Co-composed with Edward Henderson around a field recording Caitlin made in Cologne, standing near Cologne cathedral and listening to church bells, the crowds of tourists and inexplicably musical screaming children. Edward and Caitlin respond to the recording on piano and ROLI Seaboard Block, creating a cinematic soundscape from the everyday sounds of a tourist destination in midsummer.
The recording itself was recorded for use in Harry Matthews’ Home and Away Chords, which Matthews wrote for Caitlin in 2022. The sung note at the end is a response to the sounds captured in the recording, and in Matthews’ piece these recordings with their sung pitches are layered to create sung chords. Hear Home and Away Chords on YouTube here (this version was recorded before this Cologne recording was made but gives an idea of how this field recording was intended to be used).
Co-composed with Josh Spear, Caitlin’s colleague from Bastard Assignments, From the Exquisite Dark was commissioned by Ensemble Garage, and the development of the electronics was supported by Cyborg Soloists.
From the Exquisite Dark is about transitioning from the real to the fake, it is about the aural deception that the technology here is practicing on the audience. At the start of the piece, the percussionist is playing objects made from an assortment of materials – chain, bottles, small nails and screws in a metal bucket, sandpaper. She improvises her way through these sounds, punctuating them with the sound of wood – an orchestral clapper, somewhat out of place among these mundane objects. Gradually, while the sounds do not change, she begins to interact with an assortment of toys which are part of the percussion setup – a plastic watering can takes on the sound of the glass bottle, pressing a switch lights up a doll suspended in its box triggering the static-like sound of sandpaper, swirling her hand on a plastic frisbee suspended like a cymbal generates the same sound as swirling her beater in the bucket of nails.
The following in-progress performance is by Yuka Ohta, during rehearsals for the Ensemble Garage and Bastard Assignments performance in Cologne, 19 August 2022.
The technology enabling these illusions is a Bela Mini nanocomputer with multichannel expansion, running a PureData patch written by Caitlin – the ‘Exquisite Engine’ – and connected to four contact microphones.
With thanks to Ensemble Garage, Goethe Institut, Cyborg Soloists, UKRI and Royal Holloway, University of London for their support to create this piece.
A one-minute film created in one day by Katie Hanning (concept, performance), Caitlin Rowley (performance, video editing, music) and Jon England (videography, performance) in Porthleven, Cornwall. Shroud began with the finding of the bathtub in the discarded rubble of a home renovation near the studio where we were working, and used this and other objects to explore ideas about Porthleven’s maritime history and meteorology.
The final edit of the film was projected back into the bathtub which appears in it while the soundtrack was improvised live as it was rerecorded.
In late March 2020, shortly after the start of the first UK COVID-19 lockdown, one of the members of Kaths Kaff (Katie Hanning) suggested that we use our government-mandated one-hour walks as a prompt for creative responses. This resulted in a great mass of responses by Katie, Caitlin and Jon England, which took the form of videos, photographs, field recordings, drawings and other media. Looking at this rich record, Caitlin wanted to bring these responses together, creating a work which combined material from all three artists. The result was WALKS 1-4, a set of interlinked one-minute videos designed to exist both as a connected set and as one-minute looping uploads for Instagram.
Since then, the project has extended, currently standing at 12 one-minute films. WALKS 5-12 were commissioned in 2021 by Electric Medway festival.
Materials used in these films are
videos by Caitlin (1, 2, 9, 10), Jon (3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11) and Katie (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12)
animated drawing mask based on Jon’s unconscious drawings (digitally re-enacted by Caitlin) (1, 2, 3, 4)
long exposure photographs taken by Jon (9, 10, 11, 12)
field recordings by Caitlin (all)
sound from Katie’s videos (1, 2, 3, 7, 10, 11)
synthesiser tracks realised by Caitlin on a ROLI Seaboard Block using a graphic score she made from a night walk video made by Katie (all)
WALKS as a set reflects on repetition, ritual, limitations of time and space; these videos collectively suggest that they are just a fragment of a longer experience – both the walks themselves and of the potentially limitless responses to them.
Our thanks to Electric Medway and their supporters for commissioning WALKS 5-12 in 2021.
A performance inside a notebook, fragments of score, the sounds of the rehearsal studio, coffee on loop. Welcome to HAYDN SPACE OPERA, a piece which uses composition and performance creation as its materials. Taking place in browser-based online virtual reality, your exploration of the spaces of the piece creates your own unique mix of sounds including scraps of conversation, experiments and performances by Bastard Assignments. What will you find inside the composer’s notebook?
Premiered 10-23 May 2021 for Bath Spa University’s SparkFest digital festival. Part of Electric Medway’s Showcase programme, 21-30 August 2021.
As Mozilla Hubs, the platform HAYDN SPACE OPERA is built on is perpetually changing and improving, every now and then things break or go awry in unexpected ways. I try to keep an eye on it, but if you’re in there and find something wrong, please do let me know so I can fix it up. You can compare with the walkthrough videos if you’re not sure something’s intentional.
For information about the development of the piece, visit my notebook – these updates here are just announcements of notable fixes and changes.
22 May 2022: Reinstated background sound in the Warmup Room, which was lost due to an apparent change in availability of files hosted on Dropbox. I’ve moved this to the CDN so it shouldn’t vanish again. The audio object for this sound was visible in Hubs in spite of being set to “not visible”. Reported this bug and implemented a hack to obscure it in the meantime. Similar changes made to Phyllida Barlow Playground and The Apocalypse, along with some adjustments made to volume of background sounds which seem to have altered to be much, much quieter than when first set up. Similarly adjusted sound levels in The Café.
7 August 2023: There’s an ongoing problem with objects that I’m aware of. I lodged a ticket with the Hubs developers back in May 2023, and they’ve verified it’s a problem but are still working on fixing it. For the moment, it would be best to visit The Blank Page last! If you visit it before then, you’re likely to have giant ducks and other objects follow you when you leave that room. If this happens, try Shift-Refreshing the page, which should prompt you to log in again and hopefully will clear out the objects. This seems to be a bug that’s been introduced with a change to the environment that only relates to spaces where you can add your own objects within Hubs. As such, it doesn’t happen with the other rooms because that ability has been switched off everywhere else.
The first piece of A Memory of Wind came out of the Porthleven Prize residency I attended in March 2020. Striations in the rocks seen at the Cornish beaches we visited matched up in my mind with the patterns formed by the lines on maritime charts, where numbers indicated the depth of each band on the chart. Combining the two created a collaged score where the approach to the sound is shaped by the idea of wind, water, depth and time.
Off the coast at Porthleven, under the sea, is an area of petrified forest and the combination of rocks and depth prompted thoughts about that forest, how if it could think it might remember what wind felt like, but that being at the bottom of the sea now, the wind’s often violent effect on the waves is diminished the further down you go.
The numbers in the score range from small at the top of the page to largest at the bottom of the page. They form a rough map of deepening pitch in the piece. The performer starts with the top segment (surface, performed on the A string), improvising their way through the numbers using a wind-like tonal palette created by the use of left-hand fingers only half-touching the string in combination with flautando bowing that may move around between the bridge and the fingerboard. Movement in this surface segment can vary in activity level and is the most active area of the score – as the piece progresses through ‘deeper’ segments the activity levels reduce. The ‘surface’ is returned to between each segment of the piece, and the piece ends on the C string in the deepest segment.
As this piece does not demand exact pitches or extreme control of the bow (random harmonics and unstable tonal effects are encouraged), it is suitable for performance by any violist who has mastered the production of harmonics.
Tuning is left to the performer’s preference. The composer generally performs this piece with the viola strings tuned to F / E / A / G (this is the same tuning as for Quiet Songs).
A second movement of A Memory of Wind, for solo voice, is currently in development.
Quiet Songs was written for Bastard Assignments’ performance at Aldeburgh Festival in 2019. Written for the composer to perform, it sets live detuned viola against a constructed video part of silenced and manipulated vocal and viola performances by the composer. Starting with a simple mirrored relationship between the two (the viola provides the sound for the silent vocal performance onscreen), they quickly take different but related paths, coinciding here and there throughout the piece.
The viola uses very few traditional playing techniques. Using scordatura (the strings are retuned to F-E-A-G), a wide range of playing positions (near, on and behind the bridge all the way to the fine-tuners and over the fingerboard all the way to the scroll); creating white noise by bowing the body of the instrument in various places), and noise effects.
The audio in the video part uses recordings made in the composer’s studio – most notably via a contact microphone positioned on the window, simultaneously capturing the sound of the performance in the studio and the sounds of the street outside.
“a vividly articulated, yet wordless narrative which evoked the world of Cathy Berberian’s Stripsody. It was a piece which managed to combine amusement and anxiety” – Planet Hugill, 24 May 2019
This piece was created from the process outlined in dot drip line line. It was created to be performed by the composer (although it can be performed by others too) and explores the edges of the voice and physical edges through extended vocal technique and physical characterisation.
The score of this piece is still under development.
While based on dot drip line line, this is a standalone piece and does not require performers to complete the notebook process in the original work.
More information about dot drip line line can be found here »
A participatory movement/sound piece which relates a performance space to the space of the page, thereby exploring the space completely over the course of the performance. Sound is used to highlight aspects of the performance area. This is a work in progress.
More about this piece
Watch vlog episodes 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 for information on the development of this piece.
A hybrid piece about the technological ways we capture memories and how captured memories relate to recollection. This piece uses field recordings collected by the composer across a 12-year period, narration and the sounds of live photography.
Aides memoire is the title of the performed piece, with POV being the title of a byproduct piece created from the photos taken in the performance. POV takes the form of a video comprising the still photographs from multiple cameras from a single performance, giving a different view of that performance from documentations captured of the performance itself:
Community of Objects explores the private act of performing and the private space of the score within the situation of a public performance. The piece’s score is also its principal instruments – a collection of handmade paper boxes that are handled with gloves and bare hands, and which are destroyed during the performance.
The sounds of the piece are chiefly the sounds of paper-handling, crumpling, tearing, etc. These very quiet paper sounds are interspersed with sounds and actions prompted by the contents of the boxes, discovered by the performers over the course of the piece. The box contents (which are likely to be different at each performance) relate to the uses of boxes in everyday life, and to the material from which these boxes are made – paper.
Opening the boxes before the performance is forbidden, and as they are destroyed after they have been opened, the sense of private experience when performing this piece should be heightened – as the performer, you are the only person (apart from the composer) who will ever experience this set of boxes, and, crucially, you are the only person who will ever get to experience discovering the contents for the first time. It is hoped that the experience of performing the piece will be one of curiosity and occasional delight.
Community of Objects was written for Plus-Minus Ensemble, who gave the first performance at Bath Spa University in May 2017 and will perform it again in March 2018:
It has since been performed three times by Bastard Assignments. The following video was taken in the Britten Studio at Snape Maltings:
Audio-only recording of Plus-Minus Ensemble’s performance at City, University of London, 27 March 2018:
This piece is a score which was created from the process outlined in dot drip line line. It was created for a performance at Bath Spa University with Open Scores Lab and explores ideas of gravity and the action of natural forces.
dot drip line line 8317: Fall is for four performers, one of whom (the ‘dripper’) will need to be equipped with an amplified jar of water and a small pipette.
While based on dot drip line line, this is a standalone piece and does not require performers to complete the notebook process in the original work.
More information about dot drip line line can be found here »
Paper for cello and video works with sounds suggested by interactions with paper – drawing, erasing, cutting, crumpling, and allowing paper to uncrumple itself – sometimes imitating the sound that would be made, sometimes translating those sounds into more ‘musical’ versions. The piece uses a video score, which is also projected for the audience to see. However, the audience also sees additional material after the cellist has finished playing, allowing for a closer observation of the visuals without the distraction of sound and for the possibility of the audience being able to recreate the sounds associated with the imagery in their imaginations.
The visuals show the composer interacting with paper and follow an increasingly detailed trajectory – from wide-angle shots showing the composer’s workspace down to very close-up footage revealing the texture of the paper used and playing with focus.
There are clear correlations of sound to visuals throughout the piece with sonic/technique relationships sometimes tying together visually disparate imagery.
Paper makes much use of extended techniques and while simple in form poses challenges for the performer of timing and theatrical awareness to pull together the performance and the video so that the cellist onstage is a critical visual element in the piece.
Text score for a performed piece of any duration for any number of performers.
This piece is currently in development. At present, the intention is:
The score for this piece contains a simple text which each performer should use to create an entire notebook of variants which will serve as a handbook of ideas from which to develop a live performance version of the initial score. The notebooks should be displayed (open at a single spread) where the audience can see them at the performance. The variants may be drawn (using wet and/or dry media), collaged, described, included as video or audio of a performance interpretation (performers may want to consider the use of QR codes to include these digitally recorded versions in their books), or any other form or media that comes to mind.
The final performance may take any form the performer chooses. Performances that are created as scores become separate but related works, which can be performed in future by performers who have not undertaken the notebook process.
Current scores developed from dot drip line line are:
trainlines is a piece for private performance on an intercity train. It is a text score for an improvised performance consisting of simple drawing and listening, suitable for performance by people who don’t usually perform or draw. As it is a private performance, there is no need to announce what you are doing – it is simply performing for your own pleasure. Each performance will result in a unique drawing, some examples of which are displayed below.
If you have performed trainlines and are open to sharing your experience, I would love to hear your thoughts on the piece and see a photograph or scan of the resulting drawing. To share these, please email me at trainlines [ at ] caitlinrowley [ dot ] com or tag me on social media.
Fortune Favours the Brave was written for flautist Jenni Hogan in 2016. The score of the piece is in the form of a Chinese-style handscroll, crafted by the composer out of 4.7 metres of shot silk and 4.5 metres of rice paper pages which contain the handwritten music and notes.
An exploration into ideas about how we choose to accept or reject challenges, Fortune Favours the Brave takes the form of a ritualistic game. After each movement, the flautist lays down her instrument and tosses a coin to determine whether she should play or skip the next section. She then decides whether to accept or reject the coin’s declaration and performs a gesture of acceptance or rejection accordingly. Having done this, she moves the scroll on to the piece she has decided to play (which will be the next section or the one following it) and performs it.
The music contains a range of extended techniques, including multiphonics, deliberate audible breathing, key clicks, tongue rams and various windy tones.
A radio edit version of Fortune Favours the Brave was performed by Jenni Hogan on BBC Radio 3 Hear and Now as part of Bastard Assignments’ live set performed at Southbank Centre. This broadcast also includes a brief interview with the composer. Hear it on iPlayer until 24 October »
A site-specific text score written for Bastard Assignments’ Sound Walk With Me around Blackheath on 12 June 2016. This was part of Trinity Laban’s Diggin’ Blackheath event.
Gravel engages with the remnants of Blackheath’s many gravel pits which were quarried for limestone gravel in the 18th and 19th centuries. The ideal location for its performance (although not the one used for the event, due to various factors) is Eliot Pits (location on Google Maps) which is quite easily accessed from St Austell Rd, Blackheath.[Please note that Eliot Pits contains uneven and sometimes boggy ground.]
‘deceptively simple… Rowley’s actions were extremely deliberate and the sounds that she made coalesced into a striking audio piece’ (Robert Hugill, reviewing Things I Found In Boxes: Opening at Bastard Assignments: Fresh & Clean 3)
A work in progress which combines electroacoustic music and live performance, Things I Found In Boxes explores ideas of memory and self-identity through objects and was developed following an extended period of sorting through belongings I’d stored in Australia for a decade.
The first section of Things I Found In Boxes, “Opening” was performed by the composer at Bastard Assignments: Fresh & Clean 3 at Block 336 Gallery in Brixton in February 2016. This section explores sounds produced by packing materials – principally cardboard boxes, tape and newspaper. This section comprises a static tape part with a part for live performer playing a cardboard box full of screwed up newspaper. Photographs are by Dimitri Djuric.
The rest of the work is currently under development.
On an extended visit back to Australia after seven years away, I found myself homesick for England. The contrast between the soggy grey British early winter I’d left and the Australian summer I found myself in was extreme, and these pieces reflect those contrasts. Combining photographs of Australia with textual recollections of England, and each of them posted to a different recipient, they sit somewhere between art, imagined music and poetry and explore remembered and imagined sounds.
Manifesto was devised as an audiovisual piece developed using Max/MSP. It was the product of the very last weeks of my Master of Fine Arts research project, At the Borders of Music, Art and Text: Exploring an interdisciplinary approach to composition and incorporates several key concepts from that research:
The use of ‘amateur’ activity within my professional practice
The use of limitations
Visual material as music
The ‘amateur’ activity includes using myself as the performer, using multiple layers of improvisation, working with video as well as audio, and – in particular – my decision to create this piece using Max/MSP, a programme with a famously steep learning curve, and to have the piece begun and completed in the last six weeks of my degree.
This last idea was a little too ambitious – tackling a project like this while finalising a major work for my portfolio (Crossing Dartmoor), writing a 10,000-word dissertation and doing all the bits and pieces that finishing up a major project entails. But the work has in the end been completed within about six weeks’ total work… spread over about 18 months.
Each piece worked with limited material created by me (one audio file of vocal/body-percussion improvisation, or one or two video files) and a limited range of processes. A time limit was set for creating each patch, which was then used to improvise up to 10 versions of the section, with the one that worked best being chosen for the final assemblage.
My original plan had been to create a Max patch which would pull all the sections together and assemble a final version on the fly according to a set of rules which would define parameters for the random selection of sections and their start/end points and durations. Quite a lot of work was achieved on this, and I am immensely grateful for the assistance of Max/MSP guru Justin Capps who helped me out when I got stuck. However, this just didn’t work out how I’d hoped it would, so ultimately I compiled a finished version using Logic and Final Cut Express, but using the initial rules and determining the timing of changeover point using random numbers generated in a spreadsheet. Start/end points were determined by visual adjustments in Logic, rather than by aural selection, with minor clean-up being applied to smooth transitions.
Artwork commissioned by Janet Oates for the exhibition ‘Closet Music: Imaginary Soundworlds’ at The Proud Archivist gallery and cafe in Haggerston, London (14-28 September 2015). The brief was to create a new black & white work to the idea of “what does music look like?” and the subsequent print was exhibited in the exhibition and reproduced on vinyls for window display at the venue
Sounds We’ll Never Hear is an installation which explores physical recording media’s issues of longevity, how sound and imagination interact, and visual contexts for sonic content.
The installation was prompted by seeing Rose Finn-Kelcey’s The Magpie’s Box (1977) at Tate Britain. A box containing a range of magpie-related materials, including a reel of tape described as ‘audio tape of magpie sounds’, Finn-Kelcey’s work prompted me to think about how a recording in this context can never be heard because it’s been incorporated into a visual artwork – it is no longer a sonic object but a visual one. That led on to how the viewer is entirely dependent on the artist’s description of the recording to shape how they think about it (what sounds they might imagine, how they view it in the context of the rest of the work, etc.) – their experience is formed second-hand, as it were, because they cannot just pick up the recording and play it.
Sounds We’ll Never Hear takes these concepts and works with them in a playful way. Presented in archival boxes, padded and lined with felt, each recording is displayed with a card which tells the viewer about the sounds on it. The presentation of these recordings as a) damaged beyond use and b) as part of a visual artwork doubly negates the possibility of the statements on the cards ever being verified. Are the labels accurate or do they mislead us? We’ll never know…
So far, Sounds We’ll Never Hear comprises three items from the SOUNDS WE’LL NEVER HEAR archive, sourced from charity shops and a personal collection. Click to view larger images:
ARCHIVE #1094: Margaret Thatcher whistles ‘Greensleeves’
ARCHIVE #676: Rolf Harris performs a wobbleboard lullaby
ARCHIVE #1902: Rehearsal sessions for a death metal album by Damon Albarn
a very private performance was written in response to ideas I had about performance and my mindset when performing and how the experience of performance differed from other times of facing fear. It was also written in response to needing to have a tooth extracted… Performance as a defence against everyday fear. In case you’re wondering, psyching myself up for the extraction by preparing as if for a performance really did help!
If the image is too small to be read, click to view full size.
‘horrific’ ‘delicious’ (Responses to the premiere performance)
The first of a proposed series of experimental pieces involving cake. Cake Piece takes the simple act of cutting a cake into pieces and transforms it into something at first amusing, then dark and disturbing.
Cake Piece uses a text score and is suitable for performance by amateurs.
goats explores drawing as a sonic experience, and can be performed using a contact microphone to amplify the sounds of drawing for the performer and for any audience. This piece could also be performed by multiple performers simultaneously or in sequence, or by a single performer drawing over recordings of previous drawings.
If the image is too small to be read, click to view full size.
The first performance, at Colourscape Festival 2016, was for a single performer using pencil, technical drawing pens and charcoal pencils on cartridge paper. 3-4 minutes was allotted for each drawing, resulting in a series of quick sketches, and each drawing was recorded into Logic using a contact mic, then played back while creating the next drawing, resulting in a layered performance which was broadcast live throughout the venue.
“Put something in a box that will make a noise when dropped. It should not be obvious by looking at the box what noise it will make. Drop the box.”
Extending the concept of the video series HearSee, Drop (Not Schrödinger’s Cat) moves into the realm of live performance. A simple, even anti-climactic, piece, it uses the same ideas of what is unseen but heard as in the video pieces. It is up to the performer whether to reveal what is/was in the box after the performance or not. Audience members are welcome to guess.
The parksong series – a series of experimental vocal works – are musical compositions presented in the form of visual art prints. Drawing on verbal scores, visual representation and subtleties of language, they are visual art which is music; recordings which cannot be listened to; scores which do not explicitly invite performance.
Developed as part of her 2013-14 MFA research project ‘At the Borders of Music, Art and Text: Exploring an Interdisciplinary Approach to Composition’, the development of parksong explores Caitlin’s interests in music, visual art, text and the challenging of artistic fear through a lens of amateur practice and private musical experience.
The series comprises four works, the first three of which were developed during the project:
the line of my voice (A4)
i sing myself a circle (A3)
private static (A4)
The graphic elements of each piece are drawn or created manually, then scanned into photoshop where they are combined with digital text before being professionally produced as giclée prints on heavy art paper. At present only a single Artist’s Proof exists of each piece, although there are plans to produce an edition at some point. If you would like to know more about these works and the edition plans, or to request notification when editions are available to purchase, please contact Caitlin.
A large-scale song cycle for tenor and piano, based on the Dartmoor textworks of British sculptor Richard Long, Crossing Dartmoor is a long-term project which will eventually consist of around 26 performable items. The singer chooses their own path through the material provided, with a minimum of five pieces constituting a ‘complete’ performance of the cycle. As such, Crossing Dartmoor is currently complete enough to provide several variants of such a performance, consisting as it presently does of around 40 minutes of audio material plus videos.
The cycle also exists as an arrangement for mezzo-soprano and guitar.
Full information and recordings of Crossing Dartmoor are available on the project’s dedicated website at crossingdartmoor.uk.
Preview the score of Crossing Dartmoor (click on the score to view full-screen):
Sepiascape with Grey is a graphic score commissioned by Valentina Pravodelov for her MMus vocal recital in January 2014. Destined to be performed in the context of a programme of darkly urban popular music by bands such as Massive Attack, Portishead and Joy Division with a backing band of guitars, keyboards, backing vocals and drums, it incorporates a short text which mashes up a single line from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland with words selected by the composer:
under the brown fog of a winter dawn
The score was created using sepia acrylic ink (using a dip pen with copperplate nib, and as a wash) and black watercolour overlaid with digitally created handwritten text.
Parlour Game is a conceptual, improvisatory Christmas piece for three or more singing performers (either acting singers or singing actors) with a sense of adventure and a taste for silliness. It is based on the children’s game Chinese Whispers, in which text is whispered from player to player, becoming corrupted and less and less intelligible as it moves through the group.
The ‘score’ of Parlour Game consists of a page of instructions and 8 slips of paper which contain four graphic suggestions for melodies and four suggestions of ways of speaking. This is the foundation of the piece. The first performance was augmented by readings from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and the provision of ‘rumours’ to the audience in handmade paper fortune cookies (made with Christmas origami paper!). The rumours were all lines taken from A Christmas Carol, but could be anything that fits the occasion, and of course, audience members can always make up their own rumours.
The piece can run for any duration, although less than about 7 minutes would probably not be effective. The first performance ran for 12 minutes.
Four Black and White Pieces is a set of four graphic scores ‘for any number of performers or imaginations’. Created for the Closet Music ‘Travel Pack’ project, which was looking for postcard-sized pieces which could be used by travellers to imagine their own music, even if they didn’t read musical notation, Four Black and White Pieces is also appropriate for (audible) performance. The four pieces can be performed in any orientation, either sequentially (in any order) or simultaneously. If there is more than one performer, they can either all work from one Piece, from different Pieces, or from the same Piece in differing orientations.
As with my other graphic score works, the interpretation of the images is entirely up to the performer(s) – my interest in this form of notation is in enabling performance, and in seeing what performers bring to the work. I don’t specify certain elements to represent certain musical concepts because, in my control-freak way, I feel that if I want a melody that is ‘this’ shape, I should just write out the notes myself. I love hearing performers create sounds I wouldn’t ever have imagined with these pieces – every performance becomes a composition lesson.
For my teacher Stephen Montague’s 70th birthday celebrations, the composers at Trinity Laban were all asked to write a ‘piece on a postcard’ to celebrate the occasion. Glacier, for Stephen Montague is my contribution to this project.
Given that Stephen’s role as my tutor is largely to help me explore more experimental ways of thinking about music, I didn’t just want to write a piece but wanted instead to do some small-scale exploration. The postcard I used (pictured below) was one I found in a secondhand bookshop in Greenwich, Halcyon Books and is of a painting of the Glacier of Rosenlaui in Switzerland by John Brett. I started thinking about creaking ice and how I might be able to create a similar effect on the piano. The work uses mostly the strings inside the piano and largely consists of scraping a card up the strings towards the hammers, and striking the strings with card, the hand or the fingers. Keys are depressed silently in order to create pitches to reverberate after the action directly on the strings.
The performance here is by Caitlin Rowley, from a private performance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, Friday 3 May 2013.
Watching the Streets of Zurich and Brussels was the first piece I created for February 2012’s Lucky Dip album project. It consists of two improvised flute lines (played by me) combined with field recordings I made in Zurich and Brussels.
The graphic score version of Carrion Comfort was created as part of the process of writing the orchestral work of the same name. It is a painting in gouache which I painted as an intensity map of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem Carrion Comfort to help me work out the structure of the orchestral work. Having shown it to Stuart Russell on Twitter, he suggested that it could be interpreted as a standalone graphic score – and proceeded to create an electro-acoustic piece, called C.C. – After Caitlin Rowley, to prove it. Since then the piece has also been performed by Yorkshire new music band Midnight Llama.
Written for Sam Grinsell for February 2012’s Lucky Dip album project. I wanted to create something that had ties with Sam’s own work (which often consists of improvisations over field recordings) but which at the same time would subvert that. Sam’s music is very beautiful and often very peaceful, so I created a tape part which was aggressive and harsh and made a graphic score to guide Sam loosely through it.
The title is a reference to a story the great Flash designer Josh Davis told at a design conference I went to many years ago in Sydney. He showed us a beautiful, delicate animation in silence and told us how he took it to his sound designer, showed it to him and then, by way of explaining what he wanted said “I want it to kill people”. I loved the idea that something so gentle and beautiful could be so violent and it really summed up what I wanted to do with this piece.