The Albus Liber of John White


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.

New EMC Anthology

opening of Alec Hill, Small Change Machine

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.

Smith on Bandcamp!

dave-smithWe’re absolutely, positively thrilled to announce a new Bandcamp issue from the EMC. Dave Smith has allowed us to release two tracks. The first, Moderation in Nothing (1976, EMC-113), is a classic archive recording, featuring members of two of the great British systems music duos of the 1970s, playing together as a quartet: Howard Skempton on sopranino recorder and electric piano; Dave Smith on ocarina and guitar; Michael Parsons, on electric organ and cymbals; and on wine glasses, bell and voice. It appears in its premiere recording at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 31 October 1976. This extended-play track (over 23 minutes!) costs £3 (although you can give more) on our Bandcamp site.

The other track, Frivolous and Vexatious (2002, revised 2014; EMC-114) was first written for Dave Smith’s 8th Piano Concert and is dedicated to the composer and former Garden Furniture Music member Ben Mason. It is heard here in the premiere of the revised version, at Schott’s recital room, London, 25 July 2014. This even-more-extended-play track (over 34 minutes!) costs £3 (although you can give more) on our Bandcamp site.

So whether you’re frivolous, vexatious, or believe in moderation in nothing, it’s worth checking out these tracks for a free listen, and perhaps buy these goodies. We’ve migrated to a sleeker and more economical Bandcamp page just last week, but we still need support to keep this feature going. And for information, do check out Dave Smith’s composer page on this site for more information!

Waiting for Anything

This is a special treat for the EMC Bandcamp page. Rick Cox, guitarist, saxophonist, and composer, who you may know from his work with Thomas Newman on many films, for his performances with John Hassell and others, and for his recordings on Cold Blue Music, has allowed us to present Waiting for Anything, a piece written by Cox, with text by Read Miller, in an archival recording of its premiere at the Memorial Chapel, University of Redlands, in 1981, with Cox, guitar; Miller, speaker; Marty Walker, clarinet; and David Hatt, pipe organ. You can find Waiting for Anything on our Bandcamp page, here: . You can listen to it a number of times, and it can be downloaded for a suggested £3 (or what you will).

Here are the liner notes:
waiting edit final

Waiting for Anything

Recorded live at the University of Redlands Memorial Chapel, 1981

Rick Cox, music, guitar; Read Miller, text, reader; Marty Walker, clarinet; David Hatt, pipe organ

Waiting for Anything was written by Rick Cox, with text by Read Miller. This, its premiere performance, was recorded live in the chapel of the University of Redlands, in memory of Francis Oliver, a former postgraduate composition student who had died that year. Waiting for Anything typifies the postminimalist style of Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly that of the artists who were based in and around the University of Redlands in the 1970s. This recording was made just before the launch of the first series of the Cold Blue label, founded by another alumnus of the University of Redlands, Jim Fox, which includes EPs by Cox and Miller.

The background to this particular performance stems from when these musicians met at Redlands, and the way that those friendships extended into the 1980s and, to an extent, today. Francis Oliver, the dedicatee, studied for a Master of Arts in music composition with Barney Childs from 1973–75, just overlapping with the arrival of Rick Cox in 1975. Oliver then moved to San Francisco. Cox had studied music with Childs at the Wisconsin College Conservatory, Milwaukee, from 1969, and had come to Redlands for further independent study with Childs, who was professor of composition and poetry at the University and its experimental institution, Johnston College. Cox was soon joined by Jim Fox, another postgraduate composition student, and Read Miller, an undergraduate poet and drummer. Fox founded the Redlands Improvisers Orchestra with Cox, Miller, and Marty Walker, a clarinetist who was part of the new music scene at the university. Another member of the new music “crowd” at Redlands was David Hatt, who had formed a duo with Walker. By the late 1970s Miller and Cox had moved to Los Angeles, where they became part of the Los Angeles hard punk, post punk, and new wave scene. In 1981 Miller and Cox were preparing to travel to New York City, where their band would have a residency, when they learned that Oliver had died of leukemia. Cox says that Waiting for Anything, and its performance in Redlands, was hurriedly arranged as a stop on their way across the country.

The recording of this performance is striking for its acoustics, instrumentation, and its construction. The University of Redlands Memorial Chapel, built in 1927, features a pipe organ by Casavant Frères, the Opus 1230, a 4266-pipe organ installed in 1928, and one of the best organs of its time in the Western United States. The Chapel was built with the organ in mind. Its acoustics especially favor the organ, as it has an extremely long delay. Although this delay muddies some group performances, it enhances the sustain and echo of Waiting for Anything, rounding out the sound of the instruments and reading. Miller’s text is evocative, referring in an allusive manner to travel and searching through a landscape. Typical of his work at this time, Miller used indeterminate procedures to arrange existing (found) texts, which give his final text a disjointed narrative. Typically, Cox used various objects to sustain and alter the sound of his electric guitar. Here it is a sponge, as can be heard in the bright, shimmering tremolo in this performance. Cox’s backing is a progression of complex chords in a cycle-of-fifths relationship. He played from memory, but he wrote Walker’s part out. Walker tended to play bass clarinet in pieces by the former Redlands composer, but here he is playing B-flat soprano. His part features slow descending notes adding to the surging and ebbing group dynamics. Hatt appeared just as Cox, Miller, and Walker began their rehearsal, so Cox quickly wrote an organ part. Hatt had studied organ at the University of Redlands before he moved to the University of Riverside for graduate study, so he knew the Casavant organ well. The organ is particularly noticeable, and effective, in the pedal notes toward the end of the track.

This recording occurred at an interesting point in the work of Cox and Miller and reflects their style at the time. Their music reflects the “pretty music” tradition of Southern California music, best known in the music of Harold Budd and Daniel Lentz. However, Cox and Miller’s work is not sweet; this recording contains a distinct and typical film noir feeling of ambiguity. The first series of extended-play 10-inch vinyl albums released in 1983 by Cold Blue Music Recordings, includes Miller’s Mile Zero Hotel and Cox’s These Things Stop Breathing. Both of these albums are nearly contemporaneous with Waiting for Anything: Cox’s album was recorded in Redlands in March 1981 and Miller’s that April. They share certain stylistic traits, including the nature of their spoken texts, with Waiting for Anything. The title track of Mile Zero Hotel also has a found, cut-up text by Miller (postcards written by a woman traveling across the country), performed by without accompaniment by Miller, Cox, and Janyce Collins. The title of These Things Stop Breathing is taken from a public safety poster about resuscitation. Its text, by Cox, is not spoken on this recording but is presented in fragments on the album art. It consists of found and cut-up fragments of breathless prose from romantic fiction. These Things Stop Breathing and Waiting for Anything also include long held notes, often with shimmering aspect (Cox’s distinctive guitar style) and ebbing and flowing dynamic surges; of simple melodies (Walker’s clarinet) and chords with muted jazz or popular connotations; and a kind of intense, though non-specific emotional content. Like other Cold Blue Music recordings of this time, Mile Zero Hotel and These Things Stop Breathing are close-miked and intimate, with a warm reverb. Waiting for Anything gains the same feeling from the natural acoustic properties of the Memorial Chapel.

Waiting for Anything is effective as a memorial piece due to its strong, though non-specific, emotional content. It had two other later performances, but Rick Cox chose this, the premiere, as his favorite, due to the acoustics of the Chapel and the raw memorial occasion of its performance. It is both typical of the music of its time and a unique piece in its own right. This is a fascinating glimpse into the state of musical life of these composers and into the history of Southern Californian postminimalism.

Virginia Anderson
Leicester, UK
August 3, 2016

In the Silent Void

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.

It’s here:

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.

Happy Birthday, John White!

For John White’s birthday, the EMC has uploaded two of his pieces by the Hartzell Hilton Band, here: . But here’s some background information:

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].

Postcard for John White’s seventieth birthday celebration.

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).

White Event flyer final 3
Poster for John White’s 78th birthday celebration, 2014.

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.

White compere
John White at 78th birthday concert.


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:  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!

New Michael Parsons album

Levels editContinuing 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: 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.

Michael Parsons on Bandcamp

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: .

Anderson on the Scratch Orchestra and the ‘Leicester School’

Thanks to the nice people at the University of Michigan Press, we are able to make available an uncorrected draft of the chapter by Virginia Anderson, ‘Experimental Music after Nyman’.* This chapter was published in the book Tomorrow is the Question: New Directions in Experimental Music Studies, edited by Benjamin Piekut (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014), and has been uploaded onto Virginia Anderson’s page. This might make a nice taster for the book as a whole, which is available here. For now, here is the draft chapter:…/British_Experimental_Music_After… .

Here’s Virginia’s abstract:

Tomorrow is the Question presents an approach to experimental music designed to be different from that of the ‘first wave’ authors (David Nicholls, David Patterson, Christopher Shultis), by exploring a global, multi-ethnic, and postgenre scene beyond strictly Cagean music. The chapter itself begins by noting a radical difference in subject matter between Gavin Bryars’ foreword to the Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music (2009) and the book itself. This begs the question of what ‘experimental’ music actually is: the process and the resulting sound? Or is it cultural: the shared ethics and activity that tie musicians together as a group, regardless of the music they make? I compare the ethos and activity of the Scratch Orchestra, who appear in Michael Nyman’s Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (1974) with the Leicester School of composers (which Bryars founded). The Leicester School music can sound classical, almost opposite to the ‘textbook’ definition of experimental music, yet its subject matter and presentation exemplify traits that are fully as experimental as Cage.

And Virginia also says, ‘Hope you enjoy it!’

* ‘After Nyman’ means after the 1974 publication of the book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond by Michael Nyman. Michael Nyman is, of course, very active as a composer today, so there’s no question of ‘after’ Nyman the composer!

Original Obscure Recordings back again — and better!

Well, we’re pretty chuffed here at the EMC. Gavin Bryars has made a Herculean effort and has brought out two of the original Obscure Records recordings, struck from the master tapes onto CD. The first CD is Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet and The Sinking of the Titanic. Originally recorded on Obscure in 1975, this is part of Gavin’s GB Recordings Archive Series. You can find it on Gavin Bryars’ website: , on Amazon, and the usual places for CDs and downloads.


Also available is Gavin Bryars and Christopher Hobbs, Ensemble Pieces. This record is a compilation of two Obscure recordings, Chris Hobbs’s Aran and McCrimmon Will Never Return, and Gavin Bryars’ 1, 2, 1-2-3-4, from Obscure 2 (Ensemble Pieces), and Bryars’ The Squirrel and the Ricketty Racketty Bridge from Obscure 8 (Machine Music). Both CDs contain the original liner notes and updates, including pictures from a recent revival in London.

We’ll have more on this as we receive further news, including provisions for other formats and signed copies.