Lionel Street Players Photoshoot

Here’s the first of our photos from our recent photoshoot. We spent some time lurking in the canal underworld of Birmingham, even doing an impromptu gig for some interested passersby…

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Photos courtesy of Noelle T. Angus.

Molecular Mimicry – BCMG Resolution Project

As I posted about a few months ago, earlier this year I was involved in BCMG’s Resolution project, exploring scientific research through music and I composed a piece for secondary school students to perform. As part of my research, I drew a little storyboard which was made into a little film (thanks to Jonathan Lee). I’ve finally managed to put the audio recording of the performance by the students together with the animation. And here it is (make sure you turn your sound up – the beginning is very quiet):

Programme note:

Molecular mimicry’ is a term that describes the process of the body’s immune system mis-recognising its own antigens (particular proteins which live on the surface of cells) for those of a foreign pathogen and attacking itself. This piece explores the hypothesized process of the body developing Sjögrens syndrome.

Firstly the musical form of an oral bacterium called Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. Gingivalis) is heard:

Molecular Mimicry Melody

This bacteria, or pathogen, is very similar in appearance to some of the body’s own cells. In the music this is represented rhythmically similar harmonies. The melody and harmonies are locked into by another rhythm:

Molecular Mimicry Counter-melody

This depicts the way the body uses a ‘lock and key’ type mechanism when discovering and reacting to particular antigens. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIN5sSUlZWk

This in turn triggers an immune response – an alarm – and the body begins to attack itself. In Sjögrens Syndrome this takes a number of forms, one of which is that the tear ducts and mouth dry up, shown in the music by the change from loud resonant sounds into high pitched dry, scratchy sounds.

A River Through History – double recording bonus!

So I have now got hold of two recordings from the CBSO Our City Our Past project, which I posted about before.

The first is a performance of the piece A River Through History, composed and performed by young people from Shenley Academy at the CBSO Centre in May 2013.

The second recording is of an arrangement I made of the piece for full orchestra, performed wonderfully by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall in June 2013, conducted by Michael Seal.

A River Through History – CBSO Performance

A River Through History Title Page

Yesterday I attended both of the CBSO’s schools concerts involving the final performance for the Birmingham History Project I have been involved with. The full orchestra performed in Symphony Hall with audiences of 2000 children in each concert.

The reason for my excitement was that I had arranged a piece written by secondary school pupils from Shenley Academy for the full orchestra to perform. Earlier in May the young people performed the piece themselves at the CBSO Centre, then I went away and arranged it for the orchestra. My main concern whilst arranging the music was that I needed to balance needing to make the piece sound ‘orchestral’ and giving it a ‘professional’ edge, without losing the sense of the original material composed by the young people.

The ideas from the students were really good and fortunately I was able to work really well with the material they had composed without adding to it very much at all. I felt like I was able to be true to their original intentions. Fortunately I was able to go into the school and do a session with them to explain to them exactly what I had done with their piece, so that they could understand why they might not hear ‘their bit’ played by the same instrument or in the same way. I think this was a really valuable session.

From talking to them after the concert, they seemed really pleased that they could hear ‘their music’ in the piece even though I hadn’t just taken their piece note by note and orchestrated it.

It has taken a lot of work, but I’m really pleased with the way it turned out. I’m hoping to get a recording online soon.

A River Through History - Page 1

A River Through History double pageA River Through History section

From Christmas to Easter…

…was a pretty busy time for me! In a good way!

I was involved in a number of projects, two of which have now finished for this year.

Firstly Resolution with BCMG. This was an intriguing science and music project which I blogged about previously. The final performance of this project was immense – the three secondary schools all did a joint performance which was really well received. I was so pleased with the way the young people reacted to the slightly crazy mix of science and contemporary music. They really engaged with it and pushed it forward in ways I didn’t imagine which was fantastic! Even created a rap about antibodies and antigens, which was awesome. I wrote a piece for the young people to perform entitled ‘Molecular Mimicry’ which was based on a theory of what the body does when it develops Sjögren’s Syndrome. Here’s the cartoon strip I wrote for it (no audio):

 

I was also involved with BCMG’s Imagine Compose project where I was working with one of Birmingham Music Service’s beginner instrumental ensembles to get them to be creative with their instruments. The exciting thing for me about this project was that you could see the children’s minds opening up to the new ideas and possibilities of their instruments. The group were fantastic – they were all really engaged and creative which made it fun. I went to their final performance at the Adrian Boult Hall in March and they actually performed a piece they’d created together. Here it is:

 

I have also been doing workshops with CBSO’s Birmingham History Project and CBSO’s Stay Tuned project – in fact you can catch fleeting glimpses of me here on this video:

Science & Music

Notes spilling onto page
Notes spilling onto page – if only it were this easy!

Over the past few weeks I have been working with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group on a project called Resolution. The project brings together science and musical composition and as part of it I am writing a piece for a group of young secondary school students to play, which is based on research into Sjogren’s Syndrome. It’s all very intriguing.

The scientist I have been working with is looking into specific theories of how Sjogren’s Syndrome might develop, as it isn’t really known. It’s amazing both how much and how little scientists know! So the piece I’m writing uses extra-musical information such as the ideas of bacteria, antigens, antibodies etc and I am trying to convey this information without it being too much of a story-telling exercise. Which is fascinating. And difficult. But fun. And challenging.

The trouble is that the information given to me by the scientist is very complex and abstract and although myriad different ideas are sparked off by the research, actually honing those ideas down to be more communicative of the science is quite tricky. It should be interesting to see how this pans out! It begs the question – can concrete scientific ideas ever be communicated successfully by a non-verbal medium?

Samples and Samples
Samples and Samples
A fake science experiment
A fake science experiment or an intriguing appetiser?

Disabled by Wilfred Owen & The Torn Fields by Mark-Anthony Turnage

Last night I went to a performance by Thumb Contemporary Music Ensemble of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s The Torn Fields.

The piece is based on a number of war poems, one of which is Disabled by Wilfred Owen. This heart-wrenching poem is beautifully set  in the fourth movement of Turnage’s piece. Turnage has been careful not to detract from the poem but to enhance it. The poem was written during the first world war, but has disturbing resonances with today as conflict continues across the globe.

Have a listen here:

And here is the text:

Disabled – Wilfred Owen

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
— In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now he is old; his back will never brace;
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race,
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join. He wonders why . . .
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts.

That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn’t have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?

The J Tones new track – Got to be Real

My function band The J Tones has just finished recording a new demo and we’ve put one of the tracks online (the others will follow!) Here it is for your delectation! reverbnation.com/thejtones

Update to Projections review

Just a quick post about my comments regarding the projections concert performance of Morton Feldman’s Projections II.

Following my review I did receive a very pleasant and measured email from the aforementioned conductor who wished to explain a few of the reasons for the performance problems. Due to our wonderful railway network, the scheduled rehearsal did not happen and the rehearsal on the day was unfortunately not as detailed as the conductor would wish. Additionally the electric piano was a barrier to the sonority of the piece, and of course this was not the conductor’s fault.

As a mere audience member, these issues were of course not in my thinking. I merely reviewed based on what I saw and heard. To be fair, I’ve participated in/organised my fair share of under-rehearsed concerts as well so I can’t be too critical!

I’d like to thank the conductor for contacting me and explaining the problems whilst admitting that the performance was disappointing.

Perhaps a repeat performance could happen…? Or is that just because I think we should hear more Feldman…!

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