Simon Cummings

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 & prayer of the faithful. Presented in this context, my intention is to confront the connotations of that question, exploring notions of substance & absence, silence & sound, focus & lassitude, emptiness & 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 & richness that transcends the silence, & 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 & forgot all about them until the start of this year; between February & October i then extensively reworked & 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 & draws upon both the techniques & 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 & ‘Icon’, the central panel in Triptych, May/July 2009. But above all, Dither, Pother & Roil explore (for me) new methods & an expanded mode of expression.

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

Pother continues the thread established in Dither, becoming increasingly fraught & portentous. This is an excerpt from the end of part I:

Roil was the last to be completed, & is the longest & 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 & Pother into a clamorous torrent of frenzied outrage. Here’s an excerpt from the end of 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 & 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 & 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 & here.

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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 & 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 & a reclamation of my æsthetic roots, embracing the quietude of ambient music. For the first time, the material is gentle, soft-edged & peaceful—even relaxing. That, at least, is its first impression; but the work’s inspiration is more subtle & 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 & its setting confront head-on the perils heralded by twilight.

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

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

Night Liminal is dedicated to the memory of Jehan Alain.

As usual, the CD is a limited edition of 50 numbered copies. Below are three excerpts taken from throughout the piece; to order a copy, go here.

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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 & 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 & converted into sound in various ways to create the basic material from which the three movements were made. Musician & 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) & a mere 50p for the digital download. For the CD go here, or for the download, here.



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Apologies; & forthcoming

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Apologies, one & all, for the lengthy hiatus here on 5:4. In a break with convention, i’ve been finishing off two or three new compositions & then—entirely in keeping with recent convention—fighting off a rather stubborn virus. Before service resumes properly, then, let me flag up a couple of performances of these new pieces that are happening next month, both at the Birmingham Conservatoire.

The first is nolite facere dicunt enim, a work for 12 voices written for the vocal group Icarus, based at the Conservatoire. The group, which changes membership each year, is the brainchild of Chi Hoe Mak, one of the most wonderfully effervescent conductors i’ve ever met. It’s not a piece i want to say anything about at this stage, but you can take a look at the full score below. The first performance will be taking place on Wednesday 6 June; the concert starts at 7.30pm & tickets (undoubtedly very cheap) will be available on the door. Do come along & be shocked, appalled, enriched &/or entertained by it if you can.

EDIT: Due to a variety of unfortunate circumstances, this performance has been postponed.

Second is a work for voice & five players called the octave of the grief of the clone that leapt to the remainder of night sky; that title is taken from the writings of one of my ongoing inspirations, Kenji Siratori, as is the sung text, which uses Siratori’s poem Foolish/Moon. It’s not possible to show a score for this piece, as there isn’t one; the five players—clarinet, bassoon, viola, double bass & guitar—are all independent of each other & of the vocalist, although a couple of the players interact & affect the ensemble in different ways. This piece was written for the soprano Ruth Hopkins, who will be performing the piece with members of the ensemble Thumb, also based at the Conservatoire. The concert is on Monday 11 June, starting at 8pm; there may be a performance in Camden later in the year, but more about that as & when. Again, if you’re in the area, do come along.

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Mix Tape #21 : Noise

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With noise is born disorder […] In noise can be read the codes of life, the relations among men. Clamor, Melody, Dissonance, Harmony […] when it becomes sound, noise is the source of purpose and power, of the dream—Music.

Stirring words from the opening chapter of Jacques Attali’s marvellous book Noise: The Political Economy of Music, and noise is the focus of the new 5:4 Mix Tape. As such, i suppose it could be deemed the least accessible of these mixes, although my interpretation of noise here extends beyond fortissimo walls of abrasion; there’s a lot more to noise than just that.

Three of Alva Noto‘s miniature renderings of computer files pepper the mix, blurring the distinction between active and passive compositional intent. To some extent, the same could be said of Richard James’ AFX track ‘Ktpa2’, one of a pair of ferocious static blasts that remain his most brutal music to date. Most of the tracks included here, though, are less single-minded than these, and drag a variety of æsthetic manners into their obstreperous orbits. Three Trapped Tigers (whose first album is one of this year’s most outstanding releases) explore a complex amalgam of math rock and glitch, while Ukranian soundscapists First Human Ferro put noise at the core of their paradoxically radiant dark ambient. Japanese experimentalist Lethe takes hard metallic field recordings in abandoned resonant spaces as his starting point, while Nine Inch Nails do what they do best tucked away deep in the bowels of a studio. Noise is a sine qua non of all music with a hauntological aspect, heard here in the hissy nostalgia of Black Swan and the searing, gritty glitter of The Stranger (in my view, Leyland Kirby’s most riveting persona). My own work the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars is a large-scale conflict between noise and pitched material; the excerpt included here is from the centre of the piece, where bell-like pitches first emerge. One could hardly have a noise mix tape without Merzbow; i’ve included part of the opening track from one of his latest albums, a typically kaleidoscopic feast of electronic mayhem. At the end comes a fittingly curt signing-off by Thomas Bangalter, from his soundtrack to Gaspar Noé’s film Irréversible. Read more

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New digital EP: Simulated Music – postscript

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i’ve released today a new EP of electronic music, titled Simulated Music – postscript. As that name suggests, the EP contains material related to my album Simulated Music, released a few months ago. Here’s an excerpt from the blurb:

Simulated Music, released in June 2011, was a cycle of music created at speed. As i wrote at the time, “critical decisions … were made with a minimum of deliberation. Once they were decided, i worked quickly, not concerning myself much with minutiæ, thinking instead about the broader, gestural shape of the music as a whole”. Nonetheless, the process that led to each ‘Simulation’, while relatively brief, contained a considerable amount of experimentation, as it was worked into its final form. On several occasions, i produced more than one version of a piece, uncertain of which i preferred; only when finally assembling Simulated Music did it become clear which versions of the pieces should be used. This EP contains nearly all of the alternate versions.

As with my earlier EPs, Simulated Music – postscript is only available as a free digital download, via my Bandcamp site.

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