Alan Edward Williams

Composer/ cyfansoddwr


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prah poster

This is a quick plug for an upcoming production of a play by the major Hungarian playwright and author György Spiró. It’s translated by my colleague at Salford University Szilvia Naray-Davey, and I’ve written the music.

 

download flyer as pdf

UPDATE: here’s the waltz from the production.

The role of the shorter music cues in this production is more like that in a Radio Drama, since they attempt to comment on the action, seperate “beats” in the drama, and suggest the importance of untranslatable concepts, such as “Yugo” and “Prah” from the original. Szilvi and I will write an article on this later.


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UPDATE: you can now hear the recording of the premiere of Advices and Queries here

Alan Edward Williams

I’ve been talking to Stephen Preston, Baroque flautist and improvising musician, about a piece for his ensemble, Trio Aporia. When we met recently for a pint, which neither of us was supposed to be drinking, we had a too-short conversation full of sparky ideas and good humour. I love this free association of ideas in the early stages of a commission, where both parties throw a load of ideas at a wall, and see what sticks. Stephen and I are both keen on a collaborative approach to the piece, and I thought it would be interesting to record the development process here.

Actually, we almost immediately centred on an idea connected with silence and listening. A couple of years ago, some friends took us to the Quaker meeting one spring  Sunday at Brigflatts, one of the oldest Quaker meeting houses in the world. It was not far from…

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Sing to Me and I’ll Tell you My Story

I’m collaborating with composer and sound artist Adam Hart on an interactive piece, called ‘Sing to Me and I’ll Tell you My Story’. It’s an installation, with the idea that participants will walk into a circle of loudspeakers, each playing a different overlapping vocal line, asking them to sing. If they sing the vocal line back accurately (how accurately is currently under discussion!), then the piece moves to a “verse” which tells the story of a real person, rewarding participants, as it were, with their story. Musically, of course, it’s a question of generating material which will work when looped and overlapped. Adam, I’m glad to say, is handling the technical side, and we’ll demonstrate the pitch recognition set-up and trial the piece at a public lecture at the University of Salford on October 30th. In the meantime here’s a taster


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In the spirit of collaboration, here’s a tune I wrote on holiday in the South of France – feel free to use it in any way you wish. I must have been feeling relaxed… (here’s a lead sheet in pdf for Shelley’s Place) . I ought to credit that great guitarist and composer Haftor Medboe with the chord that forms the intro and C section of the tune. He showed it to me when I was studying guitar with him too many years ago. I guess it’s what some folk call a “meme” – a unit of cultural exchange. In fact, come to think of it, I think he showed me the Fmaj7/G chord as well, and that’s pretty much all the non-standard chords in the tune. So it’s really  a collaborative composition, given that none of the material is absolutely original.  Continue reading


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A brief word about Steve Martland

I only met Steve a handful of times, but at second hand, I was aware that people I was connected to were hugely influenced by his music and character. I am deeply shocked by his death, and feel an (I hope natural) urge to find out how such a vital and energetic person could die in his sleep aged only 53.

Typically, as a young-ish composer, my experience of meeting him was enormously supportive. The first time was at the 1995 Cheltenham festival: he was leading a workshop with Psappha, and he had proceeded to more or less tear apart all the previous pieces. My heart was in my mouth as I waited for him to give his verdict after the first performance.  Finally, what he came out with was “Well, this was music of a different order to the last piece”. I knew the composer of the other piece, and couldn’t help feeling embarrassed on his behalf, as well as grateful that the boot hadn’t been on the other foot. But that was Steve, direct, clear, unafraid of offending anyone. Later I was grateful to him for selecting a piece of mine – Stop/time –  for his ensemble the Premiere Crew at Spitalfields festival.

At the start of the 90’s Steve had been employed by us at the then University College Salford as composer in residence, working mainly with the popular music performers. He told me at the time on one of the many occasions I bumped into him looking for a room in the overcrowded Adelphi Building – plus ça change – that this was a real challenge, as they weren’t ready for the ideas in his music. Yet a seed must have been planted, as a generation later, via the mentorship of Steve’s protégé Joe Duddell, also a Salford graduate, we get Dutch Uncles, an indie pop ensemble who embody many of the compositional principles of Steve’s work. What Steve foresaw and worked with was a closing of the gap between contemporary classical music, jazz, and popular music; years later, that fusion is still generating both heat and light. 


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I’ve been talking to Stephen Preston, Baroque flautist and improvising musician, about a piece for his ensemble, Trio Aporia. When we met recently for a pint, which neither of us was supposed to be drinking, we had a too-short conversation full of sparky ideas and good humour. I love this free association of ideas in the early stages of a commission, where both parties throw a load of ideas at a wall, and see what sticks. Stephen and I are both keen on a collaborative approach to the piece, and I thought it would be interesting to record the development process here.

Actually, we almost immediately centred on an idea connected with silence and listening. A couple of years ago, some friends took us to the Quaker meeting one spring  Sunday at Brigflatts, one of the oldest Quaker meeting houses in the world. It was not far from here that George Fox preached to a thousand souls in 1652. Although I’m not a Quaker, I have aways been attracted to their form of worship. I think, as a musician, their sensitivity to the power of silence to signify and reveal resonates with my own lived experience.

When sitting in silence, time passes differently. Our attention wanders, then, if we’re lucky, it centres for a while. Time seems to slow down, then to fly by in seemingly unpredictable ways. Perhaps in the absence of stimulation we are forced only to experience the ‘felt time’ of our subjective experience (Henri Bergson)

interios of Brigflatts meeting house

interior of Brigflatts meeting house

. A bird’s song outside seems significant, clear. Our stomach complains. Our neighbour shifts in their seat. The wooden bench feels hard, then we forget it.

The first step is to record the ‘silence’ of the meeting house – background ‘noise’ and all – and use this as the basis of a series of improvisations without he ensemble. I don’t know yet what these will consist of. But there’s something appealing to me in the confrontation of the recording equipment – with its mechanical clock-time – and the felt time of our subjectivity.


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Sonic Fusion reflection

I’ve had an exhilarating few days attending (most of) the events at Salford University’s own Sonic Fusion Festival. The huge range of music on offer, the participants from many corners of the globe (I spent most of Friday in French), the last minute minor glitches solved through our unique blend of technical expertise and can-do improvisation, the enthusiasm and energy of the student ensembles and volunteers, and most of all, the uncategorisable audience, who would attend for one event and stay for another in a quite unfamiliar genre, despite sub-zero temperatures and arctic snow drifts.

I didn’t attend all the events – in fact, I think anyone who did would have an iron constitution, so this is just to note down some personal responses to what were the stand-out moments for me.

1. The young and diverse audience for Lauryna Sableviciute and Nichoals Ashton’s piano duet gig in Peel Hall shouting and whooping following Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini.

2. Salford Graduate Christian Fields’ innovative jazz-dub-step fusion piece for the University Big Band, led from the keyboard by the composer.

3. The Re:Search ensemble’s performance of Korean composer Kunsu Shim’s spacial music, and, in the same concert, Andrea Gajic’s amazingly sensitive performance of Nigel Osborne’s Taw-Raw for solo violin.

4. Marc Favre’s and Bernard Fort’s birdsong-derived electro-acoustic music – a sort of Gesang der Voglein

5. watching the light fade over Media City from the Imagination Room in the BBC’s Dock House, listening to Roland Kayn’s Etoral

It’s been inspiring and exhausting in equal measure, and a real education for me. You can listen to Suzy Klein’s interview on In-Tune by following this link an listenig at about 1 hr 15min. Thanks to all.