JEMS: Special Forum, EMC2 Conference and Festival

Special JEMS Forum: The EMC² Festival, 24–26 March 2017, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK
Sponsored by CoMA (Contemporary Music for All), Arts Council of England, and the University of Leicester

Contents and abstracts

Contents and abstracts

Virginia Anderson. ‘The EMC: Past, Present, Future.’ Revised keynote lecture, 24 March 2017 [link to paper]


In 1968, the pianist John Tilbury and the composer Cornelius Cardew, having built up a great body of experimental music, asked the then-youngest member of the experimental music community, eighteen-year-old Christopher Hobbs, to create a method of disseminating these pieces to other musicians. Hobbs founded the Experimental Music Catalogue (the EMC), which took off so well that by 1971 the EMC was run by a committee consisting of Hobbs, Gavin Bryars and Michael Nyman. The EMC was distinctive as a small publishing initiative in its Anthologies of score collections grouped according to instrument or activity (the Keyboard Anthology, Educational AnthologyVerbal Anthology) and in its insistence that composers kept rights and other decisions regarding their works. From 1969 to the early 1980s, the EMC sent experimental and minimalist music by mail order to an international audience, representing British experimental and systems music worldwide in scores as Brian Eno’s Obscure Records represented it worldwide in sound. Although the EMC mailing address was in London, much of the musical activity from these composers occurred at Leicester Polytechnic (the predecessor of this festival’s host, De Montfort University), where Bryars had founded a music department steeped in the ethos that created the EMC. Indeed, the EMC, revived by Hobbs and Virginia Anderson in 1999 as a web-based publisher and record label, is now based in Leicester. This lecture shall explore English experimental, minimal and postminimal music as part of the history of the EMC, much of which will appear at the EMC2: Remembering the Experimental Music Catalogue weekend [VA]

Hilary Bracefield. ‘From Birmingham to Belfast: improvising and experimenting with students.’ Paper for EMC² Festival Conference, 24 March 2017 [link to paper]


This paper will look first at the influence of experimental music in Birmingham University from early 1971, based on the Manifesto by Peter Dickinson published in Contact: a Journal of Contemporary Music, Issue 1. It is interesting to note the repertoire of the group started in that year, given that particpants did not have regular access to the London scene. Discussion of what evolved at the university will examine three years of concerts and the gradual disintegration of groups as people moved on.

The second part of the paper will discuss the Mushroom Group, exisiting at Ulster University (formerly Ulster Polytechnic) from 1977–1995, even further remote from London. The influence of American experimental music, the use of the EMC catalogue, the variety of repertoire and the dymanics of the group will be examined. The effect on the Northern Ireland public, teachers and schools, and the influence on 25 years of student cohorts will be looked at, and some possible lasting results advanced [HB]

Panel discussion, EMC² Festival, 25 March 2017 (video transcription). Moderator: Sarah Walker. Panel: John White, Virginia Anderson, Hugh Shrapnel, Christopher Hobbs. Introduced by Anna Claydon. [link to transcript]

This discussion provides explanfirst-hand reminiscences about experimental music in Britain and the role of the Experimental Music Catalogue in that movement.

Tim Bausch. ‘Reinterpreting the Role of Performer in the Music of Alvin Lucier.’ Revised paper for the EMC² Festival Conference, 25 March 2017 [link to paper]


To achieve a higher level of performance in the music of experimentalism and minimalism, a better understanding of who, or even what constitutes the performer of a piece. Using three pieces by Alvin Lucier—I am Sitting in a Room, Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra, and Music on a Long Thin Wire—as case studies, I will trace the progression of the role of performer through four stages: interpreter, catalyst, machine, and eradicator. An analysis of these stages reveals that the one playing the piece is not always the performer. In fact, the role of performer frequently—if not always—transfers to the physical objects that make up the component parts of each piece. Furthermore, the component—human player, space, instrument, or equipment—responsible for executing any given stage will assume the role of performer. This results in a role of performer that is fluid: a different component, or combination of components, can assume this role for each separate stage of the piece. Therefore, understanding and acceptance of the progression of the performer role results in a more enriching and effective performance [TB]

Gavin Bryars. Greeting from Knoxville, Tennessee, for the EMC² Festival (video transcription). Recorded phone message, 24 March 2017; shown at the interval of the Experimental Frontiers concert, EMC2 Festival, 25 March 2017 [link to transcript]

Gavin Bryars, one of the board members of the Experimental Music Catalogue (with Michael Nyman and original founder Christopher Hobbs) in its first incarnation (from about 1971–1982), speaks here about his memories of the EMC as an important medium for the dissemination of experimental, minimal and postminimal music in the context of the experimental music scene in Britain. Unable to attend the EMC² Festival because of festival performances of his work in the United States, kindly sent this recorded message, which was played to the audience on the Sunday.


Virginia Anderson specializes in the study of experimental, minimalist, and free improvisatory music. Her work is published in The Journal of Musicological Research, Performance Research, New Sounds, and the Galpin Society Journal. She has written chapters in academic anthologies published by Cambridge University Press, Ashgate, University of Michigan Press, and the University of Leuven Press (two titles in this last). Anderson is the editor of the Journal of Experimental Music Studies, runs the Experimental Music Catalogue with its founder, Christopher Hobbs, and maintains its web blog and other pages. As a clarinetist, Anderson has recorded on Zanja, Advance, and Rastascan Recordings, specialising in new works for Eb clarinet and free improvisation. She is interviewed in the March 2017 issue of The Clarinet (journal of the International Clarinet Association). She is currently a member of the free improvisation group CHA, with Bruce Coates (saxes) and Christopher Hobbs (keyboards, electronics, percussion).

Hilary Bracefield, now retired, was Head of Music at Ulster University. Born in New Zealand, she caame to the United Kingdom in October 1970 to do research at Birmingham University, just too late to discover the Scratch Orchestra. By March 1971 she was taking part in improvisatory music, and became a member first of Embarkation and then Twenty-Three. After moving to Northern Ireland she founded the Mushroom Group at Ulster University (then Ulster Polytechnic) which gave numerous performances in the Belfast area between 1978 and 1995. She was an editor of Contact: a Journal of Contemporary Music, and has published on American experimental music and music therapy among other interests.

Tim Bausch is currently working towards completion of his MM in music theory at the University of Louisville; this—his third—joins his already completed percussion performance and music composition degrees from SUNY Fredonia. Tim is a member of the Society for Music Theory, Music Theory Midwest, and the Society for Music Perception and Cognition. Tim’s scholarship focuses on the perception of sound as a whole as well as its individual parts through means of analysis of various styles of music. In conjunction with this, he strives to perform the music attached to his studies for further understanding.

Gavin Bryars, born 1943, studied philosophy but became a jazz bassist and pioneer of free improvisation with Derek Bailey and Tony Oxley. He subsequently worked in the USA in the late 1960s with John Cage and in Britain as part of the experimental music community. Early iconic pieces The Sinking of the Titanic and Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet achieved cult status in their first releases on Brian Eno’s Obscure Records and enjoyed major recording success with the later 1990s versions. Works include four operas (Medea, with Robert Wilson, Lyon and Paris 1984; Doctor Ox’s Experiment, with Atom Egoyan, English National Opera and Dortmund 1998; G, with Georges Delnon, Mainz 2002; Marilyn Forever, with Joel Ivany, Victoria BC 2013, Adelaide 2015, Long Beach 2015), a large body of chamber music, several concertos and much vocal music (Hilliard Ensemble, Trio Mediaeval, Red Byrd, Latvian Radio Choir, Estonian National Male Choir, Iarla O’Lionaird, Singer Pur, The Crossing). He has collaborated widely with visual artists, choreographers, theatre directors and performs internationally with the Gavin Bryars Ensemble. He is a Transcendent Satrap and Regent of the Collège de ’Pataphysique and has made many recordings.

Participants in panel discussion:

John White: Born in Berlin on 5 April 1936, White moved with his family to London in September 1939 at the outbreak of the war. His first piano lessons were with Helene Gipps, a grand-pupil of Brahms. Originally a sculptor, White decided on a composition career when he heard Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie in 1956. Soon after, White began writing a series of piano sonatas as a kind of diary of his musical interests, and which numbered 178 at the time of the EMC2 Festival. At the Royal College of Music White studied piano with Arthur Alexander and Eric Harrison, composition with Bernard Stevens and Humphrey Searle, and organ with Osborne Peasgoode, and then taught at RCM in the early 1960s. From the mid-1960s, White was an important composer in the English experimental music movement, working with Cornelius Cardew and the Scratch Orchestra. He is essentially the founder of English minimalism and has been a central figure in postminimalism, beginning with Machine processes and systems music, founding the Promenade Theatre Orchestra, Hobbs-White Duo, Garden Furniture Music, Farewell Symphony Orchestra, Live Batts!!! and other groups. He has also written symphonies, ballets, and much incidental music for theatre. At present White is Head of Music at Drama Centre London.

Virginia Anderson: see above.

Sarah Walker is a pianist, broadcaster, and teacher who co-presents Essential Classics on BBC Radio 3. Walker was born in Barnsley and studied music at Royal Holloway College and Reading University, where she specialised in performance. Walker has a strong interest in contemporary music and in 1995 completed a PhD on the subject of English experimental music. Pursuing that interest, she has performed with many new music groups and has premiered new works.

Hugh Shrapnel was born in Birmingham in 1947 and studied composition with Cornelius Cardew and oboe at the Royal Academy of Music. He was a member of the Scratch Orchestra and co-founder of the Promenade Theatre Orchestra with Chris Hobbs, John White and Alec Hill in 1969. Since then he has co-founded and performed in many new music groups including the Redlands Consort and Vermilion, frequently working with Robert Coleridge and Sarah Walker. In 2012 he formed a piano duo with John Lewis, another South East London composer and ex- Scratch Orchestra member giving concerts of their own work. Over the years he has written many pieces in a wide variety of genres which frequently reflect his interest in popular music, melody, nature and concern for social issues. In recent years his music has been performed in the Planet Tree Festival, the London New Wind Festival, Contakt and the Cornelius Cardew Concerts Trust and by soloists including John Tilbury, Phil Edwards, Jay Rosen and the Ivory Duo. Hugh Shrapnel’s music is published by EMC and his website is:

Christopher Hobbs was born in 1950. He studied with Cornelius Cardew at the Royal Academy of Music from 1969–71. In 1969 he joined the Scratch Orchestra and the improvisation group AMM. In 1970 he, along with John White, Hugh Shrapnel and Alec Hill, formed the Promenade Theatre Orchestra.  After its disbandment in 1973 he and White continued as a duo.  A pianist and percussionist as well as a composer Hobbs has performed with a large number of fellow composers and has written music for a large variety of ensembles and situations. He taught music at The Drama Centre, London, from 1973–1991. In 1968 he founded the Experimental Music Catalogue which was relaunched by Virginia Anderson and Hobbs in 2000. Since 2005 he has made over 130 pieces using GarageBand software and systemic procedures based on Sudoku grids.  As well as his own music and that of his friends he has been particularly associated with the work of Erik Satie, giving a celebrated performance with Gavin Bryars of Vexations in 1971 and premiering the complete score to Le fils des étoiles in 1989. He  subsequently recorded the work and published a critical edition of the score through EMC. He is currently Senior Lecturer in Music at Coventry University.