Contemporary Classical, Academic, New Music?

What sort of music do you write? This is probably the first question that a composer of contemporary classical or in fact any composer hears today. The difference between a composer of x and a musician that performs any genre of popular music is that the latter’s niche is often clearly defined. Because that’s how they get an audience. Composers, probably because of their solipsism, have not thought about this for centuries, so today we have this dilemma. So what sort of music do you write?

If you say you’re a classical composer, one suddenly thinks of Mozart, Beethoven, and assumes you must write sonatas, menuets, and symphonies. If you say you’re a contemporary classical composer, one questions how you can be both classical and contemporary – isn’t that an oxymoron? Once you say you write contemporary music, you suddenly end up in this strange world of ‘adult contemporary’ which sounds like a genre of erotic novels, with formats like ‘hot adult contemporary’ and ‘soft adult contemporary’. Do we, as composers, really want to share the word with that?

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An End of Publicly Funded Art is an End of the Arts?

In light of a looming end of publicly funded art, it is important for artists and curators to think more seriously about legitimate alternatives to public funding. Public funding of the arts in the UK came into existence in 1948 with John Maynard Keynes’ establishment of the Arts Council, there was no policy driven or comprehensive public funding of the arts (or anything else, pretty much) before that. Now we can ask a question, were there no arts before? I am quite sure any person can answer this with a definite ‘no’, and in fact we can still say that the greatest art in history probably came before 1948.

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Mind the learning gap: how to use the summer for a seamless education.

he summer holidays are here! You have planned your vacation, planned your kids’ activities so that they get a mix of fun and learning, so that they don’t go back to school with their brain shrinked to the size of a peanut. But what if you didn’t? Then it is a good idea to start thinking about summer learning now, because as research shows, ‘summer learning loss’ is a real problem, that if accumulated over school years can have long lasting consequences.

Different research gives us slightly varying numbers, but all agree that children loose from one to even two months of what they have learned per summer. Here is a very good summary of how a lack of intellectual activity during the summer impacts your children:

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Fear and Sound

“The initial concept of the show comes from the experience of hearing while feeling fear. Do you remember lying in bed as a child, listening to every crack in the house? Or listening to every noise while walking through an underpass at night? Hearing seems much sharper and even the smallest sound makes an impact on the entire body and mind when we experience fear. But of course, fear manifests itself through sound in a range of ways, as you will see in this show.

Western art, our galleries, and our entire culture has taught us to rely on our intellectual properties as we live our lives, and experiencing the arts: dissect, analyse, rationalise, and you will understand the content of any work. Sound has become an under-looked aspect of our lives—we watch everything, we need to see everything with our eyes—sound played a significantly more important role in our lives before screens, printing presses, and writing arrived. Sound represents something primal, something deeply connected with the animal part of ourselves, rather than the intellectual. Eventually, our hearing has developed from a sense we depended on for survival into a purely communicative and aesthetic sense. But what if we would let go, and let our under-utilised senses fully appreciate what sound does to us instead of experiencing it in a manner we are so used to?

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Why a University Art Degree Might Be Worth It

As strange as it seems, a university degree in the arts is one of the few degrees that are still worth pursuing, given a few conditions. A university arts education is one of the few degrees that give you not only a degree and some sort of status, but also a portfolio of works, and given that it is not too embarrassing it may well be actually used in real-life to get real, paid work. Compare this to an enormous amount of degrees in social sciences, management, marketing, PR, etc., and you will see that it may actually be quite a practical decision to go into arts school. Obviously one will have to realistically consider how good and original their work is, but once they are past that, it is a pretty safe bet that they will have a career in the arts that might actually pay off that student debt.

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A Brief Comparison of Albanian Iso-Polyphony and Lithuanian Sutartines

It may seem tangential to compare such different cultures as Albanian and Lithuanian from most perspectives—including a musical one—but perhaps it is a needed step towards finding further connections between Balkan and Baltic regions, or to show that they have formed independently of each other. The catalyst for this study is the fact that dissonant folk polyphony exists in both Albanian and Lithuanian folk music, and the Indo-European unity of the two cultures.

Albanian folk music has had very little attention from scholars up until the middle of the 20th century, and this largely complicates its study. The first compilation of Albanian folk music was made by Pjeter Dunguin the 1940’s, but only in 1950, an Albanian musicologist Ramadan Sokoli started full academic research of the music. Since that date it was studied extensively, first mostly from inside Albania, and after the deconstruction of the communist state, foreign studies of Albanian music increased.

Lithuanian music had more focus on it from musicologists, beginning from the middle of the 19th century, through Soviet times, and up until today, and most of the Sutartines have been transcribed in the 19-20th centuries. What complicates the study of the Sutartines today is the fact that they are no longer a living tradition – they are only being performed by professional and amateur folk ensembles. With time, the area of outspread of Sutartines has been diminishing, and it also has been penetrated by influences of homophonic music with a major-minor harmonic structure, eventually this type of singing ceased to exist in villages.

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Time and Space in Sound Installations

The topics and questions that will be explored in this text are derived from my artistic practice that is based around sound art and sound installations in particular, which focuses on two issues that are also central to sound art: time and space.

The reason for this review is to establish and explore the context of my practice.
The primary interest of this review is focused on extended sound (lasting for extended time periods).
The secondary concerns the specific spaces these sounds are situated in.

A quote from LaBelle (2006, p. 162) accurately summarises the aim of this text: “Overlapping and at times drawing from musical culture, the practice of sound art pursues more active relations to spatial presentations, durational structures beyond the concert experience, and within more general public environments that often engage other media, inciting the auditory imagination.”

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It has to be in person

This piece has been specifically created for Seven Traces Contemporary Arts Festival in Caernarfon in 2014.

The video art has been created by Jo Marsh has created an abstract film, which maps various parts of the local landscape. This was made using a purpose built sculpture which contained the camera and was rolled across the different terrains, filming as it travelled. Colourful components within the sculpture further abstracted the work, becoming painterly marks within the finished film.

I made the ‘soundtrack’ to the film, playing with notions of sound design, movie soundtracks, and our perception of the relation between of sound and image. The sound art piece consists of field recordings made in a range of locations in Caernarfon during the night and the day, and of synthesised sound; the piece in general heavily relies on contrast and likeness between synthesised and recorded sound. The sound goes in and out of sync with the video, sometimes having no resemblance, sometimes being strangely suitable, but always forming new patterns within itself and with the video.

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what the tree heard

The idea of this installation comes from an attempt to comprehend or live through something larger than we can embrace with our minds through sound. In the case of this installation it is a relatively short period of time of one day that is digested into two tracks: one is an hour long and the other is one minute.
The initial recording comes from the ‘perspective’ of a tree in the quadrangle where the installation is located, as if it has heard and registered all the sounds that were made in or around the quadrangle like registers its own life through its rings.
This space presents interest because of its own ‘micro-climate’: it seems detached from the rest of the university, living its own very quiet sonic life with occasional interruptions coming in from beyond its walls.

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every n seconds

This is the ‘soundtrack’ that comes from a site-specific sound installation I created in the Making Time Garden at Lancaster University (an artwork in itself created by Jonathan Raisin and Elizabeth Willow).
This installation is based on an often used phrase when we are wanted to be impressed by certain statistics: every N seconds X happens. While not statistically accurate, it is a powerful approximation that helps us understand statistics in a more empirical way: we can physically count these seconds and become aware of how often something (often horrible) occurs.
This idea is taken as basis for this installation and these recurring events are presented in aural form so we can ‘hear the statistics’ instead of just reading them or trying to comprehend them in other ways. The installation consists of numerous statistical cycles that sometimes overlap and collide with each other.
This installation is also based on an opposition of ‘here’ and ‘there’ in the sense that the shed with the piano is metaphorically thought of as ‘here’ and the sounds outside – as ‘there’, which is the case with statistics as they are almost always ‘there’.

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The main concept for this installation comes from the Greek concept of the ‘music of the spheres’ in which the orbits of all planets generate a tone and the simultaneous sounding of these tones generates a sort of divine harmony inaudible to humans.
This installation is not an attempt to reconstruct or in any way make that harmony audible. Instead, using the connection between the movements of planets and sounds it aims to provide us with an opportunity to contemplate our place in time and the direct movement of time.
The visual part of the installation is essentially a clock with astronomical dimensions and ranges from seconds to millennia. We always wait for the faster moving hand of a clock to make its turn and move the slower one waiting for something to happen: an event, an end of an event, etc. The larger the ‘hand’, the more grand is an event. I believe these things represent our everlasting anticipation of the future, an anticipation for events always more grand than the previous: a new year is more important than a new week, and a new millennium is more than another new year.
The sounding part of the installation is reminiscent of Russian church bell ringing, with its repetitive rhythmical patterns and its multitudes of inharmonicity and non-tempered sounds. The sounds build up and then return to a sole bell ringing. A contemplation of this process (singularity-multitude-singularity) is also something that makes us aware of our place in time.

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