Embedded Spring 2011
Sound and Music’s Embedded programme is a series of residencies for composers and for artists who work with sound, delivered in partnership with major creative organisations across the UK. The residencies are remarkable opportunities for early-career artists of any age to work with an organisation over an extended period, learning professional skills – such as marketing, fundraising, how to manage relationships and how to work with young people – alongside the focal point of the residencies: the development and creation of a significant new work that is showcased at the end of the year’s collaboration.
Embedded residencies, which are supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, are opportunities for artists to engage in significant artistic exploration, working closely with organisations' players, staff and audiences. Sound and Music has selected partner organisations which want to develop meaningful collaborations with composers and artists, and which use the residencies as ways to develop their own working practices. The resident artists are offered the chance to propose artistic mentors of their own choice.
Organisations currently participating in the Embedded scheme are:
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, no.w.here, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, Apartment House, Pervasive Media Studio/Watershed, Forestry Commission England, Oxford Contemporary Music/Pitt Rivers Museum, and Manchester Camerata.
Here's an overview of the residencies that have taken place to date.
Seán Clancy at BCMG
Founded in 1987, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group has established itself as one of Europe's leading ensembles, touring in the UK and abroad. They are committed to performing new work, and to date they have premiered over 140 new pieces by leading composers, many of which are commissioned through their Sound Investment scheme, which broke new ground in commissioning contemporary music. BCMG are also passionate about education, finding innovative ways to engage people of all ages with challenging music, showing how it can inspire and capture imaginations. An Embedded residency with BCMG provides an exciting opportunity for a composer to experiment and take risks, and receive high quality, focused support towards their professional development at the same time.
Dublin-born composer Seán Clancy was chosen for the 2011/12 residency. He had a unique opportunity to work very closely with the group, with open access to their rehearsals and perfomances, professional mentoring, involvement in their education projects, and ongoing collaboration with the players.
Seán is currently studying for a PhD at the Birmingham Conservatoire under the supervision of Howard Skempton and Joe Cutler, and his research deals with the 'anxiety of influence’ and its manifestation in creating music. So it seems fitting that the piece he devloped with BCMG, Findetotenlieder, was loosely based on 'Somone Great' by LCD Soundsystem, since that band's leader, James Murphy, has frequently talked about the anxiety of influence informing his approach to making music too. Seán wrote a fascinating blogpost about the concept and composition of Findetotenlieder here. It was premiered at BCMG's home at the CBSO Centre in February 2012, alongside work by Judith Weir. Gerald Barry and Gérard Grisey.
Seán comments on his opportunity to work with BCMG:
'I have had many opportunities that I otherwise could have only dreamed of; including attending many informative rehearsals, meeting numerous notable composers, conductors and musicians, travelling to New York to work with one of my most respected composers. I had many wonderful insights into the group and have learnt a lot over the past year in addition to writing two pieces for BCMG of which I am incredibly proud of. The final concert on 3 February in the CBSO Centre was for me a huge success.'
Ben Gwilliam at no.w.here
no.w.here is an artist-run organisation based in Bethnal Green dedicated to moving image work in contemporary art. They curate screenings, performances and exhibitions, and activey encourage critical debate around the work they present. They are also a fantastic resource for artists, reguarly running workshops in both the practicalities of film-making and the philosophical ideas around working in the medium, while their film equipment is not available anywhere else in the UK outside of commerical labs.
SaM teamed up with no.w.here to develop an Embedded residency where sound could be explored in this context of moving image work. From over 100 applicants, sound artist and musician Ben Gwilliam was chosen for the residency. Ben's proposal was to experiment with growing rust onto film, using a specially made solution containing magnetically-charged iron filings, and trying out different approaches to chemical processing and contact-printing. As well as creating beautiful, immersive images, the rust interacts with the sound stripe found on many types of film, producing strange thuds and crackles when run through the projector.
After eight weeks developing it, Ben gave a live performance of the work, titled Oxide (II + III), at no.w.here's studios, using multiple projection and live-manipulation of sounds recorded from the films. He plans on exploring different methods of presenting the work elsewhere, and will be working and collaborating with no.w.here again soon.
Ben comments on his opportunity to work with no.w.here:
'It expanded the ground for sound art for me. I benefited from new skill-based knowledge, learning in a dedicated way how to develop film and how it can work with sound. As the residency developed, I came to meet artists with different perspectives on sound and image, and really benefited from their input. As I live in Halifax, being in London has also benefited me in terms of getting greater exposure to other, wider practices, and having that exposure for my own work too. It has widened the platforms I work upon, my listening has become more acute, and my understanding of sound in film and vice versa has widened, opening new perspectives to consider and reflect on.'
Brahim Kerkour at Manchester Camerata
Founded in 1971, Manchester Camerata is one of the UK's leading chamber orchestras. It takes its name from the 16th century group Florentine Camerata, who met to share ideas and discuss the arts, and that inquisitive spirit and creativity inspires their approach to performing music. They bring chamber works to new audiences, performing all across the North West as well as their Manchester home at The Bridgewater Hall, and look for fresh ways to present them. They believe that live music can be a transformative experience. Learning and participation are also core parts of Manchester Camerata's work, with each season's music being used as a starting point for all sorts of education projects, making them another ideal partner for SaM to launch an Embedded Residency.
Anglo-Morroccan composer Brahim Kerkour was chosen for the residency from a huge number of applications. Now six months into the residency, he has had the opportunity to really get inside Manchester Camerata's work, with open access to all of their rehearsals and performances, one-to-one sessions with the players to explore different ideas and techniques, support from current Music Director Gábor Takács-Nagy, and the chance to observe their outreach work and particpate in various projects. Brahim has developed three works for the ensemble: a solo cello piece (to be performed on Wednesday 16th May at Anthony Burgess Foundation), an orchestral work (to be performed Saturday 26th May at The Bridgewater Hall), and an octet titled Moment Translucent, which uses a short passage from Schubert's Octet, part of their 2011/12 season, as a starting point:
I set out to expose the underlying energy of the passage (the first five measures), using transformations of timbre to gradually peel away the layers of its surface, reaching a fluid movement of raw sound. So the piece is a type of excavation, and similar to those images from Geology textbooks that show the layer's of the earth, with someone's front yard at the top, the earth's core at the bottom, and various materials in between.
Moment Translucent was performed as part of the Lancaster International Concert Series in January, and in February at St Nicolas Church in Thorne and at the Coronation Hall in Ulverston.
Brahim comments on his experience with Manchester Camerata so far:
'It's been a terrific experience so far. Camerata and SaM have been really supportive, and along with the structure of the residency, the conditions have been ideal for pursuing a long term creative endeavor. The orchestra's music making is inspiring, and I've been gaining a lot from my interactions with staff, musicians, audiences, and learning participants. I've had to think of, and devise, ways of communicating my music to musicians and audiences less acquainted with contemporary music. I've gained a lot of new knowledge about the professional, business side of being a composer, and I've been meeting a lot of interesting artists within and outside of music.'
Jen Southern at Pervasive Media Studio
The Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol is collaboration between Watershed, University of West of England and University of Bristol. They are a multi-disciplinary lab exploring creative technologies and producing pervasive media content, applications and services. They work within a brilliant community of artists, creative companies, technologists and academics, and their projects include gaming, projections, location-based media, digital displays and new forms of performance. Some are commercial, some are cultural. An Embedded residency with the Pervasive Media Studio provided an exciting opportunity to explore sound's relationship to new technologies, ones which we might not normally associate with sound and music-making.
Artist and researcher Jen Southern was chosen for the residency. Her work as both an artist and PhD student is concerned with movement and our sense of place, and how different technologies can affect them. The inspiration for her Embedded proposal came from a pretty unlikely source: observing reindeer on a field trip to Sweden! Jen was surprised to learn that reindeer make a clicking noise with a tendon on their feet, possibly to signal to one another where they are, and where they are moving. She felt this had strange parallels with GPS technologies - the sort you might use on a phone to track your movement on a map - and wanted to investigate how GPS data could potentially be used to make sound.
With access to specialists at the Pervasive Media Studio, feedback sessions with experts from their wider community, and mentoring in working with sound, Jen developed an installation piece called Polyrhythmia. She presented her work on the piece to date at a fascinating artist's talk at The Watershed in January 2012. The installation will involve little machines, which will tap on various objects in the space, with different sonic results. The tapping is related to the movement of various participants walking around the city, captured by GPS data on phones, so that you're listening to rhythms created by people's movements through a city. Jen plans to develop the work further for exhibition.
Jen comments on the opportunity to work with Pervasive Media Studio:
'The residency at the Pervasive Media Studio was structured really well, with regular discussion events for feedback, meetings with specialists in the field, and the opportunity to blog on the Watershed website. It was a very intensive experience, but that allowed me to push the work more quickly and much further than I could have done otherwise. They offered me way more support than I'd expected. The final showcase event was a great way to end the project, with professional and public feedback. It has enabled me to take a very important next step in my practice - thanks for a great residency experience!'
Laura Bowler, Jack White and Yuko Ohara at the BBC Symphony Orchestra
To work with one of the UK's leading orchestras on the creation of a new piece is a remarkable opportunity for composers at early stages of their careers. It also presents particular challenges, inviting the composers to decide the extent to which they work with or against the rich tradition of the orchestral medium. Following an open call from which five composers were selected to present initial materials at a BBC SO workshop, three – Laura Bowler, Jack White and Yuko Ohara – were chosen to take their works further, working with the orchestra and mentor Peter Wiegold over the course of a year to develop new pieces for performance at a BBC SO concert at Maida Vale Studios in London on 17 February 2012.
Yuko Ohara’s Kaleidoscope was inspired by the idea of a three-mirror kaleidoscope, reflected in the spatial treatment of the orchestra in her piece. Starting with arpeggios and bisbigliando [whispering] on the harp and sliding glissandos in the strings, the piece creates a kind of kaleidoscope of orchestral colours and timbres.
Laura Bowler's piece Irresistible Demands of the Flesh took its title from the writings of the French dramatist Antonin Artaud and explored the theatrical ideals presented by Artaud in his ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ manifestos and the viability of the application of his theories to musical composition and performance. The five soloists were placed in a metaphysical chamber of cruelty, from which they are released in a semi-improvised section at the end of the work.
Laura writes about the Embeddded opportunity:
‘I benefited hugely from this project, learning extensively about writing for and working with the orchestra, and understanding the difference between an orchestral rehearsal context and the environment of chamber music rehearsals. It enabled me to explore my ideas of music theatre for symphony orchestra, which I would not otherwise have been able to develop.’
Jack White’s Digital Dust drew on his experiences of electroacoustic composition, attempting to replicate digital effects such as reverb, delay and sampling through purely acoustic writing. Jack writes:
‘For me, the most important benefits of the residency were the ability to improve orchestration style at the workshops, understanding how both a conductor and orchestral players relate to your work, and obtaining quality recordings of my work. It gave me an insight into the “psychology” of the orchestra, the confidence to take well-thought-out risks, and the opportunity to seek advice form world-class specialists in their instruments.’
Ed Perkins and Saskia Moore at Apartment House
Apartment House was created by the cellist Anton Lukoszevieze in 1995. Under his direction it has become a venerable exponent of avant-garde and experimental music from around the World. Apartment House’s performances have included many UK and World premieres of music by a wide variety of composers. The ensemble is of ﬂexible instrumentation, which allows for a vast range of performance possibilities and lot of scope for experimentation for a composer. This opportunity was open to two people: Ed Perkins and Saskia Moore were the artists chosen.
Ed Perkins is an audiovisual composer and performer based in Norfolk. His work draws on aspects of both current psychological research and historical forms of performance in the visual and sonic arts. His work is concerned with the sonification and visualisation of emergent properties within complex relationship models as a method of live composition. Recent work includes the live shadow-puppet animation, Wyang Listrik, premiered at Ars Electronica in 2011, as well as regular performances with the ensembles From Honey to Ashes and The Raw and The Cooked around the UK. He is currently teaching and completing a PhD in composition at the University of East Anglia.
Ed is currently working with Apartment House to create The Stream, a suite of three live audiovisual works for instrumental quartet and electronics. The Stream is a software based real-time social model that is made up of hundreds of virtual political, emotional and economic interactions of four archetypical characters: Hunter, Worker, Medic and Artist.
The relationship data generated by the system creates a narrative that is sonified and visualised by mapping it to musical and visual outcomes. In the same way that scientific data is often sonified or visualised in order to see emergent relationships and patterns occurring, the individual interactions of these characters will give rise to larger scale power relationships that will influence the direction that both music and animation will take.
You can follow the development of this project at The Stream’s blog.
Ed comments on the opportunity to work with Apartment House:
'Sound and Music have given me the support, understanding and resources that I needed to realise my ideas. Being selected for the Embedded project has given me confidence in my work that is being reflected in a more efficient and effective approach to my practice and career as a composer.'
Saskia Moore is an award-winning artist traversing theatre, performance, sound and visual art. Her work has been presented at International Arts Festivals notably Sydney Festival, Melbourne International Arts Festival, Auckland Festival, Perth International Arts Festival, Singapore Arts Festival. She received a Master of Fine Arts from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and is currently developing hybrid works in theatre, sound and installation.
Saskia is working with Apartment House to create “Dead Symphony” - a contemporary symphony, comprising of music heard during near death experiences.
Sound is understood to be the last sense present moments before death. Saskia is documenting and transcribing the actual music and sound experiences people hear during a near death experience. From the documented collections to date, she has ascertained the sounds and music heard are like ‘miniature symphonies’ - lyrical, abstract, and beautiful by its very nature. The collection of ‘miniature symphonies’ are arranged and composed, then presented as a continuous Symphony. The arrangement of the Symphony brings into play contemporary and traditional compositional forms.
You can follow the development of this project at Saskia’s work in progress blog.
Saskia comments on her work with Apartment House:
The repetition and looping of the unconscious symphonies allows audiences to come in and out of this sound world, shifting and changing upon further listening, eliciting new interpretations of the sounds: looping and embedding into the audiences' personal memories. It will be incredibly exciting to hear these aurally transcribed real life experiences ‘symphonies’ performed live by Apartment House.