Collaboration Part 2

The first week of term is over and I failed to get the electronics started over Christmas but they are well and truly started now. I have decided that the piece is going to be for 6 or 8 speakers but I’m currently doing all the programming with the idea of 6. I have always been of the opinion that instrument plus tape does not work because it constrains the player too much. Watching a player looking at a watch to make sure they start at the right point just seems wrong. I am of the firm belief that players need freedom to play rather than be constrained to a click track because if they are constrained then there is no point performing if why not just sell a CD? Anyway, with that small rant out of the way I decided to make the electronics all triggered by the player using a foot pedal. The score will have trigger points to tell Lydia when to hit the pedal to tell the software where in the piece it is. With this in mind I’ve given myself the challenge of automating everything and only leaving the final mix up to a second person.

Currently the electronics are mostly based around reverb but not a straight version. The amount of verb will depend on the volume of the playing with the quieter the playing the more verb. This I’ve managed to do through envelope following and a little bit of maths. I’m thinking of setting different limits on the reverb depending on the frequencies so that a partial within the note of 570 hz will have a longer reverb than that of 300hz. I haven’t looked into this yet so I dont know how feasible and effective it will be. There are also going to be more pre recorded samples and created sound but at the moment nothing is solid with that.

Over Christmas and this week I decided that the piece would be roughly 18 mins long with three movements 5, 8 and 5 mins in a roughly arch form idea. The first movement will be charecterised by reverb and building a spectral field (using edited samples of cello sounds to move the cello away from a straight cello sound). The second movement will be a lot faster and ideas based around shepard tones both sampled and live before the final movement returning to a similar sound world as the first but concentrating more on the electronic element. This is my rough plan for the moment and obviously its open to change.

I have embedded the first two drafts of the first movement, they are about about 4min 30 long. The top line is the cello while the bottom refers to the electronics. The solid line represents where in the space of the room the reverb will be coming from, top of the stave = front, bottom = back. Any notes on the bottom line refer to samples. Unfortunately I use A3 paper and only have an A4 scanner but it should be ok.





Collaboration part 1

This post is a bit of a catchup with what has happened so far before the more frequent updates.

We decided on the length of the piece (about 15-20 mins) and that it would more than likely be multiple movements rather than one long one. I’ve always wanted to use instrument and electronics but have never felt I had the knowledge and the opportunity to but I feel I am better equipped now. Though the idea of doing it was rather imposing.
I suggested to Lydia to have a look over my piece for solo cello ‘41111’ to get an idea of my style and also to have a listen to Kaija Saariaho’s solo cello music.
The logic for this suggestion was she has written a piece for solo cello and electronics Prés (Petals) and others for solo cello such as Sept Papillons. Both these pieces I feel are amazing pieces but also have been notated exceptionally clearly (a feeling shared by another cellist I know) and use extended techniques (though can they really be called extended any more?) artistically, because of this I have made the decision to use Saariaho’s scores as a textbook for cello notation.

We agreed upon a timescale with the electronics being ready for the first week back after Christmas to try ideas out, by week 4 (around 1st feb) the piece should be almost ready at least in draft form.
After having had a look over 41111 Lydia said she liked certain sections and techniques used, specifically the opening, the strumming, the cello body tap and the humming.

Embedded in this post is the score to 41111. As a side note this piece is being played in Dublin’s National Concert hall on 23rd February.

Collaboration Introduction

For the next month or two I’m going to turn this under used into a public record of my collaboration with a cellist, Lydia Whittingham, to create a piece for solo cello and electronics. The reason for this documentation is that as part of my masters course I have to do a documentation project which I can document in any way. I first of all thought of keeping it private but then changed my mind. What I’m planning to put on here is summaries of meetings with Lydia, drafts of the score, versions of the electronics and possibly rough recordings by her of the piece so far. All this is with the goal of the premier being in Glasgow City Halls on the 16th of March. This may end up being a little bit of an other ambitious time scale but hey, I like a challenge. Plus she has booked studio time to record it around then anyway.

My Pieces 2010


41111 for solo cello – 11min
Chordal Relations for chamber orchestra – 5min
Echo for wind quintet, mezzo soprano and piano – 8min
Fish and Chips for string quartet – 12min
Fitzwilliam Rag for solo piano – 5min
for Matt Mattera for solo trumpet – 5min
It Just Is for brass quartet – 11min
Laya for piano quartet – 9min
Organic Construct for tape – 9min
Prevalence for percussion quartet – 8 min
Rain for guitar and soprano – 7min
Relations for large orchestra – 13min
Sssh! for flute and guitar – 13min
as yet untitled for chamber orchestra – 12min
Subtle Clarity for solo bass clarinet – 8min
The Wavering Gorge for violin and cello – 6min
Unresolved for solo piano – 3min
Wondering, Wavering, Willing for guitar and violin – 6 min
Youth for tape – 10 min

Total – 161min


Honourable Mention by International Music Prize for Excellence in Composition
for Wondering, Wavering, Willing
May Turtle Scholarship
Hamilton Harty travel Scholarship
PRSF/Bliss foundation Scholarship
RSAMD Scholarship 2010-2011
RSAMD Scholarship 2011-2012

Random Update

Well calling it 42 is a little wrong because this post wont answer all your questions about life but then will anything? What this post will do is sum up my last few months of inactivity while I’m sitting in Gatwick for the next 8 hours or so.

I’ll start with the most up to date thing first; that of sitting in Gatwick. The reason for this is I’m on my way to Milan for two weeks to attend the soundSCAPE festival. I’m looking forward to it but I am wishing I didn’t decide to do a late night flight to London to get an early flight tomorrow morning but such is life. I get to write this and I might get some of a presentation I have to do written. A weird thing about soundSCAPE is that the composer in residence is Patricia Alesendrini, a phd composer from QUB and the same composer who had to pull of form the composers concert twice due to her performers I’ll health (technically it was the same problem it just happened before the first concert and continued until after the second such is bad luck).

For the presentation I have to talk and give examples of my music for about 30mins or so. I started to look at this about a week ago or so with trepidation but thankfully its a lot better than I thought. Looking through my scores from Quartet No. 1 to Untitled and Relations there is definitely a continuity apart from the obvious obsession I have with Fibonacci. Its quite comforting to find this continuity but slightly annoying that ideas I’ve had recently turn out to simply be codifications of things I have done in earlier pieces. Some of this continuity was a conscious decision, like in Quartet No. 1 a long note moved by a micro-tone after about 1min is used again in Puddle Wonderful (though the recording doesn’t so it that well), others weren’t consciously decided upon, like repeated notes on different instruments in The Space Within and Wondering Wavering Willing. But that’s just a brief start have to work out where to go form that.

I’m going to out a thanks up here both the PRSF/Bliss foundation and Sir Hamilton Harty Scholarship have completely funded my trip to the soundSCAPE festival. So thank you both.

Last week my name changed, well not changed just extended a little. I graduated from Queen’s Belfast with a 2.1 and now have letters after my name! This now means I am on my way to RSAMD next year, not that that was really in doubt because of my offer but its not all confirmed. The only thing that’s a little in the air is that of accommodation, paid the deposit but have yet to hear back if I have got anything or not.

Recent Music

The other night I sat down and worked out what my output has been this year (from Jan 1st) and I was shocked. I have written around 30 mins of music which works out about 20 secs per day. I was shocked how I have written so much but then I have finished Relations (a piece for stereo orchestra), Rain (for soprano and guitar), The Wavering George (Violin and Cello) a bass clarinet solo and Unresolved for solo piano. Then there is a percussion piece and a guitar and violin piece that I have started to write within the last week. I dont know how this has come about but I think a switch has flipped in my head from wanting to compose to being able to compose. Every piece (bar Resolved) has either had a workshop, a performance or a performance scheduled. The situation I’m in at the moment is amazing until I remember I still have essays to write.

Also in the last few months I have had very good press reviews. The first one for Imagined Notes by Michael Dervan of the Irish Times which you can read here and the second for Puddle Wonderful. First real reviews I’ve had and I’m very happy with both!

I feel a bit of info about the pieces is needed, I don’t normally do this unless asked but for some reason I’m compelled to. Imagined Notes was written for my final electro-acoustic composition last semester and is basically a reaction against what I see as noise music. What I mean by this is music with no overt pitch bass and simply uses real world sounds to create a piece. I know a door closing or a footstep does have a pitch but not in the same was as a trumpet. So the piece was written to lie somewhere in the middle of the noise music and real music. To do this I took recordings of a piano and an oboe and processed them via transposing stretching etc. The transpositions aimed to create a triadic harmony with the same kind of pull and push of tonality so chords were built up with 5ths, 3rds etc. Though terms such as chords should be used even more loosely in this piece than most because the transpositions where never meant to be precise but more to give the impression of tonal harmony which I think I succeeded in doing. Please do comment and discuss I’d be interested to hear feedback and if others think I did it as successfully as I think.

Relations is a piece for large orchestra with double of most things. This is to create a stereo effect for the audience. The piece is also based on one chord (G-B-E-F) this chord is intended to resonate the whole way through the piece of the piano mainly at the beginning and the end as this section is built on the harmonic series of each note. The music swings round the orchestra or bounces across from left to right. Unfortunately hearing this effect isn’t going to happen any time soon, I dont think I could pull together an orchestra needed for it, but maybe in the future.

I might talk about the percussion piece a little in a week or two after its completely finished but it is similar to Relations in the sense that it is based on one note rather than one chord and develops in a similar vane to The Space Within, which I conducted in the 3rd Queen’s Composers’ Concerts and a recording will be up soon.

I think this is the first blog post in a while that wasn’t for the reason of bitching, in fact it had no reason behind it I just felt compelled to write one. Please feel free to give me any comments or feedback about my music. Always interested to hear peoples opinions. You can also get some of my scores at Sibelius Music or Emerging Composers Library

Rhinos and Culture

Tonight I went to see Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco in the Brian Friel Theatre (Queen’s Film Theatre) because I knew one of the people involved. I had never heard of the work or even the writer but I’m glad I went. The basic outline of the piece is, to quote the QFT website, ‘When a rhinoceros charges across a town square and tramples down an innocent pussy one quiet Sunday afternoon, Berenger is unconcerned. However rhinoceroses start popping up everywhere, putting Berenger’s world, as he knows it, under threat. What will it take for Berenger to stand up to the increasing threat of rhinoceritis?.’
The idea of people turning into rhinos is absolutely absurd but also, as is intended, very symbolic (just change the word rhinoceros into sheep). First one character turns into a rhino then his boss before being followed by his workforce, apart from Berenger, who feel a duty towards the boss and follow his every whim. Eventually rhinoceritis takes hold to such a degree that Berenger picks up his telephone to be confronted by the grunting of a rhino, I didn’t ask how it dialled the number, and turns on the radio to hear the same sound.
The most effective part of the work, for me, was not this scene, but the first scene. The first scene consisted of Berenger sitting in a bar with a friend talking about him, essentially, not conforming to the norm. At some point through the scene a rhino stampedes past with all the characters running in to exclaim ‘look a rhino!’, or something to that effect, with Berenger sitting uninterested at the table. Berenger’s friend, Jean, after the rhino has passed says three or four times ‘well what do you make of that?’ to Berenger before Berenger takes the topic away from the subject of the rhino. The rhino or a different rhino, a subject of a little debate within the play, then returns and tramples on a cat. The owner runs into the bar screaming, mourning her cat, everyone clusters round talks and Jean says, yet again, ‘well what do you make of that?’
The reason I see this section of the play as the most effective and thought provoking part is that, to me, it sums up modern popular culture. You have the outside event (the rhino), people wanting to comment on an essentially unimportant event (‘well what do you make of that?’) and an outside event becoming the topic of conversation for a whole bar, and in the next scene an office, full of people (rhino trampling cat, woman coming into bar mourning and whaling). Scale this event from an absurd play into a real life situation. An outside event, say a cat stuck up the tree, becomes front-page news people talk about it because it is front-page news. Another situation, big brother, x-factor etc reality tv series, when they are on are all people talk about, they even somehow manage to get decent sized articles in respectable newspapers. So far these are two very banal examples but how about changing the example to a murder in a town 100 miles away or even in the same town? People still seem to react in the same way even though it does not directly affect them, though all sympathies go to any family that has been involved in such an event.
The problem is there seems to be no sliding scale of reaction; it’s either all out bitching, indignation or not caring. This is the reason I do not follow popular culture and news bulletins religiously, though I admit I look at a news site once a day to get an idea of what’s happening. I feel you are as likely to find out that the UK is at war as X celebrity has married Y. People seem inclined to follow the crowd, to become a rhino, in order to talk. But what is the point in conversing if what you are conversing about is ultimately pointless? Why not have a debate about which philosophy is better to live your life by, why string theory doesn’t work or which composer or writer is the greatest to have ever lived? These are ultimately as pointless as the banal subjects mentioned earlier but they require more knowledge than a 5 min read in a crappy 99p celeb magazine and they might in fact lead to a great idea or actually learning something new and interesting.
To me popular culture can be summed up as an oversaturation of utterly pointless information. I need to know and learn enough stuff without filling my mind up with useless things about someone who I have never met and who has probably done nothing of real worth or something that doesn’t and will probably never affect me. I sometimes feel like Berenger lost on a sea of rhinos but unlike him at the end of the play I have never debated becoming a rhino, I have always and hopefully will always just be me. Popular culture doesn’t interest me and do you know what? I don’t care.

As for the play and acting it was very good. If you read this, are about Belfast and are free either tomorrow or Friday head to it. Its only £6 and I think it would be worth it.

Consonance and Dissonance

It was Schoenberg that said there is no such thing as consonance or dissonance any more. This seems like a reasonable statement to make but after almost 100 years those terms are still used with regard to music within that time period. Why? Why do these terms stick with such ferocity into the musicological repertoire? These terms make sense when used of music from before 1900 but with music after 1900 they should barely be mentioned in the same paragraph let alone the same essay! With this said they are still mentioned, even used as points of conversation within an analysis but why? Is it because musicologists do not want to be removed from their familiar phrases or is it because from a young age the musician is taught that consonance is nice and dissonance is harsh, major is happy minor is sad?
I completely agree that the young musician should be taught the fundamentals of harmony and the development from plainsong through to today but the teaching seems to concentrate around Bach and Mozart before commenting on Wagner’s chromaticism it doesn’t push forward any more than that. This in turn means that people try and explain contemporary music in out of date terms. Messiaen’s Les Offrands Oubliées is beautiful but in no way consonant, going on the younger musician’s teaching it is dissonant but its not harsh and unpleasant so this makes them question and leaves them confused. This is a fine example of why these terms should not be used but what can replace them? Unfortunately I believe the only words that can replace them are words that belong to feelings, words such as harsh or pleasant. I have been lambasted in essays for writing ‘such and such a passage feels pleasant’ yet I continue to write such terminology because I have not found anything else that will satisfy me. Feelings are the only true way to describe music, trying to distance the emotion from the sound is not right or even possible in the same way that trying to build a house without adequate foundations. Music is art, art is for emotion so is the best way to describe it not in emotional terms? Music today just is. If it has been written by the composer either with a specific idea or emotion in mind, why try and label it constant or dissonant?

If that Music or Just Another Radio

The sound of silence is the sound of nature, but the sound of nature is not silence. Silence will stretch on eternally while each sound no matter how long or short is only a micro-sound in the time scale of nature. Does this mean that it is pointless to produce a sound or that sound itself is unnatural? That is like asking is existence pointless or unnatural. Some will say yes to both, some will say yes to neither yet there are some who will argue both yes and no. It is an unanswerable question but all will agree that if something that exists infringes on something else’s existence then the infringer should be reigned in, but not destroyed. This can apply equally to sound as it can to existence.
The cacophony that is modern life infringes on existence. It infringes on nature’s silence because it is pointless. Modern life has become just another radio, tv, mobile phone ring tone in the middle of the street. It has become so cacophonous that people require these constant stimuli, but why? Why can people not sit back and listen to the sound of nature? The cacophony that is produced is, on the grand scheme of nature, pointless. What is wrong with a whispered conversation over a shouted one? A whispered conversation requires more attention but have people become so used to shouting that a whisper is inaudible? Whisper a person’s name in a crowd of screaming people and you will be heard by that person, yet scream their name and you wont be. This I admit is a slight embellishment of the truth but it has a grain of truth in it. Someone will pick out the nuance of their whispered name in noise because they are attuned to the voice, the whisper and their name yet a shout would just blend in.
The world and all its noise is but a flash in the silence of nature. If we must interrupt it it should have a point, a well-defined reason for the interruption. Would you barge into a wedding, a funeral or a family sitting together eating in their own home without a reason? No, that is common courtesy. So why should we break the silence of nature unless it is with good reason? There is no need for ring tones as long as a phone as a vibrate function, there is no reason to shout at the person you are trying to talk to if everyone else is talking in a whisper.
The point of this short essay is not to preach but for me to lay down my own ideas, ideas that have changed massively over the last year. I originally wanted to write bold loud music but I have gradually been turning away from that and I think today I have come to see why. Silence is what will become and what has always been. We are a brief cacophonous noise in the midst of this silence. If I break this silence it is to create something, something that I find beautiful or pleasurable not harsh and bold but quite and delicate. This idea has not only become apparent in my dynamics but in my pitches, but in hindsight I feel that it has always been within my pitches. A move of a semi-tone makes me shudder yet a tone feels distant, I think it is my desire to create something that only just fractures the silence bleeding into my pitches but then maybe it is the other way round. Maybe it is the pitches bleeding into the silence. A note is nature and a semi-tone, or smaller, is nature but a third is artificial.
People expect the cacophony of the modern world. This expectation has bleed into music in all its forms. Electro-acoustic music takes sounds from this cacophony and re-interprets them, sometimes successfully but rarely, while main-stream music enforces in someone the desire to turn it up, listen to the drums and ignore the subtly. Would a semi-tone change of one note be noticed in a track by Lady Gaga, Stereophonics or Metallica? I think not. There is a place for this music but it is not at the forefront. The nature of these is full of volume but not full of thought. These voluminous sounds are not constrained to mainstream music but are also in many classical works. Again, there is a place for it in some cases, but not in all.
What I believe I am trying to show myself and any who care to read is that nature should not be broken. A sound should come from nothing and go to nothing; that is the natural order. A sound that is there for the sake of itself has no place in the world. Unfortunately modern life seems to be filled with these sounds. Is that music or just another radio?


Three months have gone by and not even one update, I feel ashamed of myself considering the amount that has happened.
October saw the continuation of rehearsals for the opera, there was quite a lot of stress and a few arguments that had to be calmed down but eventually it all worked well for the concert in November. Really happy with how Puddle Wonderful went and managed to get a, rather bad quality, recording of the last night which is up here. All four operas were well received, we didn’t fill the place but I think there was about 300 came over the three nights. The week after that the second Queen’s Composers’ Concert happened. The hall was about 3/4 filled (which again I was really happy with). Afterwards I got quite a few emails congratulating me on the concert. Again the performance of Untitled went really well, though up until the last two rehearsals it wasn’t quite coming together so I had to step in and flail my arms about in some kind of uniform pattern and tempo, this helped make it an excellent performance.
After this concert there was a rather large feeling of emptiness upon realising I had no planned performances planned. This swiftly changed when I joined, and was made secretary of, the Irish Composers Collective. Due to this group I now have a performance of Imagined Notes (22nd February) and of an as yet unwritten violin and cello duo on the 22nd of March both of which will be in the National Concert Hall in Dublin. Two days after the latter concert will be the third Queen’s Composers’ Concert, and the final one organised by me. For this concert I’m conducting The Space Within, a septet written last year for my final composition. It will be my last Composers’ Concert because as of September I will be in Glasgow Collage of Music studying MMus in composition. Finally at some point within the next few months I’ll be getting a performance of a soprano and guitar piece called Rain, with words by Edward Thomas, written for Becca Hopkins and Declan Keenan. Hopefully more concerts will come my way soon but I think thats a decent amount to be going on with. Though I’m starting to think of organising an ICC concert in Belfast before the end of the summer but that is still a very hazy idea.
I think thats a brief catchup of everything thats happened for anyone thats interested.