Announcements

Gigs, gigs, gigs: ddmmyy, HCMF

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It’s November, and i’ll initially skip over the elephant in the month to flag up a very interesting concert series going on in Manchester. Curated by undergrad composer Jack Sheen, it goes by the Excel spreadsheet-friendly title ddmmyy, seeking to make each event literally that, an event, conceived and customised in sympathy with the music contained therein. The next concert in the series is in a little over a week’s time, on Sunday 16 November in the RNCM’s Carole Nash Recital Room, and it promises an interesting selection: a new work from Laurence Tompkins, Larry Goves’ A glimpse of the sea in a fold of the hills and Laurence Crane’s Octet. As all good new music concerts should, there’s a pre-concert talk at 6pm before the kick-off at 7.30pm. Future concerts in February and April next year will be including works by Bryn Harrison, Michael Finnissy and Berio alongside music by RNCM-associated composers. Ambitious and also rather stylish in presentation, it’s clearly a concert series well worth checking out; the flyer with info about all their forthcoming concerts can be seen/downloaded here.

And now, of course, to the pachyderm: in two weeks’ time, this year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival will be springing into action for another round of the unexpected, the challenging and the downright discombobulating. i’ll be there for the full ten days this year, and will be reporting back on as much as my mind and ears can cope with. It’s almost nonsensical to single out highlights in a festival where every event is a highlight in itself, but the choice of James Dillon as this year’s Composer in Residence is hugely mouth-watering; both of the festival’s weekends feature his work heavily, the former with the London Sinfonietta and BBC Singers premièring a new large-scale work, Stabat Mater dolorosa, the latter with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra taking on another new work, Physis I & II and an existing piece, Andromeda, before pitting the Arditti Quartet against all seven—that’s all seven—of Dillon’s string quartets. i know, right? i’ll also be particularly looking forward to premières from, among others, Liza Lim, Simon Steen-Andersen (whose Black Box Music remains one of the most astonishing things i’ve seen/heard at HCMF in recent years), Christopher Fox, Naomi Pinnock and Monty Adkins; Adkins will also be presenting his beautiful electronic work Rift Patterns (my review of which is here). One of contemporary music’s most alluringly dark clarinettists, Gareth Davis, will be playing a major new work from Elliott Sharp called Sylva Sylvarum; his wonderful rendition of Sharp’s Foliage at Bristol New Music earlier this year makes this an unmissable performance. Apartment House will be performing Brian Eno, Arne Deforce and Pan Sonic’s Mika Vainio will be performing a live version of their interesting recent album Hephaestus, Ryoko Akama will be giving the world première of a new work by the great Eliane Radigue, and nyMusikk Bergen will be tackling Sciarrino’s frankly bizarre opera (of sorts) Lohengrin on the festival’s opening night. But i’m also especially looking forward to music by composers entirely new to me, including Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Joan Arnau Pàmies, Øyvind Torvund, Bjørn Fongaard and Ferran Fages. Unsurprisingly, some of the concerts are by now sold out, but many are still available – full information and bookings here. i trust it won’t leave me wordless, but i fully expect to be left speechless.

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Fermata

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Holidays beckon; back in two weeks, with a mega catch-up of all the new Proms premières…

Proms 2014: looking forward

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It’s back! This afternoon (at precisely 2pm, following a brief period of something not entirely unlike hype) the Proms 2014 season was revealed. Having pored over the details, what it promises in the way of new music is characterised as much by safety as it is by generosity. Discounting the concessions to jazz and pop as well as the sextet of ‘London premières’—not premières in any meaningful sense of the word—there are 22 works hitherto unheard on these shores, nine of which are first performances. But overall, it has to be said some of the choices demonstrate strikingly narrow-minded thinking, including many composers whose work has been featured at the Proms numerous times already. Furthermore, the durations afforded to new music are noticeably shorter than in recent seasons; no contemporary piece this year will ask more than half an hour of your time. Read more

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Gigs, gigs, gigs: Bristol New Music, LCMF, Tectonics

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The spring concert calendar is starting to fill up with some real delights, with three forthcoming festivals being particularly mouth-watering. The most imminent is Bristol New Music, occupying a long weekend beginning this Friday. In many ways, BNM looks set to be a kind of HCMF for the south-west. Ensemble musikFabrik will be presenting Harry Partch‘s rarely-heard And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma, using recreated versions of Partch’s home-made microtonal instruments, in addition to ‘interpretations’ of Frank Zappa. There are also major new works from John Butcher, Keith Tippett, Christian Marclay and Christian Wallumrød, the Bristol Ensemble performing works by Tansy Davies and Matthew Schlomowitz, as well as concerts by clarinettist Gareth Davis, Roly Porter and the wonderful Ellen Fullman. Throw in Quatuor Bozzini with a première by Claudia Molitor and a cluster of installations, and you’ve got the makings of a seriously exciting three days of music. Full details can be found here, and there are some tasty savings to be had if you go for the day passes.

At the end of next month—serendipitously placed so soon after the recent Pioneers of Sound festival in Birmingham—is London Contemporary Music Festival‘s three-evening celebration of the undisputed big daddy of acousmatic music, Bernard Parmegiani. Each evening is jam-packed with Parmegiani goodness—including documentary films alongside the music—with diffusion coming from such luminaries as Denis Smalley, Jonty Harrison and Daniel Teruggi, and there will be live sets from Rashad Becker and Florian Hecker. Considering how exhilarating these concerts are going to be, the tickets are wonderfully inexpensive (a weekend pass will set you back a mere £20); details here.

Yet another weekend of sonic glory is coming in early May with the 2014 Tectonics Festival in Glasgow. They certainly seem to be ramping up both the diversity and the ambition, promising no fewer than nine world premières, from the likes of John Oswald, Michael Finnissy, Georg Friedrich Haas, Christian Wolff, Richard Youngs and James Clapperton. This year, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra will find itself rubbing shoulders with, among others, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, vocal group EXAUDI and the Icelandic collective S.L.Á.T.U.R.. Details have only begun to emerge in the last few days; everything you need to know can be found here, and if you fancy a jaunt to Reykjavík in April (no?), then details of the Icelandic Tectonics Festival—with special focus on Alvin Lucier—can be found here.

All being well, i’ll be at all the above (possibly not Reykjavík), doing my best to navigate through and report back on the proceedings. Despite Britain’s interminably awful weather at the moment, in the concert halls at least 2014 has a decidedly sunny outlook.

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Gigs, gigs, gigs

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There are some very interesting live events looming between the doorstep and the horizon. Most imminently, New Dots—an excellent initiative designed to foster collaborative composer/ensemble relationships—will be presenting the next instalment in their ongoing ‘Sounds of the New’ series at the Forge in Camden next Thursday (14th). This time it’ll be given by the London-based Octandre Ensemble, in a concert of works from a sextet of up-and-coming composers (none of whom i’ve heard of, but that no doubt says more about me than them). Details of the concert can be found here, and it’s worth highlighting they’re also running a composing competition, scoping out new works for piano and/or percussion duo and/or electronics. Details of that here; but take note the deadline is 15 November.

Beyond this—yet still less than a week away—is contemporary music’s most happily disorienting annual splurge, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. This year i’ll be spending what i anticipate to be a frankly exhausting six full days at HCMF, and will be blogging about the proceedings as much as time and energy allow (like last year, expect coverage to spread through succeeding weeks as various parts are broadcast). It seems rather fatuous to refer to ‘highlights’ where HCMF is concerned, since almost every one of its 10 days is packed to the rafters with them; personally speaking, the prospect of world and UK premières from the likes of James Dillon, Brian Ferneyhough, Monty Adkins, Rebecca Saunders, Simon Steen-Andersen, Michael Finnissy, Konrad Boehmer, Jakob Ullmann (one of my biggest heroes) and Natasha Barrett in addition to an entire day of John Zorn leaves one more than a little giddy with anticipation. HCMF Artistic Director Graham McKenzie deserves a lot more than mere kudos for bringing together such a wondrous cavalcade of new music. McKenzie’s regular tweets suggest that many, if not most, of the concerts have nearly sold out; ticket info is available here.

Next month, back at the Forge, composer Piers Tattersall and pianist Christopher Guild are going to be presenting an evening of piano music with and without electronics, including works by Jonathan Harvey, Olivier Messiaen and Pascal Dusapin alongside music by Tattersall himself and a couple of other composers. Piers tells me he’s been working with Guild for several years, so it’ll be very interesting to hear the fruits of that collaboration, and it’s always a real treat to hear Harvey’s leftfield but dreamy Tombeau de Messiaen (if you don’t know it, get on with it). Full details here.

On top of all this avant goodness, i’m especially interested and excited at the prospect of Joe Bates’ Filthy Lucre project. Founded in 2010, the purpose of the project is to present what Joe describes as “mixed-genre, mixed-medium immersive music nights”—kind of like a Robert Rich throwback but with a far more active, thought-provoking raison d’être. Their next night is planned for Saturday 11 January at the Bussey Building in Peckham; running from 9pm to 5am, the night will feature new works as well as eclectica from the delightful likes of Scott Walker, Frank Ocean, Scelsi, Radiohead, Claude Vivier, Dirty Projectors and many, many more. There are so many reasons to enjoy and support occasions like these, so let me encourage you to visit the Filthy Lucre 3 Kickstarter page, read the extensive information about what’s going to take place (the prospect of soprano Juliet Fraser performing Vivier’s Bouchara ought to be enough to ignite anyone’s enthusiasm), and then make a generous donation to help it become a reality. They’re over halfway to their target of £2,500 and there’s just 11 days to go. i, for one, would love to see this happen.

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Fermata

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i’m now heading off to Norway for a week, so the Proms reviews will be on hold until my return. In the meantime, don’t forget to vote in the polls for the premières heard so far.

Se deg snart!

Proms 2013: looking forward

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This year’s Proms programme was unveiled today, and it makes for a typically interesting, if somewhat unadventurous, prospect. Both the season and the assortment of world premières will be kicked off, as usual, with a safe, mainstream choice, Julian Anderson. As for the rest, it’s impressive to see how large-scale some of these new works are going to be, with Thomas Adès, Naresh Sohal and Nishat Khan each contributing pieces touted to be of at least 40 minutes’ duration. The prospect of a new commission from Frederic Rzewski is rather mouth-watering too, as is a brace of new variations from John Woolrich and Tansy Davies, expanding the set originally composed in 1952 by Britten, Berkeley, Tippett and others. Like last year, the UK premières are in some ways more exciting, particularly those by Helmut Lachenmann, Stockhausen, Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Eötvös. Inevitably, it’s not a season devoid of potential humdrummery—works from both Colin and David Matthews, Philip Glass, Diana Burrell and George Lloyd may well present the wrong kind of challenge—but hopefully the season’s damp squibs will once again pale beside its triumphs.

The season starts on Friday 12 July; all of the information you might want or need can be found here. Good, bad or indifferent, i’ll be covering all of the premières on 5:4—be there or be Philip Glass.

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New digital release: Could you not watch one hour with me?

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Available today for free download is Could you not watch one hour with me?, a conceptual work i created a couple of years ago. Inspired by an act of worship that takes place today, Maundy Thursday, the material heard in the work comprises a one-hour recording made during The Watch, a night vigil that has no formal liturgy or structure, consisting solely of the silent thought, meditation, worship and prayer of the faithful. Presented in this context, my intention is to confront the connotations of that question, exploring notions of substance and absence, silence and sound, focus and lassitude, emptiness and the sacred. The work revisits from a fresh perspective the well-established idea that there is no such thing as silence. It also throws down a challenge in its title, asking, even daring the listener to sacrifice an hour to an end that may appear futile or meaningless. It is my sincerest hope that, in rising to that challenge, one might discover a depth and richness that transcends the silence, and perhaps even a glimpse of the holy.

The work is dedicated to the memory of Rudolf Otto.

For more information and to download, click here.

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New CD coming soon: Dither • Pother • Roil

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In a week’s time, a new CD of my electronic music will be released, titled Dither • Pother • Roil. It contains three distinct but related pieces, which began life in a series of improvisations made in early 2008. Somewhat inexplicably, i promptly lost the recordings and forgot all about them until the start of this year; between February and October i then extensively reworked and developed them into their final, very elaborate forms, which together last around 49 minutes. Here’s a smidgeon from the blurb-spiel:

There are ways in which this trio of works relates to and draws upon both the techniques and sentiments of my earlier electronic music. There are echoes of the shifting abstractions of the Simulated Music cycle, as well as the large-scale sculptural elementalism heard in the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars and ‘Icon’, the central panel in Triptych, May/July 2009. But above all, Dither, Pother and Roil explore (for me) new methods and an expanded mode of expression.

Dither was finished first, and is concerned primarily with material that writhes and roars at its own prevarication. Here’s part II:

Pother continues the thread established in Dither, becoming increasingly fraught and portentous. This is part I:

Roil was the last to be completed, and is the longest and most complex of the three. A multi-layered noisescape, Roil is by far the most unrestrained piece i have ever composed, whipping up elements of Dither and Pother into a clamorous torrent of frenzied outrage. Here’s part IV:

The accompanying artwork explores details from a recent painting by the young American artist Claire Uhle. Titled ‘Well, everything’s moving so slow in this life time.’, the painting goes a long way to capturing everything that Dither, Pother and Roil are seeking to convey (click for high-res).

The CD comes out on 20 November in a numbered limited edition of 50 copies. For more information and to order a copy, click here. A digital download version will also be available.

In other news, my previous CD Night Liminal is now available as a digital download as well. There are also a few CDs left; details about both can be found here and here.

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Coming soon: Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch

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In one of the most exciting teasers i’ve seen in a long while, Scott Walker has released a video of snippets from his forthcoming album, Bish Bosch. It includes clips from a number of tracks, bearing such tantalising titles as ‘See You Don’t Bump His Head’, ‘Tar’, ‘Dimple’, ‘Corps de Blah’, ‘Phrasing’ and ‘Epizootics!’ (the complete tracklist is here). The 4-minute video brings to mind scenes from the film 30 Century Man, showing something of the bewildering array of instruments and techniques integral to Walker’s painstaking compositional process. There aren’t many musicians who can bring together such extremes of acoustic and electronic phenomena and make them seem not just suited to each other but downright necessary, but on the strength of this all-too-brief trailer, Bish Bosch is going to do just that. The question one couldn’t help thinking in the devastating wake of 2006’s The Drift was “What on earth will Scott Walker be able to come up with to follow this?”. On 3 December, we’ll all get to find out.

In the meantime, there’s a Bish Bosch mini-site to keep an eye on, and some additional info on the 4AD website.

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New CD out today – Night Liminal

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i’m delighted to announce that today sees the release of my latest CD, Night Liminal. Here’s a bit of blurb from the spiel:

For the last four years, my electronic music has been to a large extent founded upon noise. Whether sculpting large, primordial shapes from it (Triptych, May/July 2009), pitting it against pitched material (the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars) or allowing it to do its own thing (Simulated Music), noise has been the principal vehicle for my electronic music. Even in my most gentle work (The Stuff of Memories), noise has been present, colouring and caking the music in sonic detritus.

Night Liminal is different. Lasting a little under forty minutes, the work is a stark contrast to these intense noisescapes, signalling both a return to and a reclamation of my æsthetic roots, embracing the quietude of ambient music. For the first time, the material is gentle, soft-edged and peaceful—even relaxing. That, at least, is its first impression; but the work’s inspiration is more subtle and ambivalent than that. Night Liminal is partly inspired by the ancient monastic service of Compline, which takes place as day is ending. Both the service and its setting confront head-on the perils heralded by twilight.

Being in a sacred space at dusk is a profound and paradoxical experience, comforting yet unsettling. One is caught between light and darkness, between the vast expanse of tradition and the contemporary mystery of the moment. The night can be a dangerous and uncharted place; my hope is that this music can become an integral part of the gloaming, teasing out and resonating with both its delights and its uncertainties in a gentle act of provocation and peace.

Provocation may seem incongruous in the context of ambient music, but Night Liminal’s soft, slow-moving textures echo this; warm and melodic, sometimes dark and disquieting, they afford the listener a dual experience of rest and reflection.

Night Liminal is dedicated to the memory of Jehan Alain.

As usual, the CD is a limited edition of 50 numbered copies; to order a copy, go here.

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Fermata

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i’m not around much at the moment, so there’ll be a short general pause on 5:4. The Proms articles will continue when i’m back, but in the meantime, i’ve set up polls for the recent Proms premières, so the votes can keep coming in. The dedicated Proms 2012 polls page can be found here—get voting!

In memoriam

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Today is the anniversary of the death of my father, Richard Peter Weston Cummings. Over the years, i’ve composed several pieces that explore the range of feelings and memories associated with his passing, the most recent of which was my electronic work Triptych, May/July 2009, released on CD a few years ago. The piece was in part created using a photograph of my father (used on the CD artwork), which was manipulated and converted into sound in various ways to create the basic material from which the three movements were made. Musician and composer Danielle Baquet-Long, with whom i’d only just made contact, died suddenly while i was composing the work, so the Triptych is dedicated to her memory.

There are still some copies of the CD remaining, so to mark today, i’ve dropped the price significantly – just £2.50 for the CD (including UK shipping; slightly more for overseas) and a mere 50p for the digital download. For the CD go here, or for the download, here.

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Proms 2012: looking forward

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Having largely ignored the hype and hullabaloo surrounding the launch of this year’s Proms season, my concert guide arrived this morning and so i’ve finally taken a proper look at what lies ahead; it promises to be an interesting and, at times, exciting experience. Once again the season will begin with a new work, this time by Mark-Anthony Turnage, and i for one can only hope he’s not been listening to any R‘n’B lately. Beyond this, the number of world premières is considerable, and i’ll be particularly looking forward to those by Benedict Mason, Charlotte Bray, Elaine Agnew, Bob Chilcott, and Simon Bainbridge; new works by Fung Lam, Julian Philips, Nicole Lizée, Thea Musgrave, James MacMillan, Tim Garland, Brian Elias, Gavin Higgins, Gavin Bryars, Helen Grime, Eric Whitacre and Mark Simpson will also be receiving their first performances. A diverse list indeed, but it’s the UK premières i’m more excited about, especially the works by Kaija Saariaho, Per Nørgård, Harrison Birtwistle, Olga Neuwirth and Michael Finnissy. In fact, the concert featuring Finnissy’s Piano Concerto No. 2, given by the Britten Sinfonia and also including the Birtwistle and Elias premières, plus Brian Ferneyhough’s Prometheus, may just turn out to be the highlight of the whole season.

As usual, all these premières will be featured on 5:4, but aside from the new pieces Daniel Barenboim will be presenting six works by Pierre Boulez during the first half of the season (as a curious counterpart to his Beethoven symphony series), and the centenary of John Cage’s birth will be marked with a large-scale concert in his honour, including that most excellent of choirs, EXAUDI. Having pulled out all the stops last year in resurrecting Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony, Proms director Roger Wright has gone even further this year with performances of two of the largest works ever written, BerliozRequiem and Schoenberg‘s ravishing Gurrelieder (the cost of this year’s season must be truly eye-watering).

So, lots to look forward to, and it all kicks off on 13 July.

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Fermata

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For the next two weeks i am away on holiday, so the remaining Proms premières will be discussed when i return.

Interrobang – works by Elliott Carter, Paul Dolden, Javier Álvarez & more

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Anyone in the Birmingham area tomorrow night (Monday 13th) might be interested in the next concert my ensemble, Interrobang, is giving. The concert will feature a number of works by established composers, intermingled with four pieces by students and graduates of the Birmingham Conservatoire (where Interrobang is based). It includes a new work of my own, composed for BCMG at the end of the last year and explored in a workshop with them in the spring, but not yet performed in public. Here’s the programme:

Etelka Nyilasi – Visions in the Northern Sky for 6 players
Simon Cummings – Intense quick dream of sentimental groups with people of all possible characters amidst all possible appearances for string sextet (World Première)
Ryan Latimer – The Canon of Medicine for piano trio (World Première)
Elliott Carter – Scrivo in Vento for solo flute
Paul Dolden – In a Bed Where the Moon was Sweating. Resonance #1 for clarinet & tape (UK Première)
Veleka Algar – From Silence for string sextet (World Première)
Javier Álvarez – Temazcal for maracas & tape

The concert starts at 7.30pm and once again takes place in the Conservatoire’s Recital Hall. A map is below; those with GPS should punch in the postcode B3 3HG. If any 5:4 readers are present, do make yourselves known to me during the interval or afterward—would be great to see you!


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New Dead Pilots piano mix

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Dan Gregory, who runs the splendid label Dead Pilot Records, has been kind enough to include my little piano piece In Paradisum on his latest online mix. While i don’t know most of the other names included in the mix, it’s nice to be in the company of Daniel W J McKenzie, better known by his pseudonym, Ekca Liena.

“Piano Series #3” can be streamed via MixCloud, here

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Fermata

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Two weeks’ holiday are beckoning, so there’ll be no further posts until i return. The Proms premières will all be recorded in my absence (tonight’s concert is being recorded as i write these words), so expect a series of posts catching up in late August.

Meanwhile, as ever, enjoy the silence.

Fermata

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The Moors and the Dales are beckoning, so the Beloved and i are going to be away in Yorkshire for the next couple of weeks (if any readers live in that great county, let me know), so time for a hiatus here on 5:4.

“Silence is more musical than any song.” (Christina Rossetti)

Fermata

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Tomorrow, the Beloved and i set off for a little over 2 weeks’ exploration of “Na h-Eileanan Siar”: the Western Isles, beginning on Skye and then gradually moving beyond into the Outer Hebrides. Therefore, a short hiatus here on 5:4; enjoy the silence.

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