Jun 10

Sounds & Software by the Sea: Being Buddied


Edited: Jun 10

Cardiff to Ceredigion - Here are a few words about the visit of our 'Buddy' from our perspective. I don’t think that anyone would say that Penparcau is the kind of place that you’d expect there to be an interest in experimental electronic music. It’s a small village in rural Ceredigion on the outskirts of Aberystwyth nestling up against the ‘Celtic’ Hillfort Pen Dinas, an area which was classed as a Communities First area. However, there is a growing interest in the Arts and what might be seen as a small underground movement with an interest in taking a more avant-garde approach to composition and performance, thanks to the support of Ty Cerdd!

While taking part in the CoDI Electronic Composers programme I’d met @Richard McReynolds and become aware of his work. I’d also been able to discuss different approaches to composing, notation and ways of performing with him, a shared interest that we have.

We were aware of some of the performance systems and software that Richard had built and were keen to get him to come and work with us. ‘Electronic’ performances can sometimes be more enjoyable for the performer than the audience, and can consist of a person sitting on stage looking at a laptop pushing buttons and twisting knobs, which isn’t particularly interesting for the audience, and it’s something that we wanted to get away from, and we knew that this is something that Richard had tried to avoid in his practice. We saw the call for “Buddies” and were lucky enough to be able to get funding from Ty Cerdd (via the CoDI Buddy scheme) for Richard to work with our group (now called) The Ensemble Electronic (Cymru) as part of the Penparcau Community Forum Arts and Music Group.

We’d had various email exchanges with Richard, I’d met with him in Cardiff and I was slightly worried about using up too much of his time, all of this adds up! So we decided to do a focused workshop and we’d have a drop-in style approach so that people come and take part throughout the day – this works much better than a couple of hours here and there for us, and travelling between Cardiff and Ceredigion several times is time consuming.

“You find the sound with your body” (talking about using Richard's software)

During the first part of the day we were introduced to different sorts of ‘digital instruments’, such as the Microsoft Kinect controller and the GameTrak, we were familiar with this from our work with Jenn and Simon of the Swansea Laptop Orchestra. Richard also introduced us to Max/MSP a visual programming language. We were able to spend some time using the programs that he had developed and getting used to the feel and flexibility of using these sorts of set-ups to compose. This exploration was a great way to introduce people to this sort of technology. After a short while we were able to suggest ways in which we’d like to develop this set up and the sorts of sounds, compositions and themes that we’d like to address.

Richard introduces different ways of engaging with digital instruments


Later in the day, equipped with recording gear, hydrophones, shotgun mics and stereo mics we went out and explored the local harbour and beach, listening to, making and collecting all manner of interesting sounds from the site, which we could take back and use to start bringing together our ideas. We sat down and quickly went through our sonic collections, listening, editing and mixing. We then imported them into the system. This allowed us to manipulate the sound and develop a sense and feel for what we could accomplish – and to think about the shape of a future work.


Engaging with new instruments - the Tether


Ben Lake MP - Excited by the possibilities of our developing work

At one point the MP for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) came in and was fascinated by what we had been doing, he was really supportive of the collaboration and interested in the ways that we were performing our developing work. As the day went on time flew by and we’d been able to draft something together that we’d like to develop further. Before the end of the day we’d made some plans and it was time to head off, with our heads full of ideas and a whole day’s worth of sonic explorations, but what next?


Site Specific Sound - A Future Focus

There’s no doubt that we’d definitely like to work with Richard again, and have been developing a small project that we’d like to co-compose, score and record in an innovative way. We’d like to develop some of Richard’s software and work with him to perform and record a set of short pieces.


Our concept is based around the notion of a Sonic Triptych - Three pieces that can be listened to individually, or together as a single piece.


We will develop the piece/s with Richard using his software to explore a range of approaches, from field recording to developing synthesized sounds and vocal experimentation (in Welsh & English). We will perform and record the pieces, and we will then create a site-specific way of allowing people to engage with the compositions in different locations via their phone. Anyone will be able to go to 4 specific locations, open a piece of software using their phone and hear a performance that is related to that specific place – 3 individual pieces and 1 combined mix of the pieces. Each location will add to the experience of the listener.


Sounds & Rhythm - the clash of pebbles on the beach

Our theme is “The Wild & the Sea.

Having a downloadable experience means that more people will be able to engage with the work and experience it – we’d like to think that we can break down barriers to taking part in musical experiences.

Reflecting and Thanks Everyone enjoyed the time that we spent working with Richard and the opportunities, ideas and imaginings that this has enabled us to have. It has also given us the confidence and enthusiasm to really think about how we can develop as a group and musically. The way that Ty Cerdd have been able to ‘seed-fund’ different projects is leading to new and exciting musical collaborations and ways of understanding, performing and sharing music in Wales, and that’s important for our small community and Wales as a whole.

New Posts
  • Tŷ Cerdd has announced that Jack White and Iestyn Harding have each been awarded grants to enable them to bring new work to the concert platform, alongside community performing groups. Jack and Iestyn had been part of an original cohort of eight artists selected for the 18/19 CoDI Buddies programme pairing composers with local societies. To facilitate this, each composer and performing group received an initial grant from CoDI, with the pairings collaborating over a series of workshops in early 2019. Jack White worked with Côr Aduniad from Cwmbran to develop Beacons, an experimental vocal piece that features the use of moving audio speakers. It takes its name from the Brecon Beacons mountain range, on which fires would be lit to warn of approaching armies. Fire is used as a metaphor for potential change in the work, and the choir moves around the performing space before coming together in the last section. The additional grant of £750 will allow Jack to work with the choir (who receive £250) to complete the piece ready for its premiere in March 2020. Iestyn Harding workshopped sketches for a triple concerto with musicians from the Abergavenny Symphony Orchestra over three workshops during June. Building on these experiments, he will now work with the group to complete his work for solo violin, flute, horn and orchestra ready for its first performance during the summer of 2020. Buddies is one of multiple strands run as part of CoDI, Tŷ Cerdd’s development programme for Welsh composers. From January to June 2019 eight artist / community music group pairings workshopped new pieces that included music for wind quintet, experimental electronic music and a piece for massed brass bands. Jack White and Iestyn Harding’s proposals for developing their initial work were selected by Ty Cerdd’s panel to go forward to development. Matthew Thistlewood, of Ty Cerdd said: “It’s been a pleasure to see the range of excellent work that has been developed through CoDI over the last year – and heartening to see such vibrant links between professional composers and our thriving societies. Jack and Iestyn’s projects were both artistically imaginative and accessible for the groups they were working with – and we’re so pleased that the ensembles want to work with the composers to bring them to audiences.” A call to artists for the 19/20 CoDI Buddies opportunity will be made in mid-October.
  • Back in June I recorded a new experimental vocal piece called 'Beacons' with Côr Aduniad: https://youtu.be/TdYeqlDLCqc (link to video). I've been thinking about the use of the speakers in the piece, and how the experience of singing with the speakers could be improved from the perspective of the singers and overall artistically. From the first rehearsal it became apparent that I had made the track on the speakers too quiet for the singers. This question of balance became very important to the overall idea of the piece: I didn't want the material to dominate, but it needed to be loud enough for the singers to take their cues. By the second rehearsal, I had made the material louder, and that seemed to give the singers more security. Singers are very used to the sound of the piano in a rehearsal setting. When you add other sounds into the mix it can be off-putting for less experienced singers. This was a good test for the choir, and it seemed to help that we started with some exercises that introduced some of the techniques in the piece. I used a technique I had first developed whilst working with the South Iceland Chamber Choir in the piece 'Islands/Ynysoedd'( https://soundcloud.com/jacknotchris/islands-ynysoedd ) where, in groups of three, the middle singer dictates the tempo by pulsing the hands of the singers either side (you can see this at the start of the video). This sets up the possibility of having simultaneous multiple tempi. What I think I would like to develop with the choir (and with my writing for this setup) is to make more use of a performance space. I think that I can write more effectively by limiting the sound types on the speakers, to reinforce the concept of spacing between singers. I also think that I will try to write wordless pieces so that the singers can concentrate on the notes and movement as this style develops. Lastly, I'd like to thank Côr Aduniad and Tŷ Cerdd for this opportunity and for the overall positive and challenging experience this has proven.
  • I can’t recall who said that ‘every composition falls short’. While I certainly don’t think every piece is a disappointment to the composer, more often than not they turn out to be different to what you expect or intend - sometimes significantly so! One of the parameters I put in place for my CoDI Buddies piece was to make it musically challenging but not technically so. This resulted in music that had a number of different rhythmic strands which ultimately proved difficult to coordinate in the time allotted. It is the job of the composer to examine and listen intently to the musical material so that it reveals it own destiny and ideal form. The composer must then use skill, experience and imagination to find a way for this to manifest itself in a practicable way. As the notes fade into the Sunday night air it is becoming clear that what was intended to be the opening of Abergavenny Music will now be somewhere near the climax of the movement and the various strands that come together here will need to follow their own individual journeys before being brought to interact. So, will Abergavenny Musi c turn out differently to what I had envisaged when writing the original application? Absolutely. Without the opportunity to try out these ideas; to understand how they work aurally and musically but also practically for the musicians, this piece would certainly be following a more pre-ordained course. Hopefully, rather than falling short, it will bloom into something more interesting than I could have originally imagined. And, in challenging myself as a composer, I am now more open to other ways of working and to a more collaborative way of engaging with performers. In this sense, it might be argued that this process is already showing itself to be a success! Iestyn Harding ©Silurian Music 2019

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