The Gramophone Played at NYCEMF 2021

Summer 2021: mine and Madeleine Shapiro’s piece The Gramophone Played for cello, spoken word and fixed media electronics was selected for NYCEMF (the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival) this spring and will be performed online during the summer.

Summer 2021: mine and Madeleine Shapiro‘s piece The Gramophone Played for cello, spoken word and fixed media electronics was selected for NYCEMF (the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival) this spring and will be performed online during the summer. You can read about the origins of the piece here and here’s the programme note:

The Gramophone Played for cello, spoken word and fixed media electronics was inspired by the works of the British poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917) and by the writings about him in Robert Macfarlane’s book ‘The Old Ways’, in particular a fictionalised account of his final months at the Western Front where Thomas, serving as an artillery officer, was killed during the battle of Arras. Macfarlane writes of the gramophone records heard in the officers’ billets and we have woven some of these, alongside two of Thomas’ poems, into the fabric of the piece. The cello part is improvised in response to them using melodic skeletons from the songs. The recordings and the singers who perform on them – ‘Wait Till I’m As Old As Father’ (Billy Williams), ‘D’Ye Ken John Peel’ (Peter Dawson), ‘On The Banks of Allan Water’ (Adelina Patti) – are auditory windows onto a time long distant; these and Madeleine’s improvised responses lend our piece something of the character of a threnody so if our piece has a message it is a decidedly anti-war one – a threnody for Edward Thomas himself and for the victims of all wars, both military and civilian.

I’ve undertaken many collaborations over the years but this one with Madeleine has proved particularly satisfying. Like any collaboration it has had its slow moments, its moments of forward momentum and its disagreements but the painstaking work we have put in has really paid off, incrementally improving our initial ideas all the time. Both Madeleine and I have learned new skills along the way, primarily around technology, and all this without having met in person since 2012!

Latest Project

I am currently (summer/autumn 2019) working on a piece for solo cello for the New York based cellist, Madeleine Shapiro.

Provisionally entitled Paths the new piece is based on the last months of poet Edward Thomas’ life as fictionalised by Robert Macfarlane in his book The Old Ways. It is a collaborative project in which cellist Madeleine Shapiro and I are working on how the many gramophone tracks inserted into Macfarlane’s account may be laid out as an open score. We will also be working on creating an electronic element against which the solo piece will be performed.