A Sustainable Orchestra – Nevis Ensemble

May 14, 2020 in awards 2020 blog, featured by mwhiteside

The climate crisis is complex. At times overwhelmingly so. For some, its effects can feel far off. Something like COVID-19 feels very real and immediate, but climate change can feel unrelated to our personal circumstances. A bridge that will be crossed when we get there. But we’ve reached that bridge now. Actually, many years ago. In fact, that bridge is going to lead us to a future that is very different from the world we know. The reality is scary, but fear doesn’t enact positive change. And neither does enforced change. It is too late to be passengers. Real societal change must happen from both within and above, at all levels.

But how can music help to stimulate a conversation? Connect us with our natural world? Make change? I think music, art and culture occupies a really special space when it comes to creating change. A way of communicating. A vital exchange. A means to inspire hearts and minds. It features throughout our daily lives. Our connection and reliance on it to express human emotion is universal. It can move us and excite us. Help us and challenge us. We wouldn’t be human without music. Nevis Ensemble is an orchestra that brings music to everyone everywhere, reaching people from all aspects of our society. When music is such a universal language, I think this puts us in a unique position to communicate a message and start conversations.

In my new role as Sustainability Manager, I have been tasked with overseeing the practical elements of running a sustainable orchestra. There is always more we can be doing, but over the last couple of years we’ve taken a big step in the right direction. Our main tour to the Outer Hebrides last summer began with a massive orchestral bake-off to stock up with snacks fueling us for the 40 odd concerts ahead of us. We equipped all our musicians with reusable water bottles and keep-cups, helping them adhere to our ‘no plastic water bottles on the bus’ rule. Before we set out on tour, we try to source local food from both our departure and destination points as much as possible, something I am hoping to develop further. We also recycle all waste when we are on tour. I’m not sure how happy the musicians were to be driving around significant parts of the Outer Hebrides with a bucket full of banana skins… But I really hope that the practices we follow when on tour inspire our musicians to make changes in their own lives, away from Nevis Ensemble.

Our tour bus is our biggest contributor to carbon emissions, but doing 40 concerts within a week or so, travelling to our audiences, and moving in a large circle means each concert has a relatively low carbon footprint. I am soon going to be looking into ways we can reduce this even further. Of course, being diligent recyclers, zero wasters or plastic free doesn’t satisfy our collective responsibility to act on climate change. But I truly believe that we need music more than ever. And we need to take music to people to inspire action and create change.

Being a sustainable orchestra isn’t just about running ourselves in a sustainable way. I will also be working with our Chief Executive (Jamie Munn) and Artistic Directors (Holly Mathieson and Jon Hargreaves) to find new ways we can address the climate emergency in our artistic output. As part of the 2020 Year of Coasts and Waters, Nevis Ensemble had several projects planned, or just starting to get underway, all around Scotland. Members of the orchestra were going to be working with communities on the Isle of Eigg, Aberdeen, Saltcoats and Stevenston, and Dunbar, along with composers from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, to create new orchestral music inspired by the relationship of each place with the sea.

Unfortunately, all of these projects have been postponed due to COVID-19, but we’re continuing to celebrate Scotland’s rivers, lochs, beaches and islands through a new Lochans project (lochans being small lochs, and these being mini compositions). Each of the composers working on the YCW2020 projects, as well as an additional six composers, have been asked to write a short piece for solo instrument, drawing inspiration from Scotland’s coasts and waters with material submitted by the public and our community partners. Initially these will be shared online, but also included in our programming when we’re touring again. I think music which engages with the natural world like this can be really valuable in reaching our emotional senses, reminding us of the beauty of the natural world which we are now losing. Since the very first musical sounds were made thousands of years ago, music has been inspired by and has strived to reflect our natural environments. Yet we now face an increase in huge natural disasters and a heightened depletion and loss of this nature. Can music remind us of the importance of and threat to our natural world? What will happen to our music without a natural world to inspire it?

As a personal project, and thanks to the support of Nevis Ensemble, I am soon going to be launching a new podcast. I will invite an individual to join me for an informal chat about the climate emergency, to hear their personal thoughts and stories, and to listen to and discuss a selection of music relating to our natural world and climate crisis. So often, the voices we hear on the topic of the climate emergency are those of politicians, activists and scientists. Through this podcast I hope to create a platform to share the thoughts and stories of individuals and members of society who are perhaps not heard in relation to the climate crisis. But more than that, I hope to start a discussion – a discussion that we all need to be having. Through music, to draw the threads together, make the facts more accessible, the voices more visible – to connect people and nature.

Our earth is severely suffering. We’re severely suffering. It’s too late to stop it. But at least we can slow it. We can find positives in the challenges. Find new ways of existence. The truth of the situation is that we must, all of us, take into consideration the climate emergency in everything we do. On a practical level, but also on an artistic level. I think we have a responsibility as musicians, as artists, to translate and humanise the facts. To make the overwhelming truth feel more understandable. Live performance is a meeting point, an exchange, the sharing of stories and ideas. In our hands and hearts we hold a very precious thing. A thing that can offer a personal experience, stimulate an emotional response, and reaches us all. It can inspire our audiences, our communities, our colleagues, our families. It can make change.

Georgina MacDonell Finlayson (Nevis Ensemble, Sustainability Manager)

Nevis Ensemble won the Environmental Sustainablity award at the Scottish Awards for New Music 2020.

Tide Times and sound mapping: experiencing the sounds of our environments – TImothy Cooper

April 14, 2020 in awards 2020 blog, featured by mwhiteside

In this blog I’m going to talk a little bit about a work that would be impossible to make right now, Tide Times, by Laura Bissell and I and a work that is growing out of the lockdown conditions necessary for the suppression of Covid-19, Pete Stollery’s Covid-19 Sound map.

Tide Times

In 2018 Laura and I worked to create a site responsive, experiential work made for Cramond Island. Situated in the Firth of Forth on the east coast of Scotland, the Island is connected to mainland Scotland, just north of Edinburgh, via a causeway that is crossable twice daily. During the creative process we visited Cramond five times between April and August in 2018.

Figure 1 Looking back along the causeway to the mainland from Cramond island

Figure 2 Military defenses on the Cramond causeway

The work in its original form consisted of three elements:

  1. ‘Treasure chests’ hidden on the island containing invitations to play, make and explore. These invite the audience members to take part in activities like writing a poem on a stone, writing a message in a bottle and writing messages on the beach. This video shows visitors responding to invitations in the ‘treasure chests’.

Figure 3 A ‘treasure chest’ nestled in a nook on Cramond Island

Figure 4 A ‘treasure chest’ with invitation printed in the lid

  1. Audio tracks made up of recordings of texts written by Laura and Tim, recordings of texts found on the island, and sounds recorded on the island. These were manipulated and reshaped into compositions. The audio works used ambient recordings from various locations on the island that I combined with recordings of objects we found there (like the rusty metal in the image below). The video below documents excerpts from the audio works with videos of Tide Times visitors exploring the island

Figure 5 Tim ‘playing’ rusted metal wire, it sounded satisfyingly crunchy.

  1. A map detailing the locations of the treasure chests and the areas the audio tracks correspond to. The idea was for the visitors to experience specific audio works and interactive works in the parts of the islands that inspired them, sharing our experience.

Figure 7 Tide Times map

Our intent in making Tide Times was to invite a deep exploration of the Island. Through reflecting on our own experiences via the audio works we wanted to share what we found. We didn’t want to tell the visitors what they should find but to suggest how they might playfully explore the island.

Looking back on this creative process I feel really lucky to have spent this time with a place in this way. It was a really beautiful way in to making the piece and I really feel like I look and listen to the world differently having made it. We chose Cramond Island not for any particular historical significance; similarly it doesn’t have any outstanding features that would see it find its way into books about the most spectacular Scottish landscapes. We chose Cramond because it had a causeway and it was local enough to visit several times. We went to Cramond looking to discover its beauty and its charm and the island gave this back to us abundantly. In making the work Laura and I often spoke about Cramond as though it was a third voice in our collaboration and we both hope that Cramond’s voice shines through our work in a beauty that is there to be read by the visitor not simply shown by us.

If you want to experience Tide Times once lockdown has eased then our website has all of the audio tracks and the invitations presented online.

www.tidetimescramond.wordpress.com

Covid-19 Sound Map

 We were asked in the brief from NMS for writing these blogs to discuss works by other artists from outwith Scotland, but I hope that no one will object too strongly to me discussing Pete Stollery’s Covid-19 Sound Map. Pete is an electroacoustic composer based in Aberdeenshire, who will be known to many NMS members and supporters. Much of Pete’s work going back to the 1980s has used field recordings in some form or other and he has been interested in mapping sounds though the Gordon Soundscape and Hilton Soundscape projects.

Still Voices, a beautiful piece emerging out of the Gordon Soundscape project, uses disappearing sounds from the Glendronach Distillery from its transition from coal firing to a more ecological process. Pete worked with the distillery staff to capture sounds (both ‘loved and not so loved’) that would disappear during this operational change. Pete says that he was ‘intrigued by the potential power that I have as a composer working with technology and fixed media to conserve sounds which will soon no longer exist.’ Pete emphasises that term ‘fixed’, by recording we are fixing sounds, giving them a permanence that is not afforded by other more ephemeral art forms. But we must be careful, recording technologies don’t simply capture sounds; the microphones re-shape them, giving them a new and different character. The act of listening to a recorded sound away from its original context also allows us to attend to it in a different way, listening via loudspeakers mediating the way that we experience those sounds. It is in the play created by these relationships between sound, recording, manipulation and playback that much of Pete’s compositional work finds its aesthetic beauty. He tends to create fascinating ambiguities between his source sounds and the more surreal soundworlds that his electroacoustic works occupy. You can hear an excerpt from Still Voices on this page of Pete’s website or the complete work on his fantastic CD Scénes on the Emprintes Digitales label.

In these previous works there are elements of preservation and nostalgia and of making beautiful. Pete describes the soundcape projects as ‘sound romance’; a term borrowed from Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer.  The Covid-19 sound map has a different focus. It is not romanticising lost sounds, but seeks to capture soundscapes that are changed by the effects of the virus. On the sound map you will find many references to an absence of sounds like cars or planes and the changes to sounds in specific locations. I particularly liked the sound and story of a particular lift at Inverclyde Hospital that the sound recordist had never noticed because it is usually filled with people. Another particular recording reveals the changing nature sounds of Wythenshawe Park where you can hear a woodpecker that would normally be overpowered by car sounds. This recording ends with a sound of delight, presumably from the sound recordist, there is a sense of surprise at the unfamiliar sound of the bird that I find quite moving. So perhaps the Covid-19 Sound Map is a celebration of a new-sonic-normal where human made sounds polluting the audible landscape are disappearing.

I don’t want to speculate on how the sound map will be remembered in either the short term or the long term. But the provocation it makes to listen and to observe is a beautiful invitation to attend to one of the senses that we perhaps ordinarily neglect. Pete is asking us to listen and to reflect upon the world of sound around us, contemplating and meditating upon them and opening our ears to the wonder of listening.

Having made some recordings I’d definitely encourage you to make some recordings on your phone (or any recording device you have) and send them to covid19soundmap@gmail.com. It is a wonderfully meditative experience.

Pete’s full instructions:

I’m going to build a sound map on Google Earth to capture sonic environments which have changed as a result of governments’ actions around the world to curb the spread of the virus. Examples might include recordings of empty city centres, military vehicles in streets, tannoy announcements, birdsong which can now be heard, etc.

Please send sounds (no more than 30″ in length) to covid19soundmap@gmail.com and if they’re large (no more than 20Mb please as downloads in rural Aberdeenshire are not fast at the moment!), send via a service such as WeTransfer. Please also send some text (no more than 50 words) about the sound (and how it has changed under COVID-19 constraints) and the location where you recorded it (either coordinates or describe the location).

Please take into account your own health and safety, as well as that of others, when making recordings and only record sounds during your daily permitted outing. Please follow government advice and stay safe.

Please share widely.

Websites:

www.timothy-cooper.co.uk

https://theseatheseathesea.wordpress.com/ (Laura Bissell)

https://homepages.abdn.ac.uk/wae006/petestollery.com/en/ (Pete Stollery)

Explore Alastair White’s fashion-opera ROBE in this collection of essays, films and excerpts

April 10, 2020 in All Opportunities, awards 2020 blog, featured, guest blog by mwhiteside

 

 

 

New Vibe: A Scottish Chamber Orchestra project for teenagers with diagnosed mental health issues, in partnership with NHS Lothian’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS)

April 9, 2020 in All Opportunities, awards 2020 blog, featured by mwhiteside

            I valued the therapeutic nature of music making and being able to see the    young people connect with music and through this, themselves and each           other. CAMHS Therapist, 2020

 

Music can motivate, comfort or inspire us. We can use it to create meaning, to express our deepest feelings without having to use words, and to connect with others and with ourselves. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Creative Learning projects, which take place right across Scotland, harness these qualities to create a positive impact, reaching over 10,000 people every year in schools, hospitals, care homes, community centres and arts venues. Through my role as Creative Learning Director I see at first-hand the benefits that inclusive music-making can have for our health and wellbeing, and witness how music-making in a welcoming and safe environment can support people with a wide range of social, emotional or practical needs and can engage those who feel marginalised and isolated.

We know that mental ill-health is one of the most challenging issues we face as a society. It has been estimated that around one in ten children and young people aged between 5 and 16 years old in Scotland have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem (https://www.seemescotland.org), and over the past couple of years we have been exploring what we can do to respond to this issue – resulting in 2019 in the launch of New Vibe, a project for teenagers with diagnosed mental health issues.

Developed in partnership with NHS Lothian’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), and supported by our Creative Learning partner Baillie Gifford, New Vibe aims to provide a safe space for young people currently using the CAMHS service to feel heard, supported, and encouraged to develop musically and socially. The project builds on the work of SCO Vibe, our free open access programme which since 2013 has brought together hundreds of participants aged 11-18 in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. A recent report by Youth Music supports our longstanding view that music is essential in young people’s lives and can significantly improve their wellbeing (https://www.youthmusic.org.uk/music-powerful-contributor-young-people-wellbeing), and SCO Vibe has demonstrated numerous positive outcomes for participants such as increased confidence and self-esteem, social connection, creativity and musical skill.  We wanted to build on SCO Vibe’s practice to create an environment in which young people working with CAMHS could benefit from expertly supported musical activities – gaining not just from the experience and expertise of the musicians and artists leading the workshops, but also, and just as importantly, from the ethos of inclusiveness and respect that underpins all our projects.

            We were blown away by the positive impact that ‘New Vibe’ has had on the young people who took part. CAMHS Therapist, 2019

 

The inaugural three-day New Vibe course took place in October 2019, with a follow-up course in February 2020. Led by animateur and guitarist Paul Griffiths, artistic director of SCO Vibe, with an experienced team of musicians and with CAMHS therapists taking part in the music-making and supporting the participants throughout. We also brought in peer mentors who had been part of previous SCO Vibe courses and who really helped to create a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. They were able to “support group cohesion and confidence amongst the young people referred to the project” and were “very useful at breaking the ice for the CAMHS young people” (CAMHS Therapists, 2020)

The young people who took part were diagnosed with moderate to severe mental health issues and were referred into the project by CAMHS. No particular musical expertise was required, and participants arrived with a range of skills and a variety of musical interests. They worked with the therapists to set and review personal goal-based outcomes for the project.

            … the young people gained various things from the project, depending on their      goals, e.g. for some it was about tolerating a group music-making            environment, for some it was about building confidence in themselves and their abilities and for some it was about exploring new sounds, instruments   and collaborating musically with others. The young people all contributed    ideas… whether verbally or through their playing, and all reported feeling like           they had learned/enjoyed/moved closer to achieving their goals as a result of   attending. CAMHS Therapist, 2020

 

            I met new people here and that will help with moving schools. Participant, 2019

 

            It’s a really fun and exciting way to express yourself. Participant, 2019

 

We invested considerable time into training for the New Vibe project, working with the CAMHS team to understand the ways in which we might need to adapt our usual practice for young people with particular mental health issues and preparing a variety of musical strategies for use with the whole group and in smaller ensembles. The partnership with CAMHS enables us to make some very specific adaptations for individuals to ensure that they are supported to take part in the project and helps the musicians to focus on beneficial musical strategies. Given the severity of the issues that some of the young people are living with, it has been incredibly rewarding to see how they have flourished during the project and have come together as a group of musicians who enjoy creating and playing together, confident to invite family members to listen in, and looking just like any group of young people having fun.

            It was lovely to see how much the music helped some of the participants to open up and enjoy themselves. SCO Musician, 2020

            Fun, friendly, inclusive. Participant, 2019

 

            … all ideas are accepted and it’s very inclusive and a nice experience because        everyone is very friendly. Participant, 2019

 

We plan to continue the New Vibe project over the coming years and to develop an additional pathway for participants to join our SCO Vibe project, where they will meet other young musicians and become part of the wider SCO Vibe family on their journey to recovery.

            I would like to see ‘New Vibe’ be considered and recognised across CAMHS as       a highly effective therapeutic intervention, particularly as part of transitional work carried out with young people (transitions from intensive CAMHS support      to less intensive, transitions from CAMHS to adult services and transitions out of CAMHS as a young person). CAMHS Therapist, 2020

In order to protect the privacy of our participants we are not able to show images of New Vibe, but you can enjoy a short video featuring a song created at another recent SCO VIBE project

You will find further information and videos on our website:

https://www.sco.org.uk/latest/1654-sco-vibe-all-you-need-to-know

https://www.sco.org.uk/creative-learning/current-projects/307-sco-vibe

https://www.sco.org.uk/latest/1691-60-seconds-with-paul-griffiths

 

 

A while ago I attended a presentation by members of the STROKESTRA team and was really struck by the openness of the clinicians and musicians who had come together to create this innovative project. I was inspired by the way they had brought together and applied their different knowledge and skill sets, developing very specific musical activities to support recovery for individual patients, but in a group setting which also conferred the many benefits of collaborative music-making to the patients, family members and staff who took part. This project is a good example of what can happen when experts from different spheres come together with creativity and curiosity to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

STROKESTRA® is a pioneering stroke rehabilitation programme that harnesses the power of group creative music-making alongside professional musicians and clinicians to drive patient-led recovery in stroke patients and their carers. The programme was developed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) in partnership with Hull Integrated Community Stroke Service, part of City Health Care Partnership, and utilises a range of specially adapted musical techniques to address the complex needs of stroke survivors and their carers. From physical rehabilitation work involving functional movement, grasp and mobility to social integration supporting confidence-building, communication and renewed sense of self, the programme supports patients and their carers to work towards rehabilitation holistically, setting and meeting goals that matter to them.

https://www.rpo.co.uk/rpo-resound/strokestra

Cathie Boyd – Cryptic

April 3, 2020 in awards 2020 blog, featured by mwhiteside

Since founding Cryptic in 1994 and up until the beginning of 2019, I had the pleasure to collaborate with, commission, programme and support the development of 966 artists; from choirs, music ensembles, solo instrumentalists and singers, to designers, film and theatre makers, all creating innovative, boundary-crossing work with music at its heart. Cryptic is known for its ambition and so, with the arrival of our 25th anniversary, my team and I set a target to have supported a minimum of 1000 artists by the end of this milestone year. I am pleased that thanks to the successes of our three, regular programmes of work, Cryptic Artists, Cryptic Nights and Sonica Glasgow, we surpassed this, taking our total to 1068 artists!

Here are some of my highlights…

Cryptic Artists, established in 2011, nurtures and develops mid-career music, sound and multimedia artists. Last year saw two of our roster come together for the first time, with a joint commission for musician and composer, Alex Smoke and visual artist, Heather Lander, to create a “compelling, thoroughly absorbing” (The Quietus) live audiovisual performance and installation, Primordial Waters, which premiered at Sonica Glasgow 2019. Following a 2018 residency with long-term partners, The Grand Theatre, Groningen, sound and visual artist Robbie Thomson collaborated with Glasgow-based musician, SUE ZUKI on Rottinghuis, a powerful live performance producing “a tense, dripping sludge of industrial techno” (The Wire).

 

Audiovisual artist and composer, Kathy Hinde developed her “brilliant study of the dissemination of language in our increasingly tech-savvy planet” (The List), Twittering Machines whilst undertaking a Cryptic Cove Park Residency, followed by performances at MUTEK Montréal and Sonica Glasgow 2019. Newest addition, electronic sound and visual artist, performer, academic and cinematic composer, Ela Orleans was commissioned and premiered her multi-instrumental solo show, Night Voyager, exploring the “emotional journey and the wider meaning of the lunar trip” (The National) by pairing footage from the 1969 NASA Archive with live synthesizer, theremin, violin and voice. She has since officially joined our roster of Cryptic Artists.

 

Also enjoying its own celebration, Cryptic Nights, our annual open call ‘talent spotter’ and “series of experimental one-night stands” (The List) for emerging, Scottish-based artists turned 10. This allowed Aberdeen-based, Italian duo, Silent Chaos the opportunity to develop and perform their experimental audiovisual project combining drones, drums and continuously changing and glitching visuals, Origins; we worked with Drake Music Scotland’s iPad Quartet to give insight into the multiple perspectives of their performers using live camera capture, and composer, Jules Rawlinson added a live electronic score and sound design to archival material from pioneering scientific filmmaker Eric Lucey in Interval and Instance.

 

Sonica, Glasgow’s lovingly leftfield festival of audiovisual art and performance” (The Scotsman) saw us support more Scottish talent than in previous editions, selecting and giving a high-profile, international platform to 25 local acts through commissions, direct and open-call programming. Aside from our Cryptic Artists, the festival saw artist, Katie J. Anderson develop Sound Horn, her outdoor installation combining choral notes and spoken word parts for Pollok House’s Parterre Garden, and Daniel Magee, aka musician and producer, Lo Kindre collaborated with Catalonia’s Alba G. Corrall on a new live audiovisual performance, with all three of these artists having participated in our Cryptic Cove Park Residency.

 

Through open call and in partnership with the Scottish Alternative Music Awards, we curated a night of new music for a new venue, Greenock’s Tobacco Warehouse, featuring multi-instrumentalist, Callum Easter, queer feminist provocateur, KLEFT and post-rock pop outfit, Rev Magnetic amongst others. Composer Ceylan Hay was selected as the guest performer for Argentinian, Nicolás Varchausky’s Money Desk and for what is now a signature site of the festival, artist, filmmaker and musician, Luke Fowler developed his Gourd Composition #2 for two live performances celebrating not an individual, but an overlooked genre of musical instrument, at the Hamilton Mausoleum.

 

Last but not least, Cryptic is fortunate to contribute a second blog post specific to Below the Blanket, our series of new artworks installed throughout the Royal Botanic Garden during the 2019 Edinburgh Festivals and inspired by one of Scotland’s most extraordinary and unsung natural features, The Flow Country. But I have to give special mention for one work in particular, Malcolm Lindsay’s choral composition, which we commissioned for recording and live performance by the Dunedin Consort. This was a real passion project for me, having collaborated with world-renowned choirs throughout my career and the fact that this piece had a very personal connection to the composer, made it all the more special. Lindsay, who grew up in Caithness, recalled stories of the Flow Country from his youth, and his score and libretto drew on the emotional resonance of this unique area, using the Latin names of native plants, animals and birds to create an ethereal hymn to this unique environment. A true testament to the quality of his writing, I was thrilled that in addition to its live premiere, this “captivating music… as strange and beautiful as the place that inspired it” (The Arts Desk), received an exclusive first play on BBC Radio 3.

As we begin an exciting new chapter, where our commitment to continue nurturing creative talent matters now more than ever, I am excited to widen the music genres which we support and present. These, and all our musicians, have created fantastic works which deserve to be seen far and wide. I am fortunate to travel extensively and to have many opportunities to promote our home-grown talent at a host of international festivals. Their abilities, achievements and innovative approaches are essential to making all Cryptic experiences memorable and engaging for our audiences at home and overseas, ultimately ensuring the next 25 years of ‘ravishing the senses.’

Sonica 2019 Highlights (Captioned) from Cryptic on Vimeo.

 

Sonica Glasgow 2019 Live Audio: https://soundcloud.com/crypticglasgow/sets/sonica-glasgow-2019

 

Below the Blanket – Cryptic

April 3, 2020 in awards 2020 blog, featured by mwhiteside

Marking twenty-five years of ‘ravishing the senses’, Cryptic presented Below the Blanket, a series of new artworks installed throughout the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and inspired by one of Scotland’s most extraordinary and unsung natural features as part of the 2019 Edinburgh Festivals.

 

The Flow Country is the world’s largest blanket bog, a vast mass of peat and Sphagnum moss, shot through with hundreds of lochs, that covers 200,000 hectares in Caithness and Sutherland. Home to many rare animals, birds, insects and plants, the peat also acts as a natural store for carbon, helping to manage the effects of the climate crisis.  Altogether, this corner of Scotland holds more than 400 million tonnes of carbon, three times more than is held in all the UK’s woodlands combined.

Under the Creative Direction of Cathie Boyd, artists Kathy Hinde, Luci Holland, Hannah Imlach, Heather Lander, Matthew Olden and composer Malcolm Lindsay made work responding to the Flow Country’s wildlife and soundscape, the gradual process of peat formation, and even the way the blanket bog ‘breathes’ as it expands and contracts.

Visitors to the gardens encountered artworks that were evocative, contemplative and beautiful – and came away enlightened about this unique Scottish landscape.

“A really good way to celebrate helping to save this rare and wonderful landscape.” Jeremy Watson (The Times journalist) on Below the Blanket

The environmental focus of the project not only provided inspiration for the artists but also saw Cryptic as an organisation consider the ways in which we can implement more environmentally friendly working methods at each stage of a project.

This thinking first emerged when planning the artists’ residencies at The Flow Country, a vital part of their development process but one in which a lot of travel was inevitable due to the area’s remote setting. Although flying north to Aberdeen or Inverness would have cut costs and journey times, we booked trains for the Cryptic team, artists and press who visited.

“Magical and transporting, but also truly educational.” Audience Member on Below the Blanket

While on residency, the artists focused on many different research areas. These included: the importance of the water table, levels and water saturation in maintaining a bog environment; the carbon locked in the peat and the sphagnum moss that helps to protect it; and the impact that damage and restoration has had on the delicate ecosystem of The Flow Country. Kathy Hinde led a series of Deep Listening Walks which saw participants dipping hydrophones into the bog pools, listening intently to the life below the water’s surface.

“burrows into our senses through a host of individual works… It was a beautiful & calming experience.” The Herald on Below the Blanket

As well as focusing on their own creative research, the artistic team volunteered with The Flows to the Future Project to restore areas of the peatland by creating manmade bog pools through the damming of drainage ditches. This allowed the team to learn directly from scientists, gaining an understanding of the important elements of this unique landscape which aid in managing the climate crisis. Subsequently, the artists considered practical ways in which their installations could have a minimal carbon footprint. For example, Kathy Hinde chose to run her water based kinetic sculptures using hydro power. We also lit the event with solar powered and battery lights and all the speakers were powered by rechargeable batteries.

The project facilitated close collaborations with scientists and other experts including Dr Neil Bell, Research Scientist in Bryology at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, who worked closely with artist Heather Lander whose delicate painted perspex sculptures revealed the complex structure of Sphagnum Moss. Luci Holland utilised the knowledge and research of Dr. Chris Marshall, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham, to explore how human activity affects our environment constantly and often invisibly in her immersive soundscape Hold. Matthew Olden collaborated with Dr. David J.Large from the Faculty of Engineering at the Nottingham Geospatial Institute, whose data was turned into a soundscape in Data Flow. Throughout the year, water levels in the Flow Country rise and fall, and as the bog expands and contracts accordingly it can be said to be ‘breathing’. Scientists and environmentalists studying this process have learned that different parts of the bog breathe differently, depending on the health of the peat. The soundtrack in Data Flow allowed audiences to hear how this ‘breathing’ varies across five areas of the bog, whether waterlogged and healthy, drained and damaged, or restored.

“Olden’s work lets us hear this wonder of nature.” The Herald on Olden’s Data Flow

Being able to utilise the environmental expertise of the project partners including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, was invaluable in the development of the work and informed not only the production of Below the Blanket, but will continue to shape future Cryptic projects. Art is a valuable tool in informing and inspiring change and action in challenging times. Climate crisis and our relationship with the environment and nature continue to be an important focus in the work of the artists featured in Below the Blanket. The touring version of Below the Blanket, Slow Sonic Stroll is a poignant sound walk which will continue this contemplation on art and nature, offering a much-needed departure from fast-paced, everyday life.

 

“It’s captivating music that can stop you in your tracks, as strange and beautiful as the place that inspired it, but there’s a lament-like poignancy to it too.” The Arts Desk on Below the Blanket

Cryptic: Below The Blanket from Cryptic on Vimeo.

 

Below the Blanket Audio: https://soundcloud.com/crypticglasgow/sets/below-the-blanket

 

 

Richard Craig – Performer or Composer?

April 2, 2020 in awards 2020 blog, featured by mwhiteside

Performer or Composer?

Although I have been nominated as a performer of contemporary music, this post is an opportunity to talk a little about my own compositions, and how performing works of other composers feeds into this.

I have composed and improvised for the past ten years, and what I make often follows on from phases of intense study on works I have been playing. This first started in 2009 with Amp/Al (an acronym for the instrumentation of Amplifier and Alto flute) after a Creative Scotland residency at the Clashnettie Arts Centre, Aberdeenshire. Fast-forward to 2015, and I started developing a series of works for flute/s and fixed media called Hortulus Animae.

Performer

Looking back over the past five years, I have performed music by Ann Cleare, Jürg Frey, Frank Denyer and Morton Feldman. Also, the music and thought of John Croft has been important to me, and more locally, the Glasgow-based composer Fabrice Fitch too. The experience of recording and performing their music, and my conversations with them has left a particular impression on my identity as a performer. It has also informed protean ideas as to how I might approach composition. In this way, composing and performing have become inextricably linked; composing has become a practical way of thinking about or responding to other repertoire I have performed in my concerts.

Composer: Gardener or Architect?

The process of composing my own music has also led me to think more about the roles of the composer and performer. The artist Brian Eno and his thoughts about making Art in a more general way – that composers/artists today are in fact more akin to ‘gardeners’ rather than ‘architects’– has a relevance to both aspects of my work. Performance and Composition, as I see them, look to the work as our focus of attention to the work, not who is making it.

An architect, at least in the traditional sense, is somebody who has an in-detail concept of the final result in their head…In the same way as one imagines an architect working.  You know, designing the building, in all its details, and then having that constructed.

Changing the idea of the composer from somebody who stood at the top of a process and dictated precisely how it was carried out, to somebody who stood at the bottom of a process who carefully planted some rather well-selected seeds, hopefully, and watched them turn into something

Composers as Gardeners – Brian Eno

This idea in itself – to place an emphasis on arranging materials and allowing connections to appear, as well as ‘trying to remind ourselves that the controlling talent that we have must be balanced by the surrendering talent that we also have’- was somehow reassuring to me as a performer approaching composition. It dispels the notion of the composer being on a pedestal and propose that we ‘accept the role… (or ethos)… of gardener as being equal in dignity to the role of architect’ when it comes to making music, or Art.

The music

Hortulus Animae (which translates as Little Garden of the Soul) is an ongoing project for flute/s and fixed media (tape). The title comes from a prayer book dating from the 16th century that was intended for individual use, and so the proposal of planning and making a series of short works for flute and fixed media that are in some way autodidactic, or a become a personal project or training, provided me with a basis to begin composing again.

So far, there are three pieces completed, and one other in progress:

Hortulus Animae (i) (2015 – 2018)

Blodeuwedd  (2019)

Hortulus Animae (ii) ‘Siambr’ (2019-20)

‘mentis pharmaca sacrae’ (in progress)

My surroundings of North Wales, where I lived from 2015-19, also became part of these works. Living on Anglesey with its Neolithic burial chambers such as Bryn Celli Ddu (referred to here as siambr which is Welsh for chamber) and its rich folklore (Blodeuwedd is a mythical being from the Mabinogion) became a backdrop for the music. Looking past this idea of a sense of place as a geographical aspect, and thinking about where I wanted the music to be heard offered another insight – it became clear that the compositions (so far) are not intended for the concert hall, and perhaps not even for a concert audience (!), but rather they seem to be destined to be type of installation or quasi-theatrical performance. This is perhaps more tangible when we consider the dynamic range of the music, and also in my outward stance: I perform the pieces kneeling; almost ‘eyes averted’, and I have physically demarcated a smaller, more intimate space within the room in the way I organise my instruments and the speakers around me.

Neolithic Burial Chamber, Bryn Celli Ddu, Anglesey, Wales. Photograph – R.Craig

Going further…?

Writing for myself has always been the aim of these works, and when I consider how I might compose for others after this point it poses an obstacle. This is principally to do with my ethos to composing and the content of the pieces: my way of playing the flute has specific techniques that I have developed and that as yet, are un-notated. And, in a more basic way, all of the other materials on the tape part are of me – I use pre-recorded extracts of my own singing, whistling, and of myself playing found objects. It then seems disingenuous to me that such a personalised content and way of composing could involve another performer, at least at the moment. This might well change, of course…

Video of a live performance of Hortulus Animae at the inaugural concert of SCRATCH experimental music series, organised by the Dukes of Scuba.

Performances:

Hortulus Animae (i) Listen to the Voice of Fire, Aberystwyth, Wales, July 2018

Blodeuwedd  Bangor New Music Festival, Wales, February 2019

Hortulus Animae (i), Blodeuwedd, Unerhörte Musik, Berlin, September 2019
Hortulus Animae (i), Blodeuwedd, Hortulus Animae (ii) ‘siambr’, SUMMIT, Manchester, September 2019

Hortulus Animae (i), Blodeuwedd, Hortulus Animae (ii) ‘siambr’, SCRATCH, Bangor, November 2019

Hortulus Animae (i), Blodeuwedd, Hortulus Animae (ii) ‘siambr’, AMOK, York, November 2019
Hortulus Animae (i), Blodeuwedd, Hortulus Animae (ii) ‘siambr’ and ‘mentis pharmaca sacrae’ Glasgow Experimental Concert Series 2020

The Scottish Awards for New Music will be announced at 8pm, 14th April. Tune in to watch the live stream at www.newmusicscotland.co.uk/awards2020

What do you see here?

April 1, 2020 in awards 2020 blog, featured, Home, safnm by mwhiteside

We are at an interesting point of history, planned economies are showing their strength during a crisis, the power of the globe is shifting east, and everyone’s isolation is giving an incredible taste of what life has been like for many disabled and unemployed people. Like various elements of the working class, disabled people have been having a mixed bag of victories and defeats. Society, in general, is kinder and more understanding of how disabled people exist; however, there are still many flaws across the board. This understanding has brought us a strange scenario where we can be world class athletes and scroungers in the very same breath. We can be profound individual thinkers, or we can be burdens of the state, who are likely to be abandoned to make sure the ‘deserving’ survive the pandemic.

This perverse existence is partly what led to the creation of my recent string quartet can’t you see… – which in short tries to come to terms with the bombardment of contradictions we face in society at large. The writer Lennard Davis, in his book Enforcing Normalcy, gives an incredibly diverse discussion of the history of disabled people and how we ‘fit’ into it. One particular element has really stayed with me – disability does not exist until you can see it, once it is seen it can never be forgotten.

This premise, is firstly used to argue why we see broken ancient Greek statues as broken and not as amputees. In the wider context the sentiment can be understood like this – a blind person talking to you on the phone is not inhibited by this dynamic so does not appear disabled, however once you see them in person with their cane or guide dog that understanding changes. Similarly, a D/deaf person sending you an email gives no indication of being ‘deaf’ as written words are silent.

Being autistic, this dynamic is particularly interesting to observe as one it starts to underline why so many people struggle to truly comprehend the overarching impact of mental disabilities as it is not something you can necessarily see. It also goes to show the broader ideology of what a ‘disabled person is’. This nature is significantly more insidious really underlines why say disabled making music is more of an outreach, feel-good project, and not art – or why an individual overcoming a struggle is a heartwarming motivation video and not an indictment of our society failing people.

This binary has been on my mind for many years, and I was quite glad that using this as a premise for a work for string quartet and electronics managed to gain support from Creative Scotland. Musically I wanted to highlight this constant to-and-fro. Admittedly, the metaphor, is handled incredibly simply – what you are seeing is not necessarily what you are hearing. The electronics and shifting harmonic language makes for an unstable and sensory environment. Sometimes the group are miming, sometimes they are in sync, other times they are not, sometimes they are just performing acoustically. Sometimes the simplest gestures speak loudest, and I hope you agree.

This particular rhetoric has little to no other examples in the world of contemporary or historical music. This, however, does not mean it is void of history or has no historical or societal examples it imitates or draws upon. The two composers who are particularly important here are Erik Satie and Horaţiu Rădulescu. Satie’s influence in the piece is very simple and two-fold. Firstly, his essay A Day in the Life of a Musician is a brief but illuminating insight into the eccentric man’s life. His focused daily plans combined with strict rules like ‘only eating white food’ in my mind implies the great French composer was possibly autistic. He was not diagnosed, and in reality, I am not always fond of ‘historically diagnosing’ people, however in this particular instance it warms my heart and is very relatable. Also, his possible autistic-ness says more about how conditions like mine an invention of are not just the mid-twentieth century. This fascination with Satie deserved to be honoured and brought to the fore in this particular piece as it is my ‘loudest’ disabled piece to date. I turned to Satie’s Vexations a curious piece demanding 820 repetitions of a chorale and chant. The blurring of double flats and double sharps gives the impression that Satie wanted more than tempered tuning – but was stuck with a piano, because of this and the curiosity of what 820 repetitions of something would do to the psyche Vexations had to be referenced in some form. This reference is more of an insidious one, than a clear-cut quote. Following the chorale, I simply ordered the notes that appeared, avoiding repetitions, this eventually produced my tone-row, which gave rise to the specific harmonic hierarchy of the piece and in turn gave suggestions to the wider structure of the work.

Rădulescu’s influence is much more of an eternal one, considering he is a composer I have obsessed about since I was eighteen. He is a composer I have written about on multiple occasions, and often, when at a loss for ideas I often turn to his 100+ catalogue for ideas. His second string quartet is a fascinating work which does not have the same cult popularity as his fourth and fifth, however the work has a lot of wonderfully notable characteristics. Firstly, this work is prior to his Credo, which was his first spectral work, because of this he relied more on serial technique; however, a proto-spectral thinking was certainly there, even if not as mature as later works. Structurally the work is fascinating as the quartet is recorded in advance and plays the material, they are given either ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ or vice versa. These speakers are pointed at a piano which is left to sympathetically resonate. The live quartet in turn plays the opposite of what they recorded i.e. if they played slow first, they would play fast first. The quartet is amplified and pointed again at the resonating pianos. The overall effect is a blur, where the harmonic material is shifting like sand with some layers moving quicker than others, as well as constantly remaining in very similar shapes. This approach is fascinating and became the backdrop of what I was aiming to produce in this quartet, with the constant blurring between what you hear and what you see. So, like always, Rădulescu is never to far away from my work.

The work was in the end performed with great success in Bluecoat, Liverpool. I was thankful that DaDaFest and Sonic Bothy were both able to support me so much during this process. In the end I can talk till the cows come home, I should let the music speak for itself.

Ben Lunn

Making It Happen with Nordic Viola in Iceland

March 30, 2020 in awards 2020 blog, featured by mwhiteside

Hard to imagine in the times we’re living through just now but exactly a year ago I was in Iceland with my Nordic Viola project for eleven days. Nordic Viola forms musical connections across the North Atlantic region from Scotland to Greenland via the Faroes and Iceland with an emphasis on contemporary music and its relationship to traditional forms. It is a very flexible ensemble driven by repertoire and can be anything from just me on solo viola up to the six musicians we’d like to take on tour in the autumn. In Iceland I was working with two musicians with a strong Scottish connection: pianist Arnhildur Valgarðsdóttir, a graduate of the RSAMD as it was then, and Scottish composer-violist Charles Ross who has been resident in Iceland for many years and who is perhaps best known here for his partnerships with Ilan Volkov.

Landing in Reykjavik felt a little like coming home. I’d spent a month in Iceland and the Faroes in 2016 and Reykjavik was my launch pad to Greenland in 2017. I soon eased back into my routine of a morning swim outdoors in the thermal baths, the bitter cold wind on my face invigorating me. I was eased in gently musically too. Although Arnhildur and I know each other well, it was actually the first time we’d played together, so we took the chance to play informally for the older parishioners’ lunch at Fella- og Hólakirkja. Our main concert took place at the end of the week with a programme that included British composer Adrian Vernon Fish’s “Qaanaq” Sonata, a 25 minute piece influenced by Adrian’s travels in the far north of Greenland and “Kvinnan Fróma”, a set of variations on an Icelandic folk tune by Oliver Kentish, another Briton with long-term residency in Iceland.

The main event, however, was a concert with Charles Ross in Mengi, a venue created and managed by artists in Reykjavik that hosts diverse art events, releases music by some of the nation’s most ambitious musicians and operates an art and record store. And it was then that the weather took a turn for the worse. Halfway through the afternoon Charles rang saying that he was stuck on the ground in East Iceland (where all was calm) and that he might not make it! Suddenly I was faced with the prospect of an hour’s solo free improvisation. The weather was crazy in Reykjavik – huge, hefty convective snow showers, crazy swirling winds. One minute pale blue skies with towering cumulus, the next a wall of steel-blue-grey clouds loaded with hailstones. I wasn’t optimistic but at 5pm Charles phoned to say that he would arrive shortly before Mengi’s doors would open. We hadn’t improvised together for two and a half years: it was going to be an exciting gig and yet I felt curiously calm, remembering how natural it had felt to work together in Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland back in 2016. Live improvisation can be a nerve-wracking experience but for me, its reward is that it is all-absorbing. Your whole being is focused in the moment, there’s a freedom and a freshness to your music-making. 5 minutes to formulate a rough plan and we were off – a few scribbled motifs, a few concepts to work with and a solo set each.

In many ways we’re quite different musicians: I tend to work around melodic motifs whereas Charles is an absolute master of timbre. I have never known anyone make such a variety of sounds from a viola and his resourcefulness is something to behold. Flying with just hand luggage he had an amplifier consisting of the pick-up from an old-fashioned telephone placed on his viola wired up to something that looked like an old transistor radio, just enough to pick up the sound from a viola prepared with cotton wool, bow hairs tied round the string and a feather. Yes, I know, but it worked! You can hear the results, together with an explanation from Charles, here. With little time to prepare, I went into the final set knowing no more than that a computer was involved. To my surprise and delight, my sound started coming back at me, stretched in time and I got to dovetail with my own sound. This was the little spark that fed a new curiosity for working with electronic sound.

There is much to enjoy in Reykjavik but I’m not a city animal, so it was with much anticipation and a slight sense of relief that I hopped on the plane to Egilsstaðir, the main administrative town in the East with 2000 inhabitants where Charles has been based  for many years. Egilsstaðir is further north than Nuuk, the capital of Greenland and the vistas are wide and bleak in late winter. When I’d last visited in autumn 2016, there was a wealth of colour – blue skies, green larches, yellow birches, red blueberry leaves. This time the vegetation was yellow-brown, the igneous rocks black with snow on the mountains. The Lagarfljót (lake) was grey-green with pressure ice washed up on its shore. In autumn the geese were gathering to migrate, now it was eerily lifeless. The ravens, a constant in winters of the Far North, were there though. This scene was to inspire my first piece of music experimenting with recorded sound from Iceland, processed viola sound and live improvisation, “Lagarfljót.”

After playing for the senior citizens of Reykjavik, the focus was on young people in Egilsstaðir with a masterclass for Charles’ violin and viola pupils – some were old friends from 2016 but there were some new faces. This group are amongst the most generous and open-minded young people I’ve worked with, keen to learn and supportive of each other.

Some of them joined us for our second concert in the “Slátarhusið”, the old slaughterhouse converted to an arts venue. Actually, this time I felt a little less like a lamb to the slaughterhouse as we had time to rehearse and prepare some tracks. As Charles was on his home patch, we also had more instruments to play with. I’d put in a special request to bring his Siberian Fiddle. I love improvising alongside this tiny, delicate instrument, matching its timbres, looking for the high harmonics, taking care to enhance and not overpower its sound with the more powerful viola.

I have an unbroken tradition of always seeing the Northern Lights after I’ve performed in the Far North. My own little bit of magic. I thought my luck was out, but just before bedtime they appeared. I didn’t sleep that last night out East – it was too beautiful to miss – first the stars and the Northern Lights and then the very slow encroachment of a pale blue dawn from the east leading to long shadows in the golden sunlight at 6am. The sun rises early after the equinox – winter with a touch of sun.

A Challenge from the Faroes

Those days in Iceland seem a world away now, all transport to the Far North severed by the virus. But the link is still there as, in my practice I’m inspired by a new release from the Faroe Islands – Sunleif Rasmussen’s five movement Viola Sonata performed on Da Capo records by its dedicatee, Jákup Lützen from the Copenhagen Philharmonic. According to the composer, “the instrument makes the form of the piece” frequently climbing from the depths of the C-string through the entire range of the instrument before dropping back again. Sunleif draws a wealth of colour from the viola, exploring different points of contact with the bow, asking the violist to sing along as he plays in a ghostly manner in the third movement, the extraordinarily animalistic col legno fourth movement and the wide ranging arpeggios of the last movement, before the voice again joins in. It’s an immense work requiring strong hands and a lot of stamina, not to mention a virtuosic technique. Not a piece I’d have time to learn alongside my RSNO work, but now, finally, time is one thing I do have at my disposal!

 

Pictures of Katherine Wren and Charles Ross ©Justin Batchelor



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