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 Please note that the app is no longer updated and may not work on newer OSX (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.

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.

APP IS NOT CURRENTLY AVAILABLE: Please note that the mac/ipad app required for this work is no longer updated and will not work on newer OSX. I hope to find another platform soon. 

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’.

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.


(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).

Bees and broom

[This piece is quite old, you might find it doesn’t work in all browsers, or at least not without installing Flash and Jsynth plugins]

For a few years we lived on Pender Island, off the coast of British Columbia. Yellow broom, an invasive plant, was everywhere, regarded by many as an unwanted, destructive presence. But not by all …

Bees and broom (2004) is a little piece of interactive online writing that contains a hidden game. It was my first venture into digital writing and uses Flash and Jsynth (for the game). You’ll need the sound up.


B contained

For solo clarinet and digital fixed sound, 2000.

Composer: Katharine Norman. Performer: Jonathan Cooper.

confined … enclosed … implied … revealed

[B] contained was commissioned by Jane O’Leary/Concorde for Paul Roe to play at the Galway Arts Festival. I wrote this piece very much with Paul in mind, and his particular ability to explore the more experimental timbres contained within the clarinet. The first performance was in the context of a contemporary art exhibition on the theme of ‘containers’, and the pieces were played in the midst of the exhibition with the audience around.

Listening to music offers, among so many things, a refuge in which to be contained. Here, the digital sound provides a sonic container for the live performer. All the electronic material in this piece was created from an initial recording of the note ‘b’, played on clarinet. This note, less than a second long, is looped and played continuously throughout, though sometimes the original is almost inaudible, masked by its various incarnations and developments. The player doesn’t actually get to play a ‘b’ until the final section of the piece. Instead, the clarinet line gradually incorporates pitches to either side of this elusive goal, which it surrounds or ‘contains’ and – at the same time – strives to reach.

A thank you to Ross Bencina – this was my first piece using his very nice software, Audiomulch.

Making Place

Making Place

Here, setting out alone,
feet heavy in the clay,
travel seems a blind cacophony
replete with ancient allegories.
read full text

Scroll down to download materials and for more info.

Making Place is a poetic exploration of place, and place making, for one or two performers and live interactive processing of animation, text and audio. It can be performed by any instrument capable of realising a version of the semi-improvisatory 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.

click to: DOWNLOAD MATERIALS AND INFO (64bit Mac OSX app, score etc). Please feel free to experiment – or get in touch.

As of 2016 the performer uses the score in conjunction with a mac app (OSX) that can be preloaded with the performer’s choice of field recordings and images. You are encouraged to incorporate your own images and recorded sounds.There are currently score versions for piano solo, piano duo, violin solo, violin and ‘cello, and ‘cello solo, but almost any pitched instrument could interpret the score.

Making Place was commissioned by Kate Halsall with funds from the Arts Council of England and the Britten Pears Foundation. First performance, Sonorities festival, Belfast, April 2013 (one piano version).Other performances Falmouth University, Cornwall, May 2013 (two pianos – Kate Halsall, Fumiko Miyachi), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (Kate Halsall), New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival 2015 (violin, Maja Cerar), International Computer Music Conference Athens, ZKM Karlsruhe (piano, Sebastian Berweck), Mannes College, New School NYC (piano, Daniel Schreiner), Banff Centre (Kate Halsall).

London – three sound pieces

For sound alone, 1991-1994.

These three sound-based works are all about London, not the London of tourist brochures but the London that I lived in at the time, the early 1990s, and the London remembered by my mother, growing up during World War II. All three pieces make use of personal recordings, and form an aural autoethnography which, I hope, communicates a sense of place and time to a wider audience. Now many of the sounds have changed – the sparrows that were an omnipresent aural feature of my east London back garden are relatively few and far between now, writing in 2010. The memories that my mother held so vividly when I recorded her in the early 1990s are now more distant.

London E17

In London, as in all large cities, even a short walk can involve abrupt transitions from one sonic, and social, environment to another. The source sounds for this piece are diverse, and all were recorded in and around Walthamstow, London E17, which I considered to be my home `patch’ at the time. Although there is quite a bit of sound-processing, it is intentionally surreptitious. I used it to `light’ a series of linked sonic films, letting the so-called ordinary shine through. The music travels through various environments, dwelling for several minutes in each. They include sounds from my back garden, underground `tube’ trains, my local eel pie and mash caf , a noisy outdoor market, roadworks, rain. London E17 is dedicated to Paul Lansky, with thanks and affection.

In her own time

My mother holds a wealth of memories concerning her life in London during the Second World War. In these stories from her childhood the horror of war is disguised, or perhaps made even more painful, coloured by a child’s excitement and lack of understanding. And, of course, she tells them now from an adult’s perspective, looking back at the person she once was. Her memories were familiar bedtime stories for me, so much so that I feel they are part of my experience too. During the Gulf war they began to haunt me; perhaps I realised, for the first time, how it must have been. With my mum’s enthusiastic participation, I used her words, emotions and personality as the basis for this piece. Many of the recordings were made `on location’, as my parents and I revisited the places where she grew up.

In her own time is as much about my feelings for my mother as about the events she describes. More generally, it’s also concerned with memories, places or people as they are now and were then, the temporal nature of sound itself, and the important legacy that stories provide.

People underground

The sounds used in this piece were recorded in foot tunnels underneath the Thames. These tunnels are reached by descending in large Victorian lifts, complete with mahogany panelling and raucous sliding metal doors. The tunnels are extraordinary, and the experience of interacting with them more so. As the doors open, the crowd emerges into a wonderfully reverberant environment, and many people immediately begin playing with it – stamping their feet, shouting, listening to echoes, making spooky noises with their kids. It’s one of few occasions in everyday life when people spontaneously engage with sound, and the `effects’ produced are surprisingly nightmarish. In the damp and dimly-lit tunnels, you could almost convince yourself that the journey may not end, or that you might be entering some dark, unknown world. This piece is a walk below ground in both the sonic and metaphorical sense, an imaginary journey in which the sounds of the tunnel, and the people, drift in and out of focus, become intensified or surreal or fade inexplicably to silence. Things aren’t what they seem, until the music returns to the surface.

People underground has also been used as the soundtrack for a film, Below the Surface by Paul Rodgers, with whom the original sounds were recorded.

Available on LONDON, a CD of music and sound art by Katharine Norman (NMC D034)

Squeaky Reel

Sound alone, fixed, 1998.

This very short piece uses only three unidentified sounds, provided by the CD label, to make a rather grungy, irreverent and perhaps slightly folk-like dance. Other than some slight processing, the sounds were left to speak for themselves. I made Squeaky Reel with a NeXT computer and Cmix software, and anything else that came to hand. Commissioned by empreintes DIGITALes and full-quality copy released on Miniatures concrètes Électro clips 2.

In the stream

Sound alone, fixed, 1990.

The sounds used as sources are very short fragments of singing, from a recording of a male Scottish folk singer, and recordings of streams. There are no synthetic sounds, but these sources are processed a great deal, and virtually always intertwined or presented simultaneously. The piece opens with a long sequence of loud ‘thuds’ – made from a cross-synthesized mix of vocal syllables and water – that gradually dissipate and make way for a less aggressive and more flowing texture, in which the sounds of water, often tuned to clear pitches, predominate. The piece ends with an extended passage in which the patterns of water are integrated with longer vowel sounds, tuned – for much of the time – to an ‘ecstatic’ major triad.

This was the first digital ‘tape’ piece I made – by means of Cmix software on a friendly but decaying Vax computer at Princeton University. Structurally, I was trying to translate Fibonnaci principles, an enthusiasm that I’d used in a previous piano piece about a British waterfall, High Force, to an electronic medium.

Composed in 1990, a high quality recording of In the stream is recorded on the CD, Transparent things (Metier).

The Future

Radiophonic miniature, 1995.

‘The Future – do we have one? Nah, I’ll be dead by then!’

Made from quick ‘n’ dirty documentary recordings using a grotty handheld microphone, this one-minute piece is a brief, evocative picture of children and their thoughts on what they want ‘in the future’ – a musical treatment of their personalities – their frenetic response to being tape-recorded – `me first, my turn, let me finish, my go !’ …this piece is unashamedly sentimental. Thanks to Lindsay, Lynne, Tara, the kids, the dogs and the budgerigar.

Commissioned by Yorkshire and Humberside Arts as part of their “New Radio” venture in 1995 and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 1996.

Five-minute wonders

Composed between 1997-2001, each of these short computer-processed soundscapes, midway between music and documentary (and sometimes with tunes), celebrates the ‘wonder’ of a particular time and place, and lasts exactly five minutes.

Anything from the minibar?

A hotel receptionist with a particularly interesting and lyrical North of England accent. The music picks out the inflections and inner melodies within her voice, and perhaps comments wryly on the stock phrases she employed.

Oranges and Lemons

Waiting at a tourist attraction (a Roman fort) where there was an outside gift-shop and icecream kiosk. Listening to the repetitive jingle of the till, the children’s chatter, the sounds of people as they enjoyed doing nothing much.

Something quite atrocious

Root surgery. And all the time an inane radio competition in the background mixing with the sound of the drill and shooshing suction …trying to make it sound like the sea….escape to another place…no luck.

You need a cab?

A surreal taxi journey across Toronto, starting from an aural viewpoint way above the traffic, then descending onto the street, careering around town in the company of a burbling radio and a extrovert cabbie, of Ghanaian origin via Hackney….


Oboe, percussion and fixed sound, 2001.
for oboe, percussion and digital sound, performed by New Noise




contact composer for ‘tape part’.

Insomnia. The inability to sleep, despite attempts at rest. Like an insomniac this piece is agitated and unable to settle. The instrumentalists inhabit a dark, oppressive world which is constantly active, fragmentary and bordering on nightmare. The work was partly inspired by my own experience of insomnia, which usually strikes when I am making work or writing, and by Sylvia Plath’s poem, ‘Insomniac’.

Although composed for oboe and percussion, I’m happy for you to arrange it for any instrument and percussion or to discuss alternatives.

Losing it is a related text-based digital piece using similar materials.

Insomnia was commissioned by New Noise (Joby Burgess and Janey Miller) in 2001. Recorded on their CD Insomniac.

Losing it

Sound alone, fixed, 2004.

Losing it….losing it…close your eyes. Close your eyes! …
Sleep… sleep – you’re losing it, losing it.
Trying to smudge that white line of consciousness.
Aching to fall… into oblivion.
Trapped in limbo between sleep and the desire to sleep.
Frozen beyond waking.
Half dead…half still, half awake? Not whole.
Can’t stop thinking, can’t stop remembering this cruel parade of itchy embarrassments, scratching away beneath blank eyes.
There is too much noise for rest, there is too much sight for blindness.
Sleep now, before it’s too late – morning’s manic birds are gouging you into wakefulness.
Sleep. You’re losing it…

This text/sound piece about insomnia and a nightmarish mental state has been performed in various ways, from a live four-channel mix in a club in Vancouver to a fixed media performance over a 60-speaker system at the International Computer Music Conference in Belfast. The work is made from transformed voice (mine), noise and environmental recordings of an English dawn chorus. I made a related work for oboe, percussion and digital sound, Insomnia, composed for New Noise, and recorded on their CD, Insomniac

Bells and Gargoyles

For sound alone, ‘soundscape’, 1996.
Bells and Gargoyles is a digitally created soundscape, made from recordings collected late on a stormy night in the Derbyshire village of Hathersage. The ancient church stands on top of a steep hill. Its bells mark time’s passing. Strange gargoyles jut out from the roof, infiltrating the night with their mysterious, disturbing presence. Walking alone, heart in mouth, the air seems full of spirits and outer reality becomes confused with inner imagination – a nocturnal journey, through an eerie darkness that is not necessarily to be feared.

Bells and Gargoyles is recorded on Transparent things

Hard Cash (and small dreams of change)

What would you do if you won a million? We’ve all played that game. Hard Cash (and small dreams of change) is an ironic elegy for the sound of hard cash, and a scherzo for our small dreams of change, merging the hard, unfinished quality of location-recorded sound – perhaps the aural equivalent of the hand-held camera- with the computer-transformed reality of filtered tones and pitches. It makes a random world that explores how things are, how things seem, and how they might be. The field recordings include ‘vox pop’ interviews on the streets of east London, a game of cards with family and friends, and recordings of seagulls, a fun-fair and amusement arcade on Brighton Pier. Throughout, the texture is woven with the sound of a spinning coin, appearing in various guises.

A full quality recording of Hard Cash (and small dreams of change) is released on Sonic Circuits V (Innova 114).

Window (for John Cage)

Life, and sound and music, go on — in all kinds of weather.
But everything is worth a listen.
An  interactive sound essay about listening and everyday experience.
Turn up the sound and listen.
Winner, New Media Writing Prize (2012). Selected by the Electronic Literature Organization for inclusion in ELC 3 (2015).  
The original online version dates from 2012 and may not work in all browsers (as of 2019 worked in Chrome). The apps are no longer updated and are not guaranteed to work.

Burwell (Local Materials)

Field recordings, April/May 2009: Dawn-Rain-Bells-Wind-Night

For a couple of years we lived in Burwell, a large village in Cambridgeshire, England. Our house was right next to the church, separated only by a ruined wall made from clunch, a local material previously used widely as a building material. The wall was restored lovingly by a local craftsman, shortly after we moved in. It was then I started to think about clunch, and about local materials more generally and how much they infiltrate and continue to build a presence in our day-to-day experience of both landscape and vernacular architecture—the places we come to know. During the day the builder continued his work,and the clunch wall gradually ceased to be a ruin and reasserted its presence as an important, beautiful part of the ‘ordinary’ landscape. He was a young chap, on his first restoration job, and he worked meticulously and with care as he came to terms with materials that were both old and, for him, new. Meanwhile, I spent some time recording local sounds — the dawn chorus, the crows that gathered in the towering chestnuts in the churchyard, the wind in the trees, the rain, churchbells, and the small, mysterious sounds of nocturnal animals.

Local Materials (there’s my stop) is a related essay about words, sounds, listening and clunch, and introduces several of my pieces for voice, text, and sound.

Fuga Interna (begin)

Piano and fixed sound, 2011.

Composer: Katharine Norman. Piano: Xenia Pestova.

Fuga Interna (begin) is the sixth piece in a series for piano, Fuga Interna, and the first to include a digital part, which also includes a text by myself. The work is about listening, learning to play the piano, my mother, age and memory. The digital part contains a transformed version of the first piece in the series, Fuga Interna (opposed sonorities), performed by Philip Mead – who, by a nice coincidence, at one time taught Xenia Pestova, for whom this piece was written. Please contact me if you’d like the digital part sent to you. You can download the score below.

Download score

She said…
Put your hand here, beside mine
Where the black key meets the white
(She said…)
Lift your finger — that’s right
Now, down again
…and listen.
A simple act of causality.
The first notes begin.

One day you will look down at your hand
and see your mother’s,
underneath the surface.

The way the skin has creased into old age,
The way the knuckles have thickened,
The way the fingers move and stretch,
The way things fall.

She forgets things now.
I place my hand beside hers
To steady her in the fog where life is no longer black or white
Her small hand against mine…

She says…
I play the piano, sometimes — I sing, sometimes
I still know the old songs.
(She says…)

She is losing herself gradually — in parts
Things no longer follow one after the other
There is less and less to remember.
The last notes begin.

This is the last (to date) of a series of Fuga Interna pieces for piano. All the works in the Fuga Interna series are inspired by my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Like all the pieces in the series, Fuga Interna (begin) includes brief references to those of the set that came before, though it is not necessary to know this to appreciate the work, nor to perform the works in order. The Bach fugue is a constant companion in all my compositional endeavours, and has been for many years.

Leonardo sketches

Sound alone, text/voice based, 2000.

Leonardo da Vinci strode through life inventing things – for him, the world was a big dance of possibilities. The texts in these two very short movements ((1. Pandolfino’s books 2. Anaxagorus – performed continuously) are taken from some of the many notes and remarks that he wrote in the margins and spaces of his Notebooks. In additional annotations, across the margins or over other writings, he listed lists objects and ideas he wanted to remember: everything from an inventory of all his tableware and linen – ‘two small sheets, two large sheets, one table-cloth and a half’ – to observations on books, birds, money. His was a mind where everything was active and interconnected, all mixed up together.

These pieces were made as preparatory pieces for a larger work for dance and interactive video and electronics, Leonardo’s Lists, first performed in the L-Shed, Bristol in 2000, commissioned by Elektrodome.

My thanks to the late Edward Williams for contributing his voice, commissioning this work, and for much, much more.