January 2019 newsletter
10 Jan 2019 12:00 noon
My first newsletter of 2019, with details of upcoming events in Kraków and London, plus field recordings from Poland, playlists and more:
SŁUCHAM - field recordings from Poland
3 Jan 2019 12:00 noon SŁUCHAM - field recordings from Poland
Residency at the Galicia Jewish Museum, Krakow
10 Oct 2018 12:00 noon
I am currently artist-in-residence at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kraków, Poland, thanks to British Council & Arts Council England support. The project I'm working on is about the process of reconnecting with my ancestral homeland (my family was from Kalisz, central Poland). Specifically, I'm researching what life would have been like for a Jewish family here around the time of the pogroms, when my great-great-grandparents came to the UK, and comparing that with the experience of Jews living in Poland today. This will culminate in a set of new music I'll be writing for a new trio with Warsaw-based musicians Wacław Zimpel and Hubert Zemler. Check the dates page for details of performances.
New track: Palingenesis
5 Feb 2018 12:00 noon
Last week, on Earth Day, I asked my fellow Earthlings to send me photos of the sky wherever they happened to be. I received pictures from all over the world: snapshots of our corner of the universe as viewed from a boat on the Thames, a beach in Sydney, northern Poland, six different American states, Bali, Mexico City, all over England, Amsterdam, Cairo, southern Spain, Dublin, Sweden, Brazil, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Paris (the one above, by Peter Mallett), Warsaw, Hamburg, Italy, Wales, the Faroe Islands, Russia and other such far-flung places.
Collectively, these images (for me at least) express the infinite diversity of the cosmos as well as its underlying unity. We all share the same ever-changing sky, yet each person's view of it is different.
The video I made with the photos is for my new track "Palingenesis", the title of which can be considered to mean a "recurrence of birth", as in the following passage from Joseph Campbell's book "The Hero With a Thousand Faces":
"Only birth can conquer death - the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new. Within the soul [...] there must be [...] a continuous 'recurrence of birth' to nullify the unremitting recurrences of death."
The term itself can be traced back to the Stoics, who used it to refer to the continual re-creation of the universe.
This track is a particularly big deal for me in that it's the first one I've composed, performed, recorded, produced, mixed and mastered myself. Teaching myself how to produce my own music over the last couple of years has been a pretty steep learning curve - and I still feel near the beginning of this - but I’m at a point where the desire to share work is starting to out-weigh the frustration of feeling like a novice in this respect. Moreover, working solo means this is arguably my purest musical expression to date; if it's different from anything I’ve done before, I think it's because I'm getting closer to what I imagine “my” music to be.
Watch the video above, and download it free (or pay-what-you-want) here.
25 Jan 2018 12:00 noon
My favourite music released in 2017:
Sefiroth at Marchland
25 Jan 2018 12:00 noon
Read about Sefiroth's upcoming performances in my latest newsletter here.
November 2017 news
11 Nov 2017 12:00 noon
Read about my upcoming projects, including a unique London Jazz Festival double bill and the return of Sefiroth, in my latest newsletter here.
Future Currents EP out now
11 Nov 2016 12:00 noon
Buy / stream:
New Future Currents video & EP pre-orders
26 Oct 2016 12:00 noon
Read more in my latest newsletter here.
Autumn 2016 news
23 Sep 2016 12:00 noon
My latest newsletter includes details of two special upcoming events:
Fugue State: a new dance / music theatre piece created in collaboration with choreographer Klaudia Witmann and the musicians of Sounding Motion, as part of Sound and Music's Portfolio programme.
Future Currents EP launch as part of this year's London Jazz Festival.
Read more here.
Change Without Change video
17 Feb 2016 12:00 noon Change Without Change video
Change Without Change was written for improvising chamber ensemble Notes Inégales and special guest John Butcher (saxophones) as part of my Sound and Music "Embedded" residency at Club Inégales. The musical material was developed in collaboration with the players over several workshops and, using specific gestures as starting points, allows for varying degrees of improvised manipulation as the piece develops. The form of the piece exhibits perfect fractal symmetry, also borrowing from ancient bell-ringing patterns (which themselves display various other kinds of symmetry). The title of the composition comes alludes to the mathematical definition of symmetry, as discussed in theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek's book "A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature's Deep Design".
This live performance was recorded at Club Inégales by Chris Gomersall on 17th December 2015; filmed & edited by Joelle Green.
Conductor - Alex Roth
Saxophones - John Butcher
Violin - Jo Lawrence
Trumpet - Torbjörn Hultmark
Electric guitar - Joel Bell
Piano - Martin Butler
Double bass - Ben Markland
Percussion - Simon Limbrick
Sound and Music’s Embedded programme is funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation with support from Arts Council England.
My year in music
6 Jan 2016 12:00 noon
New SoundCloud playlist
2 Dec 2015 4:00 PM
I recently played on the soundtrack for the three-part docu-drama The Murder Detectives (which concludes tonight on Channel 4) and thought I'd put together a SoundCloud playlist of tracks from that and other television scores I've played on. Featured composers are Jon Opstad and Sheridan Tongue and programmes include Black Mirror (Channel 4), Silent Witness (BBC One), and DCI Banks (ITV).
15 Nov 2015 6:00 PM
My latest newsletter has just gone out, with details of London Jazz Festival shows, two world premieres and a brand new video.Read my November newsletter here
Institute of Composing Journal
30 Sep 2015 12:00 noon
I've been writing music for the club's resident ensemble Notes Inegales and have also started a column in the Institute's Journal for which I ask other composers to contribute a link to something that's recently interested them.
In this month's issue, fellow Embedded artist Chris Corcoran draws inspiration from a film about captive orca whales.
New Facebook artist page
23 Sep 2015 12:00 noon
This is my new Facebook artist page, where I'll be posting photos/videos/recordings of gigs, new music and the like:
I've just put up pics from two gigs this week:
Bedtime Stories in Brixton with Davide De Rose and Colin Somervell;
an audiovisual improvisation in Kiev with Olesya Zdorovetska, Nick Roth, Fulvio Sigurta, DJackulate and artist Jenya Tchaikovskaya.
I'll soon be putting up the recording of my first orchestral composition (played by the London Symphony Orchestra), plus a new piece for choir. And there'll be news of upcoming gigs with Alice Zawadzki and Blue-Eyed Hawk, plus an EP of futuristic guitar improv with Chris Montague and Chris Sharkey, which Matt Calvert is doing post-production on at the moment.
Do check it out and give it a "like" so I can keep you posted about all that. You can also sign up to my newsletter via the Contact page.
1 Sep 2015 12:00 noon
I just sent out my autumn newsletter, which you can read online here.
It features a new video of a recent performance with Alice Zawadzki, news on Alice's upcoming interdisciplinary performance "I Chew Thorns With The Roses", and all my other upcoming performances, as well as the premiere of my first choral piece.
To receive my (roughly quarterly) newsletters to your inbox, please sign up to my mailing list via the CONTACT page.
Alice Zawadzki band - new video
7 Aug 2015 12:00 noon
The video below is from from a recent performance with Alice Zawadzki at RNCM as part of Manchester Jazz Festival. Alice's regular band was joined by a string quartet for this concert and this is a piece I arranged especially. It's a traditional Sephardic song called Indome para Marsilia.
Alice Zawadzki's debut album China Lane, which I co-produced, is available here.
Laura Jurd Human Spirit reviews
31 Jan 2015 3:00 PM
Nic Jones, Jazz Journal (Five stars)
Cormac Larkin, Irish Times (Four stars)
John Fordham, The Guardian
Stephen Graham, Marlbank
Peter Bacon, The Jazz Breakfast
Thomas Rees, Jazzwise
Andy Boeckstaens, London Jazz News
Laura Jurd Human Spirit UK tour
30 Nov 2014 12:00 noon Laura Jurd Human Spirit UK tour
Laura Jurd website
Blue-Eyed Hawk album now available for pre-order
2 Aug 2014 6:00 PM
It gives me great pleasure to announce that Blue-Eyed Hawk's debut album Under the Moon has just been made available for pre-order!
The official release date is 15th September but order it now and you'll get an immediate download of one of the tracks, which you can stream below. Check out the artwork by Joelle Green!Pre-order Under the Moon here
China Lane by Alice Zawadzki out now!
16 Jun 2014 3:00 PM
I met Alice Zawadzki on my first day at the Royal Academy of Music. We ended up talking about some of our favourite musicians and discovered that Savina Yannatou was a mutual inspiration. Four years later, after many gigs together in each other's bands (including one with Sefiroth supporting Savina Yannatou), I'm delighted to have played a part in making Alice's debut album a reality. China Lane is released worldwide today on Whirlwind Recordings and launched at Pizza Express Jazz Club on 15th & 16th July.
Here are some things people have said about the album (click the links to read the full articles):
"Compelling and entrancing... This is inclusive music that deserves to be heard."
"The arrival of a musician with a distinctive voice and songwriting style...no single point of comparison stands out."
All About Jazz
Bebop Spoken Here
10 Jun 2014 3:00 PM
It's amazing where music takes you. I was looking for somewhere to stay near Shrewsbury in between playing a gig there with Nick Malcolm's quartet and heading to Wales to record Laura Jurd's new album. The lovely promoter at Shrewsbury Jazz Network put me in touch with Laurie and Debbie, total music aficionados and all-round top bananas, who offered to put me up in their beautiful home on the Welsh border. After the gig, we drank wine, chatted about mutual friends (of which it turns out we have many) and listened to some of their favourite records - some of which featured musicians I was on my way to record with! Their guest room was stocked with a bookcase full of musicians' biographies and volumes of poetry. I happened to open a W.B. Yeats anthology and the first poem I saw was "Under the Moon" - the one that contains the line we took Blue-Eyed Hawk's name from! (Our debut album is named after that poem too.)
The following morning Laurie and Debbie announced they would drive me all the way to the studio (30 miles away!) and stop off at a friend's for lunch on the way. This friend turned out to be the widow of the Polish-born artist Stefan Knapp, and her home was in fact the Mid Wales Arts Centre, a 16th century longhouse situated on a farm and housing a gallery, sculpture park, cafe, B&B, many animals... and innumerable pieces of art. The picture shows a collection of paintings and sculptures found in one of the several outbuildings. The two meerkat faces in the centre of the picture are actually a mirrored reflection of a painting off to the left, imitating the painting behind it!
So here I am back at Giant Wafer studios (where we recorded the Blue-Eyed Hawk album a few months back) with Laura's new project featuring Lauren Kinsella, Chris Batchelor, Colm O'Hara, Mick Foster, Corrie Dick and myself. If you caught our set at the Southbank Centre during last year's London Jazz Festival, you'll have heard some of the beautiful music we're recording. Laura's writing is heartfelt and honest and each piece is dedicated to an important figure in her life (one of whom was her late teacher Martin Read). The record will be coming out early next year.
Chaos Orchestra debut album out now!
15 Feb 2014 5:00 PM
I'm very happy to say that the debut album from Chaos Orchestra and has just been released and it includes my piece The Charm of Impossibilities, featuring Elliot Galvin (piano) and Corrie Dick (drums).
The album has been getting some enthusiastic reviews:
The Guardian's John Fordham called it "astonishing".
Frank Griffith of London Jazz News called it "Outstanding...Albums such as this move that tradition forward, and in a fashion which is unique, inspired...and necessary."
And according to Jazz Views, "most ambitious is the final piece, "The Charm of Impossibilities", a ten minute essay in avant-garde techniques which include the use of sampled sound, electronics, freeform percussion and keyboard sequences against a wall of sound edifice built by the combined orchestral forces: for all its radical use of sound resources it has a cogency that eludes some of the other experimental pieces and proves to be a powerful piece of contemporary music. "
Have a listen to my piece:
And click on the image below to purchase the CD.
Music + Sound Awards
12 Feb 2014 8:00 PM
The nomination is for their score for last year's series of Silent Witness, a few of episodes of which I played on. You can hear an extract I feature on below.
1 Feb 2014 5:00 PM BBC
Here's an extract from one of the episodes:
The Drowned Man
22 Jan 2014 11:30 PM
Tonight I was amazed and inspired by Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man. It's magical theatre expertly conceived and executed. Somehow it distils the complexity, beauty, pain, excitement and passion of life without telling you what to think, or even what to watch. It gives you options, and the choices you make lead you on your own path through a minutely detailed alternative reality. This is your experience and yours alone. As in the outside world (but unlike conventional stage-and-seats theatre), you decide what to focus on and how much importance to attach to each event: an unrequited lover scribbling in his notepad; a young woman auditioning for a dream job, wide-eyed with hope; a drunken magician spinning tricks for liquor; a couple catching each other's gaze in the midst of dance. And dance is everywhere as the show writhes and quicksteps towards its fateful climax with the vigour of life and the inevitability of death.
The thought of shuffling around a dimly-lit multistorey warehouse for three hours might not appeal to everyone, but here (unlike some immersive theatre I've seen) the audience's experience really seems to have been prioritised. But then Punchdrunk are the masters of the genre; so skillfully constructed is the plot and so delicately interwoven are the performers' labyrinthine trajectories through the space that only at the finale did I notice quite how many people I was sharing the experience with.
But the over-riding feeling I had throughout was one of freedom. Punchdrunk trust (and encourage) each audience member to go his own way, creating unique stories as he goes. And with this trust they liberate you from the traditional responsibilities of the theatre audience. Forget about the fourth wall - here you're inside the action, party to the narrative twists as they unfold. And the excitement that comes with this - the danger, even - is thrilling.
This trust works both ways too, just as a secret is shared by teller and told. Should you choose to relinquish control over your experience, you put yourself at the mercy of the story-tellers. And leaving the warehouse afterwards you wonder whether the past three hours hasn't been some kind of quasi-cubist re-enactment of life itself, with its multiple dualities of individual versus collective, fate versus free will, curiosity versus fear.
Music From the Next Room
16 Jan 2014 2:30 PM Music From the Next Room
Happy new year all!
I just found out that Jack Barnett from These New Puritans included a track of mine in a mix of his favourite SoundCloud tracks.
Blue-Eyed Hawk debut album
7 Nov 2013 3:30 PM
More exciting news to share this week!
Blue-Eyed Hawk - the improg band I play in with Lauren Kinsella, Laura Jurd and Corrie Dick - recently signed to Edition Records, who will release the group's debut album in 2014.
Have a look at our profile on the Edition website, where you can read more about the band and listen to a recent live recording.
Serious Take Five Edition IX
4 Nov 2013 4:00 PM
I'm delighted to announce that I've been selected to take part in Serious's Take Five scheme, and especially pleased to share the honour with some good friends of mine.
ReDiviDeR meets I Dig Monk, Tuned
18 Oct 2013 12:30 PM
Its title - ReDiviDeR meets I Dig Monk, Tuned - hints anagrammatically at the concept at its heart: to augment the regular quartet of Matt, Nick Roth, Colm O'Hara and Derek Whyte with four guests from the UK. I was honoured to be among those invited, alongside Kit Downes, Alex Bonney and Ben Davis.
John Fordham, in his very favourable review in The Guardian, wrote "fine work from Alex Roth on guitar is a standout".
Click the player below to listen to and/or purchase the album. (I'm featured on track 6, "Velvet Pouch".)
Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia reviews
14 Oct 2013 12:30 PM
The first couple of reviews have come in for Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia.
Plays to See gave it four stars, praising the "stunning" dancing, the "powerful and affective" imagery and "outstanding" singers. Read the full review here.
Bargain Theatre Land commended the "impeccable" dancing, observing that "Witek’s choreography is beautifully fluid and full of emotion." They also praised Maya Angeli's "stunning" set and costumes, and the "softness and beauty" of Sherry Coenen's lighting. The final sentence is particularly heartening: "This is the kind of work you expect to see at the Barbican or Sadler’s Wells". Read the full review here.
Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia audience feedback via Twitter
13 Oct 2013 2:00 PM Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia audience feedback via Twitter
Follow Sefiroth on Twitter
Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia - trailer
20 Sep 2013 8:00 PM
I posted before about the multimedia theatre production we're premiering in October; here is the beautiful trailer Jeremy Carne made for the show. Enjoy!
ReDiviDeR album launch
19 Sep 2013 7:30 PM
I've had a great couple of days launching ReDiviDeR's new album "ReDiviDeR meets I Dig Monk, Tuned" in London and Dublin.
Led by my good friend Matthew Jacobson, ReDiviDeR invited me, Kit Downes, Alex Bonney and Ben Davis to guest on the album alongside regular members Nick Roth, Colm O'Hara and Derek Whyte.
The album is officially released in October on Diatribe Records, Ireland's leading record independent label.
Tickets now on sale for Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia!
6 Sep 2013 1:00 PM
Nearly two years in the making, Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia is my first multimedia theatre production.
By far my most amitious project to date, Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia (“The Trees Weep for Rain”) integrates aspects of live concert, dance piece and digital media show. Based around a suite of medieval Sephardic folk ballads performed live by electro-acoustic chamber ensemble Sefiroth (and released to critical acclaim in 2012), the piece weaves the intensely poetic Ladino lyrics of the songs into an epic narrative of love, loss, yearning, migration and defiance.
Drawing upon the ancient mythology and symbolism of the Kabbalist tree of life, six contemporary dancers choreographed by Katarzyna Witek represent both the characters in the songs and the manifestations of the divine according to Sephardic lore.
For more information, and to purchase tickets, please click here.
I hope to see you at one of the performances!Buy tickets here
Blue-Eyed Hawk at the Proms and on BBC Radio 3
31 Aug 2013 3:30 PM
I am a firm believer in setting goals. Last week I watched the Kevin Macdonald documentary Touching the Void, which recounts the astonishing survival story of mountaineer Joe Simpson after he had broken his leg up an Andean summit and been left for dead by his climbing partner. Simpson credited his survival to a dedication to achieving small targets he set himself, like crawling 100 yards in 20 minutes.
Although neither is quite such a matter of life and death, this week I have the pleasure of realising two longstanding ambitions.
One was to play at The Royal Albert Hall, a venue I remember first encountering - with awe - on a visit to the BBC Proms at a very young age. It was a particular pleasure then to be invited to play a Proms Plus set with Blue-Eyed Hawk. The theme of these late-night sessions is to programme a contemporary jazz group (in the broad sense of the term) alongside a young poet, and given the inspiration that BEH draws from poetry (particuarly that of Irish writers) it was wonderful to share the stage with Belfast-born poet Charlotte Higgins.
Another goal of mine was to have a live perfomance broadcast on Radio 3, a station I've been listening to for many years and which has introduced me to some of my favourite music (I vividly recall hearing Tim Berne for the first time on Jazz on 3 - a discovery of great musical importance to me).
Blue-Eyed Hawk's Proms Plus performance will be broadcast on Monday 2nd September at 10.10pm. Click here for more details.
Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia
16 Jun 2013 4:00 PM
For the next few months, I'll be working on producing and directing my first multimedia theatre piece "Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia" ("The Trees Weep for Rain"), which has received generous support from the Musicians Benevolent Fund, PRS for Music Foundation and Arts Council England.
Integrating aspects of live concert, dance piece and digital media show, “Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia” is based on an EP released last year by electro-acoustic chamber ensemble Sefiroth, founded by my brother Nick Roth and I to perform contemporary interpretations of traditional Sephardic (Judeo-Spanish) repertoire. (You can stream/download the album here.)
Drawing upon the ancient mysticism of the Kabbalist tree of life, "Arvoles" weaves the intensely poetic Ladino lyrics of these songs into an epic narrative, telling timeless stories of love, loss, yearning, migration and defiance.
Otriad tour round-up
2 Jun 2013 11:00 AM
With just the London date of Otriad's UK tour to go (at The Vortex tomorrow), I'm attempting to take stock of what's been an incredible week of gigs.
The crowd-funding campaign that I ran in order to finance the tour was such a rollercoaster and it was great finally to be on the road playing the music that the project backers had supported and meeting some wonderful people along the way.
There are many such people I wish to thank, but first and foremost I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Nick, Joe, James and Simon, all of whose outstanding musicianship blew me away every night, and whose companionship made the 1,000-mile round trip fly by.
But this tour would not have been possible without the contributions from friends, family and new acquaintances through the fund-raising campaign. I can't overstate how much this support means to me. For musicians operating outside the mainstream, connecting with audiences and deriving a sense of worth from this connection can seem like a constant struggle. The pledges I received and the encouragement that each one gave me strengthened this connection and enabled me to fulfil the dream of playing my music night after night all around the country. Thank you all.
Most of the cities on the tour I had never played in before, so it was a pleasure to be welcomed to each venue by promoters who care passionately about the music they present and are helping to raise the profile of experimental music in their respective communities.
Thanks to Andy and Zoe Champion in Newcastle for the positive vibes and the pub recommendations (I can safely vouch for the pies at The Redhouse and the selection of world beers at The Head of Steam). Thanks also to Russell at Bebop Soken Here for the review - click here to read it.
Thanks to Brodie Jarvie in Glasgow for being so accommodating (literally), and to Tom Gibbs, Euan Burton and Greer and Simon for putting up the band. Always a great hang in Glasgow (usually in Oran Mor...)
Thanks to Nik Svarc and Matt Anderson in Leeds for hosting the gig, and to Chris Sharkey for the after-hang.
Thanks to Jez Matthews, who's doing a fantastic job at The Lescar in Sheffield, a really lovely place to play with a great crowd.
Thanks to Nick Turner in Nottingham for putting the gig on at short notice (after our original venue fell through), and to Ian Perry for putting me in touch and generally being totally sound. Thanks also to Jan Kopinski for sitting in with Otriad for the encore - great to meet and play with you!
Thanks to Tymoteusz Jozwiak of Blam! for organising the Birmigham gig and to Jonathan Silk and his amazing quintet for playing a fantastic set (and bringing a great crowd - including the BBC). If you don't know Jonathan's music, check it out!
The final gig of the tour is tomorrow (Mon 3rd June) at The Vortex. We'll be recording this one, and it would be great to see loads of you there. Details on the DATES page or via the link below.Book tickets for Otriad at The Vortex
Call for auditions - male dancer for Arvoles Lloran por Lluvia
30 May 2013 12:30 PM
15 May 2013 3:00 PM
Otriad crowdfunding campaign going live!
3 Apr 2013 12:00 noon
I am about to launch a crowdfunding campaign to tour the UK with my band Otriad!
From noon tomorrow (April 4th) you'll be able to contribute towards the project to help me bring my 45-minute Bielski Suite to live audiences around the country.
There are some unique rewards on offer, ranging from gig tickets and CDs/downloads to lessons, dinner with the band and lots more! Please follow the link below to pledge and share it with everyone you know!
Thank you.Help Alex Roth's Otriad tour the UK!
Edge Music show on Shoreditch Radio
13 Mar 2013 5:30 PM
Edge Music now has its own monthly show on Shoreditch Radio and this month's edition was dedicated to my music and influences. The hour-long broadcast is available to listen to online here.
I'd actually never heard some of the tracks they played - the one by Savina Yannatou in particular is worth checking out!Edge Music show on Shoreditch Radio
Interview with Vijay Iyer
25 Jan 2013 9:30 PM
Vijay Iyer is to my mind one of the leading figures in contemporary music, a composer/pianist with a portfolio that spans the jazz, contemporary classical, electronica and academic realms. His trio with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore is one of the most explosive units on the international scene, a vehicle for Vijay's incredibly sophisticated and expressive rhythmic language which draws on the musical heritage of his Indian roots - as well as hip-hop, rock and pop influences.
Ahead of the trio's performance at London's Purcell Room on February 5th, I asked Vijay which UK artists he'd checked out and what he made of the European aesthetic.
The full interview is online here.LondonJazz blog
Arboles Lloran por Lluvia supported by PRSF
14 Jan 2013 10:00 PM
Further to the post below entitled "Arboles Lloran por Lluvia", I am delighted to announce that the imersive live performance I am producing/directing for Sefiroth has been awarded funding from the PRS for Music Foundation.
The following summary is from the event press release:
BASCA British Composer Awards
25 Oct 2012 11:56 PM
I'm delighted to announce that my piece "The Charm of Impossibilities" for jazz orchestra has been shortlisted for a 2012 BASCA British Composer Award in the Contemporary Jazz category.
The piece was written for Chaos Orchestra, which is led by the brilliant Laura Jurd, and happily she has also been shortlisted, alongside Chrstine Tobin. In other categories, shortlisted composers include Birtwistle, Harvey, Saariaho, Ades and my friends Christian Mason and Patrick Nunn. I'm honoured to be in such esteemed company!
A live recording of the premiere (16th February 2012 at the Spice of Life, London) is here.
The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on 3rd December.
Recording of my miniature "Sting" by London Sinfonietta
17 Sep 2012 2:32 PM
On the evening of 21st April 2012 the London Sinfonietta played a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the "Impossible Brilliance: The Music of Conlon Nancarrow" festival. The first piece in the programme was Study No.21 or Canon X arranged by Dominic Murcott, which consists of a slow voice accelerating to "heroic" speeds plus a simultaneous fast voice decelerating.
To introduce this concert the London Sinfonietta curated a metaphorical countdown of new pre-recorded miniatures or "stings" designed to lead directly up to the first notes of Canon X. These new works ranged from 1" to 30" in length and were contributed by composers from around the world following an open call for scores.
I'm delighted that my 20-second "Sting" - for violin, clarinet, cello and marimba - was selected and featured in this concert.
Click here to read more about the project.
News from the Studio
8 Sep 2012 6:00 PM
Over the past couple of weeks, I've been recording some really exciting projects.
First, I had three days in the studio with the new version of my electric guitar ensemble featuring Chris Sharkey (of trioVD) and Chris Montague (of Troyka). We recorded a suite of mine that interweaves some quite intricate written material with a whole lot of improvisation (both structured and free). The guys sounded phenomenal and I'm really looking forward to getting it ready for release (hopefully by December) and lining up some gigs. I just need to decide on a name for the group (Sharkey fancies GUITARMAGEDDON; I'm quite keen on Alex Roth and the Geordies - any suggestions?).
Next up was an EP with Blue-Eyed Hawk, a co-operative quartet I play in with Lauren Kinsella, Laura Jurd and Corrie Dick. I've been really enjoying playing gigs with this band over the last few months; there always seems to be a really special atmosphere and the music is highly emotional. We recorded my piece Reflections on the Spiral, one each by Laura and Corrie, and a number of improvisations using texts chosen by Lauren from the poetry of W.B. Yeats, from which the band takes its name.
Finally, Catriona Price and I made our long-overdue recording debut. We've been playing together on and off for a couple of years, reworking traditional Scottish tunes (mostly), but recently we've been focusing more on original material and the music has gone in a more electronic direction. We just finished recording a beautiful track by Catriona called Light Show, which will feature post-production by our amazing engineer Roderick Buchanan-Dunlop.
Check back over the coming months to hear the results of these sessions.
Arboles Lloran por Lluvia
31 Jul 2012 9:00 PM
Back in February, Sefiroth (a 10-piece electro-acoustic chamber ensemble which I co-run with my brother Nick - more details on the PROJECTS page) released its debut EP Arboles Lloran por Lluvia, a collection of Sephardic songs that tell poignant stories of love, loss and migration.
After a really positive response from listeners and critics, I am now developing the EP into an immersive live show that will feature the musicians of the ensemble alongside contemporary dancers and innovative 3D video projection. "Arboles Lloran por Lluvia - the show" will be premiered at the Old Vic Tunnels (underneath Waterloo station) next summer. I've been really encouraged by the support I've received so far for the project, especially from the Musicians' Benevolent Fund, who I'm delighted to say have just granted me the Emerging Excellence Award.
It's early days in what will be a long process, but it means so much to me to receive this award; not just for the financial investment - though it wouldn't be possible to continue without it - but for the encouragement that comes with that invesment, the sense of having earned the approval of a panel of inspiraitonal individuals.
The Music Industry in the Digital Age
31 Jul 2012 6:00 PM
Much has been said recently about the changes that are taking place throughout the music industry and the way that musicians' revenue streams are being affected by them. Most of the commentary I have read – from professional musicians, critics and retailers alike – has been downcast, bemoaning slumps in CD sales and drastic funding cuts, internet piracy and the corporate exploitation of live performers. Certainly, paid performance opportunities for bands playing their own music seem to have diminished. On top of this, it is increasingly difficult for artists to profit from selling CDs, despite recording and production costs being lower than ever before. The credit crunch has also limited the extent to which state funding is available for the creation and promotion of new music, and there are concerns that those who do receive funding are therefore less willing to take risks for fear of losing it. And I haven't yet mentioned the debacle regarding the organisers of the Olympics deciding not to pay musicians for performances during the Games.
All this would seem to indicate that 2012 is a terrible time to be a musician. But in fact, for every hundred established industry professionals lamenting the current state of affairs, there is a young entrepreneur relishing the opportunities presented by the digital revolution. YouTube, Bandcamp and other online services have made it easier than ever for artists of all kinds to discover, expand and engage with their audiences, and every week there seems to be a new way of promoting, selling or even generating music online. While this does mean there is more competition out there for creators (making it harder still to get one's voice heard), the opportunities it presents to the most DIY-minded practitioners are unparalleled.
The “music industry” (in a global sense) has for some years been dominated by just a few major record labels and PR companies who, through selective promotion and a ruthlessly capitalist approach to competition, have to a large extent decided who tops the charts each week, creating the illusion of an impenetrable fortress into which only the luckiest of “stars” could hope to gain admission. But in reality the industry has always responded to the innovations of individuals who do things their own way, either through the music itself (Miles Davis, the biggest-selling jazz musician of all time, can hardly be said to have pandered to the demands of record executives); through novel approaches to performance (whatever you think of Lady Gaga's music, she could be seen as a descendent of Marina Abramovic, Yoko Ono and Laurie Anderson); or through interesting marketing strategies.
Commentators who bemoan the decline in CD sales and their consequent loss of income are missing the point. The fact is the CD is no longer the end result of a creative process; for the majority of musicians outside the mainstream it is now a marketing necessity which functions as a kind of hi-tech business card, providing examples of their work, contact details and evidence of investment (either their own or their record label's).
But even if records aren't selling as they used to, people will still pay for music in a variety of situations, from streaming services to live shows to multi-media collaborations. The artists who understand where their own opportunities lie are the ones who will gain from the changes taking place.
Each generation brings with it a new understanding of the relationship between “society” and “the individual”, and technology can be interpreted as a result of this interaction. Opportunists who seize widely available resources and twist them to suit their own aims define the way in which the next wave of artists customarily interacts with its audiences. And this is not a recent phenomenon; it is the way it has always been. The concept of a “Golden Age” in relation to the music industry (or any area of human activity for that matter) is a retrospective construct imposed on a previous era by commentators too far removed from the realities of that era to be aware of the complaints that would have been made by its practitioners. Nevertheless, critics are already calling the so-called “digital revolution” a key point in the history of the music industry, and I am confident that future generations will regard it as something of a golden age of creativity.
Interview with Tim Berne
12 Jun 2012 6:00 PM
Welcome to my blog! For my first post, it seemed appropriate to share an interview I conducted via email with New York saxophonist and composer Tim Berne, who has been a formative influence on my own writing, playing and bandleading. This article appeared (in a slightly edited form) on Sebastian Scotney's London jazz blog in March 2012. Tim was in the middle of a couple of months of heavy touring to support the launch of his ECM debut CD 'Snakeoil' so it was really good of him to take time out to answer my questions, however briefly!
Tim Berne is one of the most respected figures on the New York jazz scene, a saxophonist and composer who since the late 70s has led a series of groundbreaking ensembles featuring some of the city's finest improvisers. A quick look through the rhythm sections in his discography speaks volumes about the esteemed company he has kept: drummers Paul Motian, Tom Rainey, Jim Black, Joey Baron and Bobby Previte and bassists Drew Gress, Mark Dresser and Michael Formanek have all featured in groups spear-headed by Berne at one time or another, not to mention guitarists Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, Marc Ducret, cellists Hank Roberts and Erik Friedlander and pianist Craig Taborn. He also prefigured the current crop of musician-led record labels by founding Empire in 1979 and Screwgun in 1997 to release his own albums and those of his collaborators (John Zorn and Dave Douglas are other notable NY-based improvisers to have done so, with Tzadik and Greenleaf respectively).
Berne's latest album Snakeoil (reviewed by Chris Parker here) is a new venture in two respects; it represents his first outing on the ECM label under his own name (having previously appeared on releases by David Torn and Michael Formanek) and is also the premiere recording of his new quartet featuring clarinettist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Ches Smith. Taking time out of a busy touring schedule promoting the record, Berne answered a few questions I had about recording, touring and composing.
AR: Why did you decide to release your latest album Snakeoil on ECM rather than your own Screwgun label and how, if at all, did this decision influence your approach when composing for the record?
TB: I've been trying to do something with them for years. It's a great label and it's too expensive to do a studio album on my own. I didn't really change my approach for the recording.
AR: You've been playing with the musicians on the record in different combinations for a while now but this is the first outing with any of them under your name - what was it that appealed to you about this particular line-up?
TB: This band has been playing together for over two years now - before those other groups actually. I love the sound of this instrumentation because it's extremely flexible. The players are great too!
AR: There's some lovely and very distinctive contrapuntal writing on the album that makes good use of the clarity of sound commonly associated with ECM - are there any specific composers whose music has informed your approach to polyphonic writing?
TB: Ha…not really, although I'm a big fan of [Henry] Threadgill, Ty[ondai] Braxton, Antony and the Johnsons and numerous others.
AR: One of the central themes in your catalogue to date seems to me to be the integration of compositional order and improvisational freedom, and I think you've explored that area in a very unique way - are you aware of any specific influences (musical or extra-musical) on that aspect of your music?
TB: Braxton, [Roscoe] Mitchell, [Julius] Hemphill, [Henry] Threadgill, [Marc] Ducret, [Michael] Formanek etc.
AR: Would you say that there are any other over-arching themes in your music, and if so how have these developed over the years?
TB: I think I've been approaching things pretty much the same way since the beginning; I love juxtaposing complicated written forms and wide open improvisation.
AR: Several of the most celebrated young bands in European jazz (notably TrioVD in the UK and RedivideR in Ireland), not to mention New York, cite your music as a primary influence - are you aware of having an impact on younger musicians and if so how do you react to hearing them?
TB: I'm not really aware of anyone I've influenced but it's nice to know I guess. I always enjoy listening to these bands.
AR: What do you like to do in your time off when you're touring?
TB: I don't remember names but I do love London.Tim Berne's Screwgun Records website