Tim’s Portfolio

Think you’d like me to write for you? Want to know if I’m any good? You could do worse than check out some of the examples of my work below, or subscribe to the Red Pen, Blue Pen blog. If you like what you see, why not get in touch to find out if I can help you?

Iannis Xenakis

Xenakis: So what does a wiggly line sound like?

There is a photograph, taken in the late 1970s, of Iannis Xenakis demonstrating his newest innovation to three schoolchildren. As the composer stands in front of a chunky microcomputer, mysteriously hooked up to a large architect's drafting table, a small boy cheekily reaches up to touch the keyboard. The grinning Xenakis – a far cry from the ultra-rational modernist of legend – is clearly in his element.

The rudimentary computer-cum-graphics tablet in question was Upic (Unité Polyagogique Informatique du Centre de Mathématique et Automatique Musicales, to give it its full, unwieldy title), a system for translating hand-drawn graphics into electronic music. ... (Guardian, 4 June 2010, read more)

Richard Barrett

Richard Barretts Archaeology of Memory

In March 2003, as a US-led coalition embarked on the invasion of Iraq, Richard Barrett was beginning work on a new orchestral score for the BBC Symphony Orchestra. As the humanitarian and cultural crimes of the Iraq war sank in, the piece gained an emphatic title – NO – and became the first in a projected eight-part series of works entitled resistance and vision. ‘I started to think that the way I had been conceiving the relationship between music and ideas had to make some radical change’, he said then, in an interview with Tom Service. ‘How is an artist like me, who is committed to socialist ideas, to respond to this situation?’ Barrett’s new work, Mesopotamia, written for the London Sinfonietta and first performed by them at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival on 28th November, and subsequently at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 3rd December, is the latest completed installment of resistance and vision (a third part, Nacht und Träume, for cello, piano and electronics, was first performed in Huddersfield last year).

Six years after NO, the same global concerns prevail, but has Barrett’s approach as an artist changed? How does the anger that was present at the start of work on resistance and vision hold up as a motivation now? ... (INTO Magazine, no.4, December 2009, read more)

The worlds most complex music:
Richard Barrett's Opening of the Mouth

A disused railway foundry on the edge of the desert outside Perth, Western Australia, March 1997. Inside it is dark and airless, and stiflingly hot. The confined space is filled with the stench of rotting fish. In the decaying heart of the building, amid rusting machinery, dozens of bottles of putrid milk and other surreal detritus, sit an audience and a small ensemble, playing music of an uncompromising but eerie beauty. One reviewer is nearly sick.

This was the world premiere of Opening of the Mouth by the British composer Richard Barrett, whose 50th birthday is being celebrated at this year's Huddersfield contemporary music festival. And among the works being performed is Opening of the Mouth, which will receive its UK premiere from the Australians of the ELISION Ensemble. ... (Guardian, 12 November 2009, read more)

Timothy McCormack

10 for 10: Timothy McCormack

Timothy McCormack (b. 1984) writes high resolution music. Music of razor sharp detail, printed on aluminium. No: not that. It is music magnified too far, so that the spaces between every RGB pixel on the screen are visible. Still no: it is both these, both micro and macro. Timothy McCormack writes music that occupies a fractal world of multiple, conflicting geometries.

It has a monolithic quality, certainly, there is no narrative pull, but it nevertheless inhabits and participates in the passage of time. The monolith is neither static in space, nor within itself. Like a body whose cells replace themselves entirely every seven years, standing on a ball of fire and shifting continents, exploding to the edge of the universe at the speed of light. It’s all a question of where you look from. And yet in all locations there are still the same universals, the same forces acting in the same ways. Hyper-activity, completely caged. ... (from ‘10 for ’10’, a series of profiles on emerging composers, The Rambler, 7 February 2010, read more)

Music and Cold War Hungary

Taking Sounds Seriously

As in the news, so in musicology: the Cold War still looms and, thanks to high-profile contributions from the likes of Richard Taruskin, it looks to remain a subject for debate for some time. Indeed, reading Taruskin we might believe that there are few other ways legitimately to approach postwar concert music these days.

Fosler-Lussier (a former Taruskin student) has written a book that, in swift order, not only scrutinises the internecine responses and counter-responses to Bartók’s music in Hungary in the immediate postwar period, but also attempts to relate these to the similarly Byzantine emergence of the west European avant garde and, still more ambitiously, to the later postmodern development of George Rochberg’s Third String Quartet. ... (book review of Danielle Fosler-Lussier: Music Divided: Bartók’s Legacy in Cold War Culture and Rachel Beckles Willson: Ligeti, Kurtág, and Hungarian Music during the Cold War, published in Tempo, no.243, 2007)

Musical Modernism

Back to the Future

‘Modernism’ today seems a subject of the past. For many it has been consigned, with relief, to history’s incinerator. Even as a subject of musicological inquiry, modernism is something that happened, was abandoned, and now resides in a hermetically-sealed cell, more remote from our present than the Ars Nova of 14th-century Paris.

To treat any period of music in such a way is deeply suspect. This collection argues against such readings, presenting ways in which we might (and must) reconsider modernism, enlarging our understanding of its breadth, depth and reach, and projecting a happier future for its reception. It does this through the sharpness of its arguments for the expressive, technical and social achievements of musical modernism. ‘It almost seems as if this music is being discussed in its historical context for the first time’, writes Björn Heile in his introduction (p.4), and one is inclined to agree. ... (book review of Björn Heile, ed: The Modernist Legacy: Essays on New Music, published in Tempo, no.251, 2010)

Krzysztof Penderecki

The St Luke Passion at Canterbury Cathedral

The Eastern Bloc revolutions of 1989 were about culture as much as politics. Penderecki, Poland’s musical memorialist, played his part in the 1980s, but it is still the cult success of his St Luke Passion of 1966 that exemplifies his knack of combining religious awe, musical freedom and political stridency. This giant oratorio has become a much rarer bird since its first performance in Münster and this revival, conducted by the composer in the sort of space for which it was first written, attracted a capacity audience to Canterbury. ... (concert review published in Musical Opinion, 2009)

Ian Wilson

Sullen Earth

As shown by the pieces on this CD, Wilson’s music has retained its emotional impact through a period of rapid stylistic development. This arises in part from the frequent practice of presenting the compositional materials – be they melodies, harmonic sequences, or more complex gestures – with a minimum of dialectical adornment. This is not to say that Wilson’s music is neither dynamic nor unornamented – it is frequently both, and in Limena (1998) especially so. Here the core material is an elaborate piano fantasy (released as a solo piece under the title Lim) that encompasses both florid melody and expansive gestures across the keyboard. What is remarkable, however, is that the string parts are composed almost entirely from the pre-existing piano line. There is almost no exact doubling, but Wilson constructs rich string textures by inferring new contrapuntal lines from the piano part: the result resembles a cloud of vapour trails, as though one is hearing solo Bach in an echo chamber. Wilson manipulates this to bring particular perspectives on the piano part in and out of focus; any dialogue between piano and strings takes place out of the corner of the eye. ... (liner notes, Sullen Earth, RiverRun RVRCD80, read more)

Out of Belfast and Belgrade: the Recent Music of Ian Wilson

1998 was a dramatic year for Ian Wilson. Already established as one of Northern Ireland’s leading young composers, in this year he was elected to the exclusive Irish arts affiliation Aosdána (one of fewer than 20 musicians among its 200 members); his piano trio The Seven Last Words was included in the Northern Ireland A-level music syllabus (a rare ‘distinction’ for any living composer); his first son, Adam, was born; and he and his wife Danijela Kulezic moved to Belgrade.

The move, however, was cut suddenly short by the NATO bombing of the city in March 1999. After three days of raids Wilson, Kulezic and the five-month old Adam made a hasty return to Northern Ireland, leaving most of their possessions behind. They spent a few months in Portstewart, in the north of the province, and then moved south of the border, where they have lived since. The composer freely acknowledges the effect this terrifying experience had on his work: History is Vanity for organ, the violin concerto Messenger and ...wander darkling for string quartet form a distinct subset of his output written in direct – and often angry – response to the events in Belgrade of 1999. ... (Tempo, no.224, 2003)

Young Performers

Young at Heart?

Every new year, as it has done for 54 seasons, the Park Lane Group’s Young Artists series helps launch the careers of a new generation of ensembles and soloists. One of the distinctive elements of the recitals is their focus on new and 20th-century music. As well as the PLG series, January also sees the London Contemporary Orchestra – another ensemble of young players – performing at Camden’s Roundhouse. It is a natural time, therefore, to reflect on the role of the young performer in the new music scene.

There is no doubt that the financial fragility of new music requires a greater commitment of time and often involves artists taking gigs in far-flung locations: being young and commitment-free is clearly a help. Young players may be attracted to new music as a way to stand out and get gigs in a competitive market, and there is always a shortage of players. Another attraction is the sense of mutual support fostered by working in a small, highly specialized field. In addition, as the classical music industry frets about the ‘greying’ of its audience, new music is seen as one way to engage new generations of younger audiences with concert music: Xenakis as a gateway drug for Mahler Symphony cycles in later life, perhaps. But, despite these pressures, is new music necessarily a young person’s game? ... (INTO Magazine, no.5, January 2010, read more)