Archive for News

New Oratorio to use Shelagh Delaney’s short story

Shelagh Delaney

Shelagh Delaney

I am excited to announce that I have been given permission by the estate of the late Shelagh Delaney (1938 – 2011) – one of English literature’s most important and relevant 20th Century writers – to base a new oratorio on the short story entitled “All About And To A Female Artist” (1964).

Shelagh Delaney assembled this prose piece from the mountains of negative, cynical, begging, sometimes threatening, often funny letters and harsh reviews (mostly critical of her gender) that she was bombarded with at just 19 years old following the enormous success of her debut play “A Taste Of Honey”.

It is an honour to be granted this permission – not only because of my immense respect for her writing talent and my enjoyment of her work, but also because Shelagh was very careful about who she allowed to work with her material, and her estate have turned other proposals down in the last 18 months that were felt inappropriate.

The oratorio is expected to premiere in Autumn 2014. Dan Watson has confirmed that contemporary ensemble Thumb will perform the new work, which will again build on my PhD research into microtonal harmony; and feature instruments specifically adapted for that use (You can see a few of them on this site, customised by expert guitar man Jerry Crosson).

Dan will also curate the concert, which will feature a call for scores from emerging composers in addition to the world premiere of my new oratorio.

Thank you Thumb!

Ruth Hopkins sings The Tempest

Ruth Hopkins sings The Tempest

I suppose I should have been nervous about what Michael Wolters jokingly called my “first portrait concert” last week, but having attended rehearsals I simply sat back and enjoyed an incredibly skilled performance under the intelligent lead of my good friend and conductor Dan Watson.

I have only heard, in recent years, of one other group attempting to perform in 31-et (James Weeks/Exaudi) – and that was a choral rather than instrumental piece. Thumb acheived something very special – transforming fixed temperament, diatonic instruments into new, microtonal versions through sheer hard work and experimentation. The results were surprising and stimulating, and Ruth Hopkins effortlessly intoned some of the strangest intervals as if she had always sung that way. You were all wonderful – thank you Thumb x

Stretching guitars to the limit


re-fretting to 31-et

When I showed him my calculations and he saw the size of the frets he said it could not be done… and then did it! I won’t tell you the secret, but by clever use of materials and through micro-precision skill, Jerry Crosson of The Fret Workshop in Felixstowe has transformed an ordinary semi-acoustic guitar into a 31-et microtonal masterpiece. Playing is a little tricky, but Thumb’s Tom Martin has quickly mastered this strange fretboard. Debuts on Dec 3rd, Birmingham Conservatoire Recital Hall.

How do I love thee?

I have been commissioned to write a piece, for girls choir and organ, for my friend Phillippa Cairns wedding to Mark Somerville. You will have met her on this site if you have listened to “The Greatest” or “What Is Man?” This is a great honour, and I am looking forward to setting the chosen text – Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” It is such a beautifully non-cliched statement of love, see for yourself:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace,
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints.
I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! -and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

On Martlesham Heath…


What do you get if you play the 5th, 7th and 9th harmonics in sequence on sine waves? Well if you start at 1000Hz you’ll hear a very well known BT test tone. If you play them all together you get the “lesser” chord of the Bohlen-Pierce scale. I named my electronics piece after the BT training centre in Suffolk – an iconic building housing scientists and engineers. I would like to perform it for them one day, with 12 speaker diffusion. I’m afraid I can’t post it here, because it is made of sine waves and the low ones get “compression-codec”-ed out.

Recycling Art

Big Mouth chimes

I am really pleased to announce that Suffolk Foundation have generously financed the recycling of some of the aluminium tubes from my thirty-one installation at Aldeburgh Music. The Purple Moments team have created an outdoor version of Big Mouth, the largest Waterfront Gamelan instrument we built with NACRO. The one pictured here is the prototype; the new one has less frame as it is set in concrete, and appears to float – and it sounds sweeter than the old steel tube did. It has been permanently installed in the play area at Ormiston Children’s Centre in Ipswich. Thank you Purple Moments crew – Gordon Soames, Dom Martin and Jason Catchpole.