The Isolation Mixtapes : N

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With this week’s Isolation Mixtape, we enter the second half of the alphabet, focusing on artists, composers and groups beginning with the letter N. As ever, there are two of the most interesting tracks from each of the years 2010-2019, featured in chronological order.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Gigs, gigs, gigs: Forum Wallis

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During the last few months it’s been disheartening and downright depressing to see one festival after another forced to cancel or postpone their events due to the pandemic. So it’s exciting to see that things are tentatively starting to get going again, and among the first to throw open their doors will be this year’s Forum Wallis festival, which will now run from 10-12 August in the Swiss town of Leuk. Last year was my first experience of Forum Wallis and it made a big impact on me. Part of that, i must admit, was due to its location: i’ve attended festivals in some beautiful places but i’m not sure any of them has packed the full-on majestic awe of Leuk, positioned on the side of a mountain in the Swiss Alps, with most of the concerts taking place in the restored castle building of Schloss Leuk. The perceived relative remoteness of Leuk perhaps explains in part why it seems to be a relatively unknown and underappreciated festival. It’s a shame, as to my mind Forum Wallis (so called as Leuk is situated in the Valais or Wallis region of Switzerland) is one of the most engaging and daring festivals i’ve ever attended. That’s due in no small part to Javier Hagen, singer, composer, and artistic director of Forum Wallis, whose appreciation of new music happily stretches from the easily accessible to the most eye- and ear-poppingly avant-garde.

This year’s festival features eight concerts across the three days, including members of ensemble recherche in music by Claude Vivier, Johannes Schöllhorn, Lisa Streich and Rebecca Saunders and a new work from Tobias Krebs; Fritz Hauser performing several of his own works (which have seriously impressed me in the past); and Klangforum Wien in an evening of music by the likes of Toshio Hosokawa, Liza Lim and Scelsi alongside premières from Javier Hagen and Ulrike Mayer Spohn. Hagen and Spohn have for many years performed as a duo under the name UMS ‘n JIP, and they’ll be presenting Sancho, described as an “electropop opera” based on Cervantes’ Don Quixote. There will also be two concerts showcasing this year’s Ars Electronica competition, featuring electronic music from the winning composers in addition to acousmatic works by Nono. And like last year, two of the days will conclude with concerts focusing on improvisation, both featuring quartets: Hans Koch, Hans-Peter Pfammatter, Patrice Moret and Julian Sartorius on the 11th, and Manuel Mengis, Rudi Mahall, Florian Stoffner and David Meier on the 12th, bringing the festival to a close. Last year the improvisation events had a real WTF quality to them, so goodness only knows what these will be like.

i referred before to the relative remoteness of Leuk, but the reality is that it’s not really remote at all. From Geneva it takes around 2½ hours on the train – which is a stunning journey in and of itself, skirting round the edge of Lake Geneva – with slightly longer journey times from both Basel and Zürich. Furthermore, at the moment flights from the UK (Gatwick especially) to Geneva can be had incredibly cheaply, so it’s likely to be not only one of the most geographically and sonically impressive festivals you can experience this year, but also one of the cheapest. And quite apart from all this, having been deprived of the experience for several months it will be simply wonderful to be back in a concert hall once again.

Full details of the festival can be found on the Forum Wallis website.

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Outside-In: Cato Langnes

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It’s three months since i began the Outside-In project, responding to the lockdown by compiling submitted field recordings that could act as vivid reminders of, and virtual windows onto, the outside world during a time when we weren’t able to experience it first-hand. Thankfully, much has changed and improved from that initial state of lockdown, so with today’s recording, i’m bringing the project to a close. The final recording comes from Norwegian sound engineer Cato Langnes, who works at Notam, Norway’s centre for technology, art and music.

Cato has been by far the most enthusiastic participant in Outside-In; during the last couple of months he has sent me a large number of recordings made both before and during the lockdown, the longest of which was almost an hour long. Any of them would have been a fine addition to the series, but the one that i like most he recorded a few weeks ago in the woods beside Lake Øyungen, around 15km north of Oslo. The recording was made on 15 May using a RØDE NT-SF 1 ambisonic microphone and a Sound Devices MixPre-6 recorder.
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The Isolation Mixtapes : M

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It’s week 13 in my series of Isolation Mixtapes, which means we’re now halfway through the alphabet. When i began this series it seemed possible that the prospect of 26 mixtapes, unfolding weekly over the course of six months, might well be in keeping with the length of time of lockdown. As things stand now the lockdown, and its associated isolation, is slowly becoming less of a reality in the UK – and even more so across Europe – though ‘normality’ (however we end up (re)defining that) remains somewhere in the future, particularly for music and the arts. So my plan is to continue through the latter half of the alphabet in the hope that, by the time we reach Z, all of our lives might be a lot more genuinely normalised, and that enforced isolation is becoming a memory.

To that end, here’s this week’s mixtape, devoted to composers, groups and artists beginning with the letter M. The first half has an inadvertent focus on song, while the second half becomes more abstract and atmospheric. As always there are two tracks for each of the years 2010 to 2019, presented in chronological order.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Sound and Image: Aesthetics and Practices

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i want to give a big shout-out and a heads-up for a new book that’s just been published, which includes a chapter by me. Sound and Image: Aesthetics and Practices had its inception at the Sound/Image conference at the University of Greenwich in late 2018. Edited by Andrew Knight-Hill, the book has chapters by 24 of the presenters from that conference, exploring a huge range of approaches, outlooks, critiques and techniques emanating from and associated with the interrelationship of sound and image.

My own contribution is titled Son e(s)t Lumière: Expanding notions of composition, transcription and tangibility through creative sonification of digital images, and it’s an in-depth exploration of the ways in which sonified images have been used as the basis for composition, both historically and in my own work. My examination of the context for sonification encompasses the work of such diverse figures as Clarence Barlow, JLIAT, Christina Kubisch, Ryoji Ikeda, Christian Ludwig, Daphne Oram, Iannis Xenakis, Aphex Twin and Nine Inch Nails. The latter portion of the chapter focuses on the techniques i’ve devised for my own compositional work, from the earliest example of sonification in Triptych, May/July 2009 through the series of Studies i’ve created in the last few years.

i’ve only just begun to start picking my way through the content in the other 23 chapters, but it’s already clear that this book – as was the conference – is a much-needed contribution to exploring the deeply complex relationship that sound and image have always had. It’s an important and valuable document, and i recommend it to all of you with interests in this fascinating area.

For all the information about the book, visit the Routledge website by clicking on the banner below – and to get a 30% discount you can use the code SAI30 when ordering.

Outside-In: Luís Salgueiro

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This week’s addition to the Outside-In field recording project comes from Portuguese composer Luís Salgueiro. Here’s his introduction to the recording:

In February, I found myself working a week in Stuttgart. This came on the tail end of an intense period of work and travel — and it was, in fact, the last one since, as by that time Baden-Württemberg already registered cases of COVID-19 and the country would soon go into lockdown.

This was recorded early in the morning, as the sun rose over the Oberer Schloßgarten, between the Staatsoper and the Landtag. You hear one early-morning jogger and a smattering of distant chatter, but the soundscape is mostly dominated by the birds and other animals that nest and frolic around the Eckensee. The city had not yet awoken; this window records a slice of the gradual reintroduction of the human. And it is from this situation that the curious dramaturgy of the recording (which is unedited in its temporal unfolding) emerges: these two layers coexist not in the other’s negative space — nor is the human here drowning out the animal — but their utterances seem to cluster together in time.

This soundscape was recorded on a Zoom H2n with a Primo ECM172 omni microphone.

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The Isolation Mixtapes : L

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The twelfth in my weekly series of Isolation Mixtapes focuses on composers, artists and groups beginning with the letter L. Once again, there are two of the most interesting tracks from each of the years 2010 to 2019, featured in chronological order.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Naomi Pinnock – Lines and Spaces

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It’s fitting that the first portrait disc devoted to the music of UK composer Naomi Pinnock should be titled Lines and Spaces. Not merely because one of the four works featured on the disc has that as its title, but due to the fact that every time i’ve listened to it it’s got me thinking about polarities. There’s a reference to the musical stave in that title, but it also alludes to one of Pinnock’s recurring inspirations, the work of artist Agnes Martin, whose paintings are characterised by the juxtaposition of line and space, usually within a soft, muted colour palette. Though the polarity seems obvious, my own experiences with Martin’s work in recent years have found the apparent opposite of elements to be more complex. Are the lines ‘material’ and the spaces ‘immaterial’ (in every sense of the word), or do the spaces exhibit a different kind of ‘materiality’? Furthermore, do the lines enclose space, exerting an implied inward force, or do they simply demarcate the bounds of the space, which exerts an implied outward force? Maybe it’s a bit of both; either way, the two are held in a perfect equilibrium, but one that paradoxically seems both taut and relaxed.

The same could be said for a great deal of Naomi Pinnock’s music. The most explicit example of this, unsurprisingly, is to be found in the title work, a piece for solo piano comprising three ‘spaces’ and three ‘lines’, performed here by its dedicatee, Richard Uttley. A work i’ve written about previously, its polarity is primarily heard in the contrast between these discrete kinds of music. The ‘lines’ consist of rapid middle C repetitions, each of which has a different element introduced at its centre – an octave displacement, adjacent pitches, and an oblique chord cutting across – resulting in a simple bare-bones drama. The ‘spaces’ are expansive; i likened them before to “droplets of harmonic colour like blobs of ink falling into water”, and while the essence of that is right, i realise that that description possibly suggests a disconnect between them, as if they were isolated motes of pitch unrelated to one another. The reality is that there’s a form of contemplation going on, a quiet wrangling with notes in which ideas don’t just connect but circle around in a way that suggests an underlying obsessive quality. There’s that equilibrium: taut and relaxed, the music sometimes temporarily fixated, sometimes breezily moving on. It’s worth emphasising that Uttley is the ideal pianist for music like this; i’ve always admired his ability to combine intricate precision with understated romanticism, which is the perfect combination for a piece like Lines and Spaces. Read more

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Outside-In: Monty Adkins

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Today’s addition to the Outside-In field recording compilation comes from Huddersfield-based composer Monty Adkins. Here’s Monty’s introduction

The recording was made in February 2019 during a residency in Reims. The short soundscape charts the route from my apartment to the studio space in which I was working.

Proceeding from the apartment through the beautiful old heavy wooden door that sealed the courtyard from the street beyond, up the Rue des Capucins and onto the Rue Hincmar, the soundscape slowly moves from relatively deserted streets to the busier central part of the city. Traversing the Rue Chazny brings the listener to the Rue Libergier and the stunning approach to the imposing 13th-century Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims. The cafe cries, speeding moped over the cobbled streets and other quotidian sounds now seem distinctly otherworldly to me after almost three months of lockdown. The soundscape then charts the walk from the Cathédrale up Rue du Trésor before finishing at the Rue Carnot.

Listening back at this recording now I am struck by its simplicity, a normality I am sure we are all yearning for.

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The Isolation Mixtapes : K

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In this week’s Isolation Mixtape, exploring the best music from the last decade, all of the music is by groups, composers and artists beginning with the letter K. As always, two of the most splendiferous tracks from each of the years 2010 to 2019, presented in chronological order.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Zeynep Gedizlioğlu – Verbinden und Abwenden

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Composer portrait albums tend to go one of two ways, highlighting either the broad diversity of their output or the more single-minded consistency of a central idea permeating multiple works. In the case of Verbinden und Abwenden, a new disc exploring the music of Turkish composer Zeynep Gedizlioğlu, it’s most definitely the latter. And in a way, the consistent central idea is entirely summed up in that title, which the composer translates as “connect and reject”.

The particular way this tends to manifest in Gedizlioğlu’s music can be heard writ small in Sights of Now, a chamber work for two pianos and string quartet that opens the disc. The opening couple of minutes establish something of a paradigm for everything that will follow. Slow, uncertain chords – music so withdrawn it sounds like the instruments are reluctant to make any sound at all – are suddenly swept aside by rapid, scurrying material held together and driven along by manically rapid note repetitions from the pianos. As the piece continues, it’s as if the score wasn’t notated on paper but on large pieces of elastic that are constantly being stretched and relaxed, causing the pace and momentum to speed up and slow down. Every time i listen to the piece i find myself gravitating away from the details of the tempestuous dialogue going on at the music’s surface, focusing instead on this broader action of expansion and compression going on beneath. It doesn’t take much of a leap to hear this inner flexing as an articulation of the ‘verbinden und abwenden’ idea, the expansion pulling things apart and away from each other, causing the music to slow and falter, the compression pushing them closer together, resulting in rapid bursts of frantically interconnecting ideas. Read more

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Outside-In: Ed Nixon

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Today’s contribution to the Outside-In compilation comes from Ed Nixon in Canada. His recording takes its starting point from the recent killing of George Floyd – specifically the now notorious length of time it took for that atrocity to happen. Ed writes:

I suppose I wanted to know what eight minutes and forty-six seconds feels like; and to memorialise, even in a small and personal way, the recent murder in Minneapolis and its consequences.

I call this park The Ravine, and it’s a site I use for inspiration when I’m working on my photography, or video, or music. For example, as a result of this project, there is now a short, 8’46” video in the works; I’ll likely use this recording as its soundtrack. But things change.

The recording was made beside Small’s Creek, Merrill Bridge Park, Toronto, and was done on an old Zoom H4n, using the stereo cross-field mics on the top. Not ideal for a small run of water that is seldom wider than 18″. But it I’ve made it sound larger than that through distance and wide-ish stereo pattern, all the better.

The recording was made in the afternoon of Thursday 3 June, 2020, around 1pm.

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The Isolation Mixtapes : J

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This week’s Isolation Mixtape explores music by artists, composers and groups starting with the letter J. Once again there are two of the most interesting tracks from each of the years 2010 to 2019, featured in chronological order.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Triptych, May/July 2009 – free today

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A few days ago marked the 25th anniversary of my father’s death. It seems like such an impossibly long time ago, yet his all-too-brief presence in my life, and all-too-long absence from it, continue to resonate in me and make their mark in my life and in my music. Back in 2009, i created a three-part composition exploring my memories of him, which by then were becoming intangible and strange. That work, one of my earliest electronic works, was Triptych, May/July 2009, and as well as being an important act of catharsis, it was a significant step forward in my musical technique and language. The piece was also the first of mine that i put out on a limited edition, self-released CD. It did rather well, but during a recent lockdown-inspired spring clean i discovered a small cache of the remaining CDs nestling in a box.

So, as today – 5 June – is another of Bandcamp’s occasions when they’re generously waiving their fees, i’ve decided for the next 24 hours to make these CDs available free – the only charge is to cover the postage costs. And i’ve made the digital download version free as well, so you can pay whatever you like for that – of course, anything you do decide to pay will be very gratefully received. i’ve also re-introduced the 70% discount that means you can obtain my entire digital discography for less than a tenner (look for the ‘Buy Digital Discography’ link). If you’d like to take advantage of any of these one-day offers, head over to the Triptych page on my Bandcamp site.

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Outside-In: Davíð Brynjar Franzson

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The latest field recording in my Outside-In project comes from Icelandic composer Davíð Brynjar Franzson. His recording was made a few days ago in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, and in contrast to the previous recordings i’ve featured, it’s something rather different, primarily because i think it’s fair to say it contains precisely no natural sounds; everything in it is human-made. Here’s Davíð’s introduction to it:

I tried a few things, including hanging my Zoom out my window on the 45th floor. All you can hear is the hum of the air conditioners on the smaller buildings across the street until prayer cuts through it. The singing is actually the evening prayer; the government instructed people to pray from home for all of Ramadan and Eid but they still do the prayer singing to guide people.

This is after curfew so there are very few cars around, but apart from that, the ongoing hum of a thousand air conditioners (which is kind of the natural background when it’s 40 degrees outside) forming into what is basically a wall of noise, with this heavily reverb-sounding prayer coming through, feels good to me. It is a very static soundscape, but it has a certain simplicity to it that I really like.

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V/Vm (Leyland Kirby) – The Death of Rave, now available

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Nine years ago, in a series of articles about ‘Contemporary Epics’, i wrote about The Death of Rave, Leyland Kirby‘s gargantuan paean to the world of rave culture. Originally released in 2006 as a free MP3 download in 20 instalments (under Kirby’s occasional nom de guerre V/Vm), it vanished from the web in 2010 and so from the time of my article (with Kirby’s permission) i made it available via 5:4. In 2013, Kirby asked me to take it down, saying there were plans to release it… and seven years later the day has come, Kirby has finally made the entire work available for download again, now in (unremastered) lossless format via Bandcamp. It consists of two parts, 111 tracks subtitled “The Source” and a further 93 tracks subtitled “Additional”, together making for a total of over 19 hours of hauntological glory.

Astonishingly, there’s no charge for this download, but if that wasn’t inviting enough, Kirby has indicated it will only be available for a limited time, so don’t hang about. i’m really looking forward to the opportunity to revisit this mammoth anthem for a more recent doomed youth, and dive afresh into its dark, fathomless depths.

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The Isolation Mixtapes : I

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Week number nine in my ongoing series of Isolation Mixtapes is focused on artists, groups and composers beginning with the letter I. Two of the best tracks from each of the years 2010 to 2019, explored in chronological order.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Cyrillus Kreek – The Suspended Harp of Babel

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i’ve been waiting for this for three years. At the 2017 Estonian Music Days, i experienced a double onslaught to the head and heart courtesy of choir Vox Clamantis performing the music of Cyrillus Kreek. For this reason more than any other, i’ve clung to the memories of that first contact, and have returned to my recording of the radio broadcast innumerable times since. This isn’t because recordings of Kreek’s music are not available – there aren’t many, but they are there – but the ones i’ve tested have come nowhere close to capturing the magic of his musical language with the sublime intensity of Vox Clamantis. Until now: this month sees the release of The Suspended Harp of Babel, an album devoted to his choral works. Considering Kreek’s stature as arguably Estonia’s first pre-eminent 20th century composer, and Vox Clamantis’ stature as arguably Estonia’s finest choir, plus the surprising fact that this is the first time the choir has committed his music to disc, this release is a big deal, and potentially another double onslaught.

That potential is overwhelmingly realised. i simply can’t remember the last time i’ve been so hypnotically drawn deep into an album of choral music. This is no mere hyperbole, though; one of the most striking recurring features of Vox Clamantis’ concerts is the way they construct them as something akin to liturgies (a superb example of this, juxtaposing ancient and modern, vocal and electronic music, can be streamed via Klassikaraadio). Presented in a way that’s solemn, though without ceremony or fuss, their performances have all the intensity of a rite – no doubt heightened by invariably taking place in ecclesiastical buildings – at which the audience becomes a pseudo-congregation. The Suspended Harp of Babel is something similar; it is no mere compilation. Read more

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Outside-In: Chris Legg

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The latest recording in the Outside-In project comes from long-term 5:4 friend and patron Chris Legg. His field recording was made in woodland not far from Halifax in Yorkshire, in the north of England. Chris says of the recording:

It was recorded during lockdown (but the sounds are not lockdown-specific!), using an Android phone running the Advanced Audio Recorder app, in Beestones Wood, a ten-minute walk from my house. The nearby cliffs (the eponymous stones?) provide a pleasing resonance. Birdsong and other woodland sounds mingle with the drone and white noise of the paper recycling plant in the valley bottom.

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The Isolation Mixtapes : H

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This week’s Isolation Mixtape exploring some of the best music from the last decade focuses on composers, artists and groups beginning with the letter H. Two tracks from of the year’s 2010 to 2019, once again explored in chronological order. All the previous mixtapes can be found on the Mixtapes page.

Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with approximate timings and links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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