Time for Linda Catlin Smith

The subject of rave reviews already, Linda Catlin Smith‘s recent recording for another timbre, Dirt Road, played by Mira Benjamin and Simon Limbrick, needs little additional support from me. However, Smith herself has until now been a relatively little known composer outside of Canada. She has been plugging away at her elusive, subtle, and engrossing music for three decades or more so that recognition has been a long time coming; but it is well deserved.

As well as Dirt Road, two other CDs are essential listening. The first, Memory Forms, dates from 2001 and features six chamber and orchestral works from the 1990s. The whole disc is available on Spotify; I would recommend the trio for violin, piano and percussion Moi qui tremblais (1999) as a great introductory ear-opener.

The second CD is not so easily accessible online, but just as valuable – Thought and Desire, a collection of Smith’s piano music played by Canada’s new music champion, pianist Eve Egoyan. I reviewed that disc at the start of the year for Tempo, saying: ‘What particularly excites me about listening to Smith’s music is how hard it is to pin down. … It seems so straightforward in the moment, but becomes impossible to grasp only shortly afterwards, which is perhaps the right way around to be. Much of the music here has a gentle, quasi-improvisatory feel, as short melodies and chord sequences are allowed to turn slowly in the light. Yet within that gentle informality is a precise rightness, like the thousandth kiss from a lifelong lover.’

Some of these works, plus others, are on Soundcloud. Brocade (2013) for harpsichord and piano visits Smith’s longstanding interest in Baroque instruments (see Rose with Thorns, also on Soundcloud, as well as other pieces).

Stare at the river (2010) is a recent piece for the leading Toronto experimental music ensemble Arraymusic, of which Smith was director between 1988 and 1993.

Les fleurs anciennes (2000) was written for 13 strings of Vancouver New Music, and thus represents a link with Canada’s west coast which, particularly through the teaching of Rudolf Komorous and, later, Christopher Butterfield at the University of Victoria, has been absolutely critical to the development of experimental music in Canada. (Smith herself was a Komorous student.)

A few of Smith’s writings are available on her website. There is a nice interview accompanying the Dirt Road release on the another timbre website. A longer read can be found in Paul Steenhuisen’s interview collection Sonic Mosaics (University of Alberta Press, 2009), pages 21–25 (edit: more interview with Steenhuisen available here as a podcast).

Smith has a gift – one that I particularly treasure when I find it in music – of turning things suddenly and surprisingly into a new light. It happens in Moi qui tremblais with the way she uses the cymbals against the violin and piano, for example; or with the trumpet’s late solo in Stare at the river. Her most jaw-dropping moment I’ve found so far occurs midway through the piano solo Thought and Desire when suddenly (if a whisper can be sudden) the pianist’s voice enters ‘quietly as though to oneself or someone close by’, murmuring the words of Shakespeare’s Sonnet XLV to a song that until now had been hidden within the piano’s chords.

Smith’s time has, finally, come.

hough hum

A little curio of new music internetography for the truly niche. Earlier in the week one of my posts here on Ferneyhough (this one) received a comment. An old post, and sure enough the comment itself was one of those anti-modern screeds one sees quite regularly in online comment threads. Nothing to see here. (Except to note the irony of its anonymous author declaring that ‘Ferneyhough is no real composer; and the fact that this has never been accordingly stated or criticized shows the times in which we live’.)

And then composer Liam Flenady noted on Facebook that someone had tried to post an identical comment to the blog of the Australian new music ensemble Kupka’s Piano, of which he is co-artistic director. That’s odd, I thought.

So I did a Google.

Well, hey, whaddya know. The same comment crops up on at least half a dozen other blogs too. And since the first comment on The Rambler, a second one has appeared on another Ferneyhough post. One may well crop up at the bottom of this one too, I suppose. Even more strangely, reading back through the thread on that post, it turns out that the original words were used by one Redlan Haley Jnr in 2011.

Is this some sort of anti-Ferneyhough spambot, perhaps? Or – more drearily – its human avatar?

Moreover, does anyone care? Hough hum.

(Ferneyhough is susceptible to strange intersections with the internet. There’s the FernBri spoof Twitter feed, for example (sadly dormant). Then the fact that an entire interview with him has been pasted into the Talk page of his Wikipedia article. Then all those quotes which started spawning all over famous quotation databases. Probably more too. Let me know anything I’ve missed; I find this stuff playfully fascinating.)

SOLO: new and early works for soloist


News from composer Alex Groves of a new concert series starting next week in London. SOLO promises intimate solo recitals of unusual music, combining early and modern repertory. It begins this Tuesday (26th July) with a concert by the renowned viola da gamba player Liam Byrne that features pieces by Edmund Finnis, Judah Adashi and Groves himself, as well as viol consort works by Picforth and Diego Ortiz, realised for solo instrument and electronics.

The concert takes place atmospherically in the crypt of St Andrew Holborn, and tickets (£8 advance) may be purchased here.

Sounds Like Now update

Just in today: the Crowdfunder campaign to launch Sounds Like Now has been granted an extra two weeks to reach its target of £18,000. With 296 backers at the time of writing, the campaign is just over four-fifths of the way to its target; just a few dozen or so more backers could see it over the finish line, and see production begin on the UK’s first dedicated magazine for modern composition. If you think that the performance, creation and critique of contemporary music needs a more public profile, then this is the time to put your money where your mouth is. Make your pledge here.

Several new items have been offered for those who want to pledge, including signed CDs, a signed manuscript page from Michael Finnissy’s renowned Red Earth, and a full-board place on the COMA summer school for half price.

Here’s what I said at the launch of the campaign.

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.


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:






Czech Republic