Category Archives: Composition

Save the date: Sloths inside the internet on 29th March

A quick post to say that you’ll be able to listen in to the last session of Sloth Racket’s R&D project ‘A Room Inside The Internet’ (see earlier blog post) on Monday 29th March. We’ll be playing some of the new music from the past five months of these sessions, in its current work-in-progress state. A taste of the next album?!

Full details of where to listen and what time coming soon…

More RITI scores in production last month

Sloth Racket: A Room Inside The Internet

This post is about a project I’m just starting. It’s not something public, so there’s no music to listen to, videos to check out or livestream to tune into. But it’s my current focus during these winter months, so I’m documenting it here and may write some updates as the project goes on. This weekend Sloth Racket will hold our second of five sessions in ‘a room inside the internet’!

Seth Bennett attempts a deep dive into cyberspace

When the pandemic scuppered our plans for a 2020 tour, I needed to find something that would keep us playing together and create some paid work to replace live shows. Arts Council England re-opened their Project Grants programme in July, with an altered focus to take into account the challenging conditions artists (along with the entire world) are now operating in, and I began to think about how I could put together a funding application to support us to make work, even without any touring.

Over the summer I had been lucky enough to take part in online group jams as part the testing of Noise Orchestra’s ongoing R&D project. This involved ad-hoc bands of up to six improvisers, playing together over the internet using some software called JackTrip. Noise Orchestra (David Birchall and Vicky Clarke) were working towards what is now their Autonomous Noise Unit system, where players can use a simple plug-and-play device to connect to a hubserver and jam in real-time with other people also connected. JackTrip has amazing audio quality and incredibly low latency, meaning that the experience is pretty close to playing with someone in the next room in a studio, for example. Tom Ward worked on the server-side development of the ANU project, so I heard a lot about it as it developed – and it became clear that JackTrip could be the tool we needed to safely collaborate as a band during the pandemic.

The mighty ANU

I applied for a Project Grant to support a five month development period with Sloth Racket, made up of writing time for me to compose new material, and five remote band sessions – one every month from November 2020 to March 2021. ‘A Room Inside the Internet’ – a phrase used by Dave Birchall to describe JackTrip – became the project name. It was strange to write a grant application where no artists would actually meet each other, where the only in-person public engagement was in a speculative post-pandemic future, and where there was no income from other sources at all (not even any door gigs!). Noise Orchestra agreed to be a partner and provide some ANU for band members who couldn’t connect with their existing home setups, and Tom came on board to set us up our own ‘sloth server’ – the virtual rehearsal room. Our alto player Sam Andreae, who is also part of Noise Orchestra’s project, agreed to do the ANU setup.

Despite the remote-working aspect and pandemic context, the project was very appealing to me as it would focus exclusively on creating and developing new material for a block of time, without any of the other work involved in being a band, like booking tours or preparing releases. I actually like doing that work and it’s a huge part of being an artist, but it can also kill creativity and take over my headspace. In a weird dark way, the impossibility of booking live shows was a chance to step off that treadmill. I put the application in and hoped for the best.

After only four weeks, I got the decision email and was pretty ecstatic to see that the Arts Council were offering me the full amount I applied for. Since then I’ve been working on new material, and we played online for the first time in November. It’s totally different from rehearsing in person, but SO good to play together again. And we have four more sessions to try out the new music I create in the writing time. The funding has allowed us to take time for experimentation with no pressure of a performance endpoint, no studio date looming on the horizon. (Although, of course, I’d love to book both a studio date and some touring as soon as possible after the project finishes.)

Score preparation – sets of these modules went in the post to band members

The Project Grants scheme in its current guise (until March 2021) does not require the usual 10% minimum income from other sources, or the sort of public engagement that was previously expected. It’s quite similar to their Developing Your Creative Practice funding, in that during this exceptional time the Arts Council are encouraging applications that focus on R&D: basically, time to think and work on stuff – in preparation for taking our new work out there into a future where live music as we know it is happening again. If you’re an artist (working in England), maybe you knew this already. But if you didn’t, and if you have some development type work that could use funding support, it would be worth reading the Projects Grant guidance.

Noise Orchestra have now launched a website for their ANU system – worth checking out if you’re interested to read more about what they do. They have hooked up jams involving musicians from all around the UK and further afield, including live broadcasts for the Manchester concert series Curious Ear. Online collaboration is not like playing together in a room, in person. It’s something else. But I’ve found over the past few months that in its own way, it does have a good go at scratching the itch. And for bands who might find it difficult/impossible/undesirable to meet in person during the pandemic, it’s a fantastic way to keep making music together.

As part of our last session in March 2021 (closer than it sounds), there will be a live ‘open rehearsal’ broadcast; you’ll be able to tune in and hear us playing the new music from our five different locations. I’ll post the details here when I have them…

My baritone in the internet

hcmf// commission! (…and Double Bass Comments poster!)

Some really excellent news to announce today! I have been selected as one of the artists for the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf//) COVID-19 Commissions. The commissions are the festival’s response to the pandemic, offering artists some paid work now when things are pretty bleak for live performance. I’ll be writing a new piece for trio, to be performed at hcmf// at a later date. With my 2020 year planner in the recycling bin due to loads of future work being cancelled or postponed indefinitely, this is really brilliant news and I feel very lucky to have been chosen. I’ll be writing about the project on the blog as it develops.

In other news, there’s a new merch item up on the Sloth Racket site for tomorrow’s Bandcamp Friday and it’s something quite special. For many years, our bass player Seth has been collecting people’s verbal reactions to his double bass (usually when they see him on public transport or walking down the street) using the hashtag #doublebasscomments. Sloths guitarist Anton recently decided that this needed to be taken to a whole different level, and asked the brilliant artist and friend of Sloth Racket Angela Guyton to make a cartoon of some of the comments. The resulting A2 POSTER is now on sale!! Edition of 20, so grab one quick for the bassist in your life…

Vonnegut Collective Mindful Miniature

The lovely Vonnegut Collective have swung into action during the lockdown with their ‘Mindful Miniatures’ project, and I was very happy to be asked to contribute a track. For the project, participants take a guided audio walk and then respond with a piece of text, an image, a video etc. These are then passed on to artists for us to respond in turn with some music and sound. A nice process! I took the opportunity to experiment with multi-tracking the homemade percussion instruments I’ve been making, as well as blowing on a piece of plastic pipe from the beer shop with a sax mouthpiece (of course). I’m pretty happy with the results, and had a joyous morning creating the track. You can listen to it on the Vonneguts’ website. Hats off to VC for providing some work for artists during the pandemic and creating good vibes.

Some percussion bits (taken on a different session – no cymbals were used on the VC track).

‘Boundaries’ released today!

Out today is something I’m really happy to be involved with: Boundaries, an LP on the new multi.modal label. Based at SPARC (Sound Practice and Research @ City), a research centre at the Music Department of City, University of London, multi.modal is run by Tullis Rennie and Claudia Molitor. In their own words:

‘multi.modal is a new London based record label that muddies the borders between improvisation, field recording and composition. Each release on the label will triangulate these artistic spaces and reflect contemporary music practices, which tend to be collaborative and multimodal.’

I was lucky enough to be invited to work with City University Experimental Ensemble in April 2017, making a new graphic score, March Of The Egos, for them as well as playing my piece Off-World (as heard on the Favourite Animals album). We performed the two pieces at IKLECTIK, and it’s this recording that you can hear on side B of ‘Boundaries’.

The title of the release refers to side A of the LP: two interpretations of Chieko Shiomi’s Boundary Music. This 1963 text score reads: ‘Make the faintest possible sound to a boundary condition whether the sound is given birth to as a sound or not. At the performance, instruments, human bodies, electronic apparatus or anything else may be used.’

The Boundaries album is distributed by NMC Recordings and can be ordered from their website. I also have a couple of copies that I’ll be selling at gigs, so come and find me on a merch table somewhere soon!

Lastly I should mentioned the beautiful design work by Alexander Rennie. Look at the gorgeous cover!

Update: I’ve been alerted to a lovely review of this record on the Further blog, in which Mat Smith describes CUEE’s performances of my pieces as ‘a vibrant, colourful, euphorically noisy collision between noir jazz and electronics’ (Off-World) and ‘a discordant, joyously sprawling piece wherein each instrument and player seems to be vying for airtime’ (March Of The Egos). Thanks Mat!

What Love

This month I’m part of Seth Bennett’s ‘What Love’ project; three gigs for a brand new group, interpreting/responding to the music of Charles Mingus. Also playing in the ensemble will be Kim Macari (trumpet), Ollie Dover (alto saxophone and bass clarinet), George Murray (trombone), Adam Fairhall (piano), Johnny Hunter (drums) and of course Seth on bass. Each member of the band will bring an arrangement of a Mingus composition (or their own Mingus-inspired new composition). It should be good fun! You can catch us in Sheffield, Cambridge and Manchester. See the flyer below for dates and venues…Update: now with rehearsal video….

New Sloth Racket video

Sloth Racket has a new video! Our good friend Ben Owen has made this great short film of us playing at a LUME gig at The Vortex in May this year. The piece we play is called ‘Shapeshifters’ and will appear on our second album, coming out in Summer 2017.

More videos of the band can be found on the Sloth Racket page. Also this month, some new nice words about the band have appeared online; from Dave Sumner on his latest Bird Is The Worm ‘This Is Jazz Today’ dispatch, and from Stewart Smith in his 2016 jazz/improv roundup on The Quietus. Thanks both!

First incarnation of the LUMEkestra

Anton Hunter has posted a video of the LUMEkestra playing his composition ‘LUME Kestrel’. The gig was at IKLECTIK or 14th November, as part of our special LUME triple bill show for the London Jazz Festival. As well as Anton’s piece we played compositions by Paulo Duarte, Tom Ward, Martin Pyne and Dave Kane. It was a lot of fun, and the ensemble will definitely appear again in 2017: its mission is to create a space for the composers around LUME to experiment with writing for large groups.

I was quite pleased with my flyer for this gig too:

lumekestra-poster

Lancaster Jazz Festival Artist In Residence/Headline Artist

Some very exciting news for the Autumn: I’m going to be Artist In Residence at Lancaster Jazz Festival 2016! Their tireless artistic director and ace clarinettist Matt Robinson emailed me a few months ago to offer this fantastic (and terrifying) opportunity and obviously I had to say yes. The main focus of my Artist In Residence role will be to produce some new music, the performance of which will be the festival’s headline set on Saturday 17th September. So, not a very high pressure gig then…

I decided to assemble a large ensemble for the occasion, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s ended up as a ten-piece, and the line-up will be:

Julie Kjær flute & bass clarinet
Tom Ward flute & bass clarinet
Graham South trumpet
Tullis Rennie trombone
Dee Byrne alto sax
Sam Andreae tenor sax
Cath Roberts baritone sax
Anton Hunter guitar
Seth Bennett double bass
Johnny Hunter drums

The band is basically an expanded Sloth Racket, and I can’t wait to get started on putting the music together. More on this to follow….

The festival is happening over the weekend of the 16th-18th September, and the full programme will be announced soon (keep an eye on the festival website).

1722723