Thursday, 25 October 2012

After a bit of a break for the 'summer', we're now back in rehearsals for our forthcoming performance at Bridport Arts Centre on November 17th. Julie called in on Monday for a bit of a recce and the theatre is great, it will be a lovely space to play in.

We've got a few other projects being planned too and hope to be able to bring more news about these soon.

Do come along and hear us in Bridport, you can get tickets by calling 01308 424204 or

Friday, 1 June 2012

Splash Down

Our first performance at Exeter Phoenix seems to have been very well received.  We enjoyed ourselves and the audience seem to have too, we've had lots of really lovely feedback since Sunday.
We also invited children into our afternoon rehearsal to see us rehearsing and to hear a performance of Simon Belshaw's piece.  The apollo film seems to have been a big hit with the children, there was some  very audible and quite comical chatter going on in the audience - great to hear that the piece was inspiring them.  One little boy said afterwards that he would like to learn to play the violin and sit in a circle and play with his friends - job done!

Here are some stills from the video of Paul Whitty's piece ....bury your love like treasure...
We're now busy preparing for our next  performance on June 7th at the Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple.  Tickets are still available here.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

5...4...3...2...1....We're ready for lift off....

Rehearsals have been continuing for our performance this week.

Different Trains has proved quite a challenge for a number of reasons.  The piece uses three pre-recorded string quartets on a backing CD alongside the live quartet. Rehearsing it requires that we have an adequate sound system as being able to hear the intricacies of the backing track are essential if we are to fit our individual parts in correctly. Our biggest problem seems to have been the page turns!  The parts have very few rests, so no option for the usual photocopy of the odd page to aid a turn – we find ourselves having to turn the page, count bars rest whilst trying to pick up a new pulse all at the same time.  We are feeling pretty confident now, just looking forward to getting into the auditorium on Saturday to rehearse with the equipment we will be using and getting used to the different equipment and acoustic.  It’s a fantastic piece and we’ve really enjoyed getting to know it.

We’re meeting with Paul Whitty this week to rehearse his piece again. He has been down in Devon recording Jackie Oates singing some folk songs which will feature strongly in the piece, and he and Emma also spent another rainy day in Thorverton recording more Devon earth sounds. 

Simon Belshaw’s piece, Between the Moon and the Earth, is the more straightforward of the three pieces for the players.  Similarly to the Reich, we have to fit our parts around the backing track, but the slower pace of the music gives us more time to collect our thoughts.  The combination of the amazing film footage of the Apollo astronauts and the beautiful harmonies in Simon’s music are what makes the piece so mesmerising.  We’re looking forward to playing this during the Family Sunday afternoon on the 27th – children can’t fail to be enthralled by the images projected up on a big screen in the auditorium. 

This project has been in the planning since last summer – it’s hard to believe we’re finally approaching our first performance.  We’re all very excited and looking forward to  Sunday………   Hope to see you there!        JH

Monday, 21 May 2012

About Between the Moon and the Earth

This piece was composed between 1999 and 2001 and first performed in 2001. 

I have for a long time been fascinated by the Apollo moon missions of the 1960s and 70s,  I recall being 9 years old when the moon landing happened and being transfixed by it as I lay in hospital having just had my tonsils removed. 1999 was the 30th anniversary of the first moon landing and this re-ignited my fascination, providing the inspiration for the piece.

I have always been interested in processes, systems, references, numbers, patterns and symmetry in music and there are examples of all these elements in this piece. When I composed it I was particularly interested in two compositional ideas. One was the contrast between the linear and the multiple or the constant and the random. This is evident in the linear chord progression that underpins, and provides the pulse for, the piece contrasting with the floating, slightly disconnected strings and piano that play over it. The second technique that I was developing was the practice of disruptive systems (partially inspired by the concern over the millennium bug which was prevalent at this time). One of the ways that I achieved this was by setting up a sequence of regular rhythms and bar lengths and then either extending individual bars or holding notes to disrupt the regularity, both of these techniques can be heard in this work.

There are also a number of processes that occur in the piece. One example is the textural process that runs through the opening few minutes. The strings are gradually transformed from playing a percussive, col legno style (a reference to Holst's The Planets) to an expressive arco. The process is a gradual one, all instruments begin playing col legno and all end playing arco but they are changed slowly, one at a time, from col legno through pizzicato to arco. Working in parallel with this is the opening out of the range of the musical material which, when the piece begins, is compressed into a narrow area that is gradually expanded until the point at which all the strings are playing arco. 

Of course, the music is only one element of this work and the astronauts' words and film are equally, if not more, important. Both the film and speech is from the Apollo 8 mission which was the first to circle the moon and therefore the first to look back on the earth as a small, distant planet. The astronauts describe in detail both the beauty of the earth and the desolation of the moon. This piece is not about the journey to the moon and back but is about the idea of being in the middle, of floating in space, of seeing both the moon and the earth but not belonging to either. 

Simon Belshaw

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Space Bug Ball

Just over a week to go until our world premiere performance of 'Back there on Earth' at Exeter Phoenix and we're excited to be involved in the Family Sunday event before our gig. There'll be an art drop in where kids can create their own space bug and rocket costume, as well as a sneak preview performance of 'Between the Moon and the Earth' at 3.30pm. To find out more and book tickets for our evening performance click here.

Back there on Earth is a set of three ground breaking classical contemporary pieces featuring live music, recorded sound and film footage.

Exeter Contemporary Sounds

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Paul Whitty on Phonic FM

We've had a great write-up on the Phonic FM website... 'Back There on Earth has been created to spark imagination and curiosity, and to encourage individuals to examine their own relationship to the moon and the earth.' Click here to read the whole article.

Paul Whitty will be interviewed about his new piece for Back there on Earth on Stuart Crewe's Downstream show on Phonic FM on the 13th May. Paul's piece 'Bury my love like treasure' focus's on Devon's red earth and incorporates recordings from the earth, Devon folk songs and live collaborative music from Exeter Contemporary Sounds. Paul will be doing some recording with singer Jackie Oates to develop the piece, which he'll be talking about during his interview. You'll be able to listen to the interview live on the Phonic FM website or tune in to 106.8.

If you haven't got your tickets for Back there on Earth yet you can buy them here for Exeter (27th May) and here for Barnstaple (7th June).

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Simon Belshaw on the radio...

A couple of weeks ago Simon was interviewed about his music on Exeter's local radio station - phonic FM

You can listen to Simon talking to Luch Caise-Dearg here.....

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Earthly Sounds

We've been rehearsing with Paul Whitty today, ably assisted by Shirley Pegna. 
It's the first time we've heard the recordings Paul, Shirley & Emma took a couple of weeks ago in a field near Thorverton - fascinating recordings of the vibrations of the earth, which today were played initially through speakers and then 'through' the double bass and headphones.  We were experimenting with all sorts of sounds on our instruments, recreating the sounds on the recordings.   We also tried combining all this with a bit of improvising on  Jackie Oates' beautiful singing of Devon folksongs.
It's been great fun and we're looking forward to more work on this piece in the near future.

Whilst we were practising/experimenting away in a studio upstairs at Exeter Phoenix, Simon Belshaw was down in the basement talking about his music and this project on Phonic fm.      
JH (Exeter Contemporary Sounds)

(Paul Whitty is composing a new piece 'Bury your love like treasure' for our tour 'Back there on Earth'.)

Monday, 26 March 2012

a sunny morning on earth

Monday morning, on top of a ridge overlooking Thorverton, near Tiverton, Devon.

Listening to the sounds of the earth, amplified by a double bass.

We buried hydro- and geophones to pick up sounds of the earth and then applied the sound to the bridge and body of the bass to amplify it. 

If you're wondering what it sounds like we'll post an audio link shortly.
EW (Exeter Contemporary Sounds)

(This work will form the background for the piece 'Bury your love like Treasure' Paul Whitty is composing for our new tour 'Back there on Earth')

Friday, 23 March 2012

bury your love like treasure - listening to the earth

I am just beginning to work in earnest on the technical aspects of my project ...bury your love like treasure... with Exeter Contemporary Sounds and will be down in Devon shortly...

At the beginning of the week i met up with Shirley Pegna who is a researcher in the Sonic Art Research Unit (SARU) at Oxford Brookes University. We experimented with two different geophones - sending the subterranean sounds that they picked up to a pair of transducers placed on a double-bass. We listened to the sounds as they resonated through the instrument experimenting with different positions and levels of amplification. On Monday 26th we will be somewhere in a field in Devon testing out a variety of ideas using the geophones and contact microphones - who knows we may even bury a few instruments - that is - if i can find the violin that i'm pretty sure is somewhere in my loft...
(Paul Whitty)

Here are some images from the experiments this week...

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Some thoughts on the themes, background, questions and ideas that led to 'back there on earth'

I thought I’d write a bit about how our programme, ‘back there on earth’, came about.

It all started with Simon Belshaw’s Between the Moon and the Earth. This piece, composed in 2001, is kind of a meditation on being suspended in space, neither here nor there. Excerpts from the recordings made by the crew of the 1968 Apollo 8 NASA mission that was the first to circumnavigate the moon are interwoven with music for live strings and pre-recorded piano. The astronauts attempt to describe their experiences in real time to a rapt earthbound audience: Earth is ‘a grand oasis in the vastness of space’ and, more prosaically, ‘the land areas are generally brownish’. The amazing technological leap that made it all possible is represented throughout by the impassive ‘beep’ of the Quindar tones that accompanied all radio transmissions between spacecrew and Mission Control .

The Apollo 8 astronauts were the first humans to journey to the Earth's Moon and the first to photograph the Earth from deep space.  The beautiful film that accompanies Simon’s music consists of footage from the mission, including the first human-witnessed ‘Earthrise’.

The next piece we settled on to play was Steve Reich’s Different Trains (1988). Also scored for live string quartet, this time together with 2 pre-recorded string quartets, there is another parallel with the Belshaw, in the use of pre-recorded speech. In this case, the speech is recorded reminiscences of people and American and the sounds of European trains of the 30s and 40s. Through the words of his governess, Virginia, and a retired Pullman porter, Lawrence Davis, Reich begins by reflecting on his ‘exciting and romantic’ childhood train trips from New York to Los Angeles from 1939 to 1942. We then move from his personal experience as an American Jew to the parallel lives of Holocaust survivors Rachella, Paul and Rachel who speak of their experiences during the same period and what the German trains meant to them.

In terms of putting together this programme, I noticed that we had pulled focus from the perspective of deep space to a transcontinental scale. What about continuing that line, adjusting our gaze to the earth beneath our feet in this corner of Devon, and to a piece from our own perspective? I was born in the village Lympstone on the river Exe, and my early years were bounded by the estuary, the red cliffs to the north of the village and the sea in the other direction. I remembered that composer Paul Whitty had spent his childhood years just outside Tiverton and he had described to me a powerful personal connection with the red earth of the surrounding fields. This is the starting point for Paul's ...bury your love like treasure.... Paul will write more on this shortly.

There is also a change of focus to what is – for me and many people I know – our contemporary ecological concern. Both the Reich and the Belshaw offer perspectives on historical events – events which dominated the world at the time. What can we say about where we are today? Never mind deep space (what luxury to be able to spend time there!): how do we relate to and connect with our own planet and its sustaining forces? How often do you and I actually touch the earth?

The stunning picture of ‘Earthrise’ has been described by US Nature photographer Galen Rowell as ‘the most influential environmental photograph ever taken’. Maybe, partly, as a result of it we’re in a very different place now, 44 years on.
EW (Exeter Contemporary Sounds)

Friday, 2 March 2012

Tickets now on sale!

The new Exeter Phoenix brochure is now out - and tickets are now on sale for our May performance of 'Back there on Earth'.

Here is the link:

Our ensemble, Exeter Contemporary Sounds, will be performing three pieces of contemporary music: 'Different trains' by Steve Reich, 'Between the moon and the earth' by Simon Belshaw and 'Bury your love like treasure' by Paul Whitty. The pieces we'll be playing will be exploring themes surrounding Devon red earth, the Apollo moon landings and international train journeys. Alongside our live string quartet, film footage and recordings will form part of the performance.

JH (Exeter Contemporary Sounds)

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Steve Reich "Different Trains"

One of the pieces we're playing during our tour is 'Different Trains' by Steve Reich. It's a three movement piece for string quartet and tape written in 1988. During the war years Reich made train journeys between New York and LA to visit his parents who had separated. Years later Reich thought about the idea that, as a Jew, had he been in Europe at that time instead of the US, he might have been travelling on Holocaust trains. We're really excited to be playing this piece as part of our tour of the southwest.
Check out this version by the Smith Quartet:

Exeter Contemporary Sounds

Buy tickets for  our tour 'Back there on Earth' in Exeter on May 27th here.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Family Sunday

We've had a really positive meeting with Clare at Exeter Phoenix this week.  Our performance of 'Back there on Earth' on May 27th coincides with one of their regular Family Sundays and we've always planned to offer activities alongside our afternoon rehearsal - not least to entertain our various offspring whilst we rehearse!

It's looking likely that the whole afternoon will take on a Space theme - start saving your fairy liquid bottles for rocket making. Clare is keen to create astronaut back-packs and dress everyone up in bubble wrap.....
There will be a performance of Simon's piece at the end of the afternoon and a chance to talk to the players, the composer and get up close to the instruments.  More details as they emerge......

Buy your tickets for the Exeter Phoenix performance here.

JH (Exeter Contemporary Sounds)

Sunday, 5 February 2012

First rehearsal

Welcome to the first post of our brand new blog!
We've had our first rehearsal for our new programme today, lots of Steve Reich and lots of tea drinking.
We also got Simon to come along and take some informal shots - check them out on Picasa below.
We plan to keep this updated with what we're up to throughout the development of this project, so more to follow very soon.........