What you’re into if you’re into sound and music
BILL FONTANA Flow motion
POSITION NORMAL Tape echoes MARTIN BUTLER In haunted daylight HOW TO... Unleash the voice
The magazine of
Welcome to the April issue of INTO As I type this, preparations are well underway for one of Sound and Music’s major projects for 2010 – Bill Fontana’s River Soundings, which uses Sound and Music’s base at Somerset House as the site for an installation that explores the building’s relationship to the river Thames. Up here on the third floor, it’s easy to forget how close to the river we are, and to be unaware of the role it has played in Somerset House’s history. Bill Fontana, however, is adept at channelling these secret, often fluid histories into powerful audio works, as his extensive CV makes clear – from placing the sound of crashing waves in the Arc de Triomphe to ‘playing’ the Millennium Bridge. In our cover feature, Robert Blackson traces the artistic currents that have shaped Fontana’s work; there’s also an exclusive video of the artist in conversation with John Kieffer. Influence and resonance also inform our other features, with John Fallas profiling British composer Martin Published by Sound and Music www.soundandmusic.org Contact: email@example.com
Butler and celebrating a body of work that, while informed by echoes of the past, from folk music to fairgrounds, retains a playful openness that anchors it in the present day. Elsewhere, Joseph Stannard delves into the sound-world of Position Normal, aka Chris Bailiff, whose absurdist electronica taps into ideas of disintegration and memory using the much-maligned cassette tape – a medium whose revival is quietly gathering momentum with labels such as The Tapeworm. This month sees the return of our How To feature – and it’s a special extended one, with mezzo-soprano Loré Lixenberg and improviser Arrington de Dionyso sharing their tips for setting your voice free. There’s also an extended news section with details of forthcoming Sound and Music projects, including first details of the Summer School. Frances Morgan Editor Managing Editor: Shoël Stadlen Editor: Frances Morgan Designed by: Trond Klevgaard Original Design: PostParis, www.postparis.com
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Cover Image: Richmond Lock © Bill Fontana The opinions expressed in INTO are those of the authors and not necessarily those of INTO or Sound and Music. Copyright of all articles is held jointly by Sound and Music and the authors. Unauthorised reproduction of any item is forbidden.
C ntents WHAT WE’RE INT . PAGES 6–7
NEWS PAGES 8–17
POSITION NORMAL PAGES 20-25
BILL FONTANA PAGES 26-33
HOW TO: UNLEASH THE VOICE PAGES 40-47
MARTIN BUTLER. PAGES 34-38
FROM THE BLOGS PAGES 48-55
OPPORTUNITIES PAGES 56-59
WHAT WE’RE INTO
Maryanne Amacher Sound Characters 1 and 2
What we’re INT What we’re INTO is a small monthly round-up of some of the new music and sound that we’ve been enjoying at Sound and Music. Follow the links to see and hear our audio, video and interactive selections. If you would like to submit your work for consideration, see the open call on our website.
Richard Ayres, In The Alps, performed by Nederlands Blazers Ensemble and Barbara Hannigan
WHAT WE’RE INTO
Follow the score to Philip Glass’s Satyagraha courtesy of ENO
Chic Live at Budokan
Engaging With Sound, a new film from Sound and Music
DJ set from Ikonika new Hyperdub Records artist and producer
Finisterrae, a road movie with a difference made for Sónar 2010
Charlemagne Palestine at AV Festival 2010
Live recordings from the launch of Raise Your Voice, a Manchesterbased new music collective
Joe McPhee, Chris Corsano, Evan Parker and Lol Coxhill, live at Café Oto March 2010
NEW PERFORMANCE PRACTICE IN FOCUS AT GSMD Lachenmann, Michael Finnissy, and Aaron Holloway-Nahum, LSO principal second violin David Alberman, soprano Jane Manning, professor of piano Rolf Hind, joint heads of composition Richard Baker and Julian Philips, and acting head of wind, brass and percussion Richard Benjafield. The evening concert also features Grido, a new work by Guildhall composer Ed Finnis. MICHAEL FINNISSY
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama hosts a conference on performance practices in contemporary music on 27 April at LSO St Lukeâ€™s, with a concert including a world premiere from Michael Finnissy. Julian Anderson, composer in residence and professor of composition at GSMD, brings together conductor Diego Masson, composers Helmut
This day of talks, debates and seminars will consider whether there is such a thing as authenticity in the performing of contemporary music, what notions of accuracy and precision mean in new music and whether performers are getting it right, covering topics such as extended techniques, notation, improvisation, conducting, amplification and singing. www.gsmd.ac.uk/gettingitright
A TASTE OF DAVID TOOP’S SINISTER RESONANCE SINISTER RESONANCE
David Toop’s new book, Sinister Resonance, is out in May, published by Continuum. Sinister Resonance sees the author continue his investigations of the concept and practice of listening, familiar to readers of Ocean Of Sound and Haunted Weather, this time exploring in further depth the relationships between sound, person and place, and our often unnoticed engagement with what we hear. A short extract is up on the Continuum’s 33 1/3 blog. 33third.blogspot.com
VARÈSE IN FULL AT SOUTHBANK Often described as the father of electronic music, and influential upon composers ranging from Boulez to Radiohead, Edgard Varèse completed just under three hours of music in his lifetime. During the weekend of 16 to 18 April, his complete works will be performed in three concerts by The London Sinfonietta and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, using tape, sirens and Theremins alongside a full orchestra. www.southbankcentre.co.uk
NEW BCMG FAMILY CONCERTS EXPLORE OUTER SPACE BRUNO MADERNA’S SERENATA PER UN SATELLITE
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group invites children and their parents on a journey to the outer edges of contemporary music with Serenade for a satellite – a journey through time and space, a programme of new music taking place in London and Birmingham. Conducted and devised by Peter Wiegold, the theme is “music in time and space” and includes Constellations, a newly commissioned work by Param Vir, together with Bruno Maderna’s Serenata per un satellite, Luciano Berio’s O King, with soloist Loré Lixenberg, and works by
David Lang and Peter Wiegold. BCMG’s apprentice composer-inresidence Charlotte Bray’s solo violin study for BCMG’s leader, Alexandra Wood, will receive its world premiere. There is also a specially commissioned visual installation by theatre maker, composer and artist Graeme Miller and film-maker Dan Saul. The concerts take place on 18 April at CBSO Centre, Birmingham, and 24 April at Barbican Centre, London, with two concerts on each day. www.bcmg.org.uk
NEW HENZE PRODUCTION DIRECTED BY FIONA SHAW
NEW MUSIC FROM THE ISLE OF MULL
Fiona Shaw directs Hans Werner Henze’s Elegy For Young Lovers in a ENO/Young Vic production opening 24 April at the Young Vic.
The Tobermory arts centre An Tobar celebrates its tenth anniversary with new commissions from jazz pianist Dave Milligan and fiddler Aidan O’Rourke, which will be toured across Scotland from 19 April.
Henze’s rarely staged opera, first performed in 1961 and with a libretto by WH Auden and Chester Kallman, will be conducted by Stefan Blunier who makes his UK opera debut. Fiona Shaw, who recently directed ENO’s highly acclaimed production of Vaughan William’s Riders To The Sea, will be joined by designer Tom Pye and Australian video artist Lynette Wallworth, and the cast is led by Steven Page as the poet Gregor Mittenhofer. Elegy For Young Lovers will run for 7 performances, ending on 8 May. www.eno.org
Milligan was commissioned to create pieces inspired by Tobermory shops, which then served as venues for the music. The resulting suite combines the playing of Mulligan, bassist Tom Lyne and drummer Tom Bancroft with found-sound recordings taken from the island. Meanwhile, O’Rourke’s The Well pays tribute to the late Martyn Bennet, whose studio was based at An Tobar. The Dave Milligan Trio and O’Rouke’s An Tobar Ensemble, featuring harpist Catriona McKay and accordionist Martin Green, will perform both commissions, as well as a new work jointly written by both groups. www.tuneup.org.uk
NEW FREEDOM OF THE CITY CELEBRATES IMPROVISED MUSIC
Photography: Scott Groller
ISHMAEL WADADA LEO SMITH
Freedom Of The City’s annual two-day programme of experimental and improvised music takes place at Conway Hall on 2 and 3 May. Curated by Trevor Brent, John Coxon, Evan Parker and Eddie Prévost, this year’s festival features performances from, amongst others, Tania Chen, Lol Coxhill, John Butcher, Adam Bohman, Ute Wassermann, Pat Thomas, and a trio of drummers Steve Noble and Louis Moholo-Moholo and trumpeter Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith which promises to be one of the festival’s highlights. www.freedomofthecity.org
LADY WALTON 1926-2010 Lady Walton, widow of the composer Sir William Walton and a great supporter and patron of contemporary music, died at the age of 83, on Sunday 21 March at home at La Mortella. Also well-known as an innovative gardener, Lady Walton’s support for emerging composers and musicians continued throughout her life, and she was created MBE in 2002 and awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Music from the University of Nottingham in England.
CECILIA WEE CURATES LATE AT THE TATE Cecilia Wee of Sound and Music and interdisciplinary art project Rational Rec presents Shards Of Utopia, an event incorporating live art, music, installation and discussion at the Tate Britain on 9 April. Shards of Utopia explores how cultural remnants of a revolutionary and hopeful past continue to be resonant in the present day, with contributions from artists Charlesworth, Lewandowski and Mann, Counterproductions, Emma Leach, Jon Hawken, Klub Fiskulturnik, Mick Jones, Resonance FM, Steven Ounanian, Taigen Kawabe, They Are Here and Tom Badley, and curators and writers Dani Admiss, Olaf Arndt, Elizabeth Monoian and Rob Ferry, Claire Louise Staunton and Juha van’t Zelfde. www.ceciliawee.com
MUSIC AND DISCUSSION AT NEW WIRE SALON The Wire magazine is launching a new monthly salon that will create a space for discussing music and music criticism, with film screenings, panels, guest speakers and DJ sets. Taking place at London’s Café Oto on the first Thursday of the month, the salon promises to be an intriguing addition to the magazine’s activitiers, with opening event Revenant Forms (1 April) divining the meaning of Hauntology with writers Mark Fisher, Joseph Stannard and Adam Harper and DJ support from the Ghost Box label. Sonic Warfare is the slightly darker theme of May’s salon, with speakers Steve Goodman and Ken Hollings exploring the ways in which sound and noise can be used for control and intimidation. www.cafeoto.co.uk
SOUND AND MUSIC NEWS
NEW SOUND AND MUSIC ANNOUNCES 2010 SUMMER SCHOOL
Following the success of last year’s Summer School, Sound and Music are offering another week of workshops, tuition and music-making for young composers aged between 14 and 18, taking place between 15 and 21 August at the Purcell School, Hertfordshire. The residential course is open to all talenteed and committed young people who write and create their own music, regardless of style or genre. Participants get to work with musicians and composers from a number of fields, from classical and jazz to
composing for film, and are encouraged to explore different methods of composing and music making throughout the week. There’s also the opportunity to record compositions so that every student can take away a CD of their work. A number of bursaries are available for the Summer School – for information on this and on the School’s tutors, see the Sound and Music website. www.soundandmusic.org/ summerschool2010
SOUND AND MUSIC NEWS
A taste of 2009â€™s Summer School.
Video, 10 minutes. Click the image above to watch online.
SOUND AND MUSIC NEWS
NEW UK COMPOSERS AT ISCM AKI PASOULAS
Aki Pasoulas’s acousmatic piece Arborescences has been selected for presentation at the ISCM World New Music Days festival in Sydney, Australia. His piece will be played at different venues every day during the ten-day festival from 30 April to 9 May. This is one of only three UK compositions to be performed, alongside Jobine Tinnemans’ Dr Naut, which will be broadcast by ABC Radio during the festival, and Harry Gregson-Williams’ Music from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Music from Prince Caspian, both of which will be performed on 1 May. www.worldnewmusicdays.com
SOUND AND MUSIC NEWS
SPIRITUOSO PERFORM NEW MUSIC AT HANDEL HOUSE
CHRIS CUNNINGHAM ON TOUR
London’s Handel House museum was home to the composer George Frederic Handel from 1723 until his death in 1759, and is now preserved as a museum and a concert space. However, the focus is not just on Baroque music: Handel House also supports performance of new compositions. As part of a partnership with Sound and Music, the museum’s resident ensemble, Spirituoso (above), have been working with Shortlist composers Richard Bullen, Ophir Ilzetzki, Yuko Ohara and Nina Whiteman on new pieces that will be performed this year as part of their programme of concerts.
Sound and Music are pleased to support a series of performances by acclaimed video artist Chris Cunningham between 19 and 23 April. Known for his videos for artists such as Bjork, Aphex Twin and Madonna, Cunningham will present a live multimedia AV show featuring remixed, unreleased and brandnew videos and music. Support comes from Geoff Barrow of Portishead’s eclectic new band, Beak, on all dates, with Lonelady, Squarepusher and Jackson and his Computer Band sharing the bill at Manchester, London and Brighton dates respectively.
On 12 April, Yuko Ohara’s Rococo Decoration (for baroque flute, baroque cello and harpsichord) will be performed at Handel House museum. www.handelhouse.org
Incoming A news feed direct from Sound And Music’s composers from around the UK, with details of new projects, forthcoming concerts, academic appointments and much more. If you’re a composer or artist and would like to let us know what’s going on in your world in 45 words or less, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll publish a selection every month. Edd Caine’s first weekend in Amsterdam with the Nieuw Ensemble a success! Had a great time and did lots of work. Nieuw Ensemble Amsterdam blog can be found on HCMF's Website here: www.hcmf.co.uk Edd is now firmly on Twitter and tweeting with the best! Follow me @eddjc Lawrence Reed is organising a musical procession involving local schools, local musicians, the church bells, the Walcott Street choir, a pink milkfloat with a sound system and a few other surprises at the Larkhall Festival 2010. The more the merrier, so if you want to join in please let him know. For more information and latest news visit his website. Lawrence Reed’s last ‘formal’ composition for quite a while will be a string quartet performed by the Kreutzer Quartet on 22 April at 7.30 at the Michael Tippett Centre, Bath Spa University.
Aki Pasoulas has been invited for a concert in Vienna on 10 April, devoted solely to his music. The concert is curated by Volkmar Klien and will take place at Alte Schmiede, as part of the Electronic Spring Vienna series of events. The concert will be preceded by an interview on stage. Aki Pasoulas’s latest short piece Seawater has been selected for performances during the ICMC (International Computer Music Conference) in New York from 1 to 5 June 2010, for the 60x60 project, and will have airplay on the radio and the World Wide Web. Besides the performances at ICMC, 60x60 is also arranging a series of remote concerts around the world. Mauricio Pauly (born Costa Rica, based in Manchester) has been awarded one of the five Stauchbach Honoraria commissions for the 2010 Darmstadt International Summer Course. He will write a new piece for the Norwegian ensemble ASAMISIMASA. Matthew Shlomowitz and Plus Minus Ensemble present Exploring Sound And Time at King’s Place, London, a programme of works by Iannis Xenakis, Bryn Harrison and Rebecca Saunders www.plusminusensemble.com Jon Sterckx has released a solo CD, Drumscapes, created using entirely vocal percussion, acoustic percussion instruments and audio processing and ranging from highly energised rhythmical journeys to atmospheric percussion soundscapes. www.drumscapes.net
Tape echoes Position Normalâ€™s absurdist electronica is a disconcerting brew of found sounds, cut-up voices and ghostly melodies and beats, put together via a motley array of lovingly collected instruments and sound devices. Joseph Stannard delves into the DIY world of Chris Bailiff, the man behind the orange mask.
Photography: Chris Bailiff
Released in 1999, Position Normal’s debut album Stop Your Nonsense was a miniature monolith of concentrated oddness. A lo-fi jumble of played instruments, charity shop samples, field recordings and furtive vocals, it seemed to singlehandedly pioneer an as-yetunnamed musical microgenre. This impression was vindicated a few years later, when the term ‘hauntology’ was
coined to describe an emerging wave of quaintly eerie electronic music with a comparably wonky, sample-based aesthetic. Since then, Position Normal have pursued an erratic release schedule, re-emerging late last year with an acclaimed self-titled effort and a truly bizarre hijacking of Resonance FM’s trailblazing Exotic Pylon show.
Photography: Chris Bailiff
The man behind the increasingly iconic yellowheads is one Chris Bailiff, who began the project in the early 1990s with collaborator John Cushway following the dissolution of earlier outfit, The Bugger Sod. Bailiff’s formative musical experiences trace a path from an early fascination with the “ornamental” guitar his parents kept in their bedroom to cornet lessons, classical guitar and eventually, hip-hop. Following the completion of his secondary education at Wanstead High School, he enrolled on a graphic design course with “no facilities and no computers” at Newham Commu-
nity College. Here Bailiff gravitated towards the photographic studio, which also served as the institution’s audiovisual department. “We were all given a summer holiday project. It had to be self-initiated – write your own brief, set your own goals, research, compile design, present. I went straight to the AV department and asked if I could borrow their four-track and field recorder and a camera. The technician lent them out and a couple of weeks later asked me how I was getting on. I told him I was using it to record Romford Market and the London Underground, especially
echoey old stations, the screaming bend at London Bridge and its ancient wooden escalators. He said, ‘just bring it back when you’ve finished with it and I’ll let you know if anyone else needs it.’ That
recording around london I was aware of the difference between just walking around a place and walking around a place with a recorder and earphones. Life sounded very different. I took the
‘I became interested in the obvious differences between recorded life and real life’ equipment was more or less mine.” This catalytic moment resulted not only in a successfully completed project centred around the decaying chimes of old ice cream vans but also began Bailiff’s relationship with field recording, which still constitutes a significant element of his work. “I almost completely forgot about audio as music and became intensely interested in just recording sounds,” he explains. “I was also nervous as hell and couldn’t really do anything like go out or socialise. I found that the Marantz recorder was getting me out and about, so to speak.” Out in the field, Bailiff became aware of the transformative properties of the act of recording itself, his perceptions quickly shifting to accommodate a new layer of reality. “I became interested in the obvious differences between recorded life and real life,” he elaborates. “When I was
small college four-track out to Piccadilly and recorded the street sounds as I walked down towards Green Park and Marble Arch. I could hear all the outside sound, people walking, shouting, laughing, traffic but it sounded like I was listening to a recording that was perfectly synchronised with real life. Unlike the ears and brain, the microphone wasn’t deciphering what to listen to and what not to. “I stopped around the slightly less manic area between Green Park and Marble Arch, rewound the tape, set track two to record and walked back up Piccadilly, playing track one and recording on track two. Doubling the traffic and people noise. Stopped at Piccadilly, turned round and walked back, recording on track three and playing track one and two. After the fourth track I was getting disorientated. I could hear someone walking right behind me, but I’d turn around and there was nobody there. Someone else would say ‘excuse me’, but again,
nobody there. I felt like I was walking along the busiest road in the world. I took the earphones off and walked back to the train station and felt like I was strolling through a quiet village.”
‘I really like the underdog feeling about tapes. They’ve always been seen as the poor relative of vinyl’s wax stamp of approval’ From his fond recollections of the new worlds opened up by the Marantz recorder, it’s clear that Bailiff regards the tools of his trade with affection. “I get sentimental about all of them. The four-track is quite dear to me. I still use it for sending and returning manual effects, getting out of control loops and distortion. It was my freedom machine. Beside that is my Emax2 sampler keyboard with missing teeth. I played all the samples on the keyboard, piano style. The tempo slightly changes as a result, some sounds come out in the wrong order. Spoken word stuff is all laid out on the keyboard and played. It’s far too big for me to drag around to gigs. “A relatively new addition to the family is a blonde wood semi-acoustic 335 copy with a sharp edge cut away as opposed to the usual pony rounded ones. 100 per cent budget, but the best guitar I’ve ever played. I can get away with all sorts playing that guitar, like it’s got to know me over time, not the other way round. My Epiphone copy of the
Photography: Chris Bailiff
Gibson ES295 is my museum piece. I never play it. I know it’s weird but sometimes I open the case – it’s the only guitar I have with a hard case – and admire it. That’s it. “I would definitely feel the loss if I had to sell or get rid of any of my guitars, apart from my 12-string – it’s too loud for home playing but it sounds so different to all the others so I keep it just in case. My Sharp GF777 boombox… I look at it and go into a trance. The early keyboard version of the Novation Bass Station. Not used it much at all and got to try and get it fixed. I looked at reviews of it recently when I was trying to find a repairer and it got a constant slagging off. Now I like it even more.” Bailiff’s stubborn penchant for obsolete technology is also demonstrated by his decision to issue the third Position Normal album on one format only – cassette. He admits that this move was urged as much by financial constraints as
conceptual consistency, although given that so much of the music engages with ideas of decay and degradation, both in terms of psyche and sonics, it seems entirely apt. “I really like the underdog feeling about tapes. They’ve always been seen as the poor relative of vinyl’s wax stamp of approval. Even years ago I thought that cassingles and cassette albums were ridiculous. Just blank tapes with music dubbed onto them. But they’re built to be reusable and portably playable, a completely different concept to vinyl. I love them aesthetically. When you shake them, they rattle as if they’re broken already.” Sound and Music present live performances from Position Normal and People Like Us at the Static Gallery, Liverpool on 19 May, as part of Liverpool Sound City. Joseph Stannard takes part in the Wire hauntology salon at Café Oto on 1 April.
low motion Photography: Bill Fontana
As Bill Fontanaâ€™s River Soundings, a new commission that captures and sculpts the many sounds of the River Thames, comes to Somerset House, Robert Blackson charts the course of various influences and currents that have shaped the artistâ€™s compositions of sound and space.
There are times in our lives when things just fit; when the chance encounter of influence and circumstance strike a chord of clarity. Picasso famously said, “I do not seek. I find.” And when we find such moments of clarity they can moor us to an aesthetic purpose that determines every creative decision we make from that point on. For artists, such moments are revelations. Like being taught how to see or how to listen, they become elemental to our being, like water. For American artist Bill Fontana, such a moment came at a formative time in his artistic career. As a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music, Fontana moved to New York City in the late 1960s to study at the New School for Social Research under the influential artist and composer John Cage. To Cage, composition was a living and sonorous experience; so that, for example, the sound and movements of inner city traffic are a streaming and continuous composition structured only through space and the limits of our perception. 1 By the time Fontana enrolled in Cage’s Experimental Music Composition class, many of Cage’s signature pieces such as 4’33” (1952) and works for prepared pianos (beginning in 1940) had been widely received. In choosing to study under Cage, Fontana was deliber-
1977 Kirribilli Wharf Sydney Fontana’s first eight-channel recording of Kirribilli Wharf, Sydney, a project which helped redefine his practice in a sculptural context.
ately inserting himself into a lineage of young composers, writers, and artists such as Dick Higgins, Allan Kaprow, and Jackson Mac Low who were at the forefront of the New York avant-garde. It was with this Cageian appreciation of sound that Fontana first encountered Marcel Duchamp’s sheaf of concepts entitled The Green Box (1934) at The Machine as seen at the end of the Mechanical Age. This landmark exhibition was guest curated by the director of Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, Pontus Hultén, for the Museum of Modern Art in 1968-69. Witnessing The Machine as seen at the end of the Mechanical Age prompted a sea change for Fontana on a number of accounts. The exhibition catalogue’s foreword, as written by Hultén, argued for a critical and creative embrace of the technological devices Fontana would come to rely on throughout his career. Hultén wrote, “Technology today is undergoing a critical transition. We are surrounding by the outward manifestations of the culmination of the mechanical age. Yet, at the same time, the mechanical machine – which can most easily be defined as an imitation of our muscles – is losing its dominating position among the tools of mankind; while electronic and chemical devices – which imitate the processes of the
River Sounding: conversation between Bill Fontana and John Kieffer
Video, 10 minutes. Click the image above to watch online. brain and the nervous system – are becoming increasingly important.” 2 Fontana, as evidenced in the production of River Soundings and numerous compositions throughout his oeuvre, often navigates and reconciles this nuanced relationship as described by Hultén between the working remains of heavy industry and the more delicate, sensitive devices that convey Fontana’s work. 3 The Machine as seen at the end of the Mechanical Age also signalled for Fontana the potentiality for a lineage that connected his own developing aesthetic concerns to the authored canon of art history. For example, this exhibition was the first to show a video cassette recording courtesy of the Korean Fluxus artist Nam June Paik and also included a number of alumni from
1981 Landscape Sculpture With Fog Horns San Francisco A live acoustic map of San Francisco Bay in which microphones were installed at different positions around the bay to hear the multiple acoustic delays from the fog horns on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Cage’s class in experimental composition Drawing from a range of historic and sociological references such as Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Car and the Lumière Brothers’ films, The Machine as seen at the end of the Mechanical Age provided Fontana with an historic foundation from which to further develop his ideas of creating artworks that were compositions (composites) of sound and sculpture. Central to Fontana among the exhibition’s influential works was Hultén’s inclusion of The
BILL FONTANA RECORDING AT KEW STEAM MUSEUM
1984 Distant Trains Berlin Exploring the acoustic memories of the ruined Anhalter Bahnhof, using loudspeakers buried in the field behind the station.
1990 Landscape Soundings Vienna Created for the Vienna Festival, an “acoustic curtain” of sounds from a Danube wetland surrounded visitors walking through a busy square.
Green Box. This collection of notes, photographs and sketches was made to accompany Duchamp’s ‘incompleted’ The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915 - 23). In keeping with Hultén’s respect for what
music as having no beginning or end (like water), inform with striking clarity recurring motifs within Fontana’s artistic methodology.
Photography: Richard Whitelaw
‘FOR ME, THE RICHNESS AND BEAUTY OF AMBIENT SOUNDS COME FROM THEIR INTERACTION WITH A LIVING SITUATION’ other curators might have sidelined as ephemera, he exhibited many of the notes and images from The Green Box as Duchamp had expressly intended: “I didn’t have the idea of a box as much as just notes. I thought I could collect, in an album like the Saint-Etienne catalogue [a department store circular], some calculations, some reflexions, without relating them.” 4 And this was how Fontana perused Duchamp’s ideas, as one might select from a mail order catalogue. It was in this spirit of browsing that, by chance, Fontana came across a written note included in The Green Box, which would come to perennially shape his practice: “Musical sculpture. Sounds lasting and leaving from different places and forming a sounding sculpture which lasts.” 5 Embedded within Duchamp’s definition of “musical sculpture” are a number of key elements that when combined with Cage’s consideration of
1994 Sound Island Paris Multi-layered Installation in the Arc de Triomphe, in which recordings of the English Channel and of Paris were placed at points within the monument, creating an island of sound in the busy streets.
Many of Fontana’s compositions are made from sounds found in different places, collected like field recordings, or in a Duchampian sense as readymades. When heard together these sounds build to form a musical structure and when heard separately are ambient noise. In River Soundings these individual noises are taken from various points along the Thames including sites at which the course of the river is controlled by locks or crossed by bridges. Fontana describes his methodology of collecting and context as follows: “Influenced by Duchamp’s strategy of the
1999 Acoustical Visions of Venice Venice A spatial sound map of Venice during the Biennale. The natural silence of Venice – a city without traffic – makes it possible to hear everyday sounds with great clarity; this project maps the journey of those sounds.
found object, I began to realize that the relocation of an ambient sound source within a new context would alter radically the acoustic meaning of the ambient sound source. I conceived such relocations in sculptural terms because ambient sounds are sculptural in the way they belong to a particular place… In both my field recording and sound sculpture, sounds are not isolated from their contexts; in relocating sounds, I have been concerned with the contexts in which the sounds are placed and with the sculptural/spatial qualities of the sound source. For me, the richness and beauty of ambient sounds come from their interaction with a living situation.” 6, 7 Fontana’s recurring use of ambient noise (often resulting from the confluence of the mechanical with the natural) as the fundamental compositional element within his work echoes the rallying cry of the early 20th century painter and composer Luigi Russolo. Russolo, an Italian Futurist, called, in his landmark manifesto The Art of Noises (written in 1913, the same year Duchamp made his first ready-made Bicycle Wheel), for a widening aesthetic appreciation of found mechanical noise to reflect the modernity of life in art. Russolo’s historic text outlined a new consideration of noise that embraced the clamour of the Industrial Revolution and
2006 Harmonic Bridge London Examining the musical properties of the unique vibrating structure of the Millennium Bridge, the sounds of which are inaudible to the naked ear but can be picked up by vibration sensors called accelerometers. The resulting sound was transmitted in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.
WATER, LIKE SOUND, IS E heralded the cacophony of the First World War. Russolo finishes this manifesto with a call to arms for future generations to take up the purpose of integrating noise into aesthetics. Fontana can be seen as continuing the work begun by the Futurists. Many of the noises used to comprise River Soundings were similar to sounds Russolo considered in his early 20th century composition Corale. For example, the fountain-like bursts of white noise in this arrangement echo those created by the Thames’s Teddington Dock, completed in 1904 and recorded by Fontana in 2009
Photography: Bill Fontana
A longer version of this essay appears in the accompanying book to River Soundings, available from www. soundandmusic.org. River Sounding is co-commissioned and co-produced by Somerset House Trust & Sound and Music.
for inclusion in River Soundings. Water, like sound, is everywhere differently. 8 Fontana brings the Thames back to Somerset House; however, importantly, this sonorous work does not “play” the building as an instrument, but rather the light wells and coal holes cradle Fontana’s Thames like a vessel. Going below the surface of Somerset House, underneath the white noise of the fountain and into the light bathed subterranean channels one becomes immersed in Fontana’s visceral composition of the Thames. We are no longer separate from this water. We are water.
John Cage, Compositeur, New York. 2-4-1991 KG Pontus Hultén, Foreword, The Machine as seen at the end of the Mechanical Age (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1968). 3 It could be considered that perhaps unsurprisingly the premise for the duality implicit within this exhibition, which has been so influential to Fontana, came from a Swedish understanding and it remains in Europe that the majority of Fontana’s commissions take place. 4 TJ Demos, The Exiles of Marcel Duchamp (London: MIT Press, 2007), 36. 5 Conversation with Bill Fontana, February 2010. 6 Bill Fontana, ‘The Relocation of Ambient Sound: Urban Sound Sculpture’ (accessed February 2010). 7 Crucially, this relational interest between sound and site separates Fontana from Cage’s embrace of music as non-meaning in the Kantian sense and Duchamp’s celebration of the ‘retinal’ in visual art. By introducing history and narratives of place into his works, Fontana is as much a bricoleur of sounds as he is of their associative meanings. 8 This closing thought is indebted to Roni Horn’s Saying Water (1999; Art Institute of Chicago) (accessed February 2010). This spoken word piece by Horn is her own reflection on the River Thames.
2008 Speeds Of Time London A sculptural sound map of the chimes of Big Ben and the area surrounding it, broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
2009 Tyne Soundings Gateshead An audio network composed of pre-recorded and live ambient noises projected from a range of landmarks across the North-East.
S NGS I H NT D A I As Martin Butler celebrates his 50th birthday, John Fallas looks at the range of influences that provide the shadow to his music’s clear lines Two months ago, writing in this magazine about Kurt Schwertsik, I set out to explore the range of apparently or genuinely contradictory influences and affiliations which go towards making up what we think of as a composer’s style – in Schwertsik’s case, a style often presented as an alternative to modernism. This month I want to discuss another composer whose work, while seeming to inhabit a clearly defined position on the aesthetic spectrum, in fact provides an equally compelling instance of freedom from ‘either/or’-based stylistic and aesthetic choices.
The story begins conventionally enough within the secure bounds of classical musicianship. Martin Butler’s initial involvement in music was as a pianist, a talent which nearly became a career path before he decided instead to concentrate on composition, studying with Anthony Gilbert at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (the composer Simon Holt was a fellow student there). Attendance at the Tanglewood Summer School in 1982, a month after his graduation from the RNCM, sealed an already burgeoning love affair with America, and the relationship has borne fruit both in Butler’s life – he returned to the USA the following year to embark on doctoral study at Princeton – and in a thread of Americana running through his music right up to the present. The solo violin
showpiece Bluegrass Variations, the celebration of Depression-era political activism in Hootenanny, the idyllic piano quintet American Rounds and the more starkly pastoral Down-Hollow Winds all draw on a palette of folk-music-derived materials and performing practices which put in their most recent appearance in a concerto for soprano saxophone and string orchestra premiered at last year’s Presteigne Festival.
In 1988, back in the UK, Butler took a teaching post at the University of Sussex, where – with the exception of the academic year 1998–9, when he returned to Princeton as composer-in-residence at the town’s Institute for Advanced Study – he has remained ever since, demonstrating that you don’t always have to leave home to travel. And yet Butler’s music is far from armchair tourism, its surface both more unassuming and more homogeneous than the self-conscious stylistic pluralism of fusion or crossover. The characteristic gestures, rhythms and harmonies of Latin American dance or North American folk music are the object of a personal response, by a composer whose own voice – clean, clear, forthright but never forceful – sings out from every piece.
That voice might seem to fix the work in a ‘classical’ relation to its sources, but there are already intriguing hints of something else below the surface. For all that he largely works in conventional media – concert halls, standard instrumentations, works produced to commission from classical instrumentalists and ensembles – Butler is far from wedded to traditional notions of work/composer/masterpiece. This first became clear to me when I heard him talk about his music in December 2006 at a University of London research seminar. The theme of the talk was revision: re-writing in all its forms, from practical adjustments to notation or scoring right up to the wholesale recasting of a piece for a new instrumental line-up or performance situation. Some of Butler’s remakings are technical: recurring patterns or musical ‘types’ (bell sounds, chorales, quasi-minimalist rhythms and textures) or material shared wholesale between works (the first two movements of American Rounds recreate the earlier Little Folk Games for piano, more or less as a straight transcription). Other works are linked by poetic content – shared subject matter or a shared setting. Seaside resorts are the backdrop for both the recent orchestral work From the Fairground of Dreams and the salonlounge-pastiche-meets-Debussy of On the Rocks, a virtuosic piano tribute to the Eastbourne where the French composer sketched La Mer. Machines are another favourite subject, often (like the imagined Debussy of On the Rocks) transplanted to unexpected contexts, as in Jazz Machines, a fantasy of machines playing jazz.
There are ghosts, too, travelling from piece to piece: the spectral fiddler portrayed in the string quartet Songs and Dances from a Haunted Place, the Hamlet-inspired presences in the more recent quintet Sentinels, as well as the ghosts threading through the action of the chamber opera A Better Place. But ghosts could be seen to pervade Butler’s work at another level too: for aren’t all recurring technical or poetic preoccupations ‘ghosts’ of a sort, constructing what a composer writes as a present which is always already haunted by its own past and future?
Butler’s music is far from armchair tourism, its surface both more unassuming and more homogeneous than the self-conscious stylistic pluralism of fusion or crossover Each piece in such an output, each ‘making’, implies a logic of potential remakings. But if the lesson of Berio’s work (as Butler’s much-missed Sussex colleague David Osmond-Smith expressed it) is that whatever has been written can be written again, Butler seems unusually happy with the idea of the composer as just one among many potential re-writers. When I asked him – on that occasion in 2006 – if he could conceive of someone else producing a version of one of his pieces which he preferred to his own, he seemed surprised by the idea but enthusiastic. I can’t imagine Berio (or indeed almost any other ‘classical’ composer) being willing to follow through the implications of his aesthetic practice with such an extraordinary lack of creative hubris.
Listening Post Jazz Machines Lucifer’s Banjo Fixed Doubles American Rounds In recent years Butler has struck out in a quite new direction – or at least, what might seem like a surprising departure if the attitude underlying his composed work were not so open. Teaching for many years at the Dartington summer school brought his abilities as a pianist, as well as the range of his musical enthusiasms, to the attention of fellow staff member Peter Wiegold. When Wiegold founded the improvising group
notes inégales, Butler was among the first performers he invited to join (another was the oboist Melinda Maxwell, an old Manchester acquaintance who is also a regular performer of Butler’s notated work). Talk to Butler today, and he will enthuse about the effect this activity has had on his composition, expanding his notion of what can serve as musical material, re-engaging with the physicality of live performance.
Martin Butler performs Christian Marclay’s ‘Shuffle’ with notes inégales at King’s Place, London, 6 September 2009.
Video, 2 minutes. Click the image above to watch online.
If his recent compositional work nonetheless shows a clear continuity with what went before, this is surely a matter of keeping in mind the differences between what notated music and improvised music can achieve. As in his folkinfluenced pieces, Butler prefers to respond to musical stimuli on his own terms rather than forsaking the internal evolution of his style for direct pastiche. But what is striking throughout his oeuvre is the extent to which his finished pieces arise from a response to forms of musical creation – improvisation or folk repertoires – that don’t themselves consist of finished pieces, transmitted by notation to classically-trained performers. The double barline at the end of every Butler score is a wall through which ghosts can pass, and every finished work is haunted not only by the other Butler works which it recreates, but by the presence of other musics and, indeed, by the thought of unfinishedness which those musics present as an alternative approach. Butler’s music absorbs that alternative rather than denying it, and that it frequently does so in the bright daylight of his clean lines and clear textures is a testament to the openness of his musical thinking and to the cheerfulness of his ghosts.
Aren’t all recurring technical or poetic preoccupations ‘ghosts’ of a sort, constructing what a composer writes as a present which is always already haunted by its own past and future? Photography: Katie Vandyck
Martin Butler’s Hootenanny will be performed at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on 5 July at 7.30pm, with chamber works performed by Guildhall students and piano music performed by the composer himself later the same month. Hootenanny by Martin Butler (c) Oxford University Press 1994. Extract reproduced by permission. All rights reserved.
Hear & Now
Saturday nights at 10.30pm on BBC Radio 3
3 April: Schwertsik in Manchester
Senior Viennese composer Kurt Schwertsik’s music is mercurial and idiosyncratic. His search for an ‘alternative’ modernity through new kinds of tonality draws inspiration from Satie and Dada. Kurt Schwertsik: Irdische Klänge cycle: Irdische Klänge, Uluru, Five Naturstucke, Mit den Riesenstiefeln’. BBC Philharmonic conducted by HK Gruber. Plus ...in keltischer Manier... Concerto for Alphorn and Small Orchestra. Nury Guarnaschelli (alphorn) and the Deutsche Radiophilharmonie conducted by Michael Sanderling.
Minimalism is the style that everyone knows but noone subscribes to. These three programmes feature composers who have been labelled minimalist:
10 April: Graham Fitkin Band
17 April: Nico Muhly
Young New York composer Muhly worked as Philip Glass’s assistant and employs many of the classic minimalist tropes in his colourful scores. Nico Muhly: Step Team, The Only Tune, By All Means. Steve Reich: City Life. Sam Amidon (vocals), Britten Sinfonia conducted by Nico Muhly and Nicolas Collon.
24 April: Howard Skempton
Skempton studied with Cornelius Cardew and has developed a musical language of great and unique simplicity. Howard Skempton: Only the Sound Remains, Roundels of the Year, Two Cello Interludes, The Voice of the Spirits, Two Guitar Interludes, Rise Up My Love. Charlie Usher: Slow Pan. BCMG and Exaudi conducted by James Weeks.
Image: Southend Bell © Bill Fontana.
A virtuoso line-up exploring the pulse, energy and minimalism of Fitkin’s music performed by percussionists Joby Burgess & Aidy Spillett, Simon Haram & Nick Moss (saxophones), Noel Langley (trumpet), Alan Thomas (guitar), Ruth
Wall (Harp) and John Lunn (bass).
A journey through the hidden sound worlds of the River Thames at Somerset House
15 April—31 May Admission Free Open daily 10.00—18.00 Thurs 10.00—20.00
Co-commissioned and co-produced by Somerset House Trust & Sound and Music
For more information including talks and special events visit www.somersethouse.org.uk
River Sounding is the launch event – SAM #1 – of Sound and Music’s new programme
040 LORÉ LIXENBERG
UNLEASH THE VOICE In this month’s special extended How To, acclaimed mezzosoprano Loré Lixenberg, whose numerous performances include works by Richard Thomas, Bent Sørensen, Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle among many others, recalls some defining moments from her early training, and provides some workouts for the voice, body and emotions. Meanwhile, improvisor, throat-singer and lead vocalist of the band Old-Time Relijun Arrington de Dionyso shares his workshop techniques. Learning to sing is unique amongst other instrumental studies because concurrent to learning your instrument, you are also building it and finding out what your own particular instrument is made of. It’s a challenge made even more complex by the phenomenon of vocal development playing a large part in our socialization. So in order to really study your own voice you need to learn to take a holiday from the rules that bind our voices and make us socially acceptable, especially as one of the skills a singer needs to acquire is the art of being private in public and permitting themselves to transmit a wide range of emotions. When I was studying with Nick Powell most of the lessons were concentrated on stripping away layers of vocal mannerisms until one day it felt as though I was left naked and whimpering on the floor, clutching my embryonic voice like a newborn to my chest! “We have really brought out the animal in your sound,” he said – a slight understatement, I thought, considering my state of mental undress. Also, arguably, not a great comment for a budding opera singer to hear. But looking back, I could see that it was a point of arrival.
GOOD VIBRATIONS: ARRINGTON DE DIONYSO’S OVERTONE WORKSHOP
In the last five years since I’ve started teaching vocal improvisation workshops, I’ve found one of the most important things to emphasize to beginning students is that the voice is not just this thing that comes out of your mouth. Sound is not just something that tickles little tiny hairs inside your ear! Any sound perceived is actually a wave of energy, a motion that travels through the air – the sounds we hear are actually completely enveloping our bodies – and the same goes for the sounds we create with our bodies. It’s not at all far-fetched to consider how making use of the micro-vibrations travelling through not just our lungs, throat, and diaphragm, but also fingers,
toes, pelvis, spine, ribs, etc. will contribute to the quality of vocal sound and one’s sense of being immersed in the waves of vibrating energy conducted through the act of singing. So before trying to engage in fullthrottle Siberian throatsinging, I want my students to spend some time first paying attention to these “microvibrations” and really develop a physical perception of how even very small quiet sounds resound throughout the entire body. We begin with a sigh. Then the sound made by the breath as it “trickles” through the vocal chords as upon first waking up in the morning saying “Aaahhh”… Put your fingers on your throat and it’s easy to feel the vibrations; also feel your chest, sternum, ribs and belly. You should also try moving your palms all around the cranium, neck, shoulders, down your back, hips, pelvis - even in your thighs or knees you may be able to find small traces of resonant vibration. Eventually we might gain what might seem like a kind of “extra-sensory” perception of our
When I attended masterclasses with Graham Johnson, he didn’t seem to like me, and he liked my singing even less. Each day I would crawl onto the concert platform like a piece of bog slime for my ritual humiliation, and I wanted to cry. Why did he have that look of rank despair in his face when he looked at me; couldn’t he disguise the rolling of his eyes and the defeated slump in his thorax every time I opened my mouth to sing? I felt so desperate it is amazing that I could even speak my own name, let alone sing. Then one day I just gave up. I was studying Schumann’s Liederkreis op. 39, and on this particular day I was scheduled to sing the opening of the cycle. I was so fed up with everyone and everything that as an act of self preservation I just disappeared into the text. It felt as though I had a moving painting of the text in my mind’s eye, a bit like a Bill Viola installation that myself and the pianist were in. When the song finished I reluctantly tore myself away from Schumann’s magical Romantic world and came back into the room. “That’s more like it,” Graham Johnson said. “Now you are really singing. I could really picture what you were singing about.” From that day we began to work. The question “how do you sing?” is almost impossible to answer because there are myriad singing styles, each with their own physical and psychological approaches, from the architectural beauty and purity of voices like Renee Fleming and singers from the Carnatic tradition, to the super-focused sound of Bulgarian singers and the swallowed razorblade sound of Tom Waits. One singer’s warm-up is another singer’s hangover. Additional to the concept of vocal style, there is also the highly subjective question of what makes a great voice in the first place. So is it possible, regardless of style and subjectivity and personal tastes, to find a commonality in all singing styles as to what could be considered good singing?
Ensemble Intercontemporain and Loré Lixenberg perform Daï Fujikura’s As I Am
sounds travelling down our legs and into the floor, and up through the top of the head and echoing throughout the entire space, bouncing back and forth between one’s self and other voices in the room. Of course, there are many ways of using creative visualization to “image” the sounds as colours, or branches of trees moving through the wind, but I often take a more austere approach, because dealing with what we have right in front of us is fascinating enough without requiring any kind of poetic flourish. “Overtone” singing is a bit of a misnomer because it is of course impossible to make any sound that doesn’t have overtones; the overtones are what shape the sound and give it “body”, which enables us to distinguish one sound from another even if they are both “playing” the same pitch. Come to think of it, “throat” singing is an equally misleading term because first of all, there isn’t any kind of singing that does not use the throat, and throat-singing depends just as much
on the engagement of the diaphragm, sternum, tongue and lips as it does the throat! We can train ourselves to better project and manipulate certain types of overtone frequencies to achieve an expanded force to our vocal sound so that one may perceive the effect of “two voices singing at once”. Much of this involves singing with tongue and lip placements which divide the space inside the mouth into two chambers. Extremely slight movement of the tongue (or lips) will create dramatic differences in the perceived pitch of the overtones in the voice, as will voicing various vowels or opening and closing the area behind the nasal passages and the back of the throat. Creation of the rather extreme “kargyraa” sound that I specialise in involves pushing an extreme amount of air pressure from the diaphragm through a tightly constricted throat. The back pressure created in the paradoxical alignment of muscles which must be once in the same rigidly tight and completely relaxed causes a stir of vibrations in the “false vocal
Is it as simple as intentionality supported by breath? Maybe it’s the perfect balance between line, articulation and emotion. With this in mind, I decided to try and describe a couple of exercises in releasing the voice and body and then linking the voice to emotion.
Exercise 1: The Mosh Pit This first exercise is very playful. Start by gently jogging on the spot and when you have warmed up and got the blood moving, run about the room leap up and down and wave your arms around, above your head and around your torso. Squeal like a pig, grunt like a rutting hippo, sing out as loud and as tunelessly as you like, pull faces, in short be as grotesque, harlequinesque and inelegant as you can. You are aiming at fast, frantic, intellect-circumventing lunacy. It helps to do this exercise to very loud music… Rudimentary Penii, Verdi or Xenakis, whatever takes your fancy. Stop and breathe very fast, light and regularly for 20 seconds, deepen the breathing and slow it down, really connecting the breathing to your centre. Then repeat the exercise.
Exercise 2: Karaoke Lying on the floor in a relaxed position, conjure up in your mind’s ear the song or vocalisation that you are working on. Imagine yourself singing it through. Imagine everything you can about the performance, where you are, what you ate just before singing, the temperature in the room and the quality of light. When this visualisation has finished, conjure up an emotion: it can be positive or negative but make it quite extreme. Start with the emotion from your centre and let it radiate in waves through your whole body. Really notice the effect of the emotion on your body. Then imagine yourself singing the same song or vocalization in this altered emotional state. See if you can physically join in with the visualised vocalisation. Repeat the exercise using different emotions. You need to approach the exercise in two ways. Firstly, concentrate on the feeling in your body that this visualisation creates. How is your breathing altered, how does your larynx feel. What are the physical manifestations of singing with this particular emotion and does it help or hinder the production of sound. Secondly, do the exercise again and record it then listen to the sound itself. What do you hear?
folds” contributing to the motor-like sound. I’m not singing at a pitch that is any deeper that my regular singing voice would normally allow – what you hear is actually the acoustic amplification of the sound being divided by the false vocal folds which resonate from the chest, creating subharmonics, so in this way I’m using overtones and undertones at the same time.
Smith River Improvisation
Arrington de Dionyso is a Washington-based vocalist and multiinstrumentalist whose recordings and books are released on K Records.
Voice resonating against snare drum
With dancer Malinda Ray Allen
An aspect of study that is common to the practice of all vocal styles is that it’s really important to work on your body at the same time. Our society is obsessed by physicality to the point of psychosis and is yet so chronically unphysical: we aren’t encouraged to really inhabit our bodies, yet spend much of the time criticising them. But to an extent the body is the vocal instrument. So whenever you sing, whatever the style or circumstance, if it’s karoake or singing Birtwistle with Gergiev at the Royal Albert Hall, if you are a mountain goatherd or a schoolteacher, the most important thing you can do is invite your entire mind and body to the party. Loré Lixenberg will perform with BCMG on 18 and 14 April in Birmingham and on 30 April in London www.bcmg.org.uk. She’ll also be at the Sounds New Festival in Canterbury performing Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins with Aurora Orchestra on 7 May and directing Stockhausen’s Aus den Sieben Tagen on 12 and 13 May. Throughout April, May and June, Loré is also doing Royal Opera House workshops on Jocelyn Pook’s new work Ingerland and Mark-Anthony Turnage’s new opera Anna Nicole. More information about Loré’s activities can be found here.
Bent Sørensen’s O Magnum Myserium, with Lore Lixénberg
FROM THE BLOGS
FROM THE BLOGS
24/02/2010 Pink noise Yesterday I came across an article entitled ‘Audiences hate modern classical music because their brains cannot cope’, which I considered blogging on its own just because it was quite amusing that it contained claims that “Schoenberg and Webern’s music doesn’t contain patterns” (NB: this ‘modern’ music is around 100 years old now). However, I came across another article explaining some
research on films and finding patterns correlating with the “1/f fluctuation” in many classic films. It also went on to say that this was more prevalent in action movies, compared to romantic comedies. I think they may have been on to something but it didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. The 1/f fluctuation is a very common mathematical pattern in nature, found in human heartbeat patterns, patterns in English speaking and also music. It’s essentially how well a parameter (say, events in time or pitch) correlates with a pink noise
function. A reason why this may have more aesthetically pleasing results than another random function, say white or brown noise, is because 1/f functions have a longrange dependence, where recurring patterns can be formed from short term randomness – see Music from Fractal Noise for a more detailed explaination (and differentiation between stochastic processes with other noise sources). However, something to think about is whether you want to have predictability in your music? Personally I like music to catch me by surprise, I don’t neccesarily want it to be a completely comfortable experience – often with extreme changes. I really like Webern, for instance, because his music is unpredictable, and doesn’t go back to where it started. Also do you want linear patterns across all parameters? I find a lot of Morton Feldman’s music fascinating because it seems very static on a surface level, but adds all kinds of unpredicability. Richard Thomas
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08/03/2010 Aural computer gaming Papa Sangre is a new video game that doesn’t use image but sound to immerse the player. According to the developers: “It’s a first-person thriller, done entirely in audio by an award-winning team of game designers, musicians, sound designers and developers. We’ve created an entire world using the first ever real-time 3D audio engine implemented on a handheld device. “You’re in Papa Sangre’s palace. His palace is in an afterlife that takes the form of a malevolent, unpredictable carnival: imagine a Mexican graveyard on the Day of the Dead – with the lights off. You’re the piñata for a host of partying monsters. They probably look a lot worse than they sound. You should count yourself lucky it’s too dark to see them...” Read more about the project here: www.papasangre.com David Rogerson
08/03/2010 Who’d want to make music on a telephone? After a couple of things coming up lately on our Facebook page related to using apps on phones for music making, I thought I’d look into it in a bit more detail. There’s also a group called Ensemble iPhone which has just been set up, who performed for the first time on 13 March. Nowadays, in a modern smartphone you’ve got the equivalent computing power of a machine from around 10 years ago, and there’s quite a lot which can be done with that as far as harnessing it to make sound. The Apple iPhone is probably the most popular of these devices and has a large range of applications made for it, with the most powerful two I’ve seen being RjDj (which we’ve mentioned before); an interface for Pure Data and Beatmaker, which offers similar functionality to the Akai MPC. There are, however alternative operating systems: Google’s Android seems to have a few applications including Ringdroid, an audio editor for An-
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droid. Mixtikl2 for Windows moblie and iPhone looks really interesting. It creates generative music using a system based on Koan (as used by Brian Eno). It’s not just a new thing either – there have been programmes made for old Palm PDAs and smartphones. For more info on these (and other new developments in very small music making equipment), have a look at Palm Sounds. Finally, the platform I think may be the most suitable for creating very portable music systems is Nokia’s Maemo OS (used in their N900 phone and N800/N810 internet tablets). It’s essentially a customised version of Debian Linux and will run programs created for it.. potentially giving it the capability to run almost any linux software (although may require some tinkering). They’re also encouraging people to hack it – it’s already been used to control systems using Arduino and been interfaced with EEG devices. Richard Thomas
11/03/2010 And so the story begins... Historians, like novelists, are in the business of telling stories. But one of the most difficult things about telling stories is knowing when the story starts. How can you write about a war without delving into the run-up to it? And what about the lead-in to the run-up? How far back do you go? A biography usually needs some account of the parents of the subject – but grandparents as well? Tristram Shandy, a wouldbe autobiographer, gets so caught up in his preamble he never even gets to his own birth. There are similar problems tracing the development of musical styles. Take, for example, the origins of minimalism. This is usually dated to the early 1960s, the time of Steve Reich’s early tape pieces, the drone music of LaMonte Young and the improvisations of Terry Riley. But does the story start earlier? The essence of musical minimalism lies in extensive repetition or long sustained notes, in which the repetitiveness and length is the point – the
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piece consists of the surface-level articulation of the repetition. Looking back to the generation before Reich and Riley, the music of the Canadian composer Colin McPhee fits this definition. McPhee lived for several years in Bali and wrote a number of gamelan-inspired pieces, most notably Tabuh-Tabuhan, whose character is boldly protominimalist in its interlocking motifs and close canons. But let’s go back earlier, to trace a grandparent. What about Ravel’s Bolero – the working out at extreme length of a single melody, played without variation 16 times over 16 minutes, scored as a single grand crescendo? This is surely minimalism avant la lettre. The repetition is the point; the rhetoric is the piece. And so on back into the nineteenth century: think of Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’, from Peer Gynt, like a miniature Bolero. Again, a single crescendo is articulated by 18 repetitions of a (much shorter) melody, gathering weight with each time through. How about delving back to the opening of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony? In the first few minutes, short cellular phrases are repeated incessantly, including a
one-bar cadence figure played 16 times in a row, until its cadential function becomes worn away with overuse. And further? The glorious polyphony of Perotin the Great, writing c.1200, weaves short motifs around each other, over an endlessly stretched cantus firmus. It is both Reich and Young for the price of one, 750 years ahead of time, and stunning music. The biologist Richard Dawkins described the idea of ‘meme’ – the transmission of cultural ideas in a way analogous with biological evolution, and perhaps minimalism is a meme. It certainly keeps on popping its head above the parapet. On the other hand, the musicologist Richard Taruskin, in the Oxford History of Western Music, warns against seeing musical forms as ‘evolving’ of their own accord, as if independent of the people who wrote the music. Clearly, the composers in this list were all individuals doing their very individual things in their individual ways. But in reading the history of minimalism backwards like this I can sense them, connected across the centuries, not directed, but
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perhaps gently shaped by the tides of music history. The Earwig
16/03/2010 Partial Rhimmersion I have been sheepish for a while about my ignorance of the music of Wolfgang Rihm. Last weekend’s Total Immersion festival was the perfect opportunity to put it right. But I couldn’t go. So I am having to rely instead on the coverage on Hear and Now – three consecutive weeks of programmes – to Rihmmerse myself as best I can. Rihm’s sheer fecundity makes him slightly forbidding: where to start with a catalogue of over 400 pieces? The first Hear and Now started with the gripping and startling Schwarzer und Roter Tanz for orchestra and the eccentric film music – or music-with-film – Bild (eine Chiffre). The 2006 cello concerto Konzert In Einem Satz was given an impassioned and
persuasive reading by Stephen Isserlis. More referential than Bild, more expressively wide-ranging than Schwarzer und Roter Tanz, this is a fine piece. The programme’s finale was the immense concerto Séraphin, another UK premiere. It is a complex and rebarbative work which, in this version, explores the soloistic skills of the London Sinfonietta over the course of 55 minutes. Admirably played though it was, Séraphin is a challenging and not immediately rewarding listen. The programme was presented by the quick-witted Tom Service and the composer Julian Anderson, whose contributions were both erudite and coloured by a clear personal enthusiasm for Rihm’s music. Anderson’s delivery and manner are redolent of an old-fashioned, didactic, Radio 3 style – which I don’t mean as a criticism. It was complemented well by Tom Service’s fresher style. At times, such as around 1’08” when discussing the best way to listen to the music, they got into old-style ‘music appreciation’ territory, and it was slightly embarrassing.
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But I am looking forward to the remaining episodes; even if I suspect that Rihm will not emerge as a favourite composer, he is certainly important and worth hearing. The Earwig
16/03/2010 Right-brain music Last night I saw a really good concert by the ELISION ensemble, including a piece by Bryn Harrison: surface forms (repeating). The last few of his works I’ve seen have had a very static element to them, looking at the same material from different perspecives, which feels like an attempt to treat music as a solid object, removing the element of time. surface forms worked with pieces of relatively complex material being repeated throughout the ensemble at different rates, leaving a piece of music which felt static on a global level, but when listening for details it changed.
This, oddly enough related quite strongly to an article I also read yesterday by Charlie Brooker mentioning the Tralfamadorians from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. They’re an alien race who see in four, rather than three dimensions, so experience all of time at once, therefore there’s no concept of events or time to them. Charlie’s solution to the problem of people not being able to put time into context, was of course to introduce LSD into the water supply… Another way of doing it is to have a stroke. Jill Bolte Taylor has done one of the most fascinating talks on TED, describing from the viewpoint of a neuroscientist of how her left brain (which processes planning and things involving perspective) shut down while having a stroke, leaving only her right brain to operate (only experiencing that moment and not having a concept of time). Richard Thomas
FROM THE BLOGS
20/03/2010 Ingenious music installations for kids As I’m set to build an installation for kids in the asylum-seekers centre here in Utrecht, I’ve been researching into other installation art and playful ways for kids to interact with music. Went to the Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam two days ago, to the Klankspeeltuin or SoundPlayground. There are five installations in which kids can creatively interact with music without knowing a whole lot about composition or notation. This rather old video demonstrates most of the installations. I absolutely loved an installation by Edo Paulus called the Xenax, after Xenakis, where up to four kids (or eight if in pairs) can ‘explore’ an A4-sized space with a digital pen, and then draw with a real pen on a piece of paper which is laid over
the space, so you can really create a vocabulary. The kids find sounds they like and draw them, and they can recreate them with the digital pen by tracing their drawings. It’s really easy to let them find sounds and create a performance with the drawn material in the end. There’s a very good video here: www.eude. nl/projects/xenax I’ve found out that good practice in installation art for kids is all about depth in interaction, rewards, and creating a space that leaves something to the imagination. You definitely don’t need cutting-edge technology or a lot of HD screens. Mark Ijzerman
FROM THE BLOGS
Opportunitie SoundFjord – Sonic Art Gallery and Research Unit Deadline: 30/04/2010
We are a dedicated Sound Art gallery named SoundFjord, a gallery and research station instigated to readdress the lack of exhibiting space exclusively for works of sound art. We are extremely excited by the prospect of working with sonic artists, and are currently gathering information from interested parties – those who wish to work with us intellectually, support us financially or work collaboratively, critically and creatively. At present, we have ownership of an intimate space and hope to find accommodation more befitting to the nature of the work once we have established ourselves, and have a greater following. While the present space is being renovated, we are currently organising our exhibition and events calendar and are welcoming interested parties to tender for exhibition, starting mid-2010. We also wish to hear from anyone who can help us in any way, be it through research, invigilation, business matters or by simply showing their work.
Please do not hesitate to email us for more information. If you would like to sign up to our mailing list, or need an application form, contact us here: email@example.com
Arcomis – call for scores for online publication Deadline: 31/12/2010
Arcomis is welcoming submissions of scores from composers ahead of the official launch of its online publishing service. Scores accepted to the collection will be available for digital download or in printed format. Scores of all types are welcome; grounds for inclusion in the collection are not stylistic but rather are concerned with presentation. We’re hoping that this new and innovative service to composers will be of use and we welcome any comments or suggestions that you may have about what we’re doing. Please visit our website where you can register with us to be kept up-to-date on everything that we’re doing. We’re also on Facebook. www.arcomis.com
Trampoline – call for proposals for Territorial Play Deadline: 12/04/2010
Trampoline is inviting submissions for a platform event, Territorial Play, scheduled to take place mid-May as part of Radiator Festival’s forthcoming Tracing Mobility programme, which is launching in Nottingham. Territorial Play aims to illustrate, annotate and animate discourse around current trends towards a ‘mobilised city’. With the emergence of location aware mobile devices and near ubiquitous access to electronic networks in urban and rural areas, a new city is forming beneath our feet. This dynamic ‘hybrid-city’, is a city in flux, where ideas of authorship and ownership are left at the door. What are the cultural implications of this emergent public domain and what possibilities do the architecture and protocol of networked space present to affect change in real space? We are inviting artists, performers, visualists, filmmakers, designers, game-players, writers and others to stake claims, occupy space, command territory, re-imagine the public domain, uncover hidden terrain and return to
our day jobs the next day leaving no trace. The event will take place over one day, using Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema and Digital Media Centre as the base of operations; however, we welcome submissions that engage with the public and spaces in and around the city. Trampoline is an Agency for Art and Media, based in Nottingham and Berlin, which aims to support emerging and established artists working across new-media and performance. For more information and to download a submission form visit www.trampoline.org.uk or contact Mat Trivett firstname.lastname@example.org or +44(0)115 850 7813.
Lines Of Desire – call for submissions Deadline: 30/04/2010
Who: artists who work in any media, including new media (moving image, sound, interactive, internet, new tech nologies), live art, performance, crossart form/interdisciplinary, installation and collaborative practices, at whatever stage in their career.
Opportunitie What: a major group exhibition titled Lines Of Desire, selected and organised by Oriel Davies Young Curators, a dedicated group of 15 to 24-yearolds who are inspired by presenting contemporary art to new audiences. Lines Of Desire aims to bring together artists whose work explores this broad concept, which might include: pathways, journeys, maps and contours, routes, directions, borders, boundaries, queues, timelines and deadlines, tracks and tracking, longitudes and latitudes, positions, coordinates and axes, outlines, orbits and ellipses, musical scores and rhythms, poetry and song-lines, thought-lines, faultlines, narratives and storylines. When: exhibition dates 28 August – 20 October 2010. Where: Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown, Powys. For information on how to apply, contact Amanda Farr 01686 625041 or email@example.com
Raise Your Voice – call for works Deadline: 09/04/2010
Raise Your Voice Collective is a group of musicians and composers based in Manchester, UK, dedicated to performing new music in new and unusual spaces. Following on from our hugely successful launch weekend at the end of February, we are proud to be able to announce our first open call for works to be performed in an evening of new music on Friday 14 May 2010 as part of Manchester’s FutureEverything Festival. The call is open to composers based in or with strong links to Greater Manchester. Selected works will be performed at Centro Bar in Manchester’s Northern Quarter and composers should consider how their music will behave in and benefit from this unconventional venue. Submitted works should be no longer than 10 minutes and scored for any combination of flute, clarinet, drum kit, string quartet and tape/electronics. If a recording of the work is available, we welcome its submission with the score. Preference is given to newer works.
If you have a strong vision for a work, which cannot be completed without first working with our ensemble, please submit a detailed proposal of what you would like to attempt and we will give it full consideration. For example, we recently worked on a directed improvisation which included live performance of recorded samples of our players and used a gesture-based language developed in tandem by the composer and the ensemble to direct the performance.
BLANK Ensemble â€“ call for performers
the performers to collaborate closely with composers. Due to the nature of this repertoire the classical musicians involved will need to be confident and enthusiastic towards performing solo and within small ensembles of varying combinations (one to nine players). The exact make-up of the ensemble (although drawing from a core group of members) will be flexible, responding to the demands of each programme of music. This opportunity might be of particular interest to classical musicians who are currently studying at university/conservatoire or those at the beginning of their professional careers with an interest in the music of today. However, that said, we are of course very keen to hear from experienced classical musicians as well.
Are you a dynamic performer interested in joining a cutting edge new Music Ensemble based in the South West?
All instruments/voices are welcome and no previous experience of playing contemporary music is required. Minimum standard: Grade 8.
Download application www.raise-your-voice.org
Deadline: 7 June 2010
The aim of the BLANK Ensemble is to perform contemporary chamber music by a range of contemporary composers with complex, experimental, minimal or spectral tendencies. Having works written especially for BLANK Ensemble will also be a central focus and so there will be opportunities for
Please email Nicholas Peters to register your interest and for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
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