Announcements

Gigs, gigs, gigs: Ryoji Ikeda, An Assembly, Kammer Klang, HCMF

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As of yesterday, autumn is officially here, so it’s time to take stock of some of the more interesting concerts looming on the horizon. Most imminently, Japan’s most dazzling audiovisual electronic pioneer Ryoji Ikeda is making a rare visit to the UK. His Barbican concert on Sunday night (which i’ll be reviewing), featuring datamatics [ver. 2.0] and a live performance of his recently-released Music for Percussion, (available via Ikeda’s own Codex Edition label) is sold out, but for those in the vicinity of Plymouth Ikeda will be presenting a live set of his 2013 album Supercodex at the Plymouth Guildhall on Friday night as part of The Atlantic Project. Tickets are still available – and very cheap – so it’s a great opportunity to experience Ikeda’s uniquely beautiful blending of sound and data. Aside from Ikeda, The Atlantic Project (which runs from 28 September to 1 October) promises a shedload of intriguing events including an evening of sound and film with Café Concrete, and the ‘Immersive Orchestra’, a performance at Plymouth Hoe in which swimmers ‘conduct’ an orchestra of 100 guitarists. To prove i didn’t just make that up, and to find out everything else that’s going on, visit The Atlantic Project website.

New music ensemble An Assembly are going out on the road for a small-scale autumn tour, performing three works, two of them ensemble commissions: Louis D’HeudieresLaughter Studies 6b – the title of which seems apt, since the mere description of it, involving four vocalists “describing and imitating their own private soundtracks of synthesised tunes and field recordings, transmitted to them via earphones” had me chuckling just thinking about it, Charlie Usher‘s An assembly – a 45-minute epic made up of 14-second miniatures – and a new work by Rowland Hill responding to a 1959 review of Stravinsky’s Agon. They’ll be performing these pieces at Manchester’s Anthony Burgess Centre on 1 October, at City University in London the next day (this concert is free) and finally in Birmingham’s Centrala Café on 4 October. Full details can be found on An Assembly’s website. Read more

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Fermata

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Tomorrow morning, my best beloved and i are heading off on holiday for a week, so normal service will resume once i’m back. One or two articles might just appear while i’m gone, and in the meantime, if you haven’t already, be sure to express your opinion about each of the Proms premières i’ve reviewed so far over on the Polls page.

Toodle pip!

Gigs, gigs, gigs: Night Liminal; Who knows if the moon’s

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A couple of performances of my work are coming up soon. Most imminently is the #EarBox series of art and music performances organised by the University of Kent. Their next event features my 2012 ambient work Night Liminal in conjunction with a new exhibition titled Extending the Frame. It’s taking place at 1.10pm on Thursday 24 May at Studio 3 Gallery, in the University’s Jarman Building, and admission is free. Further details can be found on the University’s music department blog, and you can read all about Night Liminal here.

To mark the occasion i’ve created a 50% discount code for the digital download of Night Liminal, valid until the end of this month. Head over to the Bandcamp page and when adding to the cart enter the code earbox to get the discount.

And next month soprano Jessica Summers will be giving the world première of my song for solo voice Who knows if the moon’s. Despite lasting a mere two minutes, this little song – a setting of E. E. Cummings’ well-known poem – is a piece i once thought i’d never complete. It dates back to my undergraduate days; i broke off working on it in May 1995 following the abrupt death of my father, and could never bring myself to return to it. It then sat around for nearly two decades until i rediscovered the sketches and finally managed to complete it during my PhD at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Partly because of how personal it’s become, i’ve not shown the piece to many people, but i’m delighted that Jessica will finally be performing it; it really is high time i let go of this music.

Accompanied by pianist Jelena Makarova, the concert is one of Jessica’s Living Songs recitals, and takes place at 1.15pm on 12 June at St Mary-at-Hill Church in London. The concert also includes music by Debussy and Stuart MacRae. More details can be found at the church’s website, and the Living Songs project can be followed on Twitter at @LivingSongs21.

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New release: ma

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In a few days’ time, my most recent cycle of electronic music will be released by the adventurous Portuguese label, Crónica. The title of the cycle is the Japanese word (ma), which is difficult easily to translate into English. The concept it embodies is a spatial one, specifically the gap between two discrete structural parts or elements, with associated connotations of an interval or pause. In his book Silence in Philosophy, Literature, and Art, Steven Bindeman has described 間 as “the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form … Ma is not created by compositional elements, but takes place in the imagination of someone who experiences these elements. Therefore it can best be defined as the experiential place that is held by an interval.” As such, 間 is often regarded as an embodiment of ‘negative space’, where the apparent absence of substance or form or sound is rendered concrete and tangible.

Those of you who have followed my work over the years may occasionally have heard or seen reference to something i was working on with a provisional title ‘TACET.’, which was originally intended to be an enormous project containing many hours of music. However, as this music was born out of and confronts a very difficult and painful period of my life, i eventually realised that it wasn’t particularly healthy to persist with the project beyond a certain point. My response to this period took shape through meditation on the concept of 間, in which silence is not a simple absence or emptiness but rather becomes a focal point, with a shape, character, and energy that all contribute to a larger whole.

The composition process began with recordings that i made during a traditional Anglican service of Evensong. Everything was then removed from the recordings with the exception of the brief silences that fall between the various sections of the service, fragments of sound capturing echoes, resonances, and glimpses of ambience. These fragments were then used as the sound palette for a series of improvisations that formed the basis for each of the pieces in the cycle. They were subjected to extensive processing and sculpting, and are only occasionally heard in their raw state.

The concept of 間 implies a certain degree of tranquillity and calm, but the emphasis in this music is focused on connotations of negativity. Put simply, this is (from my perspective, at least) angry music, veering between nervous, fretful twitching and unbridled, distorted ferocity. Rage and obsession are recurring traits throughout, manifesting in harsh, acidic, repetitive clatter and throbbing pulses, and even in the more quiet passages – of which there are very many – the music is designed to emphasise tension, unrest and a pervading sense of ominous dread. Listening through headphones or in an extremely quiet space is especially recommended due to the quiet and subtle material that features in some of the pieces.

In its final form, 間 comprises eight works, lasting around an hour, many of which take their titles from poems by E. E. Cummings:

  1. mightily forgetting all which will forget him (emptying our soul of emptiness) priming at every pore a deathless life with magic until peace outthunders silence
  2. }rest{
  3. i see thee then ponder the tinsel part they let thee play
  4. from Silence; of Nothing
  5. O visible beatitude sweet sweet intolerable!
  6. Negative Silence (detail)
  7. [ULTRA]—infra
  8. what neither is any echo of dream nor any flowering of any echo (but the echo of the flower of Dreaming)

There is, i hope, some semblance of catharsis running through the cycle, and despite my above description of the nature of the music, there’s also a great deal of beauty – and, at the last, peace – to be found along the way.

Crónica are releasing 間 as a limited edition cassette (containing a miniature bonus track hidden at the very end of side B, which encapsulates the essence of the entire cycle) as well as a digital download. Further details and information can be found on the Crónica website as well as their Bandcamp page. i also have a small supply of the cassettes, so if you’d prefer to buy them directly from me (£7 plus postage), then just send me a message either from here or here.

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Electric Spring/Ambient@40

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A quick, last-minute heads-up about Huddersfield University’s annual blow-out celebrating all things electronic, Electric Spring, which starts this evening and runs until Sunday. This year’s programme is typically diverse: Philip Thomas and Colin Frank will be performing works for piano, percussion and electronics, Freida Abtan will present a 21-minute audiovisual work “inspired by the logic of dream narrative”, while Rodrigo Costanzo, Brian Crabtree and Angela Guyton will explore improvised pieces, some of which involve dynamic lighting and video. The concerts are once again supplemented with opening acts, from Aaron Cassidy, Sam Gillies, Katy Gray and Owen Green, plus a couple of late-evening shindigs from the BaconJam collective and Sebastien Lavoie. As usual, it’s a mix of names i know and plenty i don’t, so it promises to be an exciting and unpredictable adventure. All concerts are free, and start at 7:30pm in Phipps Hall, in the Creative Arts Building. Full details on the Electric Spring website.

The Saturday evening concert ties in with the Ambient@40 conference, which runs from Friday to Saturday. The conference promises to be a fascinating investigation, with a multifaceted collection of papers and performances exploring ambient from aesthetic, strategic, influential and many other angles, topped off with a keynote from none other than Ocean of Sound author and Brian Eno collaborator David Toop. The Saturday evening concert features a variety of music connected in different ways to ambient, by Robert Mackay, Rupert Till, Kristina Wolfe, Szafranski duo, Tim Howle and myself. i’ll be presenting new live versions of two of my indeterminate works, February 12, 2013, which has not been heard before, and February 24, 2013, originally created for the Imperfect Forms Kenneth Kirschner ebook project. The full programme for the conference, including abstracts for all the papers and presentations, can be viewed on the Ambient@40 website.

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5:4 on Patreon

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i’m taking a short breather from this week’s concerts and reviews from the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival to announce the launch of 5:4 on Patreon. It was in January 2008, almost ten years ago, that I started this blog, devoted to the most interesting, innovative and impressive contemporary and avant-garde music of our time. It all began in a pretty understated way with this article, simply sharing some recent sounds that had been catching my ear.

Since then, the blog has grown enormously, both in terms of the scope of my coverage and readership. I’ve written nearly 800 articles, including reviews of concerts and new releases, comprehensive critiques of new works, conversations with composers and performers, thematic explorations of new music, podcasts and mixtapes, retrospectives of composers and specific works/albums, and annual lists of the best music of the year.

A decade on, 5:4 is one of the very few websites committed to in-depth coverage and critique of new music. Alex Ross – music critic and author of The Rest Is Noise – has described the blog as “a powerful and uncompromising voice in the international new-music world”. My articles have been re-published in print periodicals, and are regularly quoted and cited in academic papers, articles, essays, and programme notes. The blog has therefore come to occupy a rare and important position in the discussion and outreach of contemporary music.

Personally speaking, 5:4 is now one of the most significant parts of my musical life, sitting equally alongside my activities as a composer and researcher. I love writing it; love the opportunity to introduce and explore new and unfamiliar music to a much wider audience; love being able to discover and share landmarks and pointers that help navigate a coherent way through new works; love being able to demonstrate how exciting and ground-breaking contemporary music can be, and how it can transform our understanding and preconceptions of the art.

Writing and maintaining 5:4 requires a lot of time and energy. A typical article takes anywhere from a couple of hours to a full day or more. I regard such a considered approach as this to be vital for a meaningful engagement with music. As a composer myself, I know just how much goes into the creation of even a single bar or a few seconds of sound. It deserves and needs respect and attention.

5:4 is free to read. There’s no paywall, no charges for reading certain articles, and this is how I want it to remain. And I want to take the blog much further, review a wider range of concerts and releases, record long-form dialogues with many more composers and performers, make in-depth explorations of individual pieces and albums, and create more podcasts. All of these things will expand further the contribution 5:4 makes to the discussion and understanding of contemporary music.

To do this, I need your help. With even a small donation each month, I’ll be able to bring a lot more time and ambition to the blog, and ultimately explore an even greater range of music in even more depth. So if you have found 5:4 an interesting, entertaining, useful or valuable resource over the last ten years, please do consider becoming a patron.

Thank you for your support!

Ambient@40 conference

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Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the release of Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports, an album that established a manifesto, an aesthetic, an ideology and an archetype for ambient music. This is something i’m intending to celebrate and explore on 5:4 throughout 2018, but beyond this, i’m delighted to announce that at the end of next February there will be a conference devoted to ambient music, hosted by Huddersfield University, organised and chaired by Monty Adkins, Rupert Till and myself. The call for proposals was released yesterday, and the details are summarised below:


Ambient@40

Deadline: 17.00 (GMT), Friday 12th January 2018.

In the forty years since the release of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports the concept and aesthetics of ambient music have proliferated, influencing artists as diverse as Taylor Deupree, Steven Wilson, David Lynch and The Orb, infusing drone, microsound, minimalism and experimental electronic music as well as aspects of contemporary instrumental music. The aim of this two-day conference is to re-appraise ambient music in relation to Eno’s milestone release.

Ambient@40 will be hosted in the newly opened Oastler Building at the University of Huddersfield from Friday 23rd to Saturday 24th February. The programme committee invites proposals for:

a. individual papers (20 minute presentation with 10 minutes for questions and discussion);
b. performance and paper (10 minute per performance, 10 minute presentation with 10 minutes for questions).

The committee welcomes proposals from academics, independent scholars, research students and practitioners.

The conference will run alongside the Electric Spring Festival (www.electricspring.co.uk) and an evening concert on Saturday 24th February at the Festival will close the conference.

The program committee will also invite a selection of those giving papers to write them up in the months following the conference (deadline June 2018) as book chapters for publication in late 2018 / early 2019.

Submission and selection process

All proposals should be submitted to Prof. Monty Adkins (m.adkins@hud.ac.uk) by the deadline, Friday 12th January 2018 (17.00, GMT). Individual paper submissions should include an abstract (350 words) and an author biography (200 words). Performance and paper submissions should include a brief overview of the audio presentation including technical resources required (300 words), links to online samples of audio work, an abstract (350 words) and an author biography (200 words).

The committee aims to notify proposal authors of its decision by Friday 19th January 2018. Those selected will be asked to confirm their acceptance and technical setup. The full programme will be announced online and booking opened on Monday 22nd January 2018. The Ambient@40 conference registration fee will be £50 (£30 for students/concessions).

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