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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.

You Are The Mole @ Sage Two Stream

September 2019-May 2021

Starting in 2019 and finally ending in Spring 2021 (yes – with everything that has been going on, it really did take that long) I worked on a piece about online privacy and surveillance in the wake of the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica scandal. This was a tricky piece to write, mainly because of just how much information there is on the subject to first parse, then process, and finally convincingly impart to an audience, but I’m pleased with how it came out. It wasn’t easy, considering the life-sized and global interruptions to the process, and the number of times we had to rearrange the premiere, for which I’m very grateful to Delia Stevens (who commissioned the work for her ambitious Conundrums project), and to Sage, for finally stepping in to make our lives that bit easier when the second, or maybe third (I think the government has done some clever jiggery-pokery to reduce the total number) struck and we were back to the drawing board again. This version of the piece was written for Delia and her colleague David Insua-Cao, and ended up involving an extraordinary amount of gear, and became–certainly moving forward, I think–an unrealistic touring proposition, it simply requires too much set-up and strike time. At some point, I’ll rearrange it for smaller forces, possibly just yours truly and a couple of brass or keyboard players to improve its mobility. This version was funded by Sound and Music’s Composer-Curator scheme, Help Musicians Fusion Fund and Arts Council England. It was filmed at the Dutch Royal College of Art in The Hague, with the participation of Leonie Brandner, Jethro Cooke, Lena Longefay, and Louise Snape. I am indebted to all of them, and all resources used in the video edits are credited in full at the end of the piece. Below is said full piece, in its original instrumentation. Please be aware that it contains strong language from the start, and images of airship bombings, which some viewers may–quite rightly–find distressing. This performance was filmed by Rea River Films, who are consummately professional and are from literally down the road from where I grew up, in the true centre of the world: Birmingham, UK. 

Hand Of & Sage Gateshead 2020-21

August 2020

Two exciting developments! The first is that this August it was my great pleasure to rejoin the stalwart Hand Of team, enhanced by a crack team of musicians and educators I had yet to do art with, to do a project with students from three secondary schools in North Tyneside. Over the course of two weeks (slightly longer for the adults involved), we made three sound walks (see the work of Janet Cardiff, Justin Bennett, or Soundwalk Rotterdam if you’re new to this world) covering historically fascinating routes in and around North Shields. The work is–without wishing to toot students’ horns too loudly–really, really good. The walks will be made available in collaboration with Nexus, the purveyors of note of public transport on rails up in this part of England. Hand Of are putting together a guide on how to run arts education projects like this one ahead of the next year of activities, and I have taken their cue to think a bit deeper about being somebody who makes art for a living, and might also put the skills that such employ requires to practical use in the community. I haven’t written this essay yet, but when I do, I’ll post it here. Bait your breath. 

Hand Of North Tyneside Soundwalk Project [Fox Moon Photography]

The second of development is that for the coming year, I’ll be one of four artists in residence at Sage Gateshead. Properly exciting. Depending on how our collective public lives unfold over the next ten months, the outcome may be a performance of a ridiculous gesamtkunstwerk about near-death experiences, Greek myth, Riviera House and ‘90s Glasgow pop’s relation to Nashville (you know, the usual), OR all of these things in some kind of interesting online format. Presently, I’m veering towards internet-conspiracy-theory-land-meets-easter-egg-hunt–that is, hiding links to beautiful and sincere chamber music in the darkest threads of 4chan and beyond. Whatever the outcome, it will include two things for certain: the establishment of a new local music and art band by the name of NORTHUMBERLAND RADICAL FUN GROUP–if you are or know one or even two boss drummer(s) in this part of the world who would be up for making seriously fun music, email me and/or keep an eye on the community notices at the Asda at the bottom of your road–and also the starting of a reading and writing group based in the North East that meets (or doesn’t, as fate may have it), to think collectively about what the hell is art and also about what is it, more or less, that we think or want art to accomplish as the world burns and floods etc etc etc. If that sounds like a good time to you, email me.

Finally, look mom I have been reimagining smooooooth classics for the NRFG’s debut. Also the only baritone saxophone player I know well enough to subject to rudenesses such as these basslines is a very nice German gentleman, ergo not local, ergo if you play said saxophone in the far north of England, let me know you exist via… email me. Or go to your nearest Asda’s noticeboard.

Joyrobix UK Tour, Various / Sound and Music Composer-Curator / Musarc

Apr 2019

Updates! The new record, Joyrobix, came out on the 4th of April, and The Quietus’ Robert Barry wrote some very nice words about it here. Thanks, Robert! It also got some radio play, which is deliciously (t)rad in the age of Youtube, on BBC 3’s Late Junction and BBC 6 Music’s Freak Zone. Sick one; thanks to Slip for setting those up. Also, Laurie Tompkins and I did a little hour on NTS. Buy the record, help artists eat! Together with bandbuddies Louise Snape and Jethro Cooke – and every night with Laurie & Suze, too – we did 8 shows to support the record. Photo below of our Manchester opening night at Soup Kitchen by FoxMoon Photography.


Thank you to everybody who came out to see the music up & down the country; we had fun, and got to see some beautiful places we’ve never been (whaddup Bradford, Bristol, all of Sussex – what on actual earth is Arundel?!…) Berlin at the weekend, and our first clutch of Euro shows in June. In lieu of proper documentation, here’s a little mediatic taste of what we’ve been doing:

In other news, the composer-in-residence project with percussionist Delia Stevens‘ madly ambitious Conundrums project is officially underway; we’re one of bunch of folks on Sound and Music‘s composer-curator program for the year ahead. There are going to be tours and panels and podcasts and loads of sick repertoire for percussion ensemble, and some classic plinky plonky hot-takes courtesy of yours truly on issues from social capitalism to the housing crisis. Also, possibly a piece for the super cool London choral collective Musarc, details forthcoming.

Petrushka Reloaded @ Szczecin Filharmonia, PL / Berlin Konzerthaus, DE & Elbphilharmonie, DE / Grapefruit

Mar 2019

Heavens what exciting times! First, I can’t thank the junge norddeutsche philharmonie enough for an extraordinary experience, first in Hamburg, then in Szczecin (whose hall is so golden), then in Berlin. This group of twenty-somethings are so good at playing music and so energetically up for it. It was my favourite experience ever of being, by some considerable way, both the worst and the laziest musician in the room. Ihr seid der Hammer. Here is a picture by Markus Werner of Berlin’s concert:

Petrushka Reloaded_Konzerthaus

My homeboy Hannes Fritsch, who engineered the tour’s sound, is polishing up a recording, and I shall post it when it comes. Hire him and never worry about anything ever again. There are quite a few people whose energies made this project happen: conductor Christoph Altstaed’s inspiring energy drove it, orchestrator Simon Nathan fixed everything up so perfectly, and Konstantin Udert’s organisational chops brought us all together. I am still excited daily by the camaraderie-plus-mad-skills of my fellow quartet-ers Evi Filippou, Nina Guo, and Max Trieder. I can’t wait for all the awesome stuff we’re going to do next, you lot. Peep the wee video below for an unusual view of the last of our three performances together, which was at the Elbphilharmonie for literally all of Hamburg’s secondary school students.

Today Slip put out the first video from the new record Joyrobix. The track is called Grapefruit and is, as the working-out in real life of a long-held fantasy, very satisfying to watch. It’s moderately NSFW, but is basically SFW. Actually, your work colleagues will totally thank you for sharing. And so will I! Stay tuned for all our UK and European tour dates; we’re doing, like, 15 or something before the summer. Also another track here.

Finally, I stumbled over something on the Internet written by Sascha Thiele, which I didn’t know existed. It’s rare that you get to read somebody’s thing about your thing in which you discover somebody’s having heard all the things you hoped people would hear in your thing. Thanks, Sascha! Sascha, by the way, is an extremely fine guitar player who I saw play Jacob TV’s Grab It! a year-ish ago. Sascha’s playing & Jacob TV’s piece will totally improve your life.

Fleck, Flob, Flop @ Redon, London / Petrushka Reloaded Tour Dates, PL + DE

Nov 2018 – Feb 2019

Radical! Joe Bates and the merry Filthy Lucre lot invited power-Mancunians ACM and yours truly to do our live-typed text piece from 2015, Fleck Flob Flop at the newly opened Redon club in Bethnal Green, and it was great. Thanks very much guys – your sound engineer was one of the Greatest Of All Time. Here’s a little snap of Vitalija Glovackyte and Robbie Gardiner doubling down on the tough stuff, in a photo credited to Filthy Lucre:


I’ve been shirking documentarian duties here for a while, but in a good way: so much music got made! First, the new record Joyrobix is actually done–I heard the test pressing on Monday and it’s coming out as SLP047 on April 4th, just before we hit the road with it. Second, here is a tiny slice of the big orchestral refix of Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka that’s coming up in March, which I said in a previous post would have vocoder all over it. It still definitely does, but more importantly it also sounds like the end of your favourite Disney film. Forgive the mix, it’s a thrown-together demo, but I was too excited to wait until a recording of the real thing comes in later this spring. 🙂

The piece, which is called Petrushka Reloaded, is for the kind of weird little ensembles I cobble together (a quartet this time: SPD & feedback station, electric guitar, vocoder & midi heaven, singer & toys), plus one hundred actual people with real instruments. Thanks to Konstantin and Pauli at the orchestra for their stewardship, and to the indefatigable Christoph Altstaedt and Simon Nathan (who has like literally done Rick Wakeman’s arrangements) for taking my half-baked, chamber-weirdo croonfest and exploding it into something that sounds actually rather like the old master. So fun. There’ll be mad projections from Stanisław Zaleski, too. March 7th we’re at the Philharmonic Hall, Szczecin, March 9th at the Konzerthaus, Berlin, and June 5th we play the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg twice in one day. Bonkers.