New Piece for 28 Pianos Performed in Yorkshire

My latest composition, Resonance/Light/Decay for 28 pianos, composed in collaboration with Dr Mic Spencer (University of Leeds) was premiered on Tuesday 12 December, 2017 in the School of Music, University of Leeds. The composition and its performance was done to celebrate the School of Music becoming a Steinway School. More about this can be read here and here.

The performance of Resonance/Light/Decay was live-streamed online and also featured on BBC Radio Leeds.

In case you missed it, you can view a video of the performance below:


*Interstice* now available on iTunes

Interstice is out and available to download via iTunes! More information can be found here.

screen568x568Interstice is an artwork and iPhone app that enables users to record, and listen to, an audible representation of their heartbeat. It also allows users to select a musical fragment to accompany their heartbeat. As such, users from all over the world are able to collaborate in the formation of a composition comprising an intricate cacophony of audible heartbeats and musical fragments.

Users can listen to the resultant conglomeration of audible heartbeats and musical fragments by navigating a three-dimensional representation of Earth.

Each user can add up to five audible representations of their heart rate with an accompanying musical fragment. Any one of these five recorded heart rates with accompanying musical fragments can be deleted and replaced with new submissions at any time.

Interstice is created by software developer Samuel Halay and composer Alannah Marie HalayMore information behind Interstice‘s conceptual framework can be found here and here.

Performance of *The Interlocutor*: ensemble Discord

The Interlocutor is my most recent composition and it was performed by Discord earlier this week. It is for French horn, electric guitar, electric bass guitar, piano (doubling keyboard), and electric five-string violin. As a (very) basic description of the composition’s structure, it is based on the dynamics of conversing. Although a seemingly simple compositional procedure, I intend the form to be more complexly dynamic, and I think that Discord brought this out.

Composing for Discord was very useful, not only did it force me to consider writing for these instruments in the context of this particular ensemble, but working with the performers introduced me to the hidden capabilities of these instruments.

The performance was followed by a concert of new music performed by Discord. More information about the concert can be found here.

Compositional Form: A Multidimensional Interstice?

The following is an area of my research which I presented on at a postgraduate conference in December, and something I hope to talk more about in the future as it develops.

In this presentation, I discuss my current composition Interstice, the ‘form’ of which relies on the participation of an interactive audience via the internet and an iPhone app. Due to a specific type of interactivity, Interstice’s timeline is complex, and its participatory element results in the roles of ‘performer’ and ‘audience’ being indistinguishable. Interstice treats the audience as additional compositional ‘objects’ amongst which perceived ‘meaning’ and ‘function’ interact within a ‘frame’ that is multidimensional and not definitive. As such, my composition allows the chain of stages in a typical compositional process to be radically rearranged.

Whilst demonstrating how Interstice works, I discuss that, for me, the nature of compositional ‘form’ is multidimensional and interstitial. It comprises a continuously shifting definition where each characterisation appears inherent regardless of this constantly transforming quality. A potential reason for this versatile behaviour is most likely due to the multidimensional nature of ‘time’ which I explain includes simultaneous linear and nonlinear characteristics.

Another reason is possibly because of the various perspectives applied by society. I elaborate on this theory by questioning the substance of compositional ‘form’ and demonstrating how answers to this query are governed by the perceivers’ viewpoints and the composition’s social context. I explain that compositional ‘form’ is a communal event that most likely relies on the formation of ‘meaning’ within the ‘space’ between a composition’s constituent ‘objects’ and its perceivers. In my opinion, this establishment of ‘meaning’ is governed by the way the compositional ‘form’, and its occupied ‘space’, is ‘framed’ within its social setting; however, in the case of Interstice, defining this ‘space’ and ‘frame’ is not straightforward.

Graphic Score: Notes Inégales, Tableaux Vivants, and CROSSWOR[K]

Notes Inégales realised my graphic score CROSSWOR[K] in the ‘Tableaux Vivants‘ concert earlier this week. The concert also featured traditional klezmer music as well as compositions by Peter Wiegold, The Notes, Marcello Messina, Antti Sakari Saario and Martin Iddon, and visuals by Adam York Gregory (listed here in order of appearance in the concert programme).

The score for CROSSWOR[K] is as pictured below.

CROSSWOR[K] by Alannah Halay

This piece resulted from a request to write a graphic score on a postcard specifically for Notes Inégales.

CROSSWOR[K] is structured like a crossword practically as well as visually.  Deciphering a performance from this score resembles the process one goes through when solving a crossword. A list of interpretive guidelines takes the form of crossword clues.  Like the crossword, these do not have to be deciphered in a specific order: for example, it seems logical to start with instruction number one; however, this is not necessary if the interpretation of another column or row comes to a performer’s mind first. A performer can even attempt to interpret a column or row, cease to do so mid-way through if they are not satisfied with the interpretation, then return to it later. It also seems logical to overlap musical lines as they intersect at points in the score.

‘Dry Veins’ & the ‘Leeds Lieder + Song Festival’ 2012

Dry Veins was first performed in the LeedsLieder+ Song Festival in October 2012. For a concert review of this performance, click here.

The narrative of Dry Veins is a product of collaboration with the poet John Darley whose spatial poetry can be glimpsed from the image of the song’s front cover (pictured below).

*Dry Veins* front cover featuring a section of John Darley’s poem *Dry Veins*

The narrative is not gender-specific; it tells the story of a stonecutter who falls in love with ‘their’ own statue. The stone cutter’s longing desire to be at one with their creation is fulfilled when they gradually turn to stone and eventually disintegrate into dust.

Dry Veins explores idealism versus reality within the creative process. Steiner suggests that art fails to represent the artist’s intended idea because the idealistic concept is not idealistically fulfilled by the reality of the actual created entity. [1] In Dry Veins, this notion is expanded to include notions of transcendence versus transgression; life versus death; liminality (transformation): the subject matter dialectically presents an idealistic transcendence (and life) and a realistic transgression (and death) because the stone cutter’s idealistic vision of becoming united with their art and transcending into a desired life is compared with the realistic horror during the liminal transformation into stone and transgressing into a denser material and potential death.

These notions are considered as compositional tools during the composing of Dry Veins which employs Darley’s spatial poetry as a means of compositional process: spatial poetry can guide theatrical expression such as vocal inflection and gesture, [2] and its layout can influence the compositional structure of music.


Some Additional Points about the Function of ‘Theatre’ in Dry Veins:

Elements of ‘theatre’ are employed in existing contemporary composition. In Birtwistle’s Secret Theatre, the ‘cantus’ and ‘continuum’ dramatically interact, and the instruments switch ‘roles.’ The ‘cantus’ involves a change from melody to ostinato, and the ‘continuum’ includes a change from ostinato to melody. [3] The exchange of instrumental roles is explored from a varied perspective in Ferneyhough’s Etudes Transcendantales, within which the vocal part is neither the principal component nor the accompaniment, but is treated in the same way as the other instruments. It shifts between having a semantic function and a purely sonic function. [4]

An element of theatre is employed in Dry Veins to transcend the words and music and provide further meaning: the physical movements of the performers reflect the narrative: the pianist represents the stonecutter (in playing the piano), and the piano represents the stone. Like Birtwistle’s Secret Theatre and Ferneyhough’s Etudes Transcendantales, the instruments exchange ‘roles’: the soprano performs the stonecutter’s ‘liminality’ (transformation between states) in that she moves from being narrator (in sounding the words), the stone cutter (when she scrapes the strings in bars 124-127) and provides the stone’s ‘voice’ when she sings into the piano and it resonates back. This theatrical aspect contradicts traditional performance practice (of prioritising the sound and hiding the performers) in that the soprano and pianist have to be seen for the ‘theatrical’ moments to have an effect. [5]


Below is the programme note (written by both John Darley and me) which featured in the programme during the concert:

Words and their connotations in Dry Veins are approached with a desire to create an indirect sense of meaning, superimposed over a narrative inspired by ‘Pygmalion’ from Ovid’s Metamorphoses X. This piece portrays a stone cutter who is so in love with their statue that they turn to stone and, over time, disintegrate into dust. The subject matter dialectically presents an idealistic transcendence and a realistic transgression: the stone cutter’s idealistic vision of becoming united with their art and transcending into a desired life, and the realistic horror of turning to stone and transgressing into a denser material. The music reflects idealistic desire through normative performance techniques, wide pitch ranges, and faster durations. Realistic fear of turning to stone is reflected by non-normative performance techniques, indeterminate pitch, temporal changes, and slower pitch durations.

Below is a short biography of John Darley (in his own words, as featured in the concert programme):

John loves music, writing, pictures and breaking words. He writes habitually in various genres, and his poetry has been published by Aesthetica and Pastiche Magazine.


[1] George Steiner, Grammars of Creation (London: Faber and Faber, 2001), p.35

[2] Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and its Double, trans. by Victor Corti (London: Calder Publications, 2001), p. 28

[3] Michael Hall, The Contemporary Composers: Harrison Birtwistle in Recent Years (London: Robson Books, 1998), p.30

[4]Brian Ferneyhough, Collected Writings, ed. by James Boros and Richard Toop (The Netherlands: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995), pp. 361-362

[5] I do not think that the general listening experience of this composition requires the visual aspect in order to be effective. The audio alone is enough to portray the piece’s ‘meaning.’