This week I read this headline iTunes Announces All Music Downloads Will Be Shut Down and It's Not a 'Black Mirror' Episode
Which turned out to be a complete lie after a very brief search Fake news: Apple isn't killing iTunes music downloads
However, the initial headline inspired a Twitter Rant ™. Read the full chain here but I wanted to develop on a number of the thoughts I presented within it.
When I released my album Dichroic Light a few years ago (thank you Creative Scotland!) I was disheartened that more people weren’t buying it. I was thinking quite naïvely that if I built it (put it out for sale) they would come (buy it). After buying adverts and getting various good reviews didn’t kick-start the buying frenzy I had expected it dawned on me that I had an Apple Music subscription and since getting that I had hardly bought any music. So, if I’m not doing that why should I expect others to buy my music? I switched and started concentrating on streaming to see what would happen.
I was prepared for the low payments that I’d heard numerous complaints about from mainstream bands, to fellow composers and other performers. However, I thought I’d give it a go there was nothing to lose. And it worked and has been since. Playlists.
Before I go into more detail I’m going to first talk about royalties and the confusion for one name for different things. I’m in the increasingly common position of being able to self-release. This means I’m not tied to a label agreement and can see ever royalty that comes in. There are three main royalty streams I’ve received so far from CDBaby (my distributor), PRS and MCPS. I’ve yet to get a PPL distribution that includes streaming payments (PPL only pays out once a year and can take a few years to come through).
Below is the per stream rate for each of these for Three Pieces for Bass Clarinet and Electronics: Piece One on Apple Music:
Compared to a BBC Radio 3 distribution of £144.09 (total between PRS and PPL) for the same piece the streaming totals look awful. However, Radio 3’s payments are based on both the duration and the assumed number of people listening. When the piece was broadcast that was roughly 2.05 million for the station or for Late Junction specifically around 30,000 which works out as £0.0048 per listener. So, on a per listener basis Apple Music pays out about twice the amount of radio.
It seems the only question about making streaming viable is the volume of listeners and that is where my Twitter rant came in.
For the last 18 months I’ve been making playlists. I’ve got a few massive ones and I occasionally release new much shorter curated ones. Then spend a few days promoting them on Twitter and Facebook. Yes all the playlists have a piece or two of mine in them but mostly they are filled with the music of other people. So, in essence I am mostly shouting about other people’s music and hoping people will listen to mine. I try and tell those people they are in the playlist either by tagging them or messaging them directly and in reply I get……. nothing. At very most I get a ‘like’ from that composer, performer or record label. Why? Why can they not at very least retweet the playlist?
In almost every guide I’ve read about playlists (all aimed at bands) they say a variation of ‘be polite and thank the person who puts your music on their playlist and Tweet about it a few times to show your appreciation’. Bands sometimes even shout about each-other’s events and album releases, they might even talk to fans who like their music. What?!
Composers hardly ever do any of this, from what I can see. There isn’t the same culture of sharing. There seems to be an attitude of everyone out for themselves or just writing music for fellow composers. I’m not suggesting writing music for your audience (I think if you write music for a specific audience it will fail) but just to engage with the one you already have.
I’m not looking for appreciation with playlisting I’d just like to share music I like and enjoy. If someone makes a playlist and it includes a piece of mine in it I will Tweet about it and say thanks. Maybe one or two of my followers will click the link, give it a listen and discover a new composer or performer they then go out and explore new music. Maybe they won’t. Maybe that’s how someone discovers and falls in love with my music because someone else tweets their thanks for inclusion in a playlist.
This lack of sharing is a MASSIVE frustration and I just don’t understand why people are not sharing. Is it because they think streaming is bad (see above for my argument that it’s not) or is it some other reason? We as composers, performers and record labels in a fairly niche genre should try and help each-other to build the level of streams that are required to make a decent income. And do what we can to introduce people to other related music.
If there are more people listening to my playlist there are more people listening to your music. Is that not a good thing? Also means the potential for increased audience numbers and I’ve found an increase in actual CD sales. It is a clichéd phrase, but a rising tide lifts all boats.
The other thing that frustrated me. I set up a collaborative playlist expecting composers would jump on the chance to add their music to a playlist of someone who is actively searching for new music to add to other playlists. Nope, hardly anyone. In the month that it has been active I have to delete music almost on a daily basis that has been added from genre I am not looking for. At time of writing the last eligible submission was 20 days ago and that was borderline.
This means that mainstream artists are actively searching for an opportunity, somehow finding it and adding their music to it. That takes effort. I’ve shouted about this playlist on Twitter to my followers who are mostly composers and performers of contemporary classical music. It will have appeared in their feed and required 5 minutes to add something and maybe put it on random to listen to some other things. From what I could tell it was a similar experience with NMC’s #KeepTheMusicGoing playlist.
Streaming is low risk for the listener. £10/month to listen to as much of anything that they can. This means they can take risks on new music they might not have before when they had to spend £10 on one album. It means there is a higher chance of someone trying and loving your music and has given rise to the Genreless Music Fan.
The difference between streaming and sales is that streaming has a long tail whereas CDs have a large upfront but no long tail. If I buy a track for 99p on iTunes I need to stream that 103 times to pay the same amount. There are over 100 pieces in my iTunes library that have more than 100 streams. But that’s before touching on the lower opportunity cost and the potential for a larger number of listeners because of the ease of access and playlists.
If composers, performers and record labels made more of their own playlists with music that is linked but slightly outside of their immediate sphere (i.e. not just music released by that label) then there is the possibility that we can help everyone in the sector.
One issue that does need addressed for streaming is the way the rates are paid. Currently the payment is all or nothing. If someone listens to 30 secs or more a payment is triggered, if they don’t hit that 30 second mark then nothing. This is even changing how people are writing songs. That style of payment is ok when most of the tracks are somewhere between 3 and 5 minutes. But when you get to classical music when pieces and movements are mostly above 5 minutes. A 3 minute pop song is being paid out at the same rate as the third movement of Mahler 5 (about 17 mins).
To make streaming fairer the payment system need to move to a durational based payment in the same way as radio. To use my Three Pieces for Bass Clarinet and Electronics if every 30sec chunk was paid out at £0.00096 (in total between all royalty streams) then that would make streaming fairer and more viable for long form works. It would mean 60 mins of music would be paid out at around £0.12. It isn't a huge amount of money but when we factor in scale (as above) then it becomes more viable. This change can only be done by lobbying the streaming companies by composers, performers and record lables and from organisations like BASCA, the Musicians' Union, Incoperated Society of Musicians, UK Music, PRS and PPL. There also needs to be more from the streaming curators to help contemporary classical music. Unclassified/Naxos are doing a decent job but they are the only organisation I can think of doing it. There isn't anything in classical music with the same streaming clout as Pitchfork or Filtr that I have found.
Another change to the system should be based on a 'user centric model' where the payments are based on a proportion of someone's subscription compared to how much they listen. For example if someone only listens to 1 piece in the whole month then the rights owners of that piece get that person's whole subscription fee (minus whatever cut the streamer takes). At the moment all fees are put into a pot and then that pot is divided up between all streams so, part of my subscription is going to pay artists I never listen to. Though this is also the case for PRS licenses where they use Sample and Analogy based distributions to work out royalty payments. Look at PRS Distribution cycles and Concepts pdf for more info on this. Because of this I've received payments from my music being used on a cruise ship and in a gym which I highly doubt has ever happened! Thanks to @otraihala for the reminder about 'user centric' vs 'pro rata' model.
Until then if you have a piece that can be cut up into smaller sections (like George Crumb’s Black Angels) then you might be onto a winner.
Suggestions for artists to make the best of streaming:
Please do comment, tweet, Facebook or email me ideas, suggestions or disagreements about what I've talked about. I do feel this stuff needs discussed more within classical music circles. Also, if you start making playlists because of this blog let me know (even if they don't have my music).
Edit 11:48am 2/4/2018 – Addition paragraph about ‘user centric’ vs ‘pro rata’ payments
It is edging toward the end of 2017 and as has become tradition over the last few years here is my summary of the year. This year has largely revolved around The Night With..., going to Shanghai, working with Marisa Zanotti and Magnetic North and writing an opera, my 4th string quartet, an orchestral piece and a duo.
2018 is going to see the première of Little Black Lies (the opera) and Entangled (the quartet), writing Joanna Nicholson and Frances Cooper a new piece for clarinet and soprano (with support from the Hope Scott Trust) and all being well running a third season of The Night With... Other plans are in the pipeline so we will see what is to come!
Year in Numbers
The première of David Graham Scott's The End of the Game at the Glasgow Film Festival. Featuring music written for the film and my Quartet for Violin, Viola Cello and Double Bass.
The return of The Night With... this year Creative Scotland supported five concerts with the first being Red Note Ensemble in March. http://thenightwith.co.uk/events/event/the-night-with-red-note-2/ It was also the first Scottish Awards for New Music, which I was involved in organising in Drygate.
The Night With... Emma Lloyd and Joanna Nicholson featured the première of my Piece for Violin and Bass Clarinet. Which was also released as a digital single with the support of the Bliss Trust.
After four months of writing the RTÉ NSO premièred Repercussive in the National Concert Hall in Dublin which was written as part of the CMC Composer Lab.
The third concert of The Night With... series this time with the Aurea Quartet and the first time I've run a call for scores and composer workshop.
Michael Palin's Quest for Artemisia was rebroadcast on BBC 4
The Night With... Tom Poulson, Danielle Price and Timothy Cooper, the last in the 2017 series.
Abby Hayward performed my Dichroic Light in the Fruitmarket Gallery as part of their Ambient Audiences series.
Found out I was going to the Atelier for Young Festival and Cultural Managers in Shanghai supported by Creative Scotland!
Capella Nova performed Nobilis Humilis as part of the Made in Scotland showcase at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Finished writing Little Black Lies for Scottish Opera Connect with libritto by Helene Grøn (it will be performed in 2018) and then spent some in NTS Studios with Marisa Zanotti developing We Are All Made of Stars
Dominic Hill's production of The Macbeths at Citizens Theatre featured Dichroic Light within its soundtrack.
After a few months of planning I went to Shanghai. It was a really interesting experience and I wrote another blog about it here I also spent 10 days in Australia as a bit of a holiday and went diving on the Great Barrier Reef for 3 days. Pretty good time away!
This was spent finishing off writing Entangled commissioned by the Institute of Physics for a performance on 15th Feb 2018 at the NI Science Festival by the Aurea Quartet with a film by Marisa Zanotti.
Was speant working on We Are All Made of Stars. We presented a work in progress sharing in Summerhall. Below is the 360 film part of the installation. I was also featured in the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Movers and Shakers publication.
In July I was lucky enough to be accepted to attend the Atelier for Young Festival and Cultural Managers in Shanghai with my place being supported by The National Lottery through Creative Scotland Open Fund. The Atelier is organised by the Festival Academy, which is part of the European Festivals Association network. The aim is of skill development and dialogue between EU arts managers and their Chinese counterparts. The whole thing felt like it had a very political context being created in the EU-China Hugh Level People to People Dialogue through the Cultural Diplomacy Platform but whatever EU-China politics was going on behind the scenes it didn’t seem to impact the day to day working.
I applied for a duel purpose – to develop my ideas around running and programming The Night With… and build personal connections both for The Night With… and for myself as a composer. I was also very interested to visit China and try and learn a bit more about the country so I booked a few days after the Atelier to explore Shanghai a little more.
The seven days of the Atelier were completely full on, too full on. Events were programmed pretty much 9am to 9pm every day. The intention was to have as much contact time with the participants as possible to get more conversations going. This did happen but gradually through the week people dropped out for a morning or a day because they just needed a break or to recover from jetlag, tiredness, illness, culture shock or a mix of all four.
Cultural and linguistic barriers were one of the biggest issues to overcome with everyone. There were 44 participants roughly divided 22 from China and 22 from Europe. English was the common langauge but the meaning of various words took a while to fully form. Terms like ‘independent artist’ and ‘art’ needed to be defined and understood to develop the discussion further. To me the term independent artist would describe someone like me, making work, putting on concerts and occasionally getting support from funding organisations. However, in China it means someone who is freelance, not a salaried artist (for example one of the actors in a theatre troupe with a permanent job for life) and doesn’t get any state support, ever. Once this was understood a conversation could develop but it took 3 days before this was clear. Equally gradually through the week the word ‘art’ seemed more weighted toward ‘entertainment’ than ‘art’. By this I mean something like Warhorse was called ‘art’ but I would call it more ‘entertainment’. Warhorse is part of the Arts and it is Art but not in the same way as experimental theatre or new music. This was not universily true but it was true enough to cause moments that were lost in translation. This differentiation had never dawned on me as being necessary in any dialogues I’ve had but it was crucial in understanding conversations and a sharp learning point for any international work I want to undertake. Now that I’ve had that realisation I think it probably is very useful to think of where on a scale of Art —— to —– Entertainment any project, festival or work sits especially from a marketing point of view. This was summed by nicely by Robyn Archer ‘if all you do is give audiences what they want then you are entertainment’.
Funding was another very interesting discussion point for everyone. Surprisingly there wasn’t really a common reference point for anyone here. It seems every country has some similar funding agencies but the structure seems very different even within Europe with various mixes of public bodies (like Creative Scotland), trusts and some cooperate sponsorship. The Chinese model is either state funded, commercial sponsorship or self-funded. There are no trusts. There was one participant from China who said his theatre is run as a real estate company not as an arts company. A bank leant them the equivalent of £4 million over 5 years to set up the 80 seater theatre. This seems insane as to cover the interest alone at 2% they would need to sell out one show every day with a £2.70 profit per ticket. This seems a completely unsustainable as a model for an arts venue unless you look at it from the view of reselling the property in 5 or 10 years. Then it becomes sensible especially considering the increase in value of property in Shanghai. Could this be a model to open more venues in the UK? Instead of presenting a business model based around selling tickets, base it around reselling the venue in 10 years after the property price as gone up. It seems like it could tie into the pop-up aesthetic that as developed over the last 10 years but you would need to develop a strong brand independent of the venue to be able to move every 5 years. It also might explain how so many venues are opening up in China at the moment.
The scale of China is quite hard to comprehend. Catharine Wang said that in 2016 Shanghai International Arts Festival reached ‘only 4 million people with 200,000 tickets sold’. Considering the population is Shanghai is about 24 million reaching 16% of them or 1% of the city’s population buying a ticket I think would be good for any UK organisation but she is disappointed by these figures an wants them to grow. By comparison attendees at the BBC Proms are around 300,000 a year and Edinburgh International Festival 450,000. I believe these figures include free events not just ticketed.
One very interesting session was run as part of a separate conference at the Shanghai International Arts Festival. This was a session where Chinese arts companies were pitching performances to international delegates. Each was given 10 mins including a 2min video, 4 min presentation and 4 min Q&A. It was very interesting to see how large touring shows are sold with so little information and that the people who are potentially interested buying them fail to read the information in the info pack and ask needless questions already answered.
As part of the SIAF there was a trade fair area. Though not part of the Atelier activities, I took the opportunity to talk to various international venues and ensembles hosting a stand. What was very interesting about this trade fair was the fact that there were very few opportunities to listen to music or watch videos, it was all leaflets. This brings up an interesting question, how do you get interest in durational arts with static media?
To conclude, some short thoughts on various discussions during the week:
Music Streaming – China has gone from a country where music is listened to live to one where music is streamed within about 10 years. This has meant there has been no label, marketing or distribution infrastructure developed to ‘break’ Chinese artists. This has meant a reliance on tried and tested (mostly western) music.
Marketing – concerts are marketed on names rather than programmes. In the Shanghai International Arts Festival brochure, and in other venues I looked at, it was filled with gushing bios of conductors and ensembles but hard or impossible find what was in the programme. The bios are true in the UK but from my experience there is always a concert programme.
Who isn’t here is as important a question to ask as who is.
Risk – Arts organisations in China seem to want to eliminate risk (not true for independent orgs) whereas Western organisations want to reduce it. This means that Western organisations find ways to balance artistically interesting work with work that will bring in audiences, Chinese orgs just want programmes to bring in audiences. Robyn Archer talked said that people take more risk during festivals than they would normally.
Themes – One thing I have been struggling with when programming The Night With… are themes, how to use them and if I even should. Bernard Faivre D’Arcier (President Lyon Biennial, Former longstanding Director Avignon Festival) gave me some insight into how he programmes with regards to themes.
The take away from my conversation with him was that themes are useful for marketing but shouldn’t be the main aim of festival programming.
‘Festivals are like a public examination of your years work’ – Catherine Wang
‘Give more power away as you get higher’ – Mark Ball
‘Buildings can make the city big, art makes the city great’ – Rongjun (Nick) Yu
‘Themes come out of programming choices. You cannot have a festival or series imprisoned by one theme’ Bernard Faivre D’Arcier
It has been a hugely beneficial experience to attend. I have made many international connections all with the potential for collaborations. Something else that I’ve become more interested in through the Atelier is the use of Culture as a soft power. Is it possible to be apolitical in the arts if you are receiving support from the state? Even if that support is coming from an arms length organisation. That might be a topic for another blog.
It has reached the last day of 2016 and, as is now customary, here is my year in review.
In summary I was commissioned by The Cottier Chamber Project and Echoes and Traces, recieved performances by Juice Vocal Ensemble, University of Glasgow Chapel Choir, Red Note Ensemble, Electric Clarinet, Cappella Nova, Davur Juul Magnussen trombone ensemble and Carla Rees. Was on a residency with Magnetic North, Anna Unbound was released, started The Night With… and had the support of Creative Scotland and Help Musicians UK. Feels a bit breathless!
2017 is already looking as full. Scottish Opera have commissioned Helene Grøn and I for a short opera as part of Opera Sparks, I’m writing for the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra as part of a scheme run by the Contemporary Music Centre, running five The Night With… concerts, writing a new piece for Emma Lloyd and Joanna Nicholson (which will be recorded thannks to support from the Bliss Trust) and creating new work with Marisa Zanotti.
Year in Numbers
April and May
After a lot of planning the first two The Night With… concerts happened in the Hug and Pint. The first with Red Note Ensemble performing music for brass trio and electronics (along with my for Matt Mattera) and the second in May with Electric Clarinet with music for clarinet/bass clarinet and electronics along with my Three Pieces for Bass Clarient and Electronics. Got really nice feedback for the concerts so more will be happening in 2017.
Anna Unbound was screened in Glasgow to a full cinema.
Always Ever Unknowable premiered as part of the Cottier Chamber Project by Juice Vocal Trio, Glasgow University Chapel Choir and Davur Juul Magnussen trombone ensemble. The text was writen by Helene Grøn and draws on the work of Lord Kelvin and my great uncle John Stewart Bell.
Took a bit of a break for the summer and went to visit friends in London, Paris and Cardiff. Then political darkness descended! Wont mention anything else about that but the fall out is starting to appear in my work.
I spent two weeks in Aberdeen as part of Magnetic North’s Rough Mix Residency. Spent the time developing ways to use a Kinect with dancers to control live electronics. It worked as a proof of concept but need to develop the idea into a solid piece. However while there I met Marisa Zanotti a filmmaker and chorographer. Straight after Rough Mix we created Wave Function – Part 1 and since then have been developing numerous ideas for the future.
August and September saw the premiere and touring of Nobilis Humilis by Cappella Nova as part of Echoes and traces over seven concerts around Scotland. Probably the biggest tour any of my music has had. Also Carla Rees rearranged it for flute choir and published it on Tetractys.
October I properly released Exhibition Music, the music from When Two Worlds Collide with Dominika Mayovich last year.
November was a busy month with three concerts in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow with Carla Rees performaing my new contrabass flute piece Dry Vista. Carla has also published the piece on Tetractys.
In what is fast becoming a tradition (well three years in a row) I take a brief look back at the year that was. 2015 was a rather busy year from a writing and organising point of view with the release of Dichroic Light, scoring Anna Unbound and Michael Palin’s Quest for Artemesia and an installation with Dominika Mayovich.
As a Christmas present I’ve decided to give you all a 25% discount on Dichroic Light. At the checkout on my Bandcamp use the code ‘christmas2015’ (if going for digital) or ‘cdchristmas2015’ (if buying the CD) here until New Years Day.
2015 in numbers
My String Quintet for two violins, two violas and cello was shortlisted for the Cottier Chamber Project composition competition. It was workshopped but didn’t win.
The release of my first album Dichroic Light which was supported by Creative Scotland and received a number of positive reviews including from the Scotsman, the Arts Desk and Musicweb International. Its on iTunes here.
I then toured with Emma Lloyd to promote the album and perform some amazing music (my Ulation and Solo for Viola D’amore and Electronics along with Gerard Grisey’s Prologue, Ed Bennett’s Ghosts and Linda Buckley’s Do You Remember the Planets? in Glasgow City Halls, Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, The National Concert Hall in Dublin, R-Space in Lisburn and Woodend Barn in Aberdeen.
Cast and crew screening of Anna Unbound in the Glasgow Film Theatre. The film hasn’t had its official premiere, at time of writing, but it has been selected for the International Film Festival, London in February 2016.
June also saw the opening of When Two Worlds Collide with Dominika Mayovich in R-Space Gallery. The installation involved six paintings each with motion sensitive sound design and accompanied by an instrumental sound track. It was a co-commission between R-Space and sound Festival and with some support from the Lisburn Arts Advisory Committee.
In July I received a commission to compose the music for Michael Palin’s Quest for Artemisia about baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi for broadcast on the 28th December on BBC 4
I received funding from Creative Scotland to work with Carla Rees at Rarescale Summer School on a new piece for contra-bass flute and electronics. The new piece will be premiered late 2016 with a small tour.
Emma Lloyd played my Solo for Viola D’amore as part of sound‘s promenade concert in the Aberdeen Maritime Museum. We also gave a research seminar presentation in Aberdeen University on our work together on the piece.
I wrote the music for a short film for the Irish Composers’ Collective Take Over project
The broadcast on BBC 4 of Michael Palin’s Quest for Artemesia, my first TV commission! http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06t3w73
What to look forward to in 2016
2016 is already looking to be busy with a commission for Cappella Nova for a new choral piece and another from Cottier’s Chamber Project for vocal trio (Juice), Glasgow Chapel Choir and trombone quartet. Theres a few others on the cards as well (a new piece for clarinet and electronics and a cello and piano duo) but nothing else confirmed, yet… Then theres touring the new contra-bass flute piece with Carla and going to screenings of Anna Unbound.
I thought a brief summary of 2014 would be an idea because it was such an interesting year. The biggest news was receiving a Quality Production Award from Creative Scotland to record an album of my chamber music, write a new piece for viola d’amore and electronics with Emma Lloyd and produce a number of concerts. This is still on going with the album being released in April 2015 and the concerts in May 2015.
But here’s the summery of what I did in 2014.
– Performance of my Quartet for Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass in Dublin’s National Concert Hall by the Robinson Panoramic Quartet who commissioned the piece along with the Irish Composers’ Collective.
– Performance of Attention for soprano and cello in Myrna Loy Centre, St Helena and the University of Montana by Diagenesis Duo. Diagenesis commissioned me in 2012 and have performed the piece a number of times since.
– sound design for installation in R-Space Gallery, Lisburn, with Toshinibu Takamitsu and Eamonn Higgins (http://www.matthewwhiteside.co.uk/?event=weaving-metal-making-art-r-space-lisburn)
May to November
– Performances of Three Pieces for Bass Clarinet and Electronics written for and performed by Joanna Nicholson in The Contemporary Music Centre in Dublin, National Galleries in Edinburgh and Musa in Aberdeen as part of Sound Festival. I’d been working closely with Joanna since January to write the piece.
– Working with Terra Incognita Arts with partially sighted participants to compose an electroacoustic piece (As I See It) based on a walking tour devised by the participants. The final piece was hosted in the Arches through November.
– Premier screening of The Loudest Sound in Boston, USA. It is a feature film by Jason Miller that I wrote the music for.
– Received the Francis Chagrin Award
Its coming to the end of 2013 and I think its nice to do a bit of a summary of what happened to me and my music this year. As much for myself as to show everyone out there in internet world.
In summary I’ve had 17 performances, given 2 talks, written 8 pieces and the music to one film. Not too bad a year at all.
Edit-Point was set up as a real company with myself, Timothy Cooper and Nicholas Virgo as directors.
Premier of Paldookotous by Concorde in Dublin.
I attended the Edinburgh International Film Festival composers lab.
Premier of Postcard from Esmond Street.
Ulation played again by Emma but this time in Glasgow.
Premier of Modern Models of Luminosity in Dublin’s National Concert Hall.
I attended the Ghent Film Festival.
I was commissioned to write music for The Loudest Sound.
Mostly been relaxing and writing music for the film.
I thought it would be a good idea to put the transcript on my blog so that anyone who wanted could read and listen again. What follows is my pre-written talk that I know I digressed from a few times during the course of the presentation (I can’t remember where, what and how though!) but it includes all the main points I wanted to cover. Throughout it I’ve embedded the sound examples I played and at the bottom is a playlist of my other music. If you have any questions feel free to comment below or email me at mwhiteside(at)me(dot)com. Replace (at) for @ and (dot) for .
I’m Matthew Whiteside and I’m the composer involved with the current exhibition in here. I’ve been asked to give this talk as a bit of an introduction to me as a composer and also to talk about the new piece, Elements, composed for the exhibition, however I’ll come onto that later. You’ve just heard my most recently premiered instrumental piece called Well, Well, Well.
I started with it because it is a good summary of where I am sitting at the moment as a composer. Throughout and after my studies I’ve been interested in drawing together quite separate influences. The main ones are contemporary electronic music, classical music, physics and rock. I didn’t quite plan on bringing rock into my compositions but it has been there from the start because that’s what I listened to a lot when I was younger. The physics side of it has also been there since the start specifically the beating effect you get with two notes not perfectly in tune.
Now for some more music.
This is an extract of what I would call my very first piece, Quartet No. 1.
In this you can hear the same effect being used at the start with the two violins. I have used this effect in a number of pieces but for a while was searching to find ways to emphasize it. This led me to start exploring the use of electronics. At Queen’s, where I did my undergraduate, they have a whole department dedicated to audio technology and a room called the Sonic Lab with speakers placed around the whole room. It places you in the middle of the sound. If you get a chance go along to one of their lunchtime concerts they are free and open to the public.
That was an extract of Machinisit’s Visual Fallacy. It was my first electroacoustic piece. Within this extract I used a similar technique to the strings but because it is composed in the studio I had a lot more control over it.
The basic idea of this style of music is to take real world sounds and build a piece using the sounds as they are or manipulate them using studio technology. The other way I quite like to think about it is using the speaker as a veil to create visual audio. In other words you hear a sound that is instantly recognizable such as a door closing. The sound carries certain information with it meaning you can hear the space the door is in you can tell if the door is wood or metal and how big it is you might even remember a door from your childhood that sounded the same basically you can almost see it in your mind but you can’t see anything with your eyes. These are some of the techniques I used in composing Elements and continue to use throughout my work. Sometimes a climax results in lifting the veil of the speaker to revel the image behind or soundscape is created that could almost be real but there’s something not quite right niggling at the back of your mind.
Though these two pieces are about 3 or 4 years old they are still influencing what I do now.
The next piece I’m going to talk about is my Quartet No. 3 for string quartet and live electronics. This piece pulls together quite overtly all my influences in the first few seconds.
What you are hearing is a string quartet played live but also being sampled and manipulated live to create a ‘glitchy tension’ This phrase is in reference to a specific genre of music that uses scrapes and glitches (like a cd skipping) as the main musical material. The close microtonal interactions between the notes also add to this sense of something not quite right in the music to keep it driving forward. Incidentally this piece is being played in its entirety as part of the Belfast festival on the 26th October at 7.30pm in the Crescent Arts Centre. You can find out more information about the concert on the Belfast Festival website.
Now that I’ve given you a brief overview of my interests as a composer and what I’ve done I’m going to talk a bit more in depth about the R-Space commission.
Before composing the piece I knew I wanted it to be an aural interaction between Andrew Cooke’s practice and the building where the exhibition was going to take place. To do that I went to Andrew’s workspace to record the sounds of him working and anything else I found interesting. I also spent a few hours walking around r-space tapping, scrapping and hitting things to record various sounds in and around the building.
After this I had about 5 hours work of audio to listen through to and pick out interesting sounds. Here are a few examples.
I found it quite difficult to get into the piece and work out what I wanted it to do. I initially thought of having multiple sonic images and create an aural walk round a gallery but the source material didn’t lend itself to that no matter how much I tried. Then while I was cycling around Glasgow I had the idea to develop the sonic images into the 4 elements earth, wind, fire and water. I decided to divide the recorded sounds by various properties. Earth used sounds that were earthy such as gravel, scrapping the sounds of sticks, very natural sounds. Fire was sounds created by metal, glass or things that needed fire to have been made. Water referred to digging or machinery, basically sounds of things changing or moving. While Air I took to mean music or sounds that wouldn’t have been possible without all of the others combined.
I then took these 4 groups of material and started composing the 4 different sections. Here is an early version of Water.
Ultimately I wanted to make sure the whole piece fitted together as one entity rather than 4 sections. This meant that quite a lot of cross-pollination between the sections to smooth the edges.
The final thing I want to talk about today is about the jeweler you see in the glass cabinet. A number of years ago I took up oil painting and I was interested in trying to represent the beat patterns I talked about earlier in paint. Initially I did this through brushstrokes on monochrome canvas but eventually it developed into what you see behind me. I then thought it would be a really interesting idea to try and create things based on a more scientific analysis of sound.
Robert introduced me to Sarah McAleer who is a jewelry smith with a 3d printer and we developed a way to translate this flat image into a 3D model in the computer. This model could then be understood by her printer and made into a real life thing. Because Sarah is interested in developing new types of jewelery she then began twisting these into bracelets and rings creating these.
We are really excited about these because we don’t know of anyone else in the world that is doing anything quite like it. It also has the possibility of being a really personal piece of jewelry by recording someones voice, their child playing or a couple saying ‘I do’ and making it into a ring or a pendant. We have also been talking to Andrew Cooke about incorporating ceramics into the products as well and making it a really broad collaboration. At the moment we are in the initial stages of developing it but we all think there is a huge opportunity if we can market it right.
Thank you for listening and I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out a bit more about me, my music and my interests. If you have any questions please feel free to ask and I’ve got a CD on sale, which has both Elements, and Machinist’s Visual Fallacy on with a few other pieces.
As promised to those today here is a link to download the various drafts of what I said at the talk.
Its a zip file which contains 6 different versions: