Museums at Night: 15 May 2014

As part of Somerset House’s Museums at Night exhibition on 15 May 2014, I presented In Memory, an evening-long installation of electronic drones and nostalgic recompositions of Bach’s Cello Suite in G major.

The performance included a live ‘incantation’, repeated three times throughout the night, by solo musicians in Seamen’s Hall (South Wing, Somerset House), interspersed with electronic drones.

Incantations were performed by a combination of viola , cello, Baroque viola, Baroque cello, five micro-cassette recorders, speaker, a selection of handbells, and other pre-recorded sounds.

Viola – Paul Beckett
Baroque viola – Emma Alter
Violoncello – Deborah Chandler
Baroque violoncello – Natasha Kraemer


Songmaking in the Gamelan Room

A collaborative investigation of my score for solo viola, Songmaking. The recording makes use of the various gongs in the Gamelan Room at LSO St. Luke’s, where the piece was recorded, thanks to support from the LSO Soundhub.

The images shown are the score for the piece, from which viola player Paul Beckett performed. The score is based on a set of 19th century Inupiat (Alaskan) ornamanetal bow drills at the British Museum:

A Work in Progress: Slightly Before, Just After

I’m currently working on a short film of a string quartet re-imagining Schubert’s 1815 lied Meeresstille (Calm Sea). My composition is based on a loose transcription of a slowed and distorted recording of the original song by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore. The film was shot at the Royal Northern College of Music, directed by me with camera operated by Lucas Martin and sound recording by David Coyle.

The piece is still being developed but here are a couple of preview extracts I’ve put together so far…

Thanks to members of the Aomori Quartet performing here (violins: Hugh Blogg / Rebecca Smith; cello: Chris Terrepin; guest violist: Kay Stephen).

Part 1:

Part 2:


Written for pianist Jing Ouyang, this is a collage score made up of fragments of music borrowed from Jing’s repertoire list. I threw in a few extra notes for good measure too…


This is a recording of Jing Ouyang performing the piece at her RNCM Gold Medal concert on 14 June 2013.

Viola Fragments

My piece Viola Fragments received its public premiere on 18 May at LSO St Luke’s, in London. The composition combines solo viola, soundtrack and film loop.

The film, shot by Debra Fear shows images from the score, which is made from images of musical fragments pinned to a noticeboard. This performance was given by Paul Beckett.

JTB May 2013


Notes from a Meeting

This short film is a collaboration between video artist Belinda Ackermann, dancer Julie Havelund, and myself. I created audio from recorded sounds made in and around the Siobhan Davies dance studio in London, where Julie performed her dance; there are also some sounds from the park near where I live on a sunny afternoon.

About the piece

Independently conceived movements, images and sounds overlap like translucent layers, a narrative of displaced times and places – a private glint of sunlight, a chattering midday park, a church façade in a cloudy city. Notes from a Meeting flickers between these varied times and locations, inspired by notions of density, proximity, abstraction and the possibilities of playful exchanges in the process of making.

This project grew from a simple curiosity about the unconscious act of casting a shadow, and how it might transform, vanish and reappear in another format. Choreographer & Dancer Julie Havelund | Sound scape Jacob Thompson-Bell | Video Artist Belinda Ackermann.

JTB May 2013

Songmaking: Eclectica (a graphic score)

This piece is currently being expanded and developed for my new project – Translations.

This graphic score for solo viola is a reconstruction of information and images based on a group of seven Inupiat bow drills housed at the British Museum. The drills are ornamental artefacts from a 19th century north Alaskan community, and they show images of huntiing, and other group activities. Browse the score for more information and to see the images I have created.

The score will be premiered alongside the bow drills themselves at the British Museum on 4 July.

For a higher resolution copy of the score, please contact me directly.

Ghost in the Machine

My new piece Ghost in the Machine is made for electric keyboard, household rubbish, and amplified grand piano resonance. The piece is about exploring unwanted, unpredictable, unrefined noises that distort the tuned resonance of a grand piano. The score I created is a cut and paste collage, using a photocopier to repeat phrases, and a variety of cut out images to suggest performance instructions.

Musical instruments are crafted with precision in mind – the brackets, braces, finely tuned strings, and polished veneer of a grand piano are intended to seal its sound in a carefully managed wooden box. Keeping the mechanism in tune, and in “good” working order, means letting in some sounds and keeping others out; this is done by tightening and loosening strings, oiling pedal levers and protecting the wood from warping or degrading. Left untended, a piano gradually slips into a very different auditory world – unpredictable harmonies resonate from stretched strings buzzes and creaks escape from the wooden frame; all accompanied by scrapes and clicks from pedals and keys.

I used found objects (crumpled paper, paracetamol packets, sugar packets and old plastic document wallets, empty shampoo bottles, together with everyday objects like keys and credit cards), all placed freely over the strings of a grand piano, to modify its sound. The presence of these objects is enlarged using amplification, as though magnifying the grain of polished wood to reveal its imperfections…

Rather than attempting to directly operate and control the piano itself, I used an electronic keyboard, with a speaker propped underneath the base of the piano, with its sustain pedal depressed – the keyboard resonates the piano, letting it sing independently. The ordinarily controlled mechanism becomes inhabited by my sounds, filtered through the unpredictable array of objects placed across its strings – ghosts in the machine.

JTB March 2013

Ludwig in the Room

manuscript-beethovenWritten as a companion to Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, my piece Ludwig in the Room, this piece is a mixture of quotation and recomposition of Beethoven’s work, and original materials newly composed.

Commissioned by the Royal Northern College of Music, the piece has been performed by the RNCM Symphony Orchestra (February 2013) and the orchestra of Opera North, at DARE Composer’s Forum (November 2013).

RNCM Symphony Orchestra performance

About the piece:

Ludwig in the Room imagines the erosion and decomposition that Beethoven’s symphony might have endured as a physical object. Beethoven’s work is around 200 years old, and yet this recession into history is forgotten each time the score is revived in a fresh performance. Eroica is a sculpture in sound – impermanent, evaporating even as it is played, and yet never truly leaving us. Contrast this with the composer’s manuscript which, as a bundle of paper and ink, has a permanency unachievable through its performance as a piece of music, but has a finite life, gradually crumbling into dust.

Instead of offering a window onto a heroic adventure, as in Beethoven’s symphony, my piece paints an impersonal environment, whose terrain is marked by features both common to and alien from the drama of the original. Beethoven’s language is blurred by time, now heard as a series of dislocated statements. The locomotive thrust of his musical voice is stalled, allowing us instead to bask for a short while in the opening sonorities of the Eroica, the first chord of which suffuses my composition.

My piece is, at the same time, a kind of incantation, punctuated throughout by the deep tolling sound of a bell, as if to summon Beethoven’s spirit into the performance space, not through a literal replaying of his music, but via a contemporary appropriation of it.

JTB September2013