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 ofJems.
*(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…).
The EMC² Weekend at De Montfort University, Leicester, was a great success, with talks, concerts, and a chance for all to perform great music in the tradition of the Experimental Music Catalogue. This weekend was the brainchild of Kieran O’Riordan, with Anna Claydon of CoMA (Contemporary Music for All), and performed with energy and much skill by the members of East Midlands CoMA, the improvisation groups CHA (Bruce Coates, Chris Hobbs, Virginia Anderson) and the South Leicestershire Improvisors Ensemble (Lee Allatson, Rick Nance, Virginia Anderson, Bruce Coates and Chris Hobbs), guest expert composers and performers including John White, Hugh Shrapnel, Sarah Walker, Chris Hobbs, Virginia Anderson, and Bruce Coates. Papers were given on related subjects from Virginia Anderson, Hilary Bracefield and Tim Bausch. Much material has been created from this event; much needs to be sifted, edited, and collated for publication. The highlights of Friday and daytime Saturday appear in the previous post. But we would like to share a little more of the event as it went on:
Saturday, 25 March:
At 7.30 pm, came the second concert, Continuing Experiments:
Not all of these pieces are available yet on video, but here are two from the second half:
First, Carole Finer, Magic Carpet, and Cornelius Cardew, “Little Flower of the North” (from Schooltime Compositions), performed by the South Leicestershire Improvisors Ensemble (Lee Allatson, drums, Virginia Anderson, clarinets, Bruce Coates, saxes, Chris Hobbs, piano, Rick Nance Tibetan bowl and other instruments).
Then Christopher Hobbs, The Friesian Cow, part 2, performed by members of SLIE and the EMC All*Stars (including John Richards, electronics, and John White, helicon):
Sunday, 26 March:
After a welcome and rehearsals in the morning, there was the Experimental Frontiers concert, consisting of performers from all the events through the weekend.
Thanks to Kieran O’Riordan, Anna Claydon for putting the EMC² Festival on; to James Thompson and his team of technicians at DMU for fantastic lighting and sound (check out the final piece, Chris Hobbs’ CoMA Units, for an example of their work); to Rui and Conner at the University of Leicester for their roving and fixed video work; and to Lee Allatson for HD video on Saturday night. And, of course CoMA, and everyone who took part. It was an amazing weekend.
NOTICE: DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS EXTENDED TO 20 JANUARY 2017
CALL FOR PAPERS: EMC2 – Remembering the Experimental Music Catalogue
De Montfort University 24-26th March 2017
The Experimental Music Catalogue (EMC) is a unique publication project, founded by the composer Christopher Hobbs in 1968 and shortly thereafter joined by Gavin Bryars and Michael Nyman, to disseminate experimental music (which used indeterminate, Cagean processes, often presented in text or graphic notation) and minimalism. Many of these works were “for all”, requiring performers to be interested and diligent, but not requiring an ability to read common-practice music notation. From its founding until it was closed in the early 1980s, the EMC released works by important international experimental and minimalist composers (including Cornelius Cardew, Terry Jennings, Howard Skempton, Jon Gibson, Christian Wolff, and the open-ended London experimental group the Scratch Orchestra) as individual scores and thematic anthologies (such as the Verbal Anthology, Rhythmic Anthology, Scratch Anthology of Compositions). As a publisher, the EMC was unusual in that all composers kept copyright of their work, and as part of a larger wave in independent published collections (in the US, Soundings and SOURCE magazines, Dick Higgins’ “something else press”; in the UK, Contact magazine), the EMC imprint appears in library holdings throughout the UK, Europe, the Americas and Asia. Although Bryars operated the EMC from his London home, many of the EMC composers and associated performers worked at Leicester Polytechnic, where Bryars was head of music. Leicester Polytechnic became a crucible for new works and classic performances of old works, thus ensuring the East Midlands’ central place in the development of new music in Britain. Christopher Hobbs and Virginia Anderson revived the Experimental Music Catalogue in 1999 as a web-based not-for-profit resource, bringing out classic anthologies, new scores, and more recently, CDs and downloads. The modern EMC is based in Leicester.
In conjunction with De Montfort University, the University of Leicester and Contemporary Music for All (CoMA) East Midlands, we invite paper proposals on the topic of the Experimental Music Catalogue as part of the Arts Council funded festival of practice and analysis, EMC2. Composers within the East Midlands played a huge role in shaping experimental music tropes and strategies of the 1960s and ‘70s both in the UK and beyond. As part of CoMA East Midlands’ 20th anniversary celebrations we are hosting a festival of practice, reflection and research centred upon the Catalogue and its impact. Conference attendees can attend in one of two modes: as conference participants only (talks, plenaries (for both speakers and players) and concert attendance represent an enjoyable package of events) or as speakers and players, participating in the all-comers’ rehearsal events on Saturday and the concert on Sunday afternoon.
The conference will begin on Friday at 12.30pm with registration and first panels at 1.45pm (the all-comers’ taking part all weekend begin rehearsals at 2pm). Concert number one (curated by DMU staff and students) will take place that evening. On Saturday, speakers’ panels are in the morning followed by a plenary with people associated with the EMC (including Christopher Hobbs, Virginia Anderson, Dave Smith and Hugh Shrapnel) and a piano repertoire concert. Speakers’ panels continue in the afternoon followed by an evening concert curated by Christopher Hobbs. If you decide to play with the all-comers’ (this will need to be booked in advance with your conference booking) we will be working on Gavin Bryars’ 1, 2, 1-2-3-4 (1975) and new commissions from the EMC composers. On Sunday, the final speakers’ panels will take place in the morning with rehearsals in parallel and the day concluding after lunch with the final last presenting the new commissions and Bryars’ work. The day will conclude by 4pm.
What we are aiming for is a fun and enlightening integration of activities for all. We also aim to have a publication outlet for academics participating and more information about this will follow in advance of the conference.
Consequently, we invite proposals both broadly on the EMC and its impact but also on specific areas including:
Underground music publication and experimental music
The influence of EMC publications on subsequent composers
The role that indeterminate compositions played in opening music performance to all (to musicians of abilities, all artistic backgrounds, and relevant gender and class balance)
The Scratch Orchestra
The intersection between experimental and minimal music
How indeterminate (text) scores are used today
Proposals should be sent in Word or rtf (NOT PDF) format, 250 words long, plus 100 words bio (affiliation, recent work etc…) and ensure your contact details are on the document. Please also indicate if you would wish to play an instrument, what that instrument is and how you would rate your abilities (e.g. Grade or years of experience). If you wish to play, please indicate if you have a preference for the day on which you deliver your paper (i.e. Friday or Sunday). The deadline is January 16th 2017. Proposers will hear back in late January. Send your proposal to Virginia Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org Anna Claydon at email@example.com
Hi there. We’ve just updated our whole site, including Jems, the catalogue, and our lovely splashpage, featuring Cornelius Cardew, Christian Wolff, and the EMC founder Christopher Hobbs, rehearsing in London in 1968, the year that Chris founded the EMC (yes, we know the strapline is ‘experimental music since 1969″, but that’s my fault in 1999…).
And have a look through it. We’re going to expand all the information on composers, performers, and others associated with the EMC, and there will be much more good stuff to read. And next up, a new Bandcamp EP of a great archival performance of a piece by Dave Smith. So…stay tuned!
The EMC is proud to distribute two limited edition issues of The Journal of the London Institute of ‘Pataphysics, devoted to John White on his 78th birthday. The first issue, no, 8, is Albus Liber I: Exploits and Opinions of John White, Composer. The central work is Dave Smith’s catalogue raisonée of White’s music, which he has been collecting for decades. This catalogue is not merely a work list, but also a travelogue through the music of the founder of British minimalism, including comments, reviews, and other material. This lavish work begins with an introduction by Gavin Bryars. It is abundantly illustrated throughout. Additional input by Alastair Brotchie, Sally Child, Christopher Hobbs, John Lely, Antony Melville, Tanya Peixoto, and John White; and citations from the works of Virginia Anderson, Gavin Bryars, Michael Nyman, and Sarah Walker.
Issue 9 is Albus Liber II: The Music of John White. This issue contains two CDs of previously unreleased music, more than 140 minutes in all including classics such as “Gothic Chord Machine”. These two issues of the Journal are published as companion pieces and are only available to buy as a pair. £30 plus p + p from the EMC. For information, see our Catalogue.
We’re really excited to release a new EMC Anthology. Here’s a message from the Experimental Music Catalogue founder, Chris Hobbs:
Alec Hill (1941-2013)
The Promenade Theatre Orchestra was an ensemble of four members (Alec Hill, Christopher Hobbs, Hugh Shrapnel and John White) who performed regularly from 1970-1972, mostly on a combination of instruments including toy pianos and reed organs. As a memorial to Hill EMC are releasing four of his works, three for the PTO and one other instrumental piece. The works are Small Change Machine and Large Change Machine for four toy pianos (the latter can be heard on the EMC’s CD PTO:The Orangery), Carol for four reed organs and Annable’s London Surprise for six or seven sustaining instruments. All four use systemic procedures (change-ringing patterns in all except Carol) and present a fascinating translation of those procedures into entertaining and sometimes exciting music. The scores are available in pdf. format and are priced at £8 for the set.
These four pieces feature Hill’s use of campanology and other early systems procedures. They have been computer-set and carefully edited by Christopher Hobbs (with help from PTO member Hugh Shrapnel) from Alec Hill’s manuscripts, and come with editorial and performing notes. As well as the information on the Orangery concert, for a short obituary on Alec Hill, with more on his compositions and work in the PTO, see Virginia Anderson’s post on the EMC Blog.
We have a new archival recording out on the EMC Bandcamp page: Chris Hobbs’ In the Silent Void. Written in November 1981, and recorded in a live concert performance at Royal Holloway College, Egham, Surrey, this is an amazing recording of Chinese texts in translation by Arthur Waley, from his collection Chinese Poems (George Allen & Sons, 1946). This performance is by three composer/performers at the top of their game: the late Brian Dennis, whose vocal performance has not been bettered; Andrew Jones, with a great viola performance; and Christopher Hobbs, playing piano, keyboards, and percussion.
This is well worth a listen. It’s certainly not minimalism, nor is it your daddy’s experimental music. But it is a lovely, reflective, and gorgeous performance of a piece from Chris Hobbs’ eclectic period. One of our favourites.
John White, now eighty, is a composer whose musical styles and interests are constantly entertaining. Born in Berlin, John was originally considering a career in the visual arts when he attended a performance of Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphonie and devoted himself to music. “Devoted” is a rather mild term. John thinks musically and works out those purely musical thoughts in a series of piano sonatas which he has kept, like a diary, since 1956. Most of the nineteenth and early twentieth-century piano composers (Medtner, Alkan, Busoni, Schumann, Satie, Reger) make appearances in his sonatas, but so too do experimental techniques, folk and pop music. This body of music alone is astounding — a marathon performance of many of these sonatas formed his seventieth birthday party at Wilton’s Music Hall in 2006 [see poster].
But wait, there’s more: for example, his theatre music, ballet and modern dance music (as music director of the Western Ballet Company and Head of Music at Drama Centre, London). John was one of the early influential composers of indeterminate experimental music; he invented systems minimalism; he was an early adopter of small digital synthesizers and computer music. Being an amazingly gifted pianist was not enough; hired by the Royal College of Music to teach composition when he graduated, John soon tired of the systems of exams and quit, teaching himself tuba to a professional standard in six months. On a pre-publication performance of Cardew’s Treatise, John chose a “perverse” interpretation, playing all rising lines as descending notes, and so on, an act that changed Cardew’s thinking about Treatise and notation. This experience led to the Machine Letters, a correspondence between John and Cardew before the premiere of John’s Cello and Tuba Machine (1968), which took up much of the first meeting of Cardew’s Experimental Music class at Morley College, London, a course that led to the formation of the Scratch Orchestra. Machines? John White invented these process systems of repetitive minimalism, using all sorts of random means — knights’ moves, dart throws, random number tables, telephone books. And if one were looking for early repetitive process music, John wrote a carillon piece using such a system in 1962. He was an innovator in several unique genres, including “Gothic” music (heavy, pounding minimalism), and, with Chris Hobbs, strict systems, in which number systems determined the note-to-note procedure in repetitive minimalism. John founded numerous ensembles: the Composers’ Ensemble, with his former students, William York and Brian Dennis; the Promenade Theatre Orchestra (PTO), with Chris Hobbs, Alec Hill, and Hugh Shrapnel; the Hobbs-White Duo; the Garden Furniture Music Ensemble, with Dave Smith, Gavin Bryars, and Ben Mason; and more, including the Farewell Symphony Orchestra, Live Batts!!!!, and Lelywhites (with John Lely).
John White is perhaps the greatest musical thinker, and the most inventive, arguably the greatest composer I have ever known. Any time spent with him is an education; any time spent with his music is a revelation. So why isn’t John White celebrated more in British music, in the world? For one thing, John never advertises himself or “bigs up” his music for career purposes. For another, his work goes against all the standards for being a big-name composer. Rather than always sticking to serious, weighty issues like most careerist composers, John’s pieces are often laugh-out-loud funny. Rather than writing the great opera or, as John called it, the “cosmological symphony”, John’s pieces can be short. He quite happily will write for instruments that are, let us say, not noble: bottles, jaw’s harps, toy pianos, tenor horn, tuba, viola, and well, my favourite, E-flat clarinet. Instead of a major university electronic studio, Live Batts!!! used the cheapest portable battery-operated synths and amps. This is one of the joys of listening to John White’s music—you will often hear instruments and instrumental combinations that “square” concert music composers would never consider. In 1985, his more formal fiftieth birthday concert had been panned by the critic Paul Griffiths, in part for what Griffiths called the “appalling instrumentation” in the Garden Furniture Music Ensemble (tenor horn, tuba, viola, and piano).
Much of John’s music recalls Satie in this respect: little pieces working out some kind of musical problem, often in the quirkiest manner. The Institutum Pataphysicum Londiniense—the Institute of ‘Pataphysics—mounted a celebration of John’s life and work for his 78th birthday, at Charlie Wright’s International Bar in London [see poster]. They also put out two issues of their journal, the Albus Liber I and II, edited by Dave Smith, to celebrate. Somehow, the venue suited John’s temperament better than the typical South Bank celebration, and the fact that they chose 78, rather than 80, for the big party was also fitting, because John does things differently. And in being different, there lies what is interesting, fascinating, thought-provoking, and fun.
In celebration of his eightieth birthday, we have uploaded two pieces onto our Bandcamp page that John White wrote for the Hartzell Hilton Band: WUT Again? and NOT WUT AGAIN! (no way, shitface!). And here’s a story. The Hartzell Hilton Band came about when I met Jane Aldred, when she was playing E-flat clarinet at the South Bank for a birthday celebration for the composer Paul Patterson—just the kind of “normal” birthday concert a “serious” composer should have. We got to talking about how we loved playing E flat, and the way that it wasn’t featured on this concert for its unique timbre. Two friends, Michael Newman and Karen Demmel, played viola. I really wanted to go one step farther. E flats and violas: they seemed like the perfect chamber music ensemble, the next step forward from the string quartet! We added Chris Hobbs on piano, and Simon Allen on vibes and other percussion. We asked a bunch of composers to write for our group, including Michael Parsons and John White.
John had already written two pieces, called WUT? and Not WUT. In those days I talked to John a lot on the phone and in person and house-sat when he and his then-partner, Pat Garrett, went on holiday, so I heard quite a bit about John’s music and musical thinking. The WUT actually came from a direction in Mahler, “mit wüt”, or “with rage”. But at the time a variant of the Los Angeles “Valley Girl”, the “Essex Girl”, had sprung up, a forebear to most current reality shows. I cannot remember whether John had imagined what such a creature would make of “mit wüt” in her Estuary English, or whether he had such a student, but the response to this direction was, “with WUT?”, pronounced, as we put on the programme, to rhyme with “butt”. WUT Again? has elements that are consistent with WUT?; NOT WUT AGAIN! is, like Not WUT, an un-WUT-like piece. But there is more to this wordplay. The exclamation point and all-caps in NOT WUT AGAIN! arose from a conversation we had while John was writing the piece. I thought that it could be a cry of exasperation at yet another WUT piece: “WUT…again?” and “Oh, not WUT again!!”. This name then somehow got entangled with another topic of our conversation, American slang. John liked American slang. We had gone through some of the intricacies of certain phrases (Jack Shit? Does anybody have any, if you ain’t got Jack Shit?). One of them was the incredulous interjection, “No way, shitface!”, so John tagged that onto the title. John generously dedicated these two pieces to me and the Hartzell Hilton Band.
And that’s what we’ve uploaded, the 4th of July concert at Lauderdale House in 1988. I had advertised the concert with the fake-cowgirl promise that yee-haw, we’d be celebrating Independence Day by not playing any American music (we played a piece by Barney Childs, but he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, so he didn’t count as American for the day). You can hear the pieces, so there is no need to go into them in detail, other than they are really lovely, and fun to play. WUT Again? has an unusual eight-bar rest — the track hasn’t dropped out, before recommencing with what turns out to be the coda. This rest is performed, or was performed by us being still and in performance mode, before the cue to resume. It’s deeply effective. Just after John wrote this piece, the earlier of the two Hartzell WUTs, I attended a composition workshop at the Huddersfield Music Festival. The leader of the group berated a composer for putting in a three-bar rest for the whole ensemble. I found this amusing and, in the general discussion of the piece, offered the example of WUT Again?, suggesting that perhaps the composer should put in a longer rest in his piece as well. NOT WUT AGAIN! (no way, shitface!) opens with the kind of action music that John had equated with radio serials such as Dick Barton, Special Agent (there is one such passage in one of his little Symphonies). This is absolutely one of the loveliest things for an E-flat clarinet to play, and is followed by a shift to the most gorgeous aspirational passages in John White’s work. It’s like the sun rising. Is this ironic as well? I prefer not to ask and instead enjoy the irony that something as beautiful as this has such a silly title. Now go listen to these pieces, here: http://bandcamp.experimentalmusic.co.uk/album/wut-again-not-wut-again Transferred from a cassette recording, they are not as “clean” as the pieces deserve, but they represent the occasion very well. And, speaking of occasions, Happy Birthday, John! and many, many more!
Continuing our Bandcamp theme, and continuing our Michael Parsons celebration, we’ve just uploaded a short album, called Levels. This set of three pieces were performed on Michael Parsons’ seventieth birthday concert in 2008. They consist of the title track, Levels (2007), a piece for retuned string quartet featuring the Post Quartet (Mizuka Yamamoto, Jennifer Allum violins, Richard Jones viola, Becky Dixon cello); Syzygy Duets (1991), two duets performed by Nancy Ruffer, flute, and Andrew Sparling, clarinet, arranged and extracted from an original set of eight short pieces for pairings of oboe, clarinet and two trombones; and Barcarolle (1989), a piece written for Ruffer’s alto flute, and played by her on this recording.
One of the really consistently fascinating things about Michael Parsons as a composer is his thorough, microscopic investigation of musical elements. These three pieces share that fascination. Really lovely, lovely music. You can get it here on the EMC Bandcamp page: http://bandcamp.experimentalmusic.co.uk/album/levels. And if you find that you like the EMC’s new Bandcamp page — which will be featuring archival and new recordings as quickly as we can get permissions and set them up — do think about giving extra to the EMC to help keep this page up. There’s more to come — perhaps Californian and a good vintage — but I can’t say more at present.
One of the central figures in British experimental music, Michael Parsons has donated some music for the EMC Bandcamp page. First up, is his computer piece from 1995, Tenebrio, written at the request of the BBC for a programme of Nocturnes for a late-night show on Radio 3. Michael Parsons explains:
It was made with two CX5M Yamaha music computers using frequency-modulation (FM synthesis). The ‘voice’ programme of the CX5M computer was used first to introduce noise-like sounds of indefinite pitch, which are then progressively transformed by gradually expanding the frequency range to reveal unfamiliar pitch sequences in the form of a ‘random walk’. These are joined in the middle of the piece by pure sustained sounds with very slow glissandi.
Michael Parsons was one of the founders, with Cornelius Cardew and Howard Skempton, of the Scratch Orchestra in 1969. His music is consistently rigorous, and almost always beautiful. Tenebrio will be followed soon by a short album of acoustic instrumental music, and more tracks will follow as we receive them.
When asked for recordings for the EMC Bandcamp page, Michael declined to set a price on these recordings. There is, however, a facility on the Bandcamp page which allows the listener to set a gift price which will help to pay for the EMC’s Bandcamp page and for further tracks. You can find it here: https://experimentalmusiccatalogue.bandcamp.com/music .