Sage Gateshead Composer-in-Residence / Action Vibration Volume One

september 2020-june 2021

Over the last year, it has been an extraordinary pleasure to be one of four composers in residence at Sage. It was great for two reasons: 1) for the mentorship of the team at Sage, in particular Emily Jones, who is also a radio DJ and general Impresario-About-Town, see here for more, and 2) for the space and time to make a Proper Big Piece for a Proper Big Gig during a time where everything else on my calendar and those of all the people I work with has essentially been nuked into, at best, the medium-far-future. 

I proposed doing two things for the residency: to set up a new ensemble in the North East consisting of players from all kinds of musical and social backgrounds, and at all stages of their careers, and to write a big old hourlong storytelling piece I’m pleased to report that both proposals have come to fruition! The ensemble is called Northumberland Radical Fun Group, and we borrow very much from the Broken Social Scene model. There are thirteen of us, and we can expand or shrink forces depending on the piece, project or performance scenario. We come from hardcore scenes, some of the best conservatories in the country, professional orchestras and garage bands, and I don’t think I would be speaking out of turn to say that finding a musical middle-ground that we can do cool stuff on together has been a pretty inspiring process. Our first performance together, of the new piece I made over the course of the year, called Action Vibration Volume One, (Volume Two will be the record that develops the music from the live show into newly mangled forms) took place in Sage One on June 20th, and while I can’t post the entire performance here for rights reasons, I can offer an opening slice of it:

The blurb for Action Vibration Volume One goes like this:

Beginning with the four-to-the-floor thump of Riviera House tracks played to patients in a Greek intensive care unit and ending up with a south Birmingham birthday bacchanal at an oversized Chinese restaurant, Action Vibration Volume One is an hour-long paean to the music an people that make us who we are, in all our gory, complicated glory. Comprised of lavish chamber ensemble orchestrations, proper floor-fillers, tongue-in-cheek musicological analyses and pop psychology mini0lectures interwoven with intimate, live-typed text fragments hat chronicle months of amnesia following a music lover’s catastrophic brain injury, the work walks a tightrope between a full-blown breakdown and a string of darkly dry one-liners. Come for the superficial weirdness, stay for the world-weary fun. This is catharsis at its oddest. 

If you’re interested in booking this piece (after all, we’re going to have to start taking and making bookings at some point again, if any of us are to survive from this racket…) email me for a secret link to the full recording. The setup is complex in that we are a large band, but it’s also totally doable without everybody having the luxury treatment that a venue like Sage can offer. If you’ve a PA, a decent-sized mixer, a big screen, a reasonably powerful projector, and a room that sounds OK, we can find a way to make it work.

Oh yes, a final update: in April I received my PhD from NYU, which heralds two things: a pretty permanent return to the Old World, and a new age of pure freelancing in a very much mid-pandemic world. I have been afraid of this for years, and still am a little, but now that it has begun it also feels OK. Having said that, if you want to commission me to make you some musical fun, I totally welcome your patronage. My email is on the about page (the tab with the question mark), and I’d love to hear from you. Birthdays, weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, funerals – there’s whimsical weirdness to suit all occasions! Check out this video, for example, which, made around the time of the most recent Urban Music controversy, we have come to take pleasure in dubbing ‘rural contemporary.’ This track, called Tom Put Millie in a Bin Bag When the Police Came is kind of about euthanasia but mainly about a bar brawl in a giant Chinese restaurant on the upper floor of a stabby pub in south Birmingham, near my family’s old dentist. Lyrics and context at the Vimeo page for particular intrepid viewers.

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