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:
This opera lark is a weird thing. When I was writing Puddle Wonderful I talked to the librettist, James Johnson, he wrote the words, I wrote the music, there was a bit of tooing and froing between us while I was writing, it was handed to the players, conductor and director and it happened. Yes there were arguments, people annoyed at decisions that they weren’t happy about but everyone was there to do their thing as best as they can which sometimes is beyond the understand of the other people trying to do their thing, hence the arguments, but everything came together and the evenings it was performed I and everyone else couldn’t have been happier.
This time it’s completely different. Not that everyone isn’t trying to do their thing to their fullest, they are, there are just less people involved. The first performance had the ensemble, singers, conductor, director, lighting tech, marketing person, composer and librettist, this time there is the ensemble, singers, conductor and Jason, Thom and I trying to fill in for all the other rolls. So completely different and a little more weight on our inexperienced shoulders.
Today I am talking to my singers about blocking. This is something I’ve only every experienced once before, during the first performance, and it mostly consisted of me sitting at the back of the room watching and occasionally saying “yea that seems grand” because I really had no idea what was going on. This time I have to talk to the three singers about what I want it to look like, Barbara Walton, Catrin Pryce-Jones and Claire Thompson all have more experience in this area than I do! The other interesting/worrying thing is that Musa doesn’t have a stage – it is a bar/restaurant. This means I can’t simply borrow ideas from other shows I’ve seen “I want you to act like they did in act 1 of X” I have to do everything from scratch.
After a few hours of thinking, sketching and writing I’ve come up with an outline of actions, movements and general placement in the room of the singers for each bit of the piece. I’ve also solidified the characters of the singers. You might think that that should have been done long ago but because the singers are three strands of the same person they don’t have definite characters in the text, it is their movements that will give them shape. My worry with what I have come up with is that there is too much and it won’t be physically possible to do what I’ve been thinking in the time constraints of the piece but I’m hoping that the singers experience will help when I sit down with them later.