s underground….

Where Electronic Revolution dealt with theory, this recording, made by Burroughs sometime around 1968, shows Burroughs’ thinking in practice. It documents one of the purest, longest and most intensely focused of his tape experiments. Before one can break down language’s control over society, exercises such as these are needed to break down its control over one’s own consciousness. It’s an alchemical exercise, both in its transformative use of material and in its method, a mix of shamanistic ritual with the trappings and attitude of scientific research.

Curse Go Back can be ordered through Paradigm Discs. The complete sleeve notes are reprinted on my website.

New Sound Work: Speeding and Breaking

Sunday 1 May 2016

This month, I’m pretty excited about giving a public airing to the biggest piece of music I’ve made. A section of my 18-hour piano piece Antisonata will be playing as one of the sound works at the Speeding and Braking exhibition.

Speeding and Braking: Navigating Acceleration is a conference with exhibitions and performances at Goldsmiths College, London, from 12 to 15 May 2016. You can hear Antisonata and other sound works on Saturday 14 May, from 10am to 5pm at G05, St James Hatcham Church on the Goldsmiths campus. Free entry.

Antisonata is the piece that plays all 555 of Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas at the same time but very, very slowly; so slowly that they take as long to perform as if played one at a time.

This Is The New Music: Chain Of Ponds

Wednesday 9 December 2015

I’ve got a new album of music up on Bandcamp, titled Chain of Ponds.

It’s the culmination of various experiments I’ve made over the years using digital feedback synthesis, and I’m finally getting results I find fully satisfactory. I like the textural richness that can be brought out of something so conceptually neat. It’s kind of harsh, but kind of pastoral, to my ears.

You can stream it below, buy it cheap, or contact me (email, direct message on Twitter etc.) and I might still have some free download codes to email you.

Trailer for December

Monday 30 November 2015

Coming up this week: three days of listening to music of extremes at Huddersfield last week. Also, I’m putting out some new music at last.

New thrill! Control – an interactive sound installation

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Oto_Space01b

Next month I’ll be part of Control, a group show of interactive music next month at Cafe Oto’s Project Space.

A single dial is connected to a single speaker, but the relationship between the two is not fixed; it flits between a range of possibilities composed by a diverse range of artists. Visitors are invited to use the dial to make sounds, and to thus explore the links between their actions, the limits of the dial, and the musical ideas embedded in the software by the artists.

It’s on from 10 to 13 September, from 1 to 9 pm each day at Oto Project Space. (Free entry.) Yes, there’s a gig the night before by some of the people in the show. I won’t be playing, but I might be talking. Hope you come and enjoy it!

A reissued album: Redundens for Piano

Thursday 30 July 2015

I’ve run out of copies of my CD Redundens for Piano, so I’ve put it up on Bandcamp for download in high-quality audio.

You may pay whatever you want, or nothing at all. The main reason I’ve put the free option there is because I always find it a hassle clicking through screens and giving my payment details to download something. It’s a deterrent. Still, I will not be upset if you wish to pay a small sum of money for it.

Redundens for Piano contains seven pieces from the Redundens series. Begun in 2001, all the pieces take Arnold Schoenberg’s Three Pieces for Piano, Op. 11 as their starting point: only the top line in Schoenberg’s pieces is retained as an unaccompanied melody (or as a list of pitch classes if you’re more technically-minded.) Each set of pieces uses a different method of encoding this melody; by pitch, register, timbre, duration, dynamics, or other means.

More pieces in the Redundens series can be found on the main part of my website.

I Hate Editing

Thursday 30 April 2015

I’m flying to Australia in the morning to see some friends and family, so instead of packing I’m listening through some recordings I’ve been making. It’s a more sophisticated version of the feedback piece I played at Goldsmiths earlier this year. The sounds are more subtle, more detailed, more focused and more organic. I’m recording short takes of concentrated, nicely balanced material.

The problem is: the more I record, the more interesting details I uncover. Simultaneously, I record more dross that should be edited out. So I listen back to edit out the less successful takes. The more I listen, the more details I find interesting, and so the more I want to preserve. Here is one of the better takes; a complete, stand-alone work.

Part of me is reluctant to throw anything out, for fear of losing a pleasing subtlety that becomes more rewarding over time. I’m probably kidding myself, and the bits that strike me as good straight away will have the same effect on other listeners. On the other hand, those ‘good’ bits might sound false and gimmicky once the novelty wears off.

The usual response in this situation is to set it all aside until I’ve forgotten what I thought about the piece at all, and salvage what I can after re-hearing it fresh.

The alternative is to make finished pieces and put them on Bandcamp with a pay nothing/anything option, and see which pieces people go for. I’m thinking of using it as a place of trying new work out, as something more interesting than just dumping finished work for sale.

(Also debating if setting a minimum price puts people off just because it’s a hassle clicking through payment options. It makes it seem like you’re making a commitment to something, even if it’s only a small price.)

Life is finding places to put our stuff

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Same old problem: I keep making music without thinking about what to do with it after I’ve heard it. Some of it goes on Soundcloud, some of it gets uploaded to this site and when I’m procrastinating I make videos and put them on YouTube.

From a while I had a few stacks of CDs lying around but they’re almost gone now, hopefully for good. Occasionally someone asks me about getting hold of something old; there were small editions of CD-Rs but it seems like an excess of effort to burn off some more discs and print the covers.

I spent the winter break digging up some dusty old pieces and polishing them up to a standard I could live with. Now that they’re done, I’m taking the low road of vanity publishing and putting them up for sale on Bandcamp. It’s kind of like what people these days call “closure”.

Pricing, web design, promotion are all works in progress because I don’t know what I’m doing here. For now, you can get hold of mp3s or high quality lossless audio of tracks or albums with printable cover art. At the moment the albums are old releases I’m still happy with, but if things go well I might put up some new things I’ve been working on.