After the launch

Well I had an absolutely fantastic evening on Thursday at The Word Bookshop in New Cross, celebrating Music after the Fall‘s arrival into the world. Huge thanks to everyone who came, to David and Annette at The Word for hosting, to Wiley for getting the books to us (we sold out!), and to Amy of Stanley’s Cake Boutique for fulfilling a near-impossible brief to render 25 years of contemporary music in flour, sugar, eggs and butter. Following the Ozzy theme of the book’s cover image, she produced a creation in the form of one of Ross Bolleter’s ruined pianos in the Australian outback. Amazing, and delicious.

Incredibly, we actually sold out of books on the night. Moreover, there aren’t any more coming into the country until next month – so if you see one, snap it up!

Before: Chapter 6: Superabundance
The author in full flow


Cake + book (photo by @Wordbookshop)

After: Chapter 7: Loss

Sounds Like Now: an update

Excitement is growing among the Sounds Like Now team as we approach 1 May and the publication of our first issue. Our first issue content is being put together – watch out for announcements about that to come. Copy is being written, illustrations are being drawn, photographs are being selected. Our event and product listings are also filling out, and here’s where you need to go to get details of your concert or new release listed. (Subscribers can list for free.)

SLN-darkblue-on-transI’ve been saying for years that contemporary classical music in the UK and Ireland needs a dedicated space for long-form, critical journalism, and this is what we are hoping to create. As I suggest in my editorial statement: art that isn’t talked about, dies. And that means not just promoting and previewing what we do amongst ourselves (although that is also important, and part of SLN’s remit), but approaching that work critically in ways that connect it to the wider world. Not just saying what a new work is, or even what it might mean, but also having the courage to ask: so what? This is a point repeatedly made by Gilda Williams in her outstanding book How to Write about Contemporary Art, which – inadvertently – crystallizes for me so many of the differences between writing about contemporary art and writing about contemporary music today.

(Update: Immediately after posting this, I recalled Alex Ross’s related and widely shared injunction published earlier this week, on ‘The Fate of the Critic in the Clickbait Age‘. I urge those who haven’t read it to do so.)

To start out, SLN will include each month two features, an extended critical review, news and a short musician portrait, but as our subscriber base grows we will be making it a priority to expand that offering. I do hope you will consider becoming a subscriber yourself; and if you would like to pitch an article (or just have a news item for us), please write to me at editor [at] soundslikenow [dot] net. If you enjoy reading The Rambler, I hope you will find much to like in Sounds Like Now as well.

Radio Rambler – International Women’s Day 2017

Today is International Women’s Day, and at the start of this week the PRS Foundation published an evaluation report on the first five years of its Women Make Music initiative to increase the profile and representation of female composers and songwriters in the UK. Compiled on the basis of interviews with 18 Women Make Music grantees, a survey of applicants and grantees, and a review of grantee and applicant summary data, it reveals some stark home truths about the UK music scene, not least that a shocking 78% of interviewees said they had experienced sexism within the industry.

Among classical music composers, a particular issue that was noted was a lack of female role models, as in the following quotation from one grantee, one of the most revealing of all:

I’d been composing for five years before I heard the work of another woman composer.

Another noted that:

A new generation of commissioners would also help. The BBC Proms was described as ‘awash with oestrogen’ when there were three female composers!

I was on a train recently, listening in on a conversation between two other passengers. I forget exactly what the subject was – court judges in the Caribbean, I think – but he was explaining to her that of course there were still many more male judges than female, because that was the legacy of the system, but this was no reason to introduce positive discrimination, which is, he pointed out, still discrimination. The system had to change, obviously, but it still had to award positions to the judiciary on merit. She tried her best to respond, but was given less space in the conversation in which to do so. And I wanted to say to him but don’t you see: your approach (‘merit’, reckoned on the terms of those already sitting in power) just passes the buck back to the system you claim to want to change. It’s saying ‘we know there’s a problem with men being in charge of everything, we’ve heard your complaint, now leave it to us men and we’ll sort it out’.

Independently of all this, last week an old but great xojane post cropped up on my Facebook feed: 35 practical steps men can take to support feminism. It’s a list I fall far short of completing, but it points to what being a (white, cis) male (attempted) feminist means: a constant, and probably uncompletable process of self-improvement, a continual rechecking and recalibrating of unconscious biases.

Those of us who perform, programme and write about new music need to stay vigilant to this. As with the Caribbean judiciary (if that is indeed what was being discussed on that train), many of us are still men. We have a responsibility, I believe, to cede some of that power where we can, or to use it to support our female friends and colleagues. I’m really proud to be involved with a group, Riot Ensemble, that makes improved gender representation a central part of its programming strategy. In 2016, every one of Riot’s concerts included at least one female composer; the programme for last Friday’s concert at The Warehouse was 75% women. It’s not everything and it’s not perfect: that will only happen when our numbers are 50% or better, every concert. Across the whole new music landscape things are starting to change, slowly, but there remains much to do.

And to the response that including a woman composer at your concert means leaving out a very fine piece by a deserving male – which well it might – the answer is simply this: programme more concerts.

As ever, it is in that spirit that I offer this year’s playlist:

Previous playlists can be found here:

(I failed to make a playlist for 2016, sorry.)

Siemens Prize 2017


Congratulations to the three recipients of the 2017 Ernst von Siemens Composers’ Prize, Simon Steen-Andersen, Lisa Streich (pictured) and Michael Pelzel. Those paying attention will know of my fascination for Steen-Andersen’s madcap, altermodern take on musique concrète instrumentale – and that I probably talk about his Run-Time Error far too much. Streich’s delicately devastated soundworld has intrigued me ever since Alex Ross introduced her Pietà (1) for cello, motors and electronics (available to listen via the composer’s website). Pelzel’s name and music, meanwhile, is completely new to me, and I will be doing something to address that today. Here’s his homepage, for a start.

Music after the Fall: A Spotify Walkthrough

Music after the Fall introduces quite a lot of music, some of which may be unfamiliar to some readers. With that in mind, I’ve put together a playlist walkthrough of the whole thing on Spotify, to help with orientation, and perhaps introduce you to some music you didn’t know you liked.

Be warned, though, it’s a long playlist: almost 20 hours. Chapter-by-chapter breakdowns will follow soon.

Not everything talked about in the book is recorded, of course, and not all of it can be recorded, even. And even then not everything on record is on Spotify – ECM and Wandelweiser are just two labels featured prominently in the book that are almost entirely absent from the streaming site (and I expect will be for the foreseeable future).

I also haven’t included everything that is featured in the book: at my last count there were something like 190 composers mentioned in the book, many of them linked to two or more of their works – far too many for a comprehensive list. I’ve also given one (occasionally two) movements of multi-movement pieces where possible, so as to keep the length down a bit. Sometimes, however, very long works have been recorded as a single track (Francisco López, La selva; Steve Roden, Forms of Paper; Gavin Bryars, The Sinking of the Titanic; Georg Friedrich Haas, in vain), and it hasn’t been possible to focus in.

On other occasions, the actual piece I wanted to include wasn’t available, so I included the nearest equivalent I could find (examples include Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Scorched instead of Anna Nicole; Pamela Z’s Crosstalk instead of Giajin).

Despite those caveats, the full list should give a pretty good idea of what is in the book, and serve as a reasonably good quick reference to have close to hand. Some of it can be listened to while doing other things (see Chapter 2); some of it maybe even while you’re reading, although I couldn’t possibly recommend that …

Lots of news!

Much excitement chez Rambler this month as one major project reaches its conclusion and another begins.


First, the conclusion: I am thrilled to announce (to those who aren’t already aware) that Music after the Fall is finally out, good and proper. It has been available in the US for about a month now, but this week copies also went on sale in the UK. (As for elsewhere, I couldn’t say, although I know that copies have been read in New Zealand.)

In a related a flurry of activity, the following have also happened, some of which you may like to catch up on: book preview for the AMS’s Musicology Now blog; another blogpost, this time for the Australian Music Centre’s Resonate online magazine; a lecture and launch at Goldsmiths College on 21 February (lecture to be released in a forthcoming podcast); and an interview for BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters programme, to be broadcast 25 February, 12:15 (GMT) and available to listen for about a month afterwards. I have also put together a Spotify playlist that as near as possible summarises the book’s territory and story; more on this to follow.

If you’d like to buy the book, here are full details from the publisher, University of California Press.

site-iconSecond, the beginning: I am equally delighted to reveal that I have accepted the post of editor for the new, new music magazine Sounds Like Now.  Now in a monthly, online incarnation, Sounds Like Now grew out of last year’s crowdfund campaign. To begin with, each month will feature two feature-length articles, an extended critics’ column, listings, short items, news and more. It is hoped that if the magazine is a success, we will be able to grow quite quickly. The first issue will be published to subscribers on 1 May; keep an eye on for more details as they become available. If you have an queries, meanwhile, or would like to suggest ideas for future articles, please feel free to get in touch with me at editor [at] soundslikenow [dot] net.

Riot Ensemble: Celia’s Toyshop at Brixton East 1871

37123-9977866-page8_jpgStill looking for something to do tomorrow evening? You could do much worse than get down to the funky Brixton East 1871 to see the Riot Ensemble’s first concert of 2017. The programme features an array of UK and world premieres by some outstanding young compositional talent:

Utku AsurogluHayirli Olsun (UK premiere)
Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Shades of Silence (UK premiere)

Kerry Andrew: Hammock
Michael Cryne: Celia’s Toyshop  (world premiere)
Evan Johnson: Wolke über Bäumen  (UK premiere)

Jack Sheen: Television Continuity Poses

Tickets, just £10 (£5 for students), are available online. I’m told this one is selling well, so you may not want to rely on the door.