Upcoming Concerts and Workshops: Sounds Heard

Sounds Heard: Avant-garde, experimental, electronic and improvised musics and workshops celebrating the work of Hugh Davies.

UPDATE: Videos of these concerts can be viewed here!

Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 October 2015

Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall
School of Music, University of Leeds
Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT
United Kingdom

The weekend will include performances by celebrated free improviser Steve Beresford, vocalist Phil Minton, sound artist Aleks Kolkowski, members of the Edinburgh-based ensemble Grey Area, and live coding of dot-matrix printers by Alex McLean. There will be an analogue disc-cutting and vocal workshop with Phil Minton and Aleks Kolkowski, and a workshop and film-screening on Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie I.

Schedule of events and how to book workshop places – see below!

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(images: left Steve Beresford, right Phil Minton)

Among Davies’s pieces to be performed will be his experimental music-theatre works ‘The Birth of Live Electronic Music’ and ‘Mobile with Differences’, his late-sixties live electronic and vocal pieces ‘Voice’ and ‘Not to be Loaded with Fish’, his 1980s dot-matrix printer piece ‘Printmusic’, and ‘Galactic Interfaces’ for self-built instruments, tape, and live electronics.

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(images: left Aleks Kolkowski, right Grey Area)

Many of these pieces haven’t been performed publicly in decades; come and hear/see them performed by some of the world’s leading performers of experimental and improvised musics, many of whom have worked with Davies during their distinguished careers.

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(image: Alex McLean)

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Twitter: Follow @DaviesProject #hughdavies

Schedule of Events

Saturday 17 October
2:00pm Disc-cutting and vocal workshop (booking essential)
5:00pm Pre-concert talk and screening of Mikrophonie I
6:00pm Concert: Grey Area, Alex McLean, and guests perform music by Hugh Davies

Sunday 18 October
1:00pm Mikrophonie I workshop (booking essential)
3:30pm Pre-concert talk
4:00pm Concert: Steve Beresford + Phil Minton with Aleks Kolkowski and Sean Williams perform music by Hugh Davies, Steve Beresford, and improvised sets

The workshops are free but booking is essential as places are limited. To book a place at one of the workshops please email Caitlin Mockridge – mcchm@leeds.ac.uk – stating which workshop(s) you would like to book. The concerts and pre-concert talks are free and do not need to be booked.

A more detailed schedule of events, including descriptions of the workshops and concert running orders, will be published very soon – please check again in a few days.

Links

  • Facebook event: click here
  • Concert series webpage: click here 
  • Directions to the venue: click here 
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Review: Grey Area Performs Hugh Davies, Stockhausen, Christian Wolff and Owen Green

The first concert formally attached to this project took place on Saturday 23 May 2015 at the Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, University of Leeds. Grey Area – an Edinburgh-based ensemble specialising in semi-improvised and experimental musics – performed a programme of music by Hugh Davies, as well as a range of other pieces related to Davies’s practice as a performer and instrument-builder. Videos of the performance can be viewed by following the links at the bottom of this post.

Programme

  • Stockhausen – Verbindung (Connection) from Aus den sieben Tagen
  • Hugh Davies – Music for a Single Spring
  • Christian Wolff – Edges
    • INTERVAL
  • Hugh Davies – Quintet
  • Owen Green – Neither the Time nor the Energy
  • Stockhausen – Intensität (Intensity) from Aus den sieben Tagen

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The evening began with a pre-concert talk in which the pieces on the programme were introduced and explained, and – in the second part of the talk – discussed with two of the ensemble’s members. Set against the background of Davies’s work as Stockhausen’s assistant in the mid-1960s, Davies’s self-built instruments, and the interpretation of graphic and text-based scores, were central themes of the discussion.

A video recording of the pre-concert talk can be viewed by following the link at the bottom of this page.

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Davies’s own Quintet is a piece in which the majority of sounds heard are produced via microphone feedback. Four performers hold microphones close to loudspeakers, one in each corner of the room. This causes acoustic feedback, which is controlled by a fifth performer, at the centre of the room, who also has a solo in the middle of the piece.

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Quintet1-ColinBradburne

Quintet2-ColinBradburne

Davies’s Music for a Single Spring is a semi-improvised piece in which, as suggested by the title, all of the sounds are produced by a single metal spring, heavily amplified using magnetic pickups not unlike those found in an electric guitar. In this performance a stereo recording of the piece, originally performed by Davies himself, was diffused via six loudspeakers surrounding the audience.

Three of the pieces on the programme were pieces regularly performed by Davies’s own ensemble, Gentle Fire, in the 1960s and 70s. Stockhausen’s Verbindung and Intensität – both from a set of fifteen pieces entitled Aus den sieben Tagen – have text scores, rather like poems, which the players interpret. Wolff’s Edges, on the other hand, has a graphic score comprising a series of symbols, each with a particular musical meaning. Unlike a conventional musical score, however, the symbols in Wolff’s score are not to be interpreted as direct prescriptions of what should be played. Instead, they are supposed to represent the outer extremes of the musical material; in a sense, then, they give an indication of that which should not played, rather than what should. In the Stockhausen pieces, and in Wolff’s Edges, all of the players work simultaneously from the same score.

Owen Green’s piece Neither the Time nor the Energy was the only new piece on the programme. Played on an amplified cardboard box bowed with a double-bass bow, the piece puts one in mind of Hugh Davies’s many idiosyncratic self-built instruments, which also tended to be constructed from every-day objects and household nicknacks, amplified to reveal their latent musical possibilities.

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Along with Green’s cardboard box (Green is a member of the ensemble) the other instruments used in the performance were violin (Emma Lloyd), laptop (Dave Murray-Rust), double bass (Armin Sturm) and modular synthesizer (Sean Williams). Music for a Single Spring was diffused by James Mooney.

Further information about the pieces, and how they relate to Hugh Davies’s work, can be found in the programme and in the pre-concert talk (links below).

The concert was well-received, with positive comments from both in-person and online viewers. (The concert and talk were streamed live online.) A post-concert survey revealed that many audience members had been fascinated by the relationship between improvised and scored music. One audience member commented: “I had never seen people playing to a score in the context of improvisation.” Green’s use of a cardboard box as a musical instrument also appears to have been a highlight. Another audience member remarked: “I’d never seen a cardboard box being used in a concert like that before. I especially liked it in the Stockhausen.” Almost 40% of audience members responding to the survey commented that this was not the kind of music that they would typically listen to. Gratifyingly, however, all of those audience members also said that they would consider attending a similar concert in the future. This suggests that the Hugh Davies Project might have a role to play in bringing experimental musics to a wider audience.

The next planned event is a weekend of concerts to be held on 17 and 18 October 2015 at University of Leeds. Updates will be forthcoming via this website.

Links

  • Concert programme (PDF): click here.
  • Pre-concert talk (video): click here.
  • Concert, part 1 (video): click here.
  • Concert, part 2 (video): click here.
  • Storify with some Tweets and pictures from the concert: click here.
  • Previous post advertising the concert: click here.

Note: If you watch the concert/talk online (or indeed if you attended the event itself) you are invited to complete the brief audience survey, designed to assess the value of this research project to a wider public. Your response will be warmly appreciated. The survey can be accessed by clicking here.

Image credits: Mark Summers, Colin Bradburne, Tenley Martin

Upcoming concert: Hugh Davies, Stockhausen, Christian Wolff, Owen Green

Grey Area Performs: Hugh Davies, Stockhausen, Christian Wolff, Owen Green

Saturday 23 May 2015, pre-concert talk 6.30pm, concert 7.30pm

Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall
School of Music, University of Leeds
Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 9JT

Video stream: http://livestream.com/uol/davies-stockhausen-wolff-green

Grey Area

A rare opportunity to hear performances of works by Hugh Davies and other avant-garde repertoire from the late 1960s. The programme will include Davies’s Quintet (1967-8) and Music for a Single Spring (1975), Verbindung (Connection) and Intensität (Intensity) from Stockhausen’s Aus den sieben Tagen (From the Seven Days, 1968), Wolff’s Edges (1968), and a more recent work by Owen Green for amplified cardboard box. Many of these works were performed by Davies’s own ensemble, Gentle Fire, in the 1970s. On this occasion they will be performed by Grey Area, an Edinburgh-based ensemble specialising in the use of live electronics and acoustic instruments.

There will be a pre-concert talk at 6.30pm; the performance itself will begin at 7.30pm.

Free admission.

About the Ensemble

Grey Area was formed in 2011, with an initial focus on Stockhausen’s ‘Intuitive Music’ works Aus den sieben Tagen and Für Kommende Zeiten. The group has gone on to work with a range of structured improvisations by composers such as Christian Wolff, Cornelius Cardew, Hugh Davies, and Tim Souster, as well as free improvisation and original and collaborative pieces and processes by members of the ensemble. One of the group’s principal interests is in distributed creativity, and the ideas of authorship, agency, and emergence are never far away from Grey Area’s music practice. Regular players are Shiori Usui, Nikki Moran, Armin Sturm, Owen Green, Emma Lloyd, and Sean Williams, with guest players including Sue MacKenzie and Dave Murray-Rust.

Links

  • Video stream: click here
  • Facebook event: click here 
  • Concert series webpage: click here 
  • Directions to the venue: click here 

Photograph: Yao Hui

Electronic Music in Britain in the 1950s and 60s: James Mooney and Monty Adkins in Conversation

In February 2015, a concert of tape music works by Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram was staged as part of the Electric Spring Festival at University of Huddersfield. The concert was preceded by a public conversation between the curator of the concert, Dr James Mooney, and one of the festival’s artistic directors, Prof Monty Adkins. A complete recording of this pre-concert discussion is now available via SoundCloud: click here.

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The conversation addressed the context of electronic music in Britain in the 1950s and 60s and included discussion of Hugh Davies, his self-built instruments and – in particular – his International Electronic Music Catalog. The tools and techniques of electronic music production in the 50s and 60s were discussed, as was the institutional context of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, where both Derbyshire and Oram worked.

While simultaneously extolling the challenges and contingencies of archival research, Mooney and Adkins discussed the work of some of the key figures in British electronic music history. Oram’s philosophy of electronic music, as expounded in her book An Individual Note: Of Music, Sound and Electronics, was briefly explored, as was her creation of the novel Oramics synthesizer, currently on display at the Science Museum, London (some slides from the exhibition were shown during the talk). Among Derbyshire’s activities to be discussed were her project with David Vorhaus, White Noise, and her work with Brian Hodgson and Peter Zinovieff under the name of Unit Delta Plus. Others working in electronic music in Britain in the 1950s and 60s, such as Roberto Gerhard and Tristram Cary, were also mentioned.

Opening the conversation to questions from the floor revealed a wider range of topics for discussion. What would Delia Derbyshire have made of present-day electronic music making technologies had she been around to see them? Is it, by comparison, ‘too easy’ to make electronic music these days? Addressing these questions led to a broader discussion of how the advent of electronic technologies radically shifted compositional horizons post 1945. Other topics addressed during audience discussions included gender politics, Oram’s secretiveness around the development of the Oramics machine, and the emergence of the British free improvisation scene out of electronic music activities of the 1950s and 60s.

From the conversation and ensuing discussion there emerged a picture of a peculiarly British approach to electronic music: individuals working without institutional support, whose creations – both in terms of music-making machines and compositions – bore little resemblance to their continental European counterparts.

Links:

  • Pre-concert discussion on SoundCloud: click here.
  • An article about the concert itself, on this website: click here.
  • Archive materials on the Electric Spring website: click here.

Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire @ Electric Spring Festival, 18 Feb 2015

Last night, along with Monty Adkins and Pierre-Alexandre Tremblay of the University of Huddersfield, we put on a concert of electronic music works from the 1960s by Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, as part of the Electric Spring festival (http://www.electricspring.co.uk).

Beforehand, I gave a pre-concert talk in the form of a conversation with Monty Adkins. For an hour we discussed electronic music in the 1960s, including Hugh Davies’s work as well as Oram’s and Derbyshire’s. (The talk was recorded, and the recording is available on SoundCloud; see this article for further details.)

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Daphne Oram was Hugh Davies’s mentor and life-long friend. As for Delia Derbyshire, I’m not sure how well Davies knew her, but I know they exchanged letters…

The evening’s programme began with Roberto Gerhard’s DNA in Reflection (Audiomobile No. 2), which accompanies a film by Hans Boye and Anand Sorhabai. This was followed by four pieces each by Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire. The pieces – all of them created between 1960 and 1968 – are all monophonic, and really came alive when diffused on the University’s 48-channel sound system. The full programme, with programme notes, is posted below.

We performed to what looked like a near-capacity audience, and the concert seemed to be very well received. Here are some testimonials from social media:

“Fabulous concert of music by Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram at University of Huddersfield thanks to Monty Adkins, James Mooney and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay.” … “Fabulous concert! Really enjoyed it, James! Thanks for curating.”

There’s not always much to see at electronic music concerts – apart from the Gerhard piece all of the works performed are sound only. Nonetheless, here are a couple of photos, one taken during rehearsals, and one of the audience.

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Here’s a couple of thoughts for sound-diffusion enthusiasts: I didn’t like diffusing mono material when I first tried it. With only one channel duplicated over multiple loudspeakers, the tiniest of fader movements can cause enormous and aggressive shifts in imaging, since what you’re doing is effectively panning in real-time. But, with a bit of practice, it’s possible to achieve some very interesting effects using individual loudspeakers, in a way that wouldn’t really be possible with stereo material. If you’re into sound diffusion, I’d encourage you to try diffusing some mono pieces.

Links

  • An article on the pre-concert discussion, with a link to a recording of it on SoundCloud: click here.
  • Archive materials on the Electric Spring website: click here.

Programme and Notes

  • Roberto Gerhard – DNA in Reflection (Audiomobile no. 2)
  • Derbyshire – Dr Who Theme (2:21)
  • Oram – Contrasts Essonic (8:20)
  • Derbyshire – Blue Veils and Golden Sands (3:33)
  • Oram – Pulse Persephone (4:07)
  • Oram – Rockets in Ursa Major (4:57)
  • Derbyshire – The Delian Mode (5:38)
  • Oram – Four Aspects (8:07)
  • Derbyshire – Towards Tomorrow (1:12)

DNA in Reflection (Audiomobile no. 2) was created in 1963 to a film by Hans Boye and Anand Sorhabai, two doctoral students at the Molecular Research Laboratory, Cambridge. Gerhard referred to the work as an ‘aleatoric soundtrack’ in that the music and image were not tightly synchronised by complimented each other.

Dr Who Theme (2:21) – composed by Ron Grainer, realised by Delia Derbyshire & Dick Mills at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

This piece hardly needs any introduction. Composed by Ron Grainer, it was realised by Delia Derbyshire and Dick Mills at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, using basic tone and noise generators. The piece, like all of the pieces in this concert, was assembled using analogue tape cutting techniques—cutting up segments of tape for each note and sticking them together using white adhesive splicing tape. In this case three monophonic magnetic tape machines were used: one for the bass line, one for the melody, and one for the sweeping, hissing, white-noise sounds. The three tape machines operated independently of each other, with no synchronisation: in order to play back the track, it was necessary to manually start all three tape machines at exactly the same time, hoping for the best that the three tracks would stay in sync.  During the process of putting the tapes together, according to Dick Mills, one note was found to be out of time. In order to identify this so that it could be corrected, it was necessary to unwind the three reels of tape along the lengthy corridors of the Radiophonic Workshop’s Maida Vale studio (formerly an ice rink) and search for the one tell-tale piece of white splicing tape that was out of alignment with the others. This particular version of the Dr Who theme was released as a single, and a slightly adapted version of it was used on air from November 1963—the very first episode—up to 1967.

Contrasts Essonic (8:20) – composed and realised by Daphne Oram

This is the first concert piece based on Oramics drawn sound, that is, the first piece created using Oram’s pioneering ‘Oramics’ machine (see below). The version presented here is the ‘tape only’ version, i.e. it does not include any element of live, instrumental performance. The piece, however, also exists as a version with piano (in collaboration with Ivor Walsworth). The sounds of the Oramics synthesizer can easily be identified as the whistling, floaty-sounding pitched sounds that first occur about four minutes into the piece. Contrasts Essonic was first performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, in 1969.

Blue Veils and Golden Sands (3:33) – composed and realised by Delia Derbyshire

This piece was originally composed for a 1968 ‘World About Us’ documentary entitled ‘The Last Caravans’, about the nomadic Berbers / Tuareg and their camels in the Sahara Desert. The principal sound sources were a recording of Derbyshire’s voice and the ringing, when struck, of an old green aluminium lamp shade. As Derbyshire said, ‘the camels rode off into the sunset with my voice in their hooves and green lamp shades on their backs.’ The piece was later used as incidental music in the Dr Who serial ‘Inferno’, broadcast in 1970.

Pulse Persephone (4:07) – composed and realised by Daphne Oram

One of Oram’s most renowned compositions, Pulse Persephone was completed and performed at the ‘Treasures of the Commonwealth’ exhibition at Burlington House, London, 1965. Oram constructed this piece from individual sounds from various countries in the commonwealth, including steel pan and African drums and flutes which were laid over a deep pulsing bass sound. The piece was later used for a ballet, ‘Alpha Omega.’

Rockets in Ursa Major (4:57) – composed and realised by Daphne Oram

This piece was composed as incidental music for a play by Fred Hoyle, performed at the Mermaid Theatre, London, in 1962. In contrast with France and Germany, where the experimental electronic music activities of the late 1940s and 1950s were officially endorsed by state radio and television stations, there was no such institutional support for electronic music activities In Great Britain. Hence, much early electronic music was ‘applied’—composed as incidental music for films, plays, and TV and radio programmes.

The Delian Mode (5:38) – composed and realised by Delia Derbyshire

Derbyshire generally composed music of a contemplative, ethereal atmosphere with interwoven layers of sustained tones, and sparse textures combined with precise temporal placement of looped rhythmic patterns. She called her own compositional style ‘music to watch sculpture by,’ and The Delian Mode, composed at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, fits that description rather well. Although it stands perfectly well as a composition in its own right, it was used—along with Blue Veils and Golden Sands—as incidental music in the Dr Who serial ‘Inferno.’ The piece also provides the title of a 2009 documentary, directed by Kara Blake, that explores Derbyshire’s life and work.

Four Aspects (8:07) – composed and realised by Daphne Oram

This is Daphne Oram’s first electronic concert piece, performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1960. The piece has a simple ABA code form, and is a study in electronic tone colour, from pure tones to abundant complexity. The compositional techniques used are generally simple, and the harmonies heard are built on the lower frequencies of the harmonic series, resulting in much tonic/dominant chording. In 1960 electronic music was not readily accepted, particularly in conservative Great Britain, and this piece was specifically designed to provide a simple bridge with conventional, instrumental music.

Towards Tomorrow (1:12) – composed and realised by Delia Derbyshire

We started with a theme tune and we finish with a theme tune. This was written for a TV series with the same title that was first broadcast on 7th December 1967. It is described by one online commentator as ‘a perfect subversion of a classic brave-new-world dynamism phrase. The “tomorrow” I imagine here is the antithesis of that which the BBC in the 1960s made much play of promoting to its audience; instead, it could easily be some kind of dystopia, a state of decay…’

Composer Biographies

Daphne Oram (1925 – 2003), English composer, technician and inventor, was born in Devizes, Wiltshire. Educated at Sherborne School for Girls, she turned down a place at the Royal College of Music in order to work at the BBC as a music balancer for classical musical broadcasts. A pioneer in integrating music and technology, she began to experiment with sound manipulation in 1944. In 1957 she established a radiophonic unit at the BBC and was one of the directors of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop when it opened in 1958. Later that year she left the BBC and set up her own studio in Kent. Her experiments in converting graphic information into sound led to the development of her Oramics system, a photoelectric digital/analogue composition machine that gives the composer control of subtle nuances in all parameters (including amplitude, envelope shaping, rhythm, timbre control, microtonal pitch and vibrato), which are drawn onto ten parallel tracks of 35mm film. Oram saw music technology’s access to an immediate and complete sound world as a liberatory force, particularly for women. In 1990 she wrote about the home computer: ‘How exciting for women to be present at its birth pangs, ready to help it evolve to maturity in the world of arts. To evolve as a true and practical instrument for conveying women’s inner thoughts, just as the novel did nearly two centuries ago.’

Delia Derbyshire (1937–2001), English composer and sound engineer, was born in Coventry. She studied mathematics and music at Girton College, Cambridge University (1958), alongside Jonathan Harvey, with whom she visited the Xenakis-designed Philips Pavilion at the Brussels Exposition Universelle in 1958. She came to the BBC in 1960 as a trainee Studio Manager, and began work at the Radiophonic Workshop in 1962, where she remained for eleven years. She quickly developed a reputation as one of the Radiophonic Workshop’s most prolific and inventive creators, composing some 210 piece for various radio and television dramas and features. She composed music for TV and radio jingles, including Tomorrow’s World, Discovery and Omnibus, and is most well known for her electronic realisation of Ron Grainer’s music score for the Dr Who theme tune. She left the BBC in 1973 and put aside composition for many years, until the late 1990s when she joined electronic musician Peter Kember (also known as Sonic Boom) on a number of project until her death in 2001. She has a strong posthumous reputation as a pioneer in electronic music-making and is credited by many contemporary popular artists, including Aphex Twin and the Chemical Brothers.