New music at PLUG…

This evening I went to hear some of my fellow masters students’ work at PLUG VII: Electroacoustic Event. PLUG is a 5 day music festival at RSAMD which showcases the work of composers at the Academy, with the pieces being performed by Academy students and professional musicians. My friend Matthew Whiteside’s piece Dichroic Light for solo cello and live electronics was premiered by a friend of mine, Lydia Whittingham, as well as pieces by Daniel de Gruchy Lambert (trumpet), James Hodges (bassoon), Nikola Kyosev (flute/piccolo), Tim Cooper (with Helen Douthwaite, sackbut) and Jonathan Wettermark (trombone).

Some quick notes on what I heard and issues raised by the performances:

  • The contemporary definitions of “music”, “performance art”, “organised sound” and the grey area between them. What makes a given piece “music” and another simply sampled sounds in rhythms? (with respect to Tim Cooper’s work The Sound of Letters, the Voice of the Page)
  • The relative success of composers writing for instruments that they don’t play themselves, versus the success of compositions by composers who are writing for their own instruments and performing their own compositions* – instrumentalists know their own capabilities and strengths and the limits of their instruments better than those who don’t play them, and can therefore write very idomatically (wrt Nikola Kysosev’s virtuosic piece ‘Mind Cell’)

Some of the techniques that I identified were:

Distortion/reverb/delay/multiphonics/sound and vocal sampling/voices/ambient sound/pedal switches/feedback loops/multitracking

I really enjoyed what I am going to call the ‘alternative listening experience’ of the concert – the stage was covered in microphones, laptops, wires, gadgets and a myriad of speakers on tall wooden stands, giving it a very different feel to normal concert platforms.  I sat behind the mixing desk so had a priviledged view of the composers controlling the audio output in real time!

* NB Composers, please don’t take any of this personally!

1 thought on “New music at PLUG…

  1. Tim Cooper

    Interesting thoughts and just a couple more…

    Maybe tape ‘music’ without a performer doesn’t need to be heard as music? I find it easier reconcile as just another way of making art a lot of the time. I think also it requires a different attitude in the listener that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to a musician. I struggled to enjoy electroacoustic music for years but then it was like I had my ears cleaned and I heard a lot of things afresh.

    On what makes something music… Phrasing, form, development of sonic materials in whatever way they manifest themselves be it pitch, rhythm, timbre, spectra, gesture, texture etc. I tend to think of it a bit like a pyramid starting from the top with materials that form gestures, gestures that form phrases, phrases that form sections, sections that form structures.

    Oh and a last thought… a traditional concert hall might not be the best visual setting for this kind of gig. Problem is they are usually the places where they sound good!

    (in caseit sounds like it… no offense taken!)



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