The EMC Blog

Michael Nyman in 1983

For some years I have been meaning to upload some of the material I have gathered over the years, including interviews I conducted with experimental composers and performers. One of the most useful, clearest interviews was my interview with Michael Nyman, 23 March 1983, just a few days after I had seen him in Hammersmith with the eponymous Michael Nyman Band, performing music from the Peter Greenaway film, The Draughtsman’s Contract. Although the Nyman Band, and the Campiello Band before it, had been in existence and successfully performing since 1977, The Draughtsman’s Contract was the start of Nyman’s fame as a composer of music for film, opera, and other genres.

I interviewed Nyman in the kitchen-diner of his home in Ladbroke Grove. He was not interested in rehashing his research from past criticism and Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (Studio Vista, 1974), his landmark history of experimental music that has yet to be supplanted, despite numerous attempts. His disinterest was just fine: I could read that Nyman to know him; what I didn’t yet know enough was his “rebirth” as a composer after years of music writing and research. Michael Nyman was a gregarious, charming host. The interview stops where he says, “I’ll come and show it to you,” but afterward he did show me his music, from the Waltz in F onward. It was a brilliant afternoon, and I was sorry that my little cassette machine was unable to pick up this second session, as videocameras do today.

The interview is now on the Reprint Series of Jems: Journal of Experimental Music Studies. Next up: a special Jems forum on the EMC² Festival last March is in final preparation.

Submitting things to the EMC

A bit of housekeeping from our dear little admin, which will appear on our Ordering page:

We’ve been receiving a lot of email and Facebook messages about new releases. Some of those announcements have confused us. “Check out my new single!” and a link, for example. Is this a circular to a mailing list? Is this a personal note to the EMC? Sometimes we just don’t know. So we thought we might give some handy household hints to help you let us know about your music, what we need to know and what we can (and cannot) do.

  1. The first thing we’d like to know is…what do you want from us? Are you sending us news of your release, composition, or other work? Or are you sending it, hoping to get a review, or for us to publish it? Can you tell us about it? About yourself? Would you like to engage in a conversation, or are you just spreading the news?
  2. If you want an answer from us, it’s always best to personalise your message and direct it to the right person. And the best, most permanent and sure way to do that is by email, not Facebook messages. Our address for submissions goes directly to our founder, Chris Hobbs. You can find out how to submit here: Ordering, submissions, spam, and privacy. Or you can contact Virginia Anderson (the EMC web thingie) or me (admin) via the contact information on our home page, for any other announcements or queries.
  3. It would help us to know what you’re doing if you understand what we do. Before you submit, please check out our site—especially the Catalogue and our Bandcamp page. Can you see your album or score on those pages? Your music doesn’t have to sound like the music on the EMC site. But would you be happy to have it there? Would the EMC be the natural place your fans would go to find your music? Can you explain to us what makes your music perfect for the EMC?
  4. Procedural/technical issues: if you are sending a sample of your work, we’d prefer to check it out on a streaming or other website like Soundcloud or YouTube first. Try to avoid paywall services such as iTunes, Spotify, or Amazon Music, unless you only wish us to hear the short sample on those sites. And we’d appreciate downloads later in our conversation—we don’t need them immediately.
  5. Finally, neither the EMC nor our peer-review journal, JEMS, has a tradition of or facility for album reviews. We might chat about a minimalist or experimental concert we’ve attended or performed in, or we might share a link to an archival performance we’ve found on YouTube and elsewhere, but we don’t do formal reviews. Sorry. There are many online journals and sites like WireDustedNewMusicBox, and Perfect Sound Forever that do this better than we can.

Anyway, I hope this will be of help and that this will clear up any confusion when we receive your announcements of new music. And even if you don’t want us to publish your work, we love hearing about it, so keep spreading the news!

John White performs his sonatas

New on the experimusic YouTube channel! John White’s performance of five of his sonatas at the Keyboard Experiments concert at De Montfort University, Leicester, 25 March 2017. This was the Saturday afternoon recital of the CoMA East Midlands EMC² Festival, celebrating nearly 50 years of the Experimental Music Catalogue.

On this set, John White plays the following sonatas:

Sonata 159 (2007) “Waiting for Batman”
Sonata 116 (1987) “Underwater Rhumba”
Sonata 140 (2003) “The Well-Tempered Cyclist”
Sonata 165 (2008) “Pensive Noctambulism”
Sonata 156 “A Boogie for Jonathan Powell”

There is a slight cut-out during Sonata 140 due to a cut in video files, but this should only slightly inconvenience what is a rare video performance by John White, as brilliant a pianist as he is a composer. Filmed by Connor McCormack.

Programme note: “John White has been writing piano sonatas since 1956 as a form of diary documenting his musical thinking at the time. Most of these sonatas reflect the short-form sonata from Scarlatti, and the musical thinking of Satie, with a dizzying range of individual concerns including experimental, systems and minimal, and popular musical language, and a consistent fascination for the musical thinking of piano composers from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, from Alkan to Medtner. This set of sonatas provides a taste of his post-millennial style, with one classic from the 1980s” [Virginia Anderson].

New review on Jems

Kyle Gann’s new book, Charles Ives’s Concord: Essays after a Sonata (University of Illinois Press), is out and is no doubt of great interest to all Ives fans, scholars, and pianists. On Jems, the peer-review journal hosted by the EMC, Chris Hobbs checks out this book, using fifty years of familiarity with the piece.* You can find his findings here in the review section of Jems.



*(A funny story: Hobbs performed the “Thoreau” movement for his entrance audition to the Royal Academy of Music in 1967. One of the examiners was the composer Alan Bush, who looked at the score and said something like, “Don’t know this piece. How am I going to know if you play a wrong note?” For the exact anecdote, buy Chris a beer and he’ll tell you…).

New to you! Sudoku 82!

Third time’s even more charming…. Announcing the release of the solo piano score of Christopher Hobbs’ Sudoku 82. How we got there is a tale….

Some years ago Chris Hobbs wrote Sudoku 82, a sparse, gentle, jazz-tinged piece for Apple GarageBand using mega sudoku systems processes. When Chris played it to me, I said, hey, that sudoku piece sounds like music from our favourite LA-based record label, Cold Blue Music. Cold Blue Music (http://coldbluemusic.com), run by the composer Jim Fox, presents some of the best music in what is commonly known as “West Coast” or “the new California school”. The music is cool, often sentimental, with composers such as Fox, Daniel Lentz, Michael Byron and Peter Garland, Rick Cox, and others. So with this hesitant, laid back quality, Sudoku 82 became known jovially around Hobbs Manor as the “Cold Blue Sudoku”. Then Jim Fox got involved….

As Chris tells it:

This piece has evolved over quite a long time. It began, as most of my Sudoku series do, as a GarageBand sound file, in May 2008. I used fragments of pre-existing jazz piano loops which I slowed down from their original tempo of around 126bpm to a very slow 20bpm. The chosen loops were arranged according to random means, deployed over eight tracks.  Hearing the piece, the composer Jim Fox suggested the possibility of playing it live. I liked the idea, so this meant my notating the piece, transcribing the loops as they sounded when played at a very slow speed (chords which sound pristine at 126 can be quite ragged at 20!).  Having done the work I sent it to Fox, who recorded it on his Cold Blue label, using the excellent pianist Bryan Pezzone to overdub all eight tracks. It appeared (as CB0033) in 2009.

Earlier this year I looked at the score and considered the possibility of reducing it to a single piano line; although it is nominally for eight pianos there is not too much going on; many of the chords contain the same notes and the slow tempo gives plenty of time to roll chords which have too many notes to be played at once.  Every differing note in the original is present in the new version. While one has to forgo the stereo effect  it is at least playable, and one piano is rather easier to obtain than eight!

Chris premiered this solo version at the EMC² Festival in March, as part of the “Keyboard Experiments” concert, an amazing afternoon recital with music by Howard Skempton, Chris Hobbs, John White, Hugh Shrapnel and Terry Jennings, played by Antony Clare and Mick Peake, Chris Hobbs, John White, and Hugh Shrapnel and Sarah Walker. We’re going to put up the concert footage on the experimusic YouTube channel as we can (we’ve just recently got the videos!), but here’s Chris, premiering Sudoku 82:

The score is great for study, for trying out at home (like a lot of slow post-minimalism, the physical technique is pretty simple, while the musicality is complex), and is much simpler to programme for live performance than the version with eight pianos. Sudoku 82 is available in PDF format for only £5, payable through PayPal—you’ll receive it by email for printing out. For ordering details, see here.

Alex Ross and the EMC!

We received a message from our good friend at Irritable Hedgehog, David McIntire, that Alex Ross, critic of the New Yorker, had a blog post about Erik Satie’s Le Fils des Étoiles. David McIntire informed Ross about Chris Hobbs’s work on the whole version of this piece, and Ross has added a note about Chris’s work and that the EMC has released not only the first ur text of Fils (Hobbs created an edition from the manuscript, correcting many errors in the Salabert published score), but also the first recording of the corrected edition.

Most recordings of this incidental music to the pageant/play by Joséphin Péladan consist just of Satie’s three Preludes to the play’s acts. These Preludes are pretty well-known and performed frequently by most pianists who specialise in Satie. However, Satie wrote continuous music to accompany the play’s acts, forming Satie’s longest piece of through-composed music. Chris Hobbs played the first modern performance of the entire piece (i.e., after Satie premiered it), and its first recording, on London Hall Records, in 1989. However, that first performance used the published score, with its various errors. After Chris finished the new edition (published some years before the Bärenreiter Urtext Edition), he recorded the corrected edition for the EMC.

You can read Ross’s blog post here. The score is available (with a preface by the Satie scholar Robert Orledge) on the EMC Piano Catalogue and the CD (EMC 103) can be found here. There is a discount if you order both the CD and score together.

Lewis and Smith

Oh, this is a special event. In the history of British systems music piano composer/performer duos, one of the finest was the duo of Dave Smith and John Lewis. They appear prominently in Michael Parsons’ ‘Systems in Art and Music,’ The Musical Times, 117/1604 (1976), 815, and in Virginia Anderson’s ‘Systems and Other Minimalism in Britain’, in The Ashgate Companion to Minimalist and Postminimalist Music, ed. Potter, ap Siôn, and Gann (Ashgate, 2013), 87–109. So to have the two of them performing not only their duo work—the second half is a duo piece they have not performed in forty years—but also solo music by great American experimental composers and their own music. This is definitely one to attend!

Friday 2nd June 2017 6.30 pm
Schotts Recital Room
48 Great Marlborough Street
London W1F 7BB

John Lewis and Dave Smith (2 pianos)

The first half consists of a number of solos and duets including

Ives – The Alcotts
Stockhausen – Klavierstück 1
Cowell – The Snows of Fuji-Yama
Feldman – Intermission 6
Lewis – MercuryManganeseMagnesium
Smith – 3 Kerala song arrangementsEthical Libertarian Scholars

The second half consists of Continuum (1970), an extended piece of early minimalism co-composed by the performers who will be performing it for the first time since 1977.

£12/£10

Hobbs and Infernal Machines

This is turning into a Christopher Hobbs spring: Second Doomsday Machine is on a set, Infernal Machines, with Julius Eastman’s Evil Nigger, and some guy named Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (oh, yeah—him!), on Occupy the Pianos, at St John’s Smith Square. Saturday 6 May. The whole day (with loads of goodies by Ives, Nancarrow, J.L. Adams and more) begins at 11.00 (for the great price of £15!); Infernal Machines starts at 7 pm. https://www.sjss.org.uk/events/occupy-pianos