Foghorn Requiem

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There used to be more than a hundred foghorns stationed around the British Isles but now there are fewer than 30. The BBC’s arts correspondent Rebecca Jones reports that a special requiem has been written which will be performed by ships at sea, three brass bands on the shore and the Souter Lighthouse foghorn near South Shields to mark the demise of the foghorn.
Listen to the BBC Radio 4 clip here

Update: please read Robin The Fog’s excellent account of the performance and listen to recordings here.

Music For Fashion Show

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Blog post from level 2 AP student Alexandra O’Brien – pictured centre with lecturers Maria Manning and Dagmara Childs.

We were asked by the Fashion department to create original music for the third year fashion student’s final showcase, which was held in the architecture building. We were given a brief with ideas of what they wanted. When it came to writing the music I wanted to capture the feel of the architecture building, as it’s an arty and open space. I took inspiration from Brian Eno to begin with and crafted an ambient soundscape that builds up with percussion and glitched vocals. For the rest of the tracks I took inspiration from artists like Bonobo and Tycho as I wanted to create quite laid back tracks that wouldn’t distract from the fashion show itself. Overall I really enjoyed the experience. It was hard work at times and a lot of hours went into to it but the clients were very pleased. It’s given me confidence in my compositional skill but also in composing to a brief and for a client.

Losing My Minor Key – REM remixed

I came across this today (apologies to Dave McSherry who currently has this song as an ‘earworm’ in his head), but I was amazed at the psychological difference turning this song into a major key makes.

Recently produced by Major Scaled – a version of REM’s ‘Losing my religion’, remixed in Major Scale
https://www.facebook.com/MajorScaledTv

This artists work is being removed by major labels so you may not get to hear this for long….

this is from the vimeo post – http://vimeo.com/57685359

“Someone has gone to the trouble (I don’t know how but would suspect using Melodyne DNA or somesuch) of processing REM’s minor-scale downer hit ‘Losing My Religion’ so that all the minor notes are now major. When I followed the link I thought it’d be a cover, but no, it’s the original, processed. It’s uncanny – the song is just as familiar as always but the impact is utterly different. Kind of like finding a colour print of a film you’d only known in black and white, or seeing Garfield minus Garfield for the first time. I like it.”

Major Scaled #2 : REM – “Recovering My Religion” from major scaled on Vimeo.

you can read more here

If Chimes Could Whisper – The Strange Tale of the Glass Armonica

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Dame Evelyn Glennie celebrates the 250th birthday of one of the most unusual of all musical instruments, the Glass Armonica, premiered by Benjamin Franklin in 1762. She tries out the working instrument at the Benjamin Franklin House in London, sees an original example in the Horniman Museum, and discovers the repertoire written for it by Mozart, Hasse and Donizetti. On the way, she encounters madness and mental illness, reveals one of the world’s first female virtuosi, Marianne Davies, and meets the man responsible for the present day revival of this remarkable instrument, Thomas Bloch.

Listen to the BBC Radio 3 programme here

Bush House Soundscapes


The closure of Bush House, home to the BBC World Service since December 1940, has provoked two wonderful soundscape projects.

Firstly, World Service studio manager Robin The Fog used recordings made in Bush House at night to create The Ghosts of Bush. “Here, atmospheric noises are slowed down and looped, with the help of some of the World Service’s ancient reel-to-reels, to form a piece of beautiful, warm spatial exploration. Chords swell and harmonic patterns emerge out of the building’s crepuscular creaking or Robin’s whistling, using the labyrinthine Portland stone corridors of the building, at one time the most expensive in the world, as a giant reverb tank.” (The Quietus, 2012).

Secondly, Creative Director of the re-launched Radiophonic Workshop Matthew Herbert created a soundscape for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Listen to Matthew discussing his Sonic Tribute To Bush House here
Listen/download The Ghosts of Bush here

Music and Technology


Music has always evolved with technology but have the advances always been beneficial?

With news of the forthcoming release of an album entirely composed by a computer what will be left of the creative process for musicians?

Many other musicians have used the latest technology to ‘push the outside of the envelope’ of music, creating sounds and ways of listening previously unknown to man.

In a special edition of Click from the BBC Radio Theatre, presenter Gareth Mitchel and technology specialist Bill Thompson, focus on music and technology.

They are joined by a panel of experts, including the soundscape artist, Martyn Ware – founder member of The Human League and Heaven 17; the technophile composer Alexis Kirke, who has been called “the Philip K Dick of contemporary music”; and the experimenting pianist Sarah Nicolls, who plays on her own ‘Inside-Out Piano’ and triggers music via sensors on her muscles.

Listen to the programme here

Tales From The Bridge – Martyn Ware


At level 1, one of the first assessment tasks I ask students to undertake is the creation of a soundscape. However, for some, the very notion of the soundscape is unfamiliar. Soundscapes can take many different forms – some can be very challenging for the listener/audience.

Whilst listening to Radio 4 this morning, I heard a short interview with Martyn Ware (The Human League, Heaven 17) in which he explains the concept behind his Tales From The Bridge soundscape currently installed at London’s Millennium Bridge. This is an excellent example of an accessible approach to the creation of a soundscape and hopefully one which will inspire some of our students’ creativity.

Listen to the clip here

John Cage’s 4’33” and other ‘daft’ compositions

It’s the 60th anniversary of the creation of John Cage’s Four Minutes, Thirty Three Seconds. In BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Evan Davis asks “Is it a profound statement about the concept of music or the silliest composition ever?”

Nicola Stanbridge considers some groundbreaking pieces including Stockhausen’s Helicopter String Quartet and La Monte Young’s piece for Terry Riley which involves pushing a piano into a wall until you exhaust yourself.

Listen to the clip here

A Sound British Adventure

Comedian Stewart Lee is passionate about electronic music and he take us on a remarkable musical journey. We discover how, after the Second World War, a small group of electronic pioneers began tinkering with their army surplus kit to create new sounds and music.

Tristram Cary started the first electronic music studio in Britain but, while France, Germany, Italy and the USA had lavishly funded research centres, British electronic music remained the preserve of boffins on a budget.

As the programme reveals, this make do and mend approach prevailed long after austerity Britain had given way to the swinging 60s, with Peter Zinovieff developing EMS synthesizers from a shed at the bottom of his garden in Putney. (Paul McCartney put on his wellies and took a look). Zinovieff is interviewed about his experiments in sound.

Unsurprisingly, the electronic community in Britain was a small, intimate group and joining Cary and Zinovieff was Daphne Oram, who devoted decades to developing a ‘drawn sound’ electronic composition system that never really quite worked.

Brian Hodgson tells us about 1960s experimental and electronic festivals, including The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave (1967) at which The Beatles’ electronic piece Carnival Of Light had its only public airing. We shall also hear how the radiophonic workshop broke new musical ground with Dr. Who.

Experts in the history of electronic music, including author and musician Mark Ayers and Goldsmith College lecturer in computer studies Dr. Michael Griegson give the boffins’ view and Portishead’s Adrian Utley explains why the early forays in electronics are still relevant today.

Produced by John Sugar
A Sugar Production for BBC Radio 4.

Listen to the programme here

Variations – the history of appropriative collage in music


I’ve been listening to this excellent 8 part series recently. Variations covers the history of appropriative collage in music i.e. using other people’s music in your own compositions – something I’ve done many times in my musical career. The series begins with examples from 1908, examines Musique Concrete of the 40s, the Avant Garde and experimental music of the 50s and 60s to sampling and remixing of the 80s and beyond.

The series investigates the whole notion of authorship. Indeed, “The idea of a completely original piece of music is a fairly recent one. Music was passed on through sound, through generations, even for centuries after the invention of written music. Only gradually, and centuries after the implementation of written notation, did it become standard practice for a composer to sign his name to a piece of music and claim it entirely as his own, giving rise to the cult of the individual composer.” (Leidecker, 2008).

The series is available as a free podcast from RWM’s website (under the heading Curatorial). I highly recommend it to our Audio Production students or, indeed, anyone with an interest in society’s experience of music.