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….

Insomnia

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

 

insomnia-preface

insomniascore

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

High Force

for piano solo, 1988.

Score (scan of hard copy – 24 MB download)

The piece was originally written for pianist (and physicist) Steven Neugarten, who said ‘why not write a piece about turbulence?’ and got my particular interpretation of the idea, a virtuoso piece that proceeds from bottom to top of the piano, becoming more and more complex, with a structure based on a quite rigorous use of Fibonacci principles. The piece was first performed by Steven as a finalist in the British Contemporary Piano Competition. This recording is from Philip Mead, who set up the same competition.

High Force is a waterfall in County Durham, surrounded by impressive pine trees and dark rock walls that have an almost cathedral-like presence. The water falls headlong for about 70 feet, landing in a surging pool, coloured by the surrounding peat and granite. Watching it, I was mesmerised by the great mass of water which seems at once changeless and constantly changing. After staring for a while the granite and the water seem to merge as one. In this piece I sought to capture that feeling of relentlessness and turbulent motion, and the erosion of one, apparently unyielding, element by another, more fluid idea.

Recorded by Philip Mead on Transparent things.

Thescore was computer set by Barnes Music Engraving, to use as an example of their work. I remain extremely grateful to this day that they were so kind as to do this for one penniless young-ish composer. But the amazing quality of their work is its own recommendation.

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).  
winorigs
winosxs
winioss
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.

Local Materials (there’s my stop)

ClunchOriginally published in Playing with Words: the spoken word in artistic practice, ed Cathy Lane, CRiSAP/RGAP/Cornerhouse 2008.

I was invited to write about pieces I have made in which I ‘play with words’. But, you know, I’d much rather point you in the general direction and let you explore them for yourself. In any case maybe my concerns are the other way around: it’s not so much playing with words, but the ‘play’ — the inherent give and take — between words, language, text and place that I find really fascinating. So I thought I’d write about my journey home instead, with just a few asides. And there are links.

The bus ride is still new to me. In the dark January evenings the country roads all look the same and the convoluted route, looping back and forth through several villages, makes things all the more confusing. There’s a long stretch of unlit road just before my stop. Here the bus gathers speed and hurtles past unseen fields and occasional signs that I can’t quite read through the dirty windows. If I’m not careful I lose track of where we are, and of when I should alert the driver to pull over. From the brightly lit interior I strain my eyes into the blackness, searching for a particular whitewashed wall that looms up on the left and tells me to ‘press the red button now’.

Two women in their early twenties regularly share part of the trip. I think they work in the health club. They talk about nothing of substance (or so it seems to me), simply batting back and forth freshly turned anecdotes unceasingly — boys, sex, love, life, money, life, love, sex, boys. They perform to each other in a make-do mix of imported and regional accents and idioms: this magpie vernacular cements their connection. I can only provide a taste, because you’d need to listen.

‘An’ we argued all the time before it all went tits up.’

‘He was owtside the Co-op last night wiv his mates. But I didn’t talk to him coz he had these really funky trainers on.’
‘So I TOWLD him no we’ve broken up, so you can’t be coming back and ’aving sum more of it now, can you?’
‘Just where duz he get off!’

When they leave, their absence creates a space that reminds me I’m almost halfway home. For a few moments I mentally recreate bits of their conversation, trying to retain the sounds so I can figure out what’s going on in that accent. And I remember that I grew up using speech patterns that were quite similar to theirs, even if at some early point I chose to abandon them for different materials.

The other night, a Friday, the driver stopped to let a couple of amiably inebriated male passengers get out to pee into a hedge. Too pissed to piss out of sight, their antics caused guffawing from the busload of observing passengers. I turned to joke with the workmen sitting behind — and heard both my voice and vocabulary slide slightly towards theirs. When I pick up the phone at work I do the opposite, sidestepping easily into administrative turns of phrase, ‘upgrading’ my accent, rolling reassuring competence across the lines. Playing the game. Playing along with the right words, and sound, for the job. It’s a common, almost unconscious social accommodation in situations where we know the landscape down to the smallest sign. But transplanted between countries, or even counties, that ostensibly speak the same lingua franca we lose the subtle to and fro that comes from knowing our place. Instead, the new patina on a once-familiar language brings something else in view.

In Anything from the minibar? I recorded a hotel receptionist who mouthed the conventional phrases of ‘customer service speak’ in the gentle sing-song of a Northumbrian accent. To me her accent was attractive, to her it was unheard. ‘Morning, checking out?’, ‘Two nights’ accommodation, that’s your total bill?’, ‘Has everything been alright for you?’ No, it hadn’t. And no, I didn’t ask her permission to record, I fear. But then she was already performing a script that wasn’t her own. And this piece is a celebration of her performance, and her voice.

I have worried about the ethics of this, but far less than in the case of a clandestine recording of a Dublin street-preacher, whose fire and brimstone oration was for everyone to hear but came from the heart. I decided his recording should have the right to remain silent. For me his accent and delivery were exotic, for him both were incidental.

The fields rush past outside. The wall I’m looking out for is made of clunch, a local limestone that has been quarried since Roman times in this part of England; it was once used extensively for building, despite its tendency to fracture or erode. Under my breath I experiment with my latest new word absentmindedly, ‘kuh…lunnnn….ch!’ ‘kerrrr…lunCH!’. I like saying it. The procedure involves anatomical operations that I can perform instinctively, but couldn’t name without looking them up: the springy impetus of tongue against roof of mouth, the dropped jaw vowel, and the satisfying ‘chuh!’ to seal the deal. A good solid word that (for me) sticks out at the moment, just like those odd lumps of chalk that stud Cambridgeshire clay.

Traditional buildings are born of compromise — a pragmatic ‘making do’ with what’s inherent in the landscape. They may eventually slip away but of course their materials are already memorialized in the local names for place — Chalk Vale, Quarry Lane, Pit Road. The materials of vernacular language are similarly cobbled together unthinkingly and, just as unthinkingly, discarded along the way. Sometimes all that’s left of the past are shards of vocabulary that mean far less now than they used to. Around the corner from my home, Limestone Close is a 1980s brick-built housing development.

Sometimes I miss the clunch wall and only realize this when the bus has passed my stop and the church comes into view. Once, nipping home through the churchyard (with my head bowed, but only against the rain) I noticed a poster flapping on the door. It announced a joint service between various denominations and was printed in English, Welsh and Gaelic. The Welsh I identified immediately — I could even try to read it out loud, approximating the sound of the words without knowing their meaning. But for me Gaelic is too strange to even attempt: although it uses familiar characters, there are all those unfamiliar diacritical marks to contend with. I know they change the sound — but I don’t know how. And words need sound.

In Trying to translate the pianist’s live, electronically processed sounds interweave with the digitally processed sounds of both Gaelic psalm-singing and speech from a radio documentary. The latter concerns the difficulties of translating texts from Gaelic into English: from one language with a vocabulary rooted in experiences that no longer exist to another whose vocabulary has moved away from the old ways of living. Trying to translate is a meditation on the interdependency of spoken language and experience, and on how easily the loss of one can lead to the loss of the other.

But, naturally, spoken words are just part of the story. An ‘old boy’ (as they call elderly men around these parts) gets on the bus most nights and stays up at the front chatting, completely ignoring the printed admonition: ‘do not stand or talk to the driver while the bus is in motion’. With his back to me, I can’t hear more than the murmur of his voice and the driver’s occasional short responses. But I see more than words alone can tell in the apparently nonchalant leaning stance of the passenger, who still wants to be one of the boys, rather than just some ‘old boy’. Perhaps he’s an ex-bus driver who knows the old cross-country routes like the back of his hand but is no longer required on this journey. He is trying to hang on to the banter of a place that has receded into his past. The driver knows; he accommodates the man out of kindness but his terse, impatient head movements give the game away. Although of course that’s just the story I chose to observe, and to tell now. It may not be true.

In In her own time I transformed my mother’s reminiscences about growing up during WWII, or ‘the war’ as she always calls it — in her mind, and in her words, this was the only war to touch her. In my piece, for much of the time, I chose to obscure her words. There are other stories in the way memories are re-articulated in the patterns of speech, especially when the patterns are imbued both with harmony and pitch, and remembering emotion. As she relates tales of crashed Spitfires, shrapnel popping in the garden hedge, and neighbours crushed to death in their homes, her slight London accent plucks the digital filters that tune her voice. But while you cannot always hear her words, for much of the time (I hope) you can hear her feeling. (The piece starts very quietly….listen.)

The bus pulls up at the crossroads, about ten minutes away from my non-verbal cue. Rather than demolish clunch walls, builders over the years have propped them up with added buttresses and bulging patches of later bricks and mortar. Wearing their histories visibly, the walls are silently eloquent: they are, to borrow Nabokov’s words, ‘transparent things, through which the past shines’.

A woman in her thirties presses the button and gets up, reluctantly closing her paperback as she makes for the doors. She has a slightly hippie dress sense that I like (though she might describe it with a less dated vocabulary). In the mornings she often sits down next to me, but we never speak. Her preferred reading is Arthurian, quest-based fiction. Heroes and heroines. I take a sidelong glance as she devours page after page, and imagine a stream of text spooling through her mind. I wonder what her internal reading voice sounds like, and if it imparts an inflection to the words that’s unique to her — and if that affects the meaning in subtle, unknowable ways. Her silent reading provides an inaudible virtual filter that’s a kind of ‘duet’ with the author’s text, itself a transliteration from inner voice to printed word. What is this voice that we create? Is it simply a speaking voice internalized, or is it something more directly hard-wired to conscious thought? How do the voices of internal discourse differ from speech, or even from one another? Where are we now? It’s still so dark.

Islands of One is my first sound-art piece in which I have used my speaking voice as material in conjunction with an autobiographical text. For me this was quite a difficult decision because on the one hand this could be deemed insufferably narcissistic, and yet on the other hand perhaps the only way to make art about phenomenal experience is to tell it how it seems, first person. And this is also the first piece I composed with headphone listening in mind. My voice, close up — right inside the listener’s head.

(This is a rather old flash piece from 2006 and might not work in your browser. Sorry.)

windrose

But proximity is a relative concept, one with a lot of ‘play’ in it. I currently spend a large part of my week reading and responding to email messages. Many are from strangers, whom I will never ‘hear from’ outside the written word. But it’s not only work-related acquaintances that I know this way, in fact I have more than a few good friends that I have only known online, ‘dis-voiced’. We have never met in the flesh, and probably never will, and we have never felt the need to phone. And yet, on the strength of their words, and mine — the way we write to each other — I feel we are quite close. And we are, I think. When another email arrives, or we ‘chat’ by text, it’s not only the words but the person who seems near — here, with me, inside my reading voice.

yesreally

In Yes, really, a venture into fiction delivered via email, I have attempted to play with the intimacy of the Inbox. A counterpoint of three voices addresses the reader; each voice is written in a distinctive style and tone, each expresses experience through a particular sensibility, and each requires the reader to take on a ‘role’, and to interact by reading. There are no sounds, other than those created inside the reader’s mind. For this kind of art, no speakers are required.

In a growing number of cases, people perform significant aspects of their social — and emotional — lives on the internet. That small word ‘on’ gives a clue to its place: the same connective preposition used for radio, phone, or TV. A place to be — or to feel oneself to be — with others. And on the internet we are constantly creating voices — reading or writing online epistolary communications that speak through the imagined (or, still less often, the real) sound of language And it’s all ‘up close’. Every message gains local significance. Even the Chinese spam mail, rendered as a series of question marks by my anglo-email software, is a mute interrogation.

The virtual and the real are concepts whose unfinished edges increasingly rub against each other. And the relationship between the two seems ever more dynamic as the notion of what people call home expands to include the insubstantial. And I wonder if one day these concepts, and their words, will be discarded as inappropriate building materials. Perhaps they will only remain in the names for places that were more important in the past. What seems solid now may fracture and erode with time, and ultimately evanesce. Something will come along.

And there it is: the white clunch wall. The dishevelled remnant of a boundary long fallen out of use. It marks the place where I get off.

Katharine Norman, January 2008.

If any of these links are broken, please email me for directions.

www.novamara.com

Some routes
Crystal, David (1997, 2nd ed.). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Heller-Roazen, Daniel (2005). Echolalias: On the Forgetting of Language. New York: Zone Books.

Milne, Esther. Email and Epistolary technologies: Presence, Intimacy, Disembodiment. http://journal.fibreculture.org/issue2/issue2_milne.html (accessed January 2008)
Nabokov, Vladimir (2002, written in 1972). Transparent things. New York: Vintage Books.
Norman, Katharine (2004). Sounding Art: Eight Literary Excursions through Electronic Music. Aldershot, UK and Vermont, USA: Ashgate.
The Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland – Preface to Cambridgeshire
(accessed October 2014)

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.

beginpic
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
Here
…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.

Fuga Interna (ascent)

Solo piano, 2000.

Fuga Interna (ascent), composed in 2000 for performance by Philip Mead at the British Music Information Centre, London as part of a concert of my solo piano work.

ascentpic
Download score

This is one in a continuing series of relatively short works for piano, , started in 1997 (and very much still in progress). Each contains brief ‘quotes’ from those that preceded it, but the pieces can be performed in any order and combination, as the performer prefers. All are inspired by the pianist for whom I wrote the particular piece, and also from my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a work that’s a constant companion in many of my compositional endeavours. As I play it at the piano, it offers a place to meditate on performing and listening. The way in which the pieces refer to the Bach are often quite rigorous and defined, although deliberately not audibly apparent.

This is one in a continuing series of relatively short works for piano, Fuga Interna, started in 1997 (and very much still in progress). Each contains brief ‘quotes’ from those that preceded it, but the pieces can be performed in any order and combination, as the performer prefers. All are inspired by the pianist for whom I wrote the particular piece, and also from my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a work that’s a constant companion in many of my compositional endeavours. As I play it at the piano, it offers a place to meditate on performing and listening. The way in which the pieces refer to the Bach are often quite rigorous and defined, although deliberately not audibly apparent

November 2014 – Window app released

After much wrangling with software (mainly Openframeworks and Xcode), I’m pleased to announce that Window is now available as an app for iOS and OSX. Check it out!

E-01Window is an interactive sound essay originally made in javascript and html5, but now also available as an app, which I made in memory of John Cage and in celebration of ordinary listening. It won the 2012 New Media Writing Prize. Leonardo Flores has since written this perceptive (and poetic) review.

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.

Fuga Interna (turn and run)

Solo piano, 2003.

No recording just yet for this one yet, sorry.

turn
Download score

This is one of a continuing series of relatively short works for piano, started in 1997 (and very much still in progress). Each contains brief ‘quotes’ from those that preceded it, but the pieces can be performed in any order and combination, as the performer prefers. All are inspired by the pianist for whom I wrote the particular piece, and from my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a work that’s a constant companion in many of my compositional endeavours. As I play it at the piano, it offers a place to meditate on performing and listening listening.

The way in which the Bach piece is referred to is often inaudible, or not clear, but the methods are often quite rigorous, even if the connections are rarely overtly discernible. Fuga Interna (turn and run) was originally composed for Andrew Zolinsky, and obsesses on a particular figure that is characterized by a final ‘turn’.

Fuga Interna (thirds)

Solo piano, 2000.

Fuga Interna (thirds), composed in 2000 for performance by Clive Williamson at The Warehouse, London, as part of the Cutting Edge series.

thirdspic
Download score

This is one of a continuing series of relatively short works for piano, started in 1997 (and very much still in progress). Each contains brief ‘quotes’ from those that preceded it, but the pieces can be performed in any order and combination, as the performer prefers. All are inspired by the pianist for whom I wrote the particular piece, and also from my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a work that’s a constant companion in many of my compositional endeavours. As I play it at the piano, it offers a place to meditate on performing and listening. The way in which the pieces refer to the Bach are often quite rigorous and defined, although deliberately not audibly apparent

Fuga Interna (opposed sonorities)

Solo piano, 1997.

Fuga Interna (opposed sonorities), composed for performance by Stephen Gutman at the Purcell Room, London as part of The Debussy Studies Project, which I helped to organise.

opposedpic
Download score

This is the first of a continuing series of relatively short works for piano. Each contains brief ‘quotes’ from those that preceded it, but the pieces can be performed in any order and combination, as the performer prefers. All are inspired by the pianist for whom I wrote the particular piece, and also from my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a work that’s a constant companion in many of my compositional endeavours. As I play it at the piano, it offers a place to meditate on performing and listening. The ways in which the pieces refer to the Bach are often quite rigorous and defined, although not necessarily audibly apparent.

Trilling Wire

clarinet and fixed sound, 1994.

Score (note, this is a scan of a handwritten score, 26.4MB download)

Trilling Wire was commissioned by Jonathan Cooper, whose playing also features on the digital sound part, and is the source of most of the digital material, and the recording here.

The piece is dedicated to him, and was first performed at the Aarhus Concert Hall, in 1994, as part of the International Computer Music Conference. Quite a few clarinetists have performed it since – it’s a virtuoso piece and requires the performer, best amplified, to co-ordinate with a fixed sound part, but does not require extended techniques. The title is taken from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

The trilling wire in the blood

Sings below inveterate scars

Appeasing long forgotten wars.

The dance along the artery

The circulation of the lymph

Are figured in the drift of stars.

Trilling Wire is recorded on London, a CD of music by Katharine Norman (NMC 034), also available by download.