South Leicestershire Improvisors Ensemble on Bandcamp

L-R: Trevor Lines, bass; Virginia Anderson, clarinets; Chris Hobbs, piano; Rick Nance, flugelhorn; Lee Allatson, drums; Bruce Coates, saxes

The monthly meeting of the South Leicestershire Improvisors Ensemble, affectionately known as SLIE, at Quad Studios, Leicester, on 3 November 2016, was very special. Normally each session features a guest artist, but this core-group session came up with some lovely sounds. Rick Nance recorded the session using some high-quality portable recording equipment and has released it on his bandcamp page, the wonderfully titled “The Avant God”. There’s a track called From Arrival, which shows the slow movement from friends greeting each other verbally to greeting each other musically, and then three tracks, including some chamber SLIE, in which members sat out to watch others perform.

For the moment you can download SLIE from The Avant God and name your price, including nothing! But, as we say with the EMC Bandcamp page, do think about a donation above and beyond the price if you can manage it: donations will keep Rick’s webpage afloat so he can bring you these wonderfully recorded snapshots.

On Bandcamp: Hobbs goes “spacey”!



New Release: Christopher Hobbs’ Sudoku 126 (2009), one of his Sudoku series, in which Sudoku mega puzzles determine sounds made using the Apple Garageband program. Hobbs tells it like this:

Sudoku 126 dates from 2009. It is one of a series in which long held notes, encountering each other on the same track, interact in unpredictable ways, causing wild fluctuations of pitch. In this Sudoku there are eight tracks, each containing eight notes which diminuendo over a period of four minutes. The choice of pitch and time of initiation within the track were determined by chance. The accompanying image is meant to suggest the “spacey” nature of the piece.

This Sudoku is scheduled to appear as an installation at an upcoming study day at Coventry University (more on that when we know more).

In the meantime, listen for free or download to have throughout the space-time continuum for £3 (or more if you like) for just under 40 minutes of outer-space goodness. You can find it here:

Day music in Lincoln

Jamie Crofts, 5 Diurnes: The Brayford Pool (Lincoln) by Day

Exhibition, Friends’ Meeting House, Lincoln, Sunday, 16 October 2016 (review)

Brayford Pool, Lincoln, looking toward the island (photo credit: Jamie Crofts)

John Luther Adams, whose music has been associated with the landscape and environment of Alaska since the mid-1970s, has used the term “sonic geography” to describe “a region that lies somewhere between place and culture, between human imagination and the world around us. [in Winter Music: Composing the North (Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1004, p. 24]”. Adams’ The Place Where You Go to Listen (2008) is an installation in Fairbanks, Alaska, in which the visitor is immersed in the lights and feeling of the Northern environment, which move according to the time of day. Adams has added sound based on harmonic overtones —one, the Day Choir, and the other, the Night Choir —moving from one set of harmonics and added pulses to another with changes in light and appearance of the moon.

I was thinking about manifestations of light, activity and movement whilst viewing one of the best recent examples of sonic geography: Jamie Crofts’ project, 5 Diurnes: The Brayford Pool (Lincoln) by Day, which he launched at St Mary le Wigford, in Lincoln of 6 October 2016. I attended the second presentation of the project, at the Friends’ Meeting House, Lincoln, last Sunday, 16 October. Where composers since Field have focused on the meditative nature of night in the genre of Nocturnes (which Crofts has also done previously), and Adams seems to have balanced between day and night as one follows the other, Crofts has invented his own genre, the “diurne” in 2006. Diurnes are to day as nocturnes are to night: meditations on daytime experience. Diurnes, as Crofts explains in his notes for the piano score, are set for piano and spoken voice.

The Friends’ meeting house is a Grade II-listed building in Lincoln, itself a part of Lincoln life and history. The exhibition occurred in a secondary, Victorian, meeting room to the main 16th C. hall, and was set up with a recording of the piano part and spoken texts. The uncluttered room allowed a clear focus on the Diurnes and, perhaps, the internal pictures that the musical and verbal narrative called to the mind of the listener.

These five Diurnes focus on the Brayford Pool. This lake was used as a port by the Romans, who cut the Fosse Dyke from the River Trent at Torksey to Lincoln at the Brayford Pool, and to the River Witham, and was maintained for shipping, with improvements made in the 12th and 17th centuries. The Pool was used as an inland port as the Industrial Revolution brought manufacturing to Lincoln via the navigation canal, but as industry declined in the 20th century, the waterfront gradually moved to recreation, with one side occupied by the university, and the manufacturing giving way to number of restaurants and other entertainment businesses. The Pool is known for its resident population of swans and for an island, crowned by a weeping willow tree, which has both an obscure origin and attendant myths surrounding it.

The texts for the first, fourth and fifth Diurnes were based on a survey conducted in 2013, in which people in Lincoln were asked to complete the statement, “What I like most about the Brayford Pool is…”. Diurnes 2 and 3 were based on an article in the Lincolnshire Echo newspaper in 2010 about the Brayford Pool and its mysteries (“Is a long-forgotten secret buried beneath the island in the Brayford Pool?“, Lincolnshire Echo, 21 July 2010). Diurne 2 is distinctive in that the words (a kind of fantasy in which the protagonist wades to the island) are by Thomas Darby, while the text for the other Diurnes are written by Jim Simm (Crofts’ pseudonym). Diurne 3 poses questions arising from the newspaper article.

Programme poster for 5 Diurnes

As Crofts told us in his rather illuminating talk after the last iteration of the 5 Diurnes, his musical scheme is based harmonically on “octonic” scales, a subset of the octatonic scales favoured by Messiaen and other composers, including John White. Like White, Crofts is interested in the music of Erik Satie, and opened his talk by showing us facsimiles of Satie’s working notes, in which he would line out bars before filling them (so that each bar was equal), set a rhythm-only system for the vocal melody (Christopher Hobbs wondered whether this was a reason that Satie’s vocal music contains so few melismas), and then filled the systems below within the grid just made. He also showed the score to Morton Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus (1985). Feldman structured his score in a kind of grid of even bars (like Satie), but then filled those bars with events in different meters and lengths (for more on the construction of this piece, see Sebastian Claren’s notes to Lenio Liatso’s recording on God Records, on Chris Villiar’s always-useful Feldman archive).

Crofts laid out his Diurnes in a similar manner. Rhythmic and harmonic decisions for the piano part of the 5 Diurnes were made using gaming dice. This resulted in certain core rhythms and a texture consisting of dyads to six-note chords. While Diurnes 1, 3, and 5 remain solidly in a single meter, Diurnes 2 and 4 change meter (all using the lower number 16). Diurne 1 uses, or example short phrases of this material alternated with the spoken text. Diurnes 2 and 3 bring in some processing for the voices.

The installation of recorded music and voice was broadcast from one source at the Friends House, so it was directional and demanded focus on that part of the room, but it was not a traditional concert. There was, to the side, an exhibit of the materials associated with the project: programmes, scores, and a guest book, as people were encouraged to come and go as they pleased. The score and text books are exquisitely laid out and printed. The piano part is a complete work, set in common-practice notation for performance. But the text book contains not only the text for each Diurne, but also appendices containing information, instructions, and encouragement for making unique performance versions of Diurnes 1, 4, and 5. The five Diurnes thus lie as much within the spirit of experimental indeterminacy as their fixed content lies with chance and with postminimalism. The Brayford Pool (Lincoln) by Day is an excellent, and very English, work of sonic geography. Its future performances should add richness to the piece and its perception.


Note: A free ebook version of the text book is available here, with more promised on his SOUNDkiosk page. And the Bandcamp page is here.

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!

EMC squared!

On Thursday, 8 September, we attended the first rehearsal of the East Midlands branch of CoMA (Contemporary Music for All) in preparation for what is going to be an exciting event, called “EMC²”, a special celebration of the Experimental Music Catalogue and its history. This event will happen March 2017 at De Montfort University, Leicester. Details will be announced soon, but the idea is so wonderful, I thought I’d give you a sneak peak.

CoMA is a nationwide organisation devoted to promoting contemporary music performance by musicians of all abilities. The East Midlands branch is conducted by the energetic and effervescent conductor Kieran O’Riordan. Here is a quick and short taster video of the group’s first rehearsal of Christopher Hobbs’ Friesian Cow (1969), a Word Piece that appears in the EMC Verbal Anthology. Like a lot of Hobbs’ pieces at the time, the Friesian Cow uses a found text (a guide to ideal Friesian cattle — as one member of CoMA called it, “Crufts for Cows”) to generate musical events. This first play is wonderful, and we’re looking forward to future rehearsals. There will be still pictures of this rehearsal on our Facebook page. And of course we’ll let you know here as things develop.

UPDATE: EMC² will be 24th- 26th March 2017 at De Montfort University. Set your diaries now!

Meandering along a stream of Tenney thought

Besides revamping the EMC website, I have been researching a few projects — one short and nearly complete, the other very long. And it was in the research for the latter that I found myself carried away on a stream of linked subjects in a very pleasant manner.

Today I needed to look up basic data on the composer James Tenney (1934–2006). Although I had spoken to Tenney several times, it was only to answer the telephone at the composer Barney Childs’ house, hear, “Is Barney there? This is Jim Tenney”, and, being too shy to bother him, would hand the phone over to Barney immediately. I have a collection of Tenney’s Postal Pieces sent in his early years at CalArts (the early 1970s) to Childs. More about these pieces — classics in both mail art and music — can be found in a reproduction from Larry Polansky, “The Early Works of James Tenney”: VII Postal Pieces, in Peter Garland (ed.), Soundings Vol. 13: The Music of James Tenney (Santa Fe, New Mexico: Soundings Press, 1984). This reproduction of the first edition, in Soundings‘ typical typewritten style, was edited and expanded by Polansky for liner notes for a recording on New World Records, but the style of the original, and its reproduction of the pieces, is especially gratifying.

Tenney’s Wikipedia page, albeit a bit out-of-date, is full, with a link to an appreciation page on Kyle Gann’s excellent Postclassic blog, posted just after Tenney’s untimely death. There is also a link to recordings on UbuWeb (though the rights issues on this site are a bit unclear, as usual), beginning with the marvellous and influential tape piece Blue Suede. But here the Wikipedia article led me to another facet of Tenney’s work. He was not just a major electronic pioneer, nor a major composer in post-1960s indeterminate text and graphic notation, who stepped across the Uptown and Downtown New York City scenes with ease. He was also a pianist of note and a scholar of experimental music history. Here is Tenney performing the first two of Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes at the Schindler House in 2002, on the tenth anniversary of Cage’s death.

It is a ravishing setting, and a beautiful performance. It recalls James Pritchett’s Six Views of Sonatas and Interludes, which appears among the holdings of his site and blog, The Piano in My Life. Pritchett’s blog on Cage, Feldman, and others is well worth meandering down,* and it is definitely worth reading the “Six Views” article in connection with Tenney’s performance, meditating on the ways in which this particular performance exemplifies those views.

And now, having meandered from my original research, I must meander back to it.

* On a Facebook thread just today, the theorist Kevin Holm-Hudson cited Gann’s Postclassic and Pritchett’s The Piano in My Life as two of the best “public musicology” (meaning jargon-free and useful) websites.

Smith plays Lennon/McCartney/Tilbury

Word from Dave Smith:

Dear all,
I’m playing a concert at
Schotts recital room
48 Great Marlborough Street
London W1F 7 BB

6.30 pm
Friday 9th September

John Tilbury’s 25 solo piano transcriptions of Beatles songs by Lennon + McCartney

Best wishes


Wow. Something Liszt would have transcribed had he been alive. But we have John Tilbury, and Dave Smith to play them….

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