Paper, performed by Sarah James
Paper, performed by Sarah James at Bastard Assignments: New Teeth 4. Photo by Dimitri Djuric

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.

Paper from Bastard Assignments on Vimeo.

Still River Air

‘absolutely beautiful, brilliantly executed’ (Adjudicator’s report)

A finalist in the 2013 Runswick Prize at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, Still River Air is based on seven photographs by iconic American photographer Ansel Adams, from the exhibition From the Mountains to the Sea at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.

The work is in three sections. The first describes two images of still water, the second a group of river-rapid images and the third represents photographs of waterfall spray. Still River Air is scored for the unusual ensemble prescribed by the terms of the competition and has a duration of just under 10 minutes.

Praise for Still River Air

From the adjudicator’s report:

‘I was drawn to distinctly different photographs during different sections of the piece which was a remarkable experience.’

‘the tone of the music felt incredibly well judged alongside the images of the exhibition.’

‘absolutely beautiful, brilliantly executed’


twelve is an arrangement for double string quartet of one of my first film scores, for a live animation created by animator Leo Martyn.

The film was a comic look at routine and how people fall into daily patterns that are hard to break. I wanted the music to be cyclical to reflect these patterns, so the work is structured around a sequence of bars: 1 – 1,2 – 1,2,3 – 1,2,3,4 etc. up to 12.

twelve was chosen for a CD project of works for string ensembles by young composers, but unfortunately the project could not obtain funding and so was never completed.

Pieces of Eight: A frivolity in eight parts

Pieces of Eight was written in response to a ‘call for scores’ from French chamber group Ensemble Décadanse who were embarking on a project entitled 2000 miniatures for the year 2000. They were asking for groups of pieces, each item of which was no longer than 10 seconds in duration.

Taking up the challenge, I viewed each piece as a window onto another – hypothetical – larger piece.

Pieces of Eight exists in several versions by the composer:

  • flute/violin, B-flat clarinet, cello/double bass & piano – the original version written for Ensemble Décadanse
  • soprano saxophone, violin, viola, double bass & piano for Australian group Topology who performed this version at the MiniMax Festival in Brisbane in 20o2
  • string quartet
  • solo piano, premiered by Luca Tieppo at a London Composers Forum concert in 2011
  • solo pedal harp, written for American harpist Shana Norton who recorded it for the Lucky Dip project in 2012.

Additionally, Pieces of Eight was arranged by composer and oboist Catherine Pluygers for the ensemble of the London New Wind Festival who performed it in London in 2009.

The recording here is of the first performance of the piano version, by Italian pianist and composer Luca Tieppo at the London Composers Forum‘s lunchtime concert at St Mary’s, Putney in London, 7 October 2011

On Harrowdown Hill

On Harrowdown Hill was composed in about 5 weeks for English National Opera’s Mini Operas competition in 2012. It sets a libretto by Shaun Gardiner, written to a brief story by Will Self, both created especially for the competition.

**Now available to download from Bandcamp! You can pay what you want for it (or nab it for free) – all money raised will go towards my continuing composition education. Click to get your copy now!**

I was drawn to Gardiner’s rather Beckettesque libretto because I felt it conveyed the sorrow and bleakness of the central character of the Inspector, a good man who is thrown to the wolves by the government and the press. The original synopsis was based upon the true story of David Kelly, the UN Weapons Inspector who reportedly committed suicide in 2003, and Gardiner’s script hinted at the dark future of the Inspector in a way which I found intriguing.

Written for bass-baritone (The Inspector), counter-tenor/alto (The Advisor), tenor (The Journalist), chorus of Journalists, electric violin, flute, piano, strings and percussion, the opera was recorded in July 2012 from various parts of the Northern hemisphere by:

  • Charles Turner – The Inspector (USA)
  • Andrew Pickett – The Advisor (Canada)
  • Nick Allen – The Journalist (UK)
  • Chrissie Caulfield – electric violin (UK)
  • Caitlin Rowley – flute (UK)
  • Other parts were produced using Garritan Personal Orchestra virtual instruments

Read about the composition of On Harrowdown Hill in the journal


Thickets was written specifically for the CoMA Midwinter Composers Masterclass in Durham in 2011. It is scored for 2 violins, viola and 2 celli (or cello and double bass) and written specifically to be suitable for amateur players of grade 4-5 and upwards.

While the technical requirements are not great, the work draws its effectiveness from a lyrical sharing of themes in the slow opening section and from characteristic sections of hocketing between parts in the main body of the work. There are rhythmic challenges in particular, but nothing insurmountable for players of this level.

Thickets was workshopped and performed at the CoMA Midwinter Late Starter Strings School in Durham in 2011, where the conductor – cellist Robin Michael – described it as “a fantastic piece” and “unbelievably well-written for strings”. Several of the performers involved (two to a part for the workshop) expressed their enjoyment of the piece to the composer afterwards.

There are a few posts in the journal about the composing process for Thickets: