Practice-Led Research into an ‘Avant Garde’ Style

I’ve made a YouTube video that tries to elaborate on my own approach to composing music. This entails what I think about what we call “Avant garde” music or “contemporary classical music” today. By all means, check out the video on my YouTube channel. In this video, I outline some practice-led research (from my own PhD in Composition) that led me to conclude that the ‘Avant Garde’ music scene is just one massive adherence to a bunch of unspoken established rules and, essentially, a ‘style’. It’s a style so much so that it can be quoted and even the subject of pastiche. This video (and this blog post) should also go some way to showing how composition IS and CAN BE research (am looking at you, Croft).

I’m going to talk about a particular collection of pieces I started writing during my PhD. This collection of pieces is called ENERGY CANNOT BE CREATED. You can listen to these pieces online. So far there are four pieces in this collection. It’s important to note that I wrote all these pieces for a student ensemble.  This had an influence on how I wrote the pieces because I had to keep in mind the students’ capabilities at all times.

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Olivier Messiaen: Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps

I’ve made an online lecture that discusses the compositional technique of Olivier Messiaen with reference to his quartet: Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time) for clarinet, piano, violin and ’cello. In this lecture, I discuss his use of ‘modes of limited transposition’; ‘isorhythms’, ‘non-retrogradable rhythms’, and ‘reductive rhythm’. This blog post features as a supplement to the lecture, which you can find on my YouTube channel.

Olivier Messiaen

First, some contextual background: who was Olivier Messiaen? He was born in 1908 in Avignon, France. His father was a translator of English (especially Shakespeare), and his mother was a poet. Messiaen taught himself piano and wrote The Lady of Shalott after Tennyson’s poem (here, he is already demonstrating extra-musical influences). He attended the Paris Conservatoire in 1919 until 1930. There, he studied piano, organ, percussion and composition (and history). Messiaen also learned about Greek rhythms from Marcel Dupré, and discovered a table of 120 Indian ‘deci-talas’ listed by Sharngadeva (these are rhythms of the Indian provinces). Knowing all this is important for understanding his works post-1935 (including Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps).

In 1931, Messiaen was appointed organist at the Church of La Sainte Trinite in Paris. Messiaen’s Catholic faith is a key influence on him.  It is, along with nature, birdsong and literature, the most important extra-musical source of inspiration for him. Messiaen has also written a lot of organ music, which is meditative rather than for specific use in the actual liturgy of the Roman service.

In 1936, Messiaen forms La Jeune France, a fairly short-lived group determined to write music with a human/spiritual dimension. He also married violinist Claire Delbos in 1932, for whom he writes a song cycle (1936 and 1937). Delbos dies young from illness in 1959.

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Ian Pace in Huddersfield

I am pleased to announce that Ian Pace will be performing my Progress always comes late  (2017) for solo piano. This piece was composed as a birthday present for Ian Pace on his fiftieth birthday. More information about this can be found here and here.

This particular upcoming concert will feature works by Charles Ives, Walter Zimmermann, Marc Yeats, Lauren Redhead, Eleri Angharad Pound, Alistair Zaldua, and Michael Finnissy. More information about the concert and how to book can be found here.

The following is some information about the concert which can also be found on the University of Huddersfield’s website. Continue reading


The latest instalment in my ENERGY CANNOT BE CREATED collection will be premiered by LSTwo Ensemble on Saturday. ENERGY CANNOT BE CREATED IV: …generously taken explores the notion that all acts of composing involve (re)arranging what already exists. It generously takes, ruthlessly breaks apart, and forcefully reshapes. This piece is violent, cruel, and egotistic as it snaps and cracks the broken fragments of my musical self.

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