Posts tagged news

RPM Composing Update

The RPM challenge is about when you record the music rather than when you compose it, so I’ve been working more on the pieces I’ll be playing. Things have moved on from my last post! I have ideas for two separate suites, one based around melodic improvisation, and another around short pieces based on photographs I’ve recently taken.

I’ve been working on the first idea for a while, and it’s coming along pretty well. I could record a perfectly good version of it now, but I think living with the idea for longer will bring more things out of it, and anyway it isn’t even February yet!

The second idea I just started working on today. I have been playing around with analogue photography, and received my first set of prints back. Ten of them immediately struck me as making an interesting set, as they were all in various states of darkness. In some almost nothing is visible, in others some features stand out clearly while others are swallowed by darkness. Given my interest in failure, and imperfection, I knew I wanted to start interpreting these images in sound. I’ve just been scribbling initial notes down this evening, and I’m pretty excited about this idea :)

I’m not yet sure how these suites will interact. The first idea is probably long enough for a short album in itself. If I have composed the photo pieces in time, I will probably also record them and it will be an album of two halves, an idea I’ve always rather liked. If not then I’ll continue writing those pieces, and they can be their own release or become part of another project. If both these suites get recorded for RPM, that would probably be the longest release I’ve ever done!

I’ll be updating this blog with more composing stuff as things progress…

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RPM Challenge 2013…

It’s been a while since I made any new music, partly because computer issues mean I don’t currently have access to any recording software I actually know how to use effectively. This makes adding to the One Year project impossible at the moment, though I may return to it, or at least works in a similar vein, in the future. I have been having ideas for a rather different album for some time though, and I will start work on this soon!

For those unfamiliar with the RPM Challenge, it’s a pretty straightforward concept: 

This is The Challenge - Record an album in 28 days, just because you can.


Throughout February, all kinds of different musicians take part. I think I first heard of it in 2011, but only became really aware of it in 2013 when several of my twitter friends took part, including Chrissie Caulfield and Stuart Russell. I even played on Caitlin Rowley’s album! I feel like I’ve forgotten some people, but anyway that’s enough to be going on with :)

For a while I have wanted to record an alum of just me and guitar. I spent a long time waiting for my new guitar, which I new would be more suited to solo acoustic work, and since then I have been very busy. Also I lacked any real musical idea of what I wanted to do. I am now beginning to come up with a loose kind of structure, based on two different improvisatory approaches. For a while I have been working on an approach to building melody-based improvisations by starting with a pentatonic scale and progressively adding notes. Half the album will be made up of pieces using this basic idea, the other half will be more free-form improvisations. I may come up with a theme for those, at the moment I am undecided. I am also unsure how the album itself will be structured: I may choose to alternate the two kinds of piece, or have an album with two ‘sides’. Both approaches have their appeal, I probably won’t know until I’ve done the recordings.

As I normally record using a portable Korg recorder, the actual recording of the album presents no challenges. As I mentioned at the start, my computer doesn’t work properly, so the actual production of the album will need to be done on someone else’s machine (unless I suddenly find myself with funds for a new computer!). This doesn’t really worry me, I can borrow from family or friends, but it could lead to a delay in getting the album released. All recordings will definitely be done in February though!

This will be the first album made in my new home of Leicester, and I’ll be working that in to the art work and probably the name as well. I’m really looking forward to it, and enjoying the preparations. Hopefully it will be my best album yet :)

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Greetings! I charted a course through stormy ‘net connections on Sunday to bring a new release to your ears. As this is the first new piece I’ve released for a while (other than additions to Improvisations) some words on its creation, and my current musical thinking, may be of interest.

At the start of the year (or maybe it was the end of last year, but the date is unimportant) I decided that I should spend twelve months gathering field-recordings, and perhaps pictures and words too, to form the basis of some kind of release to be constructed at the end of 2012. I had no idea for the form of the final work, but I wanted to try a creative method that would lead to a longer gestation period, to get away from my tendency to create in sudden short bursts of activity. Perhaps the cultural significance of the year itself played a role: London had, after all, been preparing for 2012 for what felt like most of my life. I toyed with the idea of blogging regularly on my progress, but I decided this could easily lead to the project feeling like a chore, and that the important thing was the final product, not the story of its creation. I have gathered many recordings so far, though perhaps not as many as I would have liked.

It was in Birmingham last month that a new idea for a piece marched boldly into my head, as they occasionally do. Many times I have created a soundscape and then improvised over it, but now I thought of recording a long improvisation and treating this as the soundscape, creating a piece by adding snatches of manipulated field-recordings. I sat down that day in my hotel room and recorded myself playing for around 25 minutes. I consciously left more space in my playing, aware that this was the basis for more sound, that I was, at some level, accompanying something I could not yet hear.

The piece was created over the following weeks, using recordings from the same Birmingham trip, and also treated samples from the improvisation. As I often do, I allowed the sounds to guide me: I had no specific aims in terms of expressing ideas or moods. The piece is an experiment in approaching my usual ingredients in a slightly different way: the sound of me playing was treated in the way I generally treat field-recordings. I hope that creating it has helped me develop my sound-manipulation skills further.

I wrote myself a minimal set of instructions for my field-recording project, and titled it One Year. As the end of 2012 approaches, I am beginning to gain a sense of what I shall create from what I have gathered. There will be a series of standalone pieces, all made in somewhat different ways, but all using sounds from 2012 (of course!). Together, they will perhaps express something of what I am musically at this time. Birmingham Impressions is the first, listen out for more over the next few months.

thanks for listening/reading


*a copy of these instructions is a bonus item with the Birmingham Impressions download

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Sounds and Silence and All That’s To Come

I’ve been a little quiet here of late, as you may or may not have noticed. Compared to the rapid production of pieces during the winter and spring of 2010-11, the last six months has only seen odd individual track and some collaborations. So what have I been up to?

Well, I should perhaps point out that I have a day job now, with I didn’t then. But that’s not really why I’ve released less. I am currently gathering sounds and images for a larger work. Near the end of last year I decided that I should spend this one gathering raw materials, from which to create a work reflecting my experience of 2012. I am not yet sure what form this will take, but I do know it will involve me using a wider range of my abilities, such as they are. Previous releases, especially The Re-Education Of Ned Ludd, were created within particular constraints. Ned Ludd is the one I’m most happy with, but I want to start bringing together the things I have learned from each set of pieces, mixing guitars with the electronic and field-recording sounds that made up that album. This is what I was doing before, of course, but I want to aim for a more thorough integration of the two, and get away from the idea of one being background to the other.

Meanwhile, I have been looking into sound in a broader social context. Some of you may know that I studied history at university, and in the past month or so it has become clear to me that there are ways to combine these two passions. Sound or aural history is still a new field, which is rather appealing to me. I am currently reading as much as I can about the subject, and looking into potential masters courses that might accommodate the study of sound in history.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. Of course, I’ll still be releasing improvisations from time to time. I’ll also have a new guitar later in the year, which might inspire some music. And every now and then I return to trying to make music inspired by Oscar Wilde’s Poems In Prose. But the main projects are the two outlined above, the piece exploring a year and the study of sound in history. I’ll blog more about them from time to time.

Thanks for reading


Sounds for other people

This blog has been rather neglected of late. A winter working long hours in a cold warehouse has allowed time for musicking, but little to spare for writing about it. I hope to be posting here more in the coming months. This is an update of what I have been working on lately.

In the past my music has been driven by me from start to finish, it is a very personal pursuit which has only gradually become something I share with others. Thanks largely to twitter I now have connections with many wonderful musicians and composers who I would not have met otherwise. This led to the two gigs I played at the end of last year (in Colchester and London). I am pleased to report that this year’s musical work has involved more collaboration and thinking about other people’s approaches to music and sound.

Many of my musical friends took part in the RPM2012 Challenge, to write and record an album in one month, February to be precise. I have toyed with the idea of doing this before, and may well in the future, but I don’t feel that output has really been a problem for me, and most of my releases have been done in a month or so. I don’t really feel it’s useful for me at this stage. I have, however, been involved in someone else’s.

UK-based Australian composer Caitlin Rowley issued a call for volunteers to commission and record new pieces for her RPM album. I was one of the people who stepped forward, and so was lucky enough to work with Caitlin on what became ‘I Want It To Kill People’, the seventh track of her album. It was a real pleasure to enter into another person’s approach to making a piece. She took my work with field-recordings as a starting point and created a tape part for me to play over, with a graphic score to guide my playing. This really helped focus my performance, especially as the piece is quite short and I’ve been working with longer forms lately. I’m really pleased with the result, and we hope to work together more in the future.

Meanwhile, I am working on a piece for a project for an audio-book version of Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet. Again, this is an opportunity that came to me through the wonders of the World Wide Web. SoundFjord, a gallery specialising in sound art, issued a call for musicians and sound artists to express an interest in contributing. Those who did so have all been given some text to work with, selections will be made after they have the submissions. I hadn’t come across the book before, and have enjoyed exploring it’s dark reflections on the emptiness of everyday life in Lisbon in the ‘twenties and ‘thirties. I also view this work as a collaboration, though of a very different nature. Trying to distill the atmosphere of even one section of a complex literary work into ten minutes of sound (and sound that can be spoken over) has proved quite a challenge. I’m not quite there yet, but pretty close. I’ll hopefully have something to post in the next few days.

Thanks for reading, I will blog again soon


Live Again

Last weekend I invited a few friends round to my place and performed a piece for them. As well as (hopefully!) being enjoyable for them, I knew this would be useful for me to keep in practice and experiment with a longer live form. Whereas in my recent live performances I used field-recordings from specific places, for this I simply went through what I had recently done and made a soundscape that seemed interesting. In particular, I was keen to make sure that distinct structures were apparent, in order to create some sense of narrative in the piece and also to help me remember what point I had reached in the performance.

I recorded my performance using a Zoom H1 portable recorder, and was happy enough with the recording to put it on bandcamp yesterday. There have been some lovely responses, it’s always great to learn that people enjoy what you do!

It’s available on a pay-what-you-like basis in a choice of audio formats, or I’ll make a CD-R just for you for £6. Anyway, here it is, if you like it please share it with others. Thanks for listening :)

Physical goods

Greetings all!

I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, but have finally decided that my music should be available in a physical form. Rather than go the usual route of paying to produce some CDs and then selling them, I’m offering to make one-off CD-Rs of some of my releases. I’ll create a unique package just for you. This saves on costs for me, of course, but also means you’ll be getting something very special for no great cost as well. I’ve chosen the three releases that I feel best represent my work:

The Re-Education of Ned Ludd £6

ME £5

newfanglements £5

Postage is free in the UK, £1 to Europe and £2 to the rest of the world

Thanks for reading and listening


November 25th Gig

As some of you will know already, I’m performing as part of Leah Kardos's launch show for her new album Feather Hammer. Leah is a wonderful pianist/composer who I met on twitter, and it’s great to see online connections having real world results! Also performing are the Ligeti Quartet, who will be playing a varied selection of contemporary classical music.

I will be opening the night, with a piece using field-recordings taken from the area around the venue. I’ll create a soundscape using these recordings, and improvise over them using slide guitar. My aim is to create a one-off piece of music, never to be performed again. The process involved in creating it, however, could certainly be used again, and I’ll probably be making a text score of the piece too.

I’m really excited about this event, even if I wasn’t performing I’d probably be going as an audience member, so it’s great to be put alongside such talented musicians. It would be wonderful to see as many people there as possible, so please come along if you can, and share this post around.

This will all be taking place at The Wilmington Arms, in Clerkenwell, London, on 25th November 2011. Tickets are available for just £5 in advance.

The event is being put on by Chaos Theory Music, here is their description of what will be occurring:

Friday 25th November 7.30pm

The Wilmington Arms, 69 Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 4RL


£5 advance

£8 on the door

Chaos Theory are proud to present three fiercely inventive talents premièring their contemporary works during this one-off event. All of the musicians tonight combine various disciplines, technology and defy tradition. In the true spirit of what Chaos Theory wishes to promote, we invite all of you who wish to experience challenging new music and art.


Leah is a multi-talented composer, producer and pianist whose latest work will be showcased tonight. Her breathtaking new album Feather Hammer (released on 19th September) combines tonal and ambient soundscapes which fuse contemporary classical and electronica styles.

The recorded version of Feather Hammer uses the sounds of acoustic pianos, making use of the hammer, strings and wood percussion of the piano as well as playing them conventionally.

Tonight, we will witness a special presentation of the album featuring digital piano, electronics and video art by Matthew Greasley.


A brilliantly innovative quartet who we’ve had the pleasure of hosting at our monthly night Candied Nonsense. Continually looking to promote the music of established and emerging 20th and 21st Century composers, these graduates from the Royal Academy Of Music, Royal College Of Music and Oxford University never shy away from the new and the experimental. Over the past few months they have premièred ten new works.

Featuring Mandhira De Saram and Patrick Dawkins on violin, Valerie Welbanks on cello and Richard Jones on viola, tonight they will present short pieces by contrasting composers including John Cage, Anton Webern and Harry Partch.


Opening the evening will be this gifted soloist, who will be creating extraordinary music using his original music concept.

Gathering field-recordings within one mile of the Wilmington Arms over the course of one hour, Sam will be manipulating the sounds to forge a one-off soundscape purely for this evening, adding no new sounds whatsoever. He will accompany these recordings with his improvised slide guitar.

A unique start to a unique evening.

This is a rare opportunity to see such vast talent together in one evening and we invite you to come and see how limitless music can be.

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Upcoming Live Stream

I’ve mentioned to a few people that I might be doing a new kind of stream (for me) soon, so I thought I’d outline my intentions. Rather than playing a few pieces, I’m currently creating a longer piece which I’ll perform on ustream once it’s ready. It will involve me improvising over manipulated field-recordings. I’ve done similar things over drone soundscapes before, but this will be a more prepared piece and considerably longer than any of those. Right now, I’m creating the soundscape over which I will play, then I will move on to develop the musical palate I’ll be using.

I have a tendency to say this kind of thing will take longer than it actually does, so suffice to say that there’ll be further news in the next few days and the performance could be any time in the next couple of weeks depending how long my preparations take. But I’ll be sure to give fair warning.

My ustream channel is now embedded on my site, there should be a ‘Live Streams’ page up on the right there…yeah that’s it ;)


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New Website!

Welcome to the new version of, thanks for stopping by. For now, there’s not a huge amount of new stuff, but I prefer this layout anyway so thought I’d get on and make the site live. The good news is that it’s easier for me to add things to this new site, so I expect a lot more to be happening at this address from now on than did on the old site.


p.s. I put a couple of previous blogpost on here, the old Musical Improvisation tumblr will stay live, but longer pieces will probably mostly go here ;)