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‘And then the next thing you know’ at hcmf// 2021

This post is an attempt to document the process of making my piece And then the next thing you know (coming up on Friday 19th November at hcmf//), as it has involved working in new ways. I wrote briefly about this here last summer, when I was chosen as one of the artists to receive a COVID-19 commission from hcmf//. The brief was to create a new work for up to three players to be performed at the 2021 edition of the festival, and my pitch was a trio piece for Tullis Rennie, Otto Willberg and myself inspired by Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View.

I’ve had a photo of Parker’s artwork – the fragments of an exploded garden shed hung in a gallery space – pinned up by my desk for a few years. The image of the component parts suspended in space resonates with my ideas about structuring compositions; a lot of my approach to writing music involves breaking down the elements of a composition and thinking about what should be pre-determined (and to what extent) by me in advance and what should be improvised collectively in the moment by the band. Then, when the pandemic hit in early 2020, the deconstructed fragments frozen in space began to reflect both my state of mind and the state of my work life, which had been turned upside down by cancellations, postponements and general uncertainty. It was these feelings that led to my idea for the hcmf// piece.

My plan was to make a giant graphic score and then deconstruct it – destroy it really – so that it became a collection of disconnected fragments. The original structure of the score and the information within it would be lost, leaving a garbled mess of partial material and no obvious way to go about playing it. This would then become a giant hanging object that I would suspend in the performance space, and that would be our ‘score’ for a piece improvised trio music.

Something was taking shape…maybe

Turning an idea into reality

Once it had sunk in that this was really happening, my first job was to work out how to construct the physical object. What would it be made of? How big did it need to be? How and where would I make it? This was a fascinating process and opened up a whole new area of making something. Although I regularly make physical objects as part of my work – collage scores, booklets, a zine, hand-printed CD covers, etc – I’d never made anything this….big. Plus, the space we would play in was suddenly important in a new way: I needed to know its dimensions so I could have an idea about the size of the hanging score-fragment-cluster-object. Once I had that information, the way forward seemed to be to build a scale model. Again, not something I’ve needed to do before…

Scale model in progress

Busting out the paint and cardboard

Over the summer of 2021 I started to gather what I needed to make the score. I wanted the whole thing to be made out of recyclable (and ideally compostable/biodegradable) materials, so I settled on using greyboard; a very stiff, recycled cardboard. It has a textured looking surface but is actually smooth and perfect for painting onto. After working out the size of my giant score (6m x 4m!) I ordered up the board.

Initially I’d imagined the score to be a greyscale object, with the information painted on using black lines – like a giant version of my usual paper scores. Once I started gathering materials though, I realised I wanted to add colour. As time went on, the grey and black object seemed a bit bleak, and I wanted to add an injection of energy and hope, so I decided to use….neon paint! For the black lines I got some really fat paint markers.

The next thing to sort out was where to make the giant score. Unsurprisingly there isn’t 6m x 4m of free floorspace in my flat, so it needed to be somewhere else. Luckily, the building where I use a shared studio has a bookable project space, and my friend and studiomate Sam had some time booked in August that he didn’t have any plans for. I moved in and spent an intense few days making the score.

Part of the score laid out

As the fragments were ultimately going to hang in space, I realised that I needed to make it double sided. This meant painting it twice. It took a day to do each side, leaving the paint to dry overnight before flipping all the panels and starting again from scratch. The two sides ended up looking really different; based on the same structure but with a lot of variation in the graphics and notation.Painting the giant score

Once it was all painted up, I had to get it out of the space asap as the room was about to be used for an s10c gig! I took a lot of photos of the score laid out – both sides and a scrambled combination of both – as this would be the last time it would appear in this form.

The other side…

Scrambled panels from both sides creating a nice effect

I then stacked up the panels onto my baritone trolley and loaded out. After that, they lived under my sofa for a couple of months…Ready for transport

Cutting room floor

It was the beginning of October when I was able to work on this project again. The painted boards were waiting under the sofa, and the next stage was the cut. I had already tested cutting the greyboard with a stanley knife over summer, so I got straight on with carving up the panels over a couple of days. It was interesting to think about the fragments hanging in the space, making sure I had a variety of different sizes and shapes. My scale model was very useful at this point to keep a clear idea of what I was aiming for – although the final arrangement would be improvised once I was in the physical venue space in November.

Off-cuts

To hang the fragments I decided to use neon-coloured twine. I conducted a few tests to see whether the twine I was looking at was up to the job, and after hanging large pieces of cardboard around the flat for days at a time decided that it was. With all my cut-up pieces finished, the next job was to make the holes for hanging. Once that was done the physical object was finished and ready to be shipped to Huddersfield!

Reinforcing the holes…with pink gaffa tapeOn its way out!

Audio fragments

In addition to the deconstructed score, I wanted to bring in an element of fragmented audio to the performance. The trio had rehearsed several times in lockdown remotely, using JackTrip, so I had server recordings of our improvisations. This struck me as the perfect raw material: the sounds of us trying to connect musically when we couldn’t be in a room together. I listened back to the sessions and pulled out some snippets, then distributed them to the trio. In performance, we will all have the material on hand to throw into the music, using samplers and electronics to mangle, chop and distort our original sounds. Here they are in their raw form:

At the time of writing, the performance is later this week. All the elements are in place and I’m looking forward to finally being in the space, impovising with the score and fragments to create some collective music together in a room….

The trio playing at Hundred Years Gallery, December 2019 – the last time we played together in person!

cr-ow-tr-io – Hold Music available to pre-order

Ahead of our performance at hcmf// next week, the first album from cr-ow-tr-io is available to pre-order from Luminous today! It’s a collection of short tracks carved out of long improvisations that Tullis, Otto and I recorded in 2019. You can read more about the trio and the album on the Luminous website – and pre-order the album as a CD and/or digital album over on the label Bandcamp site. You’ll also find three tracks streaming there, so have a listen…


For the CD sleeves I’m experimenting with stencilling and a set of neon paints to create a few different colour options. Each sleeve has its own unique variation of the design and I’ll select one randomly when you order. Pre-ordered CDs will arrive in time for release day on 10th December.

LUME IS BACK.

It’s been a while! LUME is back, putting on gigs again in London. Our first outing is a pair of dates at Hundred Years Gallery, where we haven’t hosted a gig since December 2017. Three sets of improvised music in July and August, featuring a whole bunch of our favourite people…

Places are limited, so email the venue to reserve your place (pay on the door when you arrive).

More about the artists can be found on the LUME website, where you’ll also find a refreshed archive of all our gigs and projects since 2013. It was amazing to go through it all while working on the site….quite a list of stuff.

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

Curating an episode of The Noise Indoors

This week The Noise Upstairs are screening the latest edition of their lockdown video series ‘The Noise Indoors’ – curated by me! I invited four really great artists to record a set for it: Tullis Rennie, Rachel Musson, Sophie Cooper and Sam Andreae. The episode premieres at 8pm on Thursday 17th September from the link below….join us! And it will be available to watch again, along with the rest of the series, after the screening.

oem release with Alex Bonney

I’m very happy to announce that Martin Clarke will be releasing a duo recording of Alex Bonney and me on his label oem. Out on 8th July, the set was recorded by Martin at Hundred Years Gallery in February this year – not long before the suspension of live performances. Link coming soon…

Article XI – Live In Newcastle

A new release to check out! Anton Hunter has released a new live recording of his large ensemble Article XI, from the Newcastle date of our double bill large ensembles tour in 2017. Released on the mighty Sheffield label Discus Music, the set features two new compositions plus new live versions of some AXI classics. Have a listen – it’s great to be a part of this group and I hope we can play live again soon.

COVID-19 cancellations

Live events all over the world are being cancelled due to the situation with COVID-19. Check my gigs page for the current status of my upcoming dates as I hear about them. In these very uncertain times, please support artists and venues by buying music online, making donations, etc, if you are able to.

 

MoonMot album available to pre-order

Happy new year! A quick post as I ease myself into 2020 after a break from the internet. I’ve updated my gigs page with my dates for January to March and it’s dominated by MoonMot: the Swiss/UK sextet is back on the road in February and March, touring in the UK and mainland Europe as well as releasing its debut album ‘Going Down The Well’ on 14th February via Swiss label Unit Records. In the mean time, you can have a listen to a couple of tracks and pre-order the album (in LP, CD and digital form) on the MoonMot Bandcamp site.

LUME on The Hello/Goodbye Show

On Saturday 21st December, LUME has been invited to take over Dexter Bentley’s Hello/Goodbye Show on Resonance FM! Dee and I have both appeared on the show before (Sloth Racket played a live set in 2018), and we’re looking forward to filling a whole episode with LUME-related shenanigans. We’ll be playing some tasty tracks and talking about LUME projects, plus there will be a live set from Ti/om (Tom Ward and Tim Fairhall) and one from Dee and me as a duo.

Tune in from 12 noon until 1.30pm to hear what we’ve got up our sleeves…