Sounds Like Now, the UK’s new magazine for contemporary music

Crowdfunding campaigns come and go, but this one feels especially notable. Dan Goren, composer and improviser, founder of Composers Edition publishers, and assistant director of the Institute of Composing, is hoping to launch the UK’s first glossy magazine devoted to modern composition.

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Sounds Like Now will be a bi-monthly publication, in both print and digital formats, focusing on contemporary music in the UK and Ireland. As well as composers, it promises also to pay particular attention to new music performers – a welcome goal. Dan and his editor, Steph Power, believe that “we should have an outward-looking publication which encourages more musicians and listeners to venture into the wonderfully rich and rewarding world of contemporary music,” and to this end the magazine will feature profiles and guides, as well as the usual mix of news, reviews, and essays.

This is, without doubt, an ambitious vision. But Dan has done his research, knows the field well, and has constructed a convincing business plan. The crowdfunding campaign, as described in the video below, is to get the magazine off the ground: to generate a significant subscriber base in order to create proof of concept and allow Dan and Steph to approach the advertisers who will support the magazine in future with an attractive proposition. With, say, 500 subscribers board at the start Sounds Like Now becomes viable, and something that advertisers will want to be seen in. From there, anything becomes possible.

For a long time I have argued that a publication like this, that acts as both a shop window and a forum for debate, is something the new music scene in the UK badly needs.That has always been one of the motivations behind this blog, after all. Just a glance at the list of composers represented by Composers Edition – from Charlotte Bray to Roger Redgate – gives you an idea of the range of activity that is out there. As a writer on new music in the UK, the number of professional outlets for my work (and the work of other, brilliant writing colleagues) is a source of frequent concern, and occasional despair.

Changes at Tempo in the last couple of years have done much to help fill that gap, but Tempo‘s focus – and the editorial and distributional focus of its publisher, Cambridge University Press – is and is expected to remain, academic. Publications like The WireGramophone and BBC Music Magazine feature modern composition, as does Ireland’s Journal of Music, but at best it is only one of a number of editorial interests; at worst it can feel like a fifth wheel.

Sounds Like Now can be, and I hope will be, an attractive, accessible, and visible hub for debate and discussion around new music in this country and in Ireland. That is why I have accepted Dan’s invitation to write for the magazine, and why I support this crowdfunding initiative and urge you to do the same.

Ian Pace on culture in the EU

In the run-up to the UK’s referendum on its membership in the EU (but of value to anyone interested in recent European culture), the pianist Ian Pace has been compiling an anthology, alphabetical by country, of post-1945 works of art, music, literature, dance, theatre, architecture, and more on his blog. In typical Pace fashion, these are uncompromising, fascinating, rich, and eye-openingly thorough. At the time of writing he has reached the Czech Republic, but posts are promised on all 28 member states over the next couple of weeks. These are really worth investigating; I’ll update the index below periodically as new posts are published:

Austria

Belgium

Bulgaria

Croatia

Cyprus

Czech Republic

Denmark

Estonia

music we’d like to hear 2016

2016

much to like here.

Also, an ingenious response to the vexed question of female under-representation in new music: just programme a bunch of them.

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7.30pm Friday 1 July

GROUPS

The Music We’d Like To Play Band

Mark Knoop (conductor & piano), Aisha Orazbayeva (violin), Anton Lukoszevieze (cello), Ilze Ikse (flute), Kerry Yong (piano), Elsa Bradley & Adam Morris (percussion) and Newton Armstrong (electronics)

Music by: Newton Armstrong, Carola Bauckholt, Bunita Marcus and Linda Catlin Smith

Shape, Colour, Memory, Architecture. Mark Knoop returns with a large ensemble to present a MWLTH commission by UK-based Australian composer Newton Armstrong, amongst rarely performed works by Bunita Marcus, Linda Catlin Smith and Carola Bauckholt.

£10 advance, £12 on the door

advance tickets available here

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7.30pm Friday 8 July

IMPORT

John McAlpine (piano)

Music by: Tom Johnson and Chris Newman

A rare visit from Cologne by the phenomenal New Zealand pianist John McApline, a leading exponent of the music of two other exports – an American in Paris and an Englishman in Berlin.

£10 advance, £12 on the door

advance tickets available here

III

7.30pm Friday 15 July

SOLOS

Dafne Vicente-Sandoval (bassoon), Angharad Davies (violin) and Dominic Lash (double bass)

Music by: Jakob Ullmann and Eliane Radigue

Independent thinkers from France and East Germany, Radigue and Ullmann have pursued the interior of sound with focus and intensity. These intimate solo works will be realised by musicians who have formed close working relationships with both composers.
£10 advance, £12 on the door

advance tickets available here

Oliver Knussen speaks out for new music

At the Ivor Novello Awards yesterday, composer and conductor Oliver Knussen made a plea to the BBC not to “relegate” all contemporary composers to “a two-hour slot that you seem to regard as a place to put pond life.”

Some of us who write music today, we don’t write very far out music, we don’t write very populist music, we write what we believe in and to communicate a vision. … Our music is to be used, we write it for us and sometimes it’s a little prickly but some very nice things are prickly, I’ve heard.

Instinctively, I’m inclined to agree with him; and the BBC spokesperson’s response, as reported in the Telegraph, did little to assuage those concerns:

We completely agree contemporary composers and their works are important.

That’s why the BBC is the most significant commissioner of contemporary classical music and new talent schemes than any other broadcaster.

(First: I hope that grammatical mess is the result of a flawed transcription, not what the spokesperson actually meant to say.)

Alan Davey the controller of Radio 3 has also increased the number of contemporary works across the schedule, launched a new BBC Introducing Scheme for contemporary composers, the search for 70 new commissions and a contemporary composer in residence who will create new works in the day time schedule for our 70th anniversary.

All of this is on top of a regular slot for contemporary composition,  the recent season New Year New Music which focussed on contemporary works in every programme for a week and the forthcoming BBC Proms, broadcast on TV + Radio 3, which feature many contemporary composers .

It seems to me that only the first of these – increasing the number of contemporary works across the schedule – fully addresses Knussen’s point; and we have only the BBC’s word that there has been such an increase. I wonder what the data actually looks like. (What are these new works; where are they being scheduled; etc.)

As for the others. I have nothing against the regular slot for contemporary composition – Hear and Now – but this is presumably the two-hour pondlife slot to which Knussen is referring. (And with its late Saturday night slot it’s not hard to see his point.) The “New Year New Music” season was all well and good, but increasing the station’s focus on new music for a week (ie, less than 2% of the overall year) is only a marginal gain – but is easily labelled so that it sounds and looks bigger than it is. And this summer’s Proms have been widely derided for being one of the worst for new music in years. (And if the last two or three years are any guide, they will be even worse when re-broadcast to TV, as a habit has grown of dropping the new pieces from the TV transmission; cf Lachenmann’s Tanzsuite mit Deutschlandlied in 2013.) The commissioning and composer-in-residence schemes are to be welcomed, but the overall tenor of the response here still feels very much in line with contemporary music as a fringe exoticism (or perhaps a weedy pond) that is to be tolerated, rather than the repertory’s living core.

CD review: Marianne Schuppe: slow songs (Wandelweiser)

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Marianne Schuppe: slow songs

Marianne Schuppe

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Eleven songs for voice and lute by the Swiss singer and composer Marianne Schuppe. The instrumentation taps a deep historical channel, back to Dowland and beyond. But Schuppe doesn’t pluck her lute. Instead she uses e-bows to turn a melodic accompanying instrument into an environment, an ancient combination updated to reflect a contemporary preference for objects over stories. The songs are simple melodies, sometimes folklike (ballads and laments more than dances), but with words and music full of unexpected, almost surreal twists: the images used include deer, feathers, sunhats and cameras; the music little scales and motifs, subtle modal shifts. The whole fuses traditional and modern, nature and technology, such that each is indistinguishable.