A walk I do

carlaARUComposed for Carla Rees (Kingma system alto flute), with support from the Britten-Pears Foundation and first performed at The Forge, London in May 2016. Like my other recent works.  A walk I do is a composed work that combines instrumental performance with live audio and text processing. In this case I asked Carla to send me an informal description of a favourite walk, which I used as found material. As in another similar piece, Paul’s walk, originally written for clarinetist Paul Roe, the text itself is not so important as the fact that in describing, a person conveys their relationship to place, and the way we all relate to our environment through personal memory and experiences.

Download the app (contains score and info) and important installation notes  [64bit app, only runs on Mac OS] You need an audio interface and dual display/projection to perform the piece but can test it without these]. Have a look at the score.

Last tested, May 2017. Please note that the app is no longer updated and may not work on newer OSX (> 10.9). I’ve reached the point where it’s too hard to keep doing major recoding. Might update it one day.

Here’s a screen movie (for audition/viewing purposes only)


A walk I do was made in Openframeworks (visuals) and puredata (audio) although the final software interface is packaged as a standalone mac osx app. Although written for specific performers initially, all my recent works are designed to be adaptable to other instrumentations and performable with software that requires minimal technical knowledge. Get in touch if you’re interested in discussing a version.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 20.26.17I am extremely bad at promoting new stuff here – please Facebook friend me, that’s where I post my news. In the mean time! – Here’s some upcoming or recent stuff with some lovely people.

  • 29 May – Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin University – Carla Rees and I will perform my work A walk I do at the TENOR conference. More info here : TENOR conference, May 2016
  • 11 May, London – London premiere of A walk I do for quartertone alto flute, live text animation and live audio processing. Composed for Carla Rees, funded by Britten-Pears Foundation. At The Forge, Camden, London. More info here: A Walk I Do
  • 27 April, De Montfort University, Leicester, I’m curating a concert at De Montfort University with rarescale: flautist Carla Rees and Michael Oliva on electronics (and composer). We’ll play A walk I do, my new work for Carla and others.
  • 26 April, New School, New York. Pianist Daniel Schreiner will perform my Making Place for live instrument, live text animation and audio processing. Organised and coached by Madeleine Shapiro, with Ryan Anselmi.
  •  22 November 2015: Maja Cerar performing the violin version of Making Place at Stony Brook University, NY, with Doug Geers on electronics
  • 4 November 2015: Paul Roe performing Paul’s Walk in Dublin, with recorder player, Laouise O’Brien. More info here.


October 2015 – new work for Carla Rees

I’m delighted to be composing a work for Carla Rees, for alto quartertone flute, animated text and interactive audio, for performance May 2015, The Forge, London.

Carla Rees

Carla Rees is an alto and bass flute specialist, based in London. She is the artistic director of rarescale, an ensemble which exists to promote the alto flute and its repertoire. She plays Kingma System quarter tone instruments and works frequently in collaboration with composers to develop new repertoire and techniques. More information.

Paul’s Walk

for performer(s), live text and audio processing. Text by Paul Roe. First performance (original version), Up Close With Music, Concorde Ensemble, Dublin April 2015.

Paul’s Walk is a semi-improvisatory live work. It can be performed by any instrument (or two, sharing the part) but probably works best for sustaining instruments (e.g. woodwind or strings). This screen movie is of an older version. Paul’s Walk version 2: updated 2017 – download here: score / app (Mac OSX) / performance instructions

Paul’s Walk from novamara on Vimeo.

To try it out all you need to do is download the score and app, and use headphones and the mac’s internal microphone.

Last tested, May 2017. Please note that the app required for this work is no longer updated and will not work on newer OSX (> 10.9). I’ve reached the point where it’s too hard to keep doing major recoding. Code is archived (was originally made in Openframeworks/pd and ran as a Mac app).

Lately I’ve been making interactive or ‘responsive’ pieces that are a mix of music, text and sound, on themes to do with place – what it means and how it feels to walk and be in a landscape. This piece was originally composed for clarinetist Paul Roe. The words are taken from Paul’s informal description of a favourite walk, Upper lake at Glendalough in Co. Wicklow – a walk he says he ‘truly loves’.




How to play the piano (in 88 notes)

Music by friend and fellow composer Richard Hoadley , words by me – written and recorded to use within an interactive work, Piano Glyphs, with pianist Philip Mead. Performed at De Montfort University  Cultural Exchanges festival, 26 February 2015.

More info on Richard’s piece here.

 How to play the piano (in 88 notes)

To start, hands still.
Content at first to pedal,
knees rising and falling,
feet pumping.
Making stationary journeys
in Aunt Win’s stuffy parlour
the pianola unfurls its pattern,
punching airy absences
into the middle class gloom.

The invisible other’s papery digits
are miraculously exhumed
and the keys move
to mark the time.

The touch, fingers down.
Fleshy pads leech secret heat
from darkened ebony
and ridged whorls rub
on slivered ivory tusk.
A tactile dissonance beneath this black and white
hints at a sprawling history of lust
(of animal desire)
concealed in those chaste meetings.
And yet
they felt so good.

But that rough purchase
has long since been usurped.
Now there’s the syrupy clasp
of skin on plastic.
Now there’s a new glossary,
a different trade.
The moral slip and slide
of polyurethane.

Keep it legato, if you can (An interlude)
Miss Norman will play some skipping music,
and fifteen infant ballerinas in pink attire will hop
left leg, then right,
across a cold church hall.
They jolt discretely,
too graceless yet to fake that blended join
from leap to leap.
It comes with practice — the piano is the same.
The phrases that we long to get just right.
The limpid, liquid, pearly grains that run and trill,
and peal and flow,
and try to skip along.

One sound follows another,
the action rises, then it falls — no true glissando here.
Think ahead and grasp
towards the next moment.
We dance freely without limits
only in our minds.

Reach inside, be brave.
This overstrung contraption
with its lid-skin lifted
to expose the innards — tendons, hammers, metal frame, and folded felt.
The instrument laid bare for examination.
A candlelit cadaver in a sitting room,
dragged home by night
from some disgusting charnel house.

The lights go down.
The audience waits to be amazed
at revelations from a bloodless corpse.
A hand plucks life from swaddled strings,
a movement etched in clouds of resonating wire.
The internal is entirely strange.
Suddenly, here is a new translation.

Don’t forget to get the piano tuned.
The process is quite arbitrary.
We make assumptions.
Check the 4ths and 5ths,
and choose a scale.
Doubling the frequency
from F to F,
from C to shining C.
But there’s no real independence,
just a wobbling indecision as to possible divisions
that have changed, from year to year.

At last, the piano tuner starts to play,
smiles, picks up a snatch of melody,
and plays again.
Gleefully we sit back down,
lift our fingers,
move them to and fro.

The range is fixed, you know.
Seven octaves,
and a minor third
to bring things to a close.

Katharine Norman, December 2014.

December 2014 – Making Place

Another performance for Making Place at Goldsmiths College, London, December 6th, from Kate Halsall and Fumiko Miyachi.

More details here.

Making Place - Royal Dockyard Church, Chatham, 2013.

Making Place is an interactive work, made originally for Kate Halsall, and commissioned by her with funds from the Britten-Pears Foundation and the Arts Council. It’s a poetic exploration of place, and of place making, for one or two performers and live interactive processing of animation, text and audio, and can be performed by any instrument capable of realizing a version of the semi-improvisatory score. It uses Processing and Puredata software.

Trying to translate

Composer: Katharine Norman. Performer: Philip Mead.

Duration 15 minutes, composed 1992 (revised electronics, 2014), for piano, live electronics and digital sound.


Please note that there are currently no performance materials for the electronics part of this application. It would be fairly easy for a determined person to make a max or pd patch (the ‘effects’ are fairly simple – but I have updated it several times since its beginnings in 1992 and have now officially given up!)

In Trying to translate I treat the distinction between a recorded sound world and the live piano performance as a metaphor for translation more generally.

Much of the recorded source material comes from a radio documentary in which a female speaker describes the problems of translating from Gaelic to English and how translation affects meaning, vocabulary and ‘takes away from the magic of the sounds’. In the course of this discussion, she describes the decline of Gaelic music since the 1950s ‘with the advent of television’, and in particular Gaelic heterophony, where congregations sing ornate renditions of psalm and hymn tunes, each person singing at their own speed. I was struck by both the beauty of the speaker’s voice and the emotion behind her meaning; I share her sorrow that old ways of making music about, and for, everyday life have disappeared or faded from general use, and also have a particular fondness for the glorious, but intimate, sound of Gaelic psalm singing, which appears in the fixed sound part and — transcribed and ‘translated’ — forms the basis of the piano writing.

Trying to translate was commissioned by the Mead/Montague duo, with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain, and was first performed at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 1991.The speech is from a BBC Radio 3 Soundings documentary, and is used by kind permission of the BBC (I don’t know the identity of the speaker). Trying to translate is recorded on Transparent things (Metier), music by Katharine Norman performed by Philip Mead.

Memory places

for small ensemble

Composed in 1991, Memory places is a piece I wrote as a graduate student at Princeton, almost as an ‘escape’ from being immersed in the world of computer music and sound manipulation. It draws its inspiration from the Renaissance notion of the ‘Theatre of Memory’ (I had recently read Frances Yates’ extraordinary book on the subject), and the fact that instrumental music – played by live, human performers – is a remembering of sound quite unlike that of recorded sound, entailing a building of sonic ‘edifices’ before our very ears. While I was probably dwelling overly on ontological niceties, I was also enjoying the experience of writing for people, to play. Aspects of these concerns are built into the way the piece is composed, with performers responding to each others’ materials and ‘picking up’ aural objects for quasi-improvisation. It was the last piece I wrote in this vein, but I was quite pleased with the result – and this wonderful performance by the Princeton New Music Ensemble.The piece has been performed in both the UK and USA, and reached the finals of the ALEA II International Composition Competition, receiving a performance conducted by Gunther Schuller.

Recording: Princeton New Music Ensemble, live performance. Please contact me if you’d like a score.

Helpful Instructions for Circus Performers


This rather eccentric set of pieces for solo percussion, intended as not a little ironic in tone, was commissioned for Simon Limbrick to play at a concert of music by composers then working at Goldsmiths, University of London. The university supported the concert, held at The Warehouse, London and hosted a reception afterwards. Simon did a fantastic job, and even wore a bow tie. I think it may have been a revolving one. This and the other newly commissioned works were duly entered as ‘research outputs’ for the impending Research Assessment Exercise, so guaranteeing more likelihood of prestige and – more importantly – funding, for another few years. Jumping through hoops does not feature in this piece, except for figuratively speaking, but a number of other circus tricks are described.

Outside its original context, the piece provides a set of light-hearted virtuoso pieces. If you’d like to perform them, please feel free to cut and edit to suit the occasion. See the score for essential programme notes. Unfortunately there is no recording.


(live performance, Electric Voices)

Score (scan of hard copy – 18MB)

Icarus (for four voices and ‘tape’ – fixed digital sound) was commissioned by Sonic Arts Network and first performed at the Purcell Room, London, in 1993 by Electric Voices. It was also selected for the ISCM World Music Days, in 1995.

In this piece the myth of Icarus is interwoven with brief extracts from Leonardo’s astounding writings on flight, and on the sun, some of which are given below. Both could be said to represent a yearning for distant possibilities, spiritual or otherwise.

…You will study the anatomy of the wings of a bird together with the muscles of the breast which are the movers of these wings. And you do the same for man in order to show the possibility that there is in man to sustain himself amid the air by the flapping of wings…

…Why the sinews beneath the bird’s wings are more powerful than those above. It is done for the movement… … in order that the process of going up may be easy, and that of going down difficult and meeting with resistance, and it is especially adapted for going forward drawing itself back in the manner of a file…

…That bird will rise on high which by means of a circular movement in the shape of a screw makes its reflex movement against the coming of the wind and against the flight of this wind, turning always upon its right or left side… When the bird passes from a slow to a swift current of the wind it lets itself be carried by the wind until it has devised a new assistance for itself… …the bird has always time to redirect its course and in safety adjust its flight which will always proceed entirely free.

The sun does not move.
The sun has substance, shape, motion, radiance, heat… …for in the whole world I do not see a body of greater magnitude and power than this… …all vital force descends from it since the heat that is in living creatures comes from the soul and there is no other heat or light in the universe.

These texts are used as material for the singers and the digital part, in the latter they are processed using a variety of computer techniques. The recordng is from a live performance and doesn’t really do the singers enough justice – they did a marvellous job, and toured the work throughout the UK. I’ve also used and reworked the material from the digital part in Leonardo’s Lists, a piece for dance, live image and video (by Brian Newbold) and live sound, commissioned by Elektrodome and South West Arts (2000).