CD review: Andrew McIntosh: Hyenas in the Temples of Pleasure

Yarn/Wire; James Sullivan and Brian Walsh, clarinets; Andrew McIntosh, violin

populist records, PR006

This one has been knocking around the car for some months now. The kids love it. “Play the ghost music” they shout from the back, referring to the fourth part of Hyenas in the Temples of Pleasure for two pianos and percussion. I see what they mean: it’s an atmospheric little movement of piano harmonics and bowed metallic percussion that resolves into tinkling crotales and high register piano. Totally up my alley.

McIntosh, co-owner/operator of populist, also plays on this Tom Johnson CD I reviewed in 2012, but this disc is, I think, his first as a composer. In its use of just intonation and rhythmic and melodic process, his music fits in the lineage of Johnson, James Tenney, and Marc Sabat. However, it is somewhat less austere than their music can be; there are certainly processes at work throughout this disc, but picking them out when listening is not really the point; the music pulls more towards the sensual and the contrapuntally satisfying.

Hyenas is framed by McIntosh’s eight Symmetry Etudes, divided into two groups, for two clarinets and violin. These are, I suppose, more minimal in conception, and McIntosh’s primary materials of ascending and descending scales and arpeggios (conceived as equivalent to each other, just with different-sized steps) come to the fore. Those materials are often intercut or rearranged to create more complex, less predictable patterns, and may be overlaid in a number of rational tempo relations as well. The range of possibilities arising is large and taken full advantage of by McIntosh, from the melancholy, pastoral fourths of Etude II, to the bubbling exchanges of Etude III, to Etude VI, in which slow, three-note arpeggios, very widely spaced, lead to single notes being passed and sustained amongst the ensemble.

The more diverse instrumentation of Hyenas sets it in a very different soundworld, but its origins are similar: the first movement recalls late Ligeti in its use of overlaid scales that pass at different speeds, and there is a similar sense of uncanny storytelling in the way different instruments are introduced into the mix (in this case moving from piano to wooden percussion to skins) – each new instrument enters like an unexpected animal found deep in the forest. In the second movement, McIntosh is playing once again with scales and different forms of smoothness/gap size. The pianos begin with swift legato runs up and down, but are soon interrupted with the regular, dull chime of a glass water bowl. Unlike the piano notes, its thunks are spaced wide apart in time, but with the twist that they describe a very gradual movement down in pitch (just a fourth over the course of 25 bars) as water is slowly added to the bowl. It’s a great effect, both sonically and intellectually, and McIntosh returns to it in the fourth movement. In between the third movement is a resonant chamber of interlocking pianos and, later on, aluminium tubes. The sheer opulence of the sound here – quite, quite beautiful – is an oceanic indulgence in the context of what elsewhere can be a precise and reserved disc, but it shows McIntosh to be a composer of great aural as well as procedural imagination. Highly recommended.

CD review: Scott Worthington: Prism

Scott Worthington, double bass

populist records, PR008

In spite of its size, the double bass can be quite a delicate instrument. In fact, because of its size: that massive soundbox means it only needs the softest pressure of bow or fingerpad to coax it into sound.

Scott Worthington’s bass is a gentle giant, deep and softly breathing. The four pieces on this CD all occupy a place in which the bass’s natural resonances and sonic nuances (that depth of spectrum!) are allowed to sound. Feldman is an obvious touchstone, but I also hear echoes of, say, Tim Parkinson in the “this thing, and then this thing” way the longer pieces are structured.

The disc’s opener, At Dusk, the longest of them all at 17 minutes, sets a tone against which the other tracks push and pull. The material is simple, consisting mostly of alternating pairs of notes, at different speeds, in different registers, and for different durations. Yet it is arranged in what to the ear could easily be a complex system of interlocking loops, or completely improvised – such is its mix of poise and grace. The piece is scored for double bass and electronics, but unusually the electronics are pushed far back, with just the faintest hints of digital resonance shining through the gaps. Yet for all its reserve and careful elegance, it’s a continually surprising listen as Worthington keeps introducing new harmonic regions and small variations.

Prism, for three double basses, again works on patterns of repetition and alteration. Worthington pushes the fragmentary nature of his work further here – the lines between sections are more heavily marked, the changes more steep, as with the shift from a broken chord pattern spread across the three instruments to asynchronised monotonous pulses that takes place at around four minutes in. Moving in the opposite direction is the more continuous Reflections, written in memory of the legendary Italian bassist Stefano Scodanibbio, who died in 2012. This is again written for double bass and electronics, although in this case a digital looping system that allows many layers of music to be slowly built up. Here is Worthington playing the piece live:

There are echoes of Grisey in that massive drone, and the melodies Worthington builds upon it, but also Lucier as well. I find it an extremely effective piece; I love how the drone shifts from shimmering slow phase sweeps to a metallic, insectoid buzz as new layers are added. Worthington’s roots clearly lie in the experimental tradition, but his music has heart and poetry too.

The CD is completed with two versions of the Quintet (after Feldman) for five basses. This time, fragments and repetitions are replaced by the shifting clouds of five instruments cycling through their own lines at slightly different speeds – an idea indebted to Feldman’s music for multiple pianos of the late 1950s. The piece is short, and just as you get deep into it, it is over – very un-Feldmanlike in that respect – but it makes an ideal immersive complement to the more rarefied longer pieces.

Although it might seem a dry premise – a whole disc of music for variations of a single instrument – Prism shows Worthington to be a composer of subtlety and skill. An earlier disc on populist, Even the Light Itself Falls, is also recommended.

Still time to enter or donate to #followmyscore16

Heard about a young composer or her piece that sounds interesting? Try a YouTube search and there’s a half decent chance that not only will that piece – or at least some of that composer’s work – be available there to listen, but the score will also be synched up to follow as well. (Here’s a good one.) Hours and hours of labour volunteered to create one of the most valuable new music resources on the net. Indeed anywhere. I regularly read reports from musician friends about how difficult it is to obtain scores of older contemporary works from publishers. Quite a few publishers, it seems, don’t hold such things in stock – that is, copies of their clients’ work – and are unable to produce copies when requests are made for study or even(!) performance. In such an environment access to new music is going radically against the flow of all other information: backwards, not forwards.

Thank goodness for the YouTube channels scorefollower and incipitsify. They may not be able to do much about opening access to scores held under contract with major publishers (although they have had some success with these as well), but for composers not under contract they are showing their work to the world to an unprecedented extent. A casual browser without university library access can now discover more about the sounds and scores of composers in their 30s than about those in their 60s. I think that’s really amazing, even as it exposes the shortcomings of other parts of the system.

Anyway, scorefollower and incipitsify have recently joined forces, become slightly more professionalized (with legal representation and everything), and are starting to expand their operations. The most significant sign of that so far is their current commissioning project, #followmyscore16, a crowdfunded project to commission a new work, have it professionally recorded, and transformed into a new scorefollower video. Here’s a video about the project:

As they say, this is about putting something back into the new music community. The commission is well remunerated: $700 goes to the winning composer. The piece will be performed by the world class Ensemble Dal Niente. The competition will be judged by an all-star jury: Marcos Balter, Pierluigi Billone, Ashley Fure, Evan Johnson, Dmitri Kourliandsky, Klaus Lang, and Heather Roche.

For full terms and details of the project, visit Funding for the project reached its target of $2,500 a few days ago, but there is still a week to make donations via the Indiegogo crowdfunding page. Any monies raised over the $2,500 will go directly into the pot for the composer. (At the time of posting, the total stood at $2,750, so by my reckoning that makes a healthy commission fee of $950.)

(By the way: Moritz Eggert has posted a two-part interview with Dan Tramte, founder of the scorefollower channel, here and here.)

Filthy Lucre bring Radulescu’s Sound Icons to London


The 20th century was full of piano hacks, from Cage to Lockwood, but Horatio Radulescu’s “sound icons” have seduced me since I first read about them years ago.Before anything else I was grabbed by the idea. Basically, a sound icon is a grand piano turned on its sides, stripped of its mechanics, retuned and played like a giant resonant harp. I imagine them acting as a gateway between the indulgences and excesses that grow out of spectralism (I mean, they’re often played using gold coins as plectrums… ) and the sort of post-everything deconstruction of the piano that begins with Cage’s screws between the strings and ends somewhere like Ross Bolleter’s ruined instruments on the sheep stations of Western Australia. The sound is pretty much as you’d imagine, a distillation of the idea of “sound plasma” that lay at the heart of Radulescu’s musical thought.

You see why I might be into this stuff. Anyway, next month sees a rare opportunity to experience some sound icons live as Filthy Lucre present the first all-live UK performance of Radulescu’s Intimate Rituals for two violas and sound icons (no recordings). First up is a concert/gig/club night at Shapes in Hackney on 2nd October, which begins with Grisey’s Partiels, then moves through the Radulescu, and arrangements of Animal Collective, Björk, Bat for Lashes, Four Tet and others, before ending in the early hours with DJ sets by My Panda Shall Fly and James Massiah. Full details here.

But that’s not all. After that, the sound icons, constructed by artist Peter Shenai, are moving to Somerset House from 2–15 November as part of the Made In Somerset House programme. There will be opportunities to have a go on them yourself during the day, as well as composition workshops, a historical presentation by Julian Anderson and Erik Tanguy on the 7th 8th, and a closing concert on the 15th. More details will be announced here. Event tickets are £8/12, but during the day it’s free to see (and, I think, play around with) the icons themselves.

Here’s a nice interview between Radulescu and the late Bob Gilmore. That site also includes a substantial programme note on Intimate Rituals itself, also by Bob.

Book update

Yesterday I emailed 115,000 words of manuscript to my editor at University of California Press. Not the completed book – there are a few gaps and things that need sorting out, and I have to produce the appendices too – but enough to send for peer review and advance to the next stage of the process.


Am I pleased? Yes. I still have a daunting amount of work to go, as the eight pages of to-do lists pinned to my wall will attest (see above), but flicking through things yesterday there are some bits in there that I’m really happy with. And the ending of the whole thing, if I can make it work, will be a doozy.

Unfortunately electronically delivered manuscripts don’t make for good photos, but maybe this pile of reference checking will be indicative of work recently done.


Female composers and “the new complexity”

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation on Twitter about the representation of female composers under the banner of “new complexity”. Or, rather, why it’s hard to think of any and who decides these things anyway.

This is not, I should add, a conversation about the artistic merits of complexism, or about its usefulness as a historical category. Those are valid arguments, but they can be had elsewhere. It starts from the premise that “new complexity” is a term that music historians use – for good or bad – and notes that it seems to intersect quite dramatically with gender.

The conversation threw up some interesting ideas, so I compiled the whole thing into a Storify thread. doesn’t allow Storify embedding, but you can read the whole thing here. Further contributions are welcome, either on Twitter or in the comments below.

Programme for Music We’d Like To Hear, 2015

Quickly reposting here, for those who may not have seen yet. As always, a fantastic programme. All three concerts look pretty unmissable.

music we’d like to hear 2015
three concerts on three fridays curated by two composers

this edition supported by the RVW Trust, the Hinrichsen Foundation and the Canada Council for the Arts

7.30pm Friday 3 July

Clarence Barlow – 1981 (1981)
Walter Zimmermann – Ephemer (1977–1981)
Mauricio Kagel – Piano Trio No.1 in Three Movements (1985)

Aisha Orazbayeva, violin
Alice Purton, cello
Mark Knoop, piano

Rarely performed piano trios from three composers of the ‘Cologne School’.

£8 advance, £10 on the door
advance tickets available here

facebook event

7.30pm Friday 10 July

Joanna Bailie – On and Off 2 (2008)
Stephen Chase – harmoniphon vexed (2009)
Sarah Hughes – Collapsed Points for Living In (2015)
Dominic Lash – A Wilderness of Harmony (2015)
Amber Priestley – Did not feel very well at skool (31/1/1977) (2015)
Paul Whitty – this is what happens when nothing happens (2015)

New works from British composers featuring the composers performing each others’ work.

£8 advance, £10 on the door
advance tickets available here

facebook event

7.30pm Friday 17 July

Music of Martin Arnold

Points and Waltzes (2012)
Slip Minuet (2014)
The Spit Veleta (2015) commissioned by Music We’d Like to Hear, with generous support from the Canada Council for the Arts

Mira Benjamin, violin
Philip Thomas, piano

A pair of recent solos and a brand new duo from this unique and fascinating voice in Canadian music, realised by two of his finest interpreters.

£8 advance, £10 on the door
advance tickets available here

facebook event

All concerts at St Mary at Hill, Lovat Lane (off Eastcheap), London EC3R 8EE (2-minute walk from Monument tube).

BBC SO’s 2015-16 season

The BBC SO’s season brochure has just arrived at the door. I’ve griped about the apparent ongoing demise of the orchestra’s Total Immersion days at the Barbican – days devoted to the work of a single contemporary composer through (usually) two or three concerts, some talk, a film and one or two other items. But this year I’m happy to report an upswing, with days devoted to Górecki (3 October 2015), Andriessen (13 February 2016, part of a longer series on his music running at the Barbican), and Dutilleux (30 April 2016). All three include some fantastic pieces, including three of my all-time favourites, Górecki’s Old Polish Music and Symphony no.2, and Andriessen’s De staat.

Other new music highlights of the season include a new piece by Richard Ayres (8 October), the UK premiere of Andrew Norman’s Switch (11 December), and a new piece by Joseph Phibbs (21 May), as well as works by Glanert, Hillborg, MacMillan, Dean, and others.

Three pieces by Judith Bingham (4 December) and a UK premiere for Anna Clyne’s The Seamstress (15 January) account for the living female composers in the season; there are also three short pieces by Alma Mahler on 24 September.

Save our Sounds at the British Library

Email received today from the British Library:

On the 12th January, the British Library launched a new initiative titled Save our Sounds.  One of the key aims of this programme is to preserve as much as possible of the nation’s rare and unique sound recordings, not just those in the Library’s collections but also key items from partner collections across the UK.

International consensus holds that we have around 15 years in which to preserve our sound collections. By 2030, the scarcity of older equipment, the condition of recorded media and the loss of skills will make their preservation costly, difficult and, in many cases, impossible.

These risks face all recorded sound collections, across the country, from boxes of forgotten cassette recordings to professional archives.

To help us understand the risks faced by the UK’s recorded heritage, the Library has been running a project to map the extent of sound collections in the UK, and to create a Directory of UK Sound Collections.

Thanks to all those who’ve replied, the response we’ve had so far has been fantastic.  Over the past three months we’ve received information on c.1million items covering a wonderful range of subjects, from oral history interviews with nurses, London dockers, rugby players, booksellers and lifeboat crew, to experimental music, church bells, fairground organs, trains and silence, lost radio broadcasts and recordings of Tolkien, Ella Fitzgerald and J.B. Priestley, held on everything from wax cylinders to digital files.

And the good news is that it’s not over yet – our project has been extended, and we now have a deadline of 31st May for responses.  So, if you’ve been thinking about sending us some information on your collections, or if this is the first you’ve heard of our project, we’d love to hear from you.

You can get in touch with us at, or find out more at our project webpage at:

We’ll be publishing the results of our census in June, along with some advice on understanding and looking after your collections.

And of course, the more people know about our survey, the safer our sounds will be, so do feel free to publicise amongst your nearest and dearest.

#promsnewmusic 2015

It’s Proms announcement time again. See below for the definitive list of new music in this year’s festival, or follow  #promsnewmusic on Twitter.

Some brief observations.

Last year it was all about the birthdays of Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. This year it’s Pierre Boulez’s turn. I had a bit of moan last 12 months ago that so much of the programming was dominated by two elderly peers, but it’s hard to complain at the attention Boulez is getting. He did conduct the BBC SO for several years after all, and did much to shape the place of new music in this country at an important time, so proper recognition at the Proms is due.

That said, with the Proms and the Barbican both marking Boulez’s 90th in grand style, it’s a shame (as Leo Chadburn observed) that neither found room (or resources, or courage) to put on Répons.

Last year I noted six women among the new music composers, up from three the previous year. This year that number has nearly doubled again, to 11 12 – including two commissions for Anna Meredith, and one credit for Dame Evelyn Glennie as co-composer. They are: Anna Meredith (Proms 2+3, and 22); Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Shiori Isui, Betsy Jolas and Joanna Lee (all Chamber Prom 1); Tansy Davies (Prom 31); Keiko Abe and Evelyn Glennie (both Chamber 4); Elena Alissa Firsova (Prom 56); Helen Grime (Saturday Matinee 4); Arlene Sierra (Chamber 8) and Eleanor Alberga (Last Night, Prom 76).

Other points of note: Michael Finnissy finally gets that second Albert Hall performance, 27 years after Red Earth. The BBC SO, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and Boston SO are all having a go at the Berlin Philharmonic’s trick of pairing a Mahler symphony with something new (pieces by MacMiillan, Davies and Dean, respectively, Proms 24, 31 and 49). Will they work as well as the classic Lachenmann combination?

Other highlights? Probably Luca Francesconi’s Duende (Prom 13), postponed from last year. SWR SO playing Boulez, Ligeti and Bartók (Prom 55) would also have to be up there. Pieces by Luke Bedford (Prom 20), Jón Leifs (Prom 47), Raymond Yiu (Prom 54) and Christian Mason (Sat Mat 4) also appeal. Anders’ Hillborg’s music strikes me as very Proms-friendly; he’s back too with Beast Sampler (Prom 47). Oh, and there’s a newly discovered piece by the late Olivier Messiaen (Prom 29).

5 against 4 has some alternative reactions.

For those who can’t be in London, every Prom will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3, and online in HD sound. Proms marked ** in the list below will also be broadcast on TV, either live or at a later date.

Here’s the full list (click the bold to go to the BBC’s listing page) (updated with corrections already):

Prom 1** Gary Carpenter, Dadaville (BBC commission, WP)

Proms 2+3 (CBBC Proms)** John Adams, Short Ride in a Fast Machine; Anna Meredith, Connect It (BBC Commission: LP)

Prom 4 John Woolrich, Falling Down (LP) [NB: Parts of this Prom will be broadcast on TV, but not the Woolrich, although the whole concert will be online.] 

Chamber Prom 1 Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Homage to Tallis (WP)

Prom 5** HK Gruber, ‘into the open …’ (in memory of David Drew) (WP)

Prom 7** Hugh Wood, Epithalamium (BBC commission: WP)

Saturday Matinee 1 Pierre Boulez, Notations 2, 12 & 10; 13 arr. Johnannes Schöllhorn (UKP); Shiori Usui, Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis s.l. (BBC Commission: WP); Betsy Jolas, Wanderlied (UKP); Joanna Lee, Hammer of Solitude (BBC Commission: WP); Boulez, Dérive II

Prom 13** Boulez, Notations 1–4 and 7; Luca Francesconi, Duende – The Dark Notes (BBC co-commission: UKP)

Prom 15 Qigang Chen, Iris dévoilée (LP)

Prom 20 Luke Bedford, Instability (BBC Commission: WP)

Prom 22** Brett Dean, Pastoral symphony; Meredith, Smatter Hauler (BBC Commission: WP)

Chamber Prom 3 Colin Matthews, String Quartet no. 5 (EuroP)

Prom 24** James MacMillan, Symphony no. 4 (BBC Commission: WP)

Prom 28 Mark-Anthony Turnage, On Opened Ground

Prom 29 Olivier Messiaen, Un oiseau des arbres de Vie (Oiseau tui) (orch. C. Dingle. WP); Ravel, Miroirs: Oiseaux tristes (arr. Colin Matthews. BBC Commission)

Prom 31 Tansy Davies, Re-greening (WP) [NB: Parts of this Prom will be broadcast on TV, but not the Davies, although the whole concert will be online.]

Prom 32** Jonathan Newman, Blow It Up, Start Again (EuroP); Eric Whitacre, The River Cam, Cloudburst, Quiet City, Equus, Deep Field

Chamber Prom 4 Keiko Abe, Prism Rhapsody for Marimba and Orchestra; Evelyn Glennie & Philip Sheppard, Orologeria aureola; Bertram Wee, Dithyrambs; John Psathas, View from Olympus

Prom 36 Boulez, Figures-Doubles-Prismes

Prom 42 Michael Finnissy, Janne (BBC Commission: WP)

Prom 47 Jón Leifs, Organ Concerto, Op.7; Anders Hillborg, Beast Sampler

Prom 49 Dean, Dramatis Personae

Prom 52 Thierry Escaich, unknown compositions

Prom 54 Raymond Yiu, Symphony (BBC Commission: WP)

Prom 55 Boulez, …explosante-fixe… 

Prom 56 Elena Alissa Firsova, Bergen’s Bonfire (WP)

Saturday Matinee 4 Boulez, Mémoriale (‘.. explosante-fixe ..’ Originel); Helen Grime, A Cold Spring; Boulez, Domaines; Christian Mason, Open to Infinity: a Grain of Sand (BBC co-commission: UKP); Boulez, Éclat/Multiples

Prom 64 B Tommy Andersson, Pan (BBC Commission: WP)

Prom 69 Guy Barker, The Lanterne of Light (BBC commission: WP)

Chamber Prom 8 Arlene Sierra, Butterflies Remember a Mountain

Prom 76 (Last Night)** Eleanor Alberga, Arise, Athena! (BBC Commission: WP)