New music in Oslo

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to appear at a mini-festival of new music in Oslo, organised by the nyMusikk Composers' Group. Aside from being a great opportunity to see what the Norwegians are focusing on in their 21st century trip through new music, it also gave the opportunity to see into aspects of modern Canadian and U.S. music, as well as hearing some recent offerings from fellow UK-based composers.

New music is exceptionally well supported and funded in Norway, which in itself is enough to make me pine for the fjords (like a parrot). More important however was the spirit of collaboration and discovery that pervaded the weekend. Festivals of course are great - like taking a hot bath in new-found musical salts. This one was no exception; I was overwhelmed by the variety of music, all of which apart from the UK stuff was completely new to me. Peter Edwards, Adam Basanta, Tze Yeung Ho... names that stood out as presenting music I really liked; all new to me, all interesting, friendly, approachable people. I remember reading about Brian Ferneyhough being over the moon when people told him they like his music; several times over the weekend I went over to talk to someone about how much I had enjoyed their piece and it was lovely to see that they seemed genuinely over the moon to hear so. The same with the performers, e.g. Melis Jaatinen, Decho Ensemble and Architek Percussion, from Finland, the USA, and Canada respectively.

My own piece Come Fuck Yourself Up was performed by Ensemble7Bridges on the Sunday, and the performance was fantastic. The piece asks the performers to apply a level of interpretation to musical gestures, but amid a very tense mood and tightly-paced intensity. The tape - drawn in part from the infamous Jonestown Deathtape - adds to the intensity, and thus for the audience I had hoped for a rough but worthwhile and musical ride. Comments from audience members included "brutal", "visceral", "harrowing"; I was over the moon to hear these given in kindness, and combined with my gratefulness towards the performers for doing such a great job of I was left feeling pretty damn happy.

All in all a weekend of marvellous discovery. Meeting new musicians/composers, hearing new musics from different countries, hearing feedback on my own new work... the world is now somewhat larger.

TUSK, and handling expectations

I often think of writing music as being about managing expectations. Living as we are in the wake of a long period of intense exploration of new musical grounds (the 20th century), writing music nowadays is uniquely difficult, in that each individual piece must have a solid, unique logic to it and must be able to communicate that logic to listeners. We've shrugged off restrictions such as music having to be in sonata form, or having to use all 12 tones arranged into a 'row', or even having to specify exactly what sounds are made and when. As such composers are now much more attentive to whether a new piece will be able to create, manage, and reward expectations while its unique form unfolds.

Aside from wearing my composer's hat, in the last couple of years I've also become active in exploring and pushing the sound world of the electric cello as an instrument in its own right (rather than just a cello that has an amp). It's just been anounced that I'll be playing a set at TUSK Festival this year (which I'm very excited about BTW) and the setting for this year's festival is The Sage in Gateshead - a venue that has certain expectations attached to it. TUSK itself also creates certain expectations - it's a festival of "genre-defying international music" - and certainly rewards them. I'll be opening the festival on October 14th at 5pm, with a solo electric cello performance on the concourse at the Sage.

What I'm driving it is that all these things may or may not trigger certain expectations. The instrument, the format ("Solo [INSERT ANY INSTRUMENT] performance"), the venue, the festival, perhaps my work as a composer if you've heard some. So what I'm most looking forward to is engaging with those expectations and managing them, controlling them in a sense, which I believe is the role of anyone creating music. Come and see me play on October 14th. Whether what I produces meets your expectations or not, I hope that as listeners/onlookers you will nonetheless feel rewarded; at any rate it would be lovely to chat to you afterwards.