Voyages of Discovery

Date: Fri 2nd Aug, 2019
Venue: Petworth, UK

A new work for violin, cello, piano and percussion by renowned Petworth composer Terence Allbright provides the centrepiece for a concert of audacious contemporary works given by the Riot Ensemble at the Petworth Festival.

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Composition Workshop: Music Biennale Zagreb

Date: Thu 11th & Fri 12th Apr, 2019
Venue: Zagreb, Croatia

Riot Ensemble make their first ever trip to Croatia to take part in the Music Biennale Zagreb – an international festival of contemporary music. We will be working with composers from all across Europe in a series of workshops of new pieces written specially for the festival.

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Speak, Be Silent: CD Release Concert

Date: Mon 8th Apr, 2019
Time: 7.30pm
Venue: Crypt on the Green, Saint James Church (EC1R 0EA)

Join us the evening of April 8th to celebrate the release of Speak, be Silent, our latest CD, out on HCR/NMC Recordings. Riot Ensemble artists will play solo works by each of the composers represented on the CD: Rebecca Saunders, Liza Lim, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Mirela Ivičevič, and Chaya Czernowin. In lieu of tickets we will collect funds to support Play for Progress, a charity that delivers therapeutic and educational music programmes for traumatised and socially isolated unaccompanied minor refugees.

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Recording: UK Commissions 2017 Call for Scores

Date: Sat 30th Mar, 2019
Venue: City, University of London (EC1V 4PB)

The Riot Ensemble record pieces by Georgia Rodgers, Aaron Einbond and Donghoon Shin, commissioned following the ensemble’s 2017 Call for Scores, developed at the Southbank Centre as part of the Nordic Music Days festival and premiered in Helsingborg, Sweden in 2018. 

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Three Labyrinths

Date: Tue 2nd Apr, 2019
Time: 7.00pm
Venue: City, University of London (EC1V 4PB)

The Riot Ensemble presents the UK premieres of pieces by Georgia Rodgers, Aaron Einbond and Donghoon Shin, commissioned following the ensemble’s 2017 Call for Scores, developed at the Southbank Centre as part of the Nordic Music Days festival and premiered in Helsingborg, Sweden in 2018. These pieces also form part of the ensemble’s extended recording project, highlighting unique and exciting musical voices in the UK.

 

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RNCM Workshops

Date: Mon 25th Feb, 2019
Time: Afternoon
Venue: Royal Northern College of Music (Manchester)

Riot Ensemble makes our first trip up to Manchester to do a workshop with DMus students from the Royal Northern College of Music with pieces for Piano, Harpsichord, and Percussion; and an initial workshop with composer Larry Goves.

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Looper – Cafe Oto – London

Date: Wed 20th Feb, 2019
Time: 8.00pm
Venue: Cafe Oto (E8 3DL)

We make our Cafe Oto debut in an evening prefaced by Lee Hyla’s raucous duet We Speak Etruscan (for baritone saxophone and bass clarinet).  That piece is followed by sets where the Alexander Hawkins & Evan Parker Duo, and ENEMY each perform with Riot Ensemble musicians in PRS-funded commissions that blend notation, improvisation, and electronics.

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Looper – Birmingham

Date: Tues 19th Feb, 2019
Time: 8.00pm
Venue: The Hexagon (Birmingham, B12 9QH)

We make our Birmingham debut in an evening prefaced by Lee Hyla’s raucous duet We Speak Etruscan (for baritone saxophone and bass clarinet).  That piece is followed by sets where the Alexander Hawkins & Evan Parker Duo, and ENEMY each perform with Riot Ensemble musicians in PRS-funded commissions that blend notation, improvisation, and electronics.

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A few moments with Nicole Lizée

We are delighted to be bringing an all-Canadian portrait concert to the Spitalfields Winter Festival, featuring music by Christopher Mayo, Richard Reed Parry, and Nicole Lizée. Canada is the home of some of the world’s most exciting new music right now, so it is a real thrill for us to be able to perform these three composers.

Lizée’s Black MIDI was written for the Kronos Quartet and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, but we will be presenting it here in a new version for ensemble, alongside Mayo’s Beast (for Hugo Ball) and Reed Parry’s Music for Heart and Breath.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson: Let’s begin with the piece of yours we are going to play, Black MIDI. Where did you first encounter black MIDI music? What drew you to it particularly, and what compositional potential did you sense it had for you?

Nicole Lizée: I came across it maybe three or four years ago – probably in a software forum (nerd alert). I was drawn to its beauty, audacity, and mysticism – and because it is so esoteric. It is limited as a genre as it’s really just one thing: the process of entering thousands of notes with the sole goal of crashing one’s system. Its limitations made it perfect to create a new work from. There are so many unknowns about it – and my mind started looking to the darkness and spirituality of it, even if it doesn’t actually exist. It’s also rooted in malfunction, which is always exciting to me.

TR-J: Did that sense of its potential change in the course of your composing?

As I was writing the piece I began to completely immerse myself in interpreting the genre in my own way and sort of transforming it beyond any sonic or visual preconceptions. It quickly evolved into an idea of designing a TV series or a documentary fictionalizing Black MIDI. Creating scenarios and writing scripts – completely fabricating the social, cultural, and possibly spiritual, implications.

TR-J: One of the most interesting aspects of your piece, I think, is that it goes beyond a, let’s say, ethnographic study of the black MIDI phenomenon (analogous to Bartók and his folk tunes, for example), and extrapolates a whole narrative scenario in which a mysterious ‘black MIDI’ plays a central role. What process led you in this direction? When did you decide to include film alongside the music, for example?

I knew right away it was going to be a multimedia piece – I wanted to tap into the visual iconography inherent in the genre. The appearance of black MIDI is distinctive and immediate and I wanted to play with the semantics of it, in tandem with the sonics.

The integrating of visuals with a music score – where the two completely coexist – is something I’ve been developing for a while. I’m looking to bring film/video/animation into concert music, where it doesn’t exist passively or as eye candy, but is integral to the work and is treated like an instrument itself. I look at this piece as Season 1 of Black MIDI – and imagine subsequent seasons, with the characters continuing their experiences with black MIDI.

TR-J: Much of your work engages with audio technology pushed to or beyond its breaking point – creating glitches and other similar phenomena. Could you start by describing what is the fascination for you of such sounds, on both a sonic and a semantic level?

This fascination began when I was young. My father is an electronics repairman, salesman, collector – he’s been a kind of beta tester for electronic devices since the 1960s – so I was born into a house of machines, most of which were malfunctioning. He never throws anything away, even if it doesn’t work properly. But, as opposed to digital, which generally just dies, analogue machines continue to work; just not in the way in which they were intended to. So these machines – and their damaged sounds and visuals – became my instruments, alongside the acoustic ones. It feels natural for me to include these sounds within an ensemble and notate for them, treating them as instruments; and also allowing them to affect the acoustic writing.

I refer to this state as the purgatory for technology. When machines or media stop functioning the way they’re supposed to for the consumer, they’re no longer useful. So they begin their new life. It’s a type of freedom. Sometimes they do die in a way – they end up in junkyards and landfills or tossed aside and forgotten, in favour of the digital device.

There’s also a darkness to pushing technology beyond its limits – the unknown. This in turn affects the way I write for live musicians, in terms of emulating glitch and malfunction and the extreme precision and minutiae that goes with it. I often treat the score like a schematic, looking for ways to rewire or circuit bend it. There’s also the process of transcription of the glitches – which I’ve spent a whole lot of time doing. Scrubbing, zooming in, and transcribing my findings – without ever quantizing – is a way to delve into sound and illuminate hidden gestures, rhythms, artefacts, and so on.

TR-J: Are you a techno-optimist or a techno-pessimist?

Both I think. It’s an exciting time for tech. But it’s also a frightening one. Certainly in terms of privacy, big data, and the notion that data and information don’t actually exist and could disappear at any time. If I think about this from an artistic perspective – in terms of music and books/print, for example – I become an optimist. This may mean we go back to analogue. I recognize the environmental advantage and convenience to books and music as downloads only – but I think people are losing sight of the impermanence of digital archiving and how fleeting it is on larger timescales. When the grid goes down we lose everything. But we can still read sheet music at a piano or hand crank a Victrola to listen to a record.

But the problem with analogue is that people don’t know how to fix these devices anymore – and the people who do aren’t going to be around for that much longer. The art of technology repair is dead and it is more cost effective to just ‘throw it away and buy a new one’ rather than fix it. This is where I become pessimistic.

I recently read about the first work of AI-generated art sold at Christie’s for a large sum of money. This is also where I become pessimistic.

I see massive potential in technologies like VR. This is a way for people to experience art in new ways and to experience different types of art when it is not immediately at their disposal. This is something to think about now that we are in the age of post-recording. I think people still want to buy recordings – I know I do – but I think maybe they want to buy experiences.

I become a bit of a pessimist when I think about the problem of not knowing what is actual fact. While the internet and its vast wealth of information is nothing short of incredible – the source of the information could be from anywhere – it’s a bit out of control, and there are factual errors everywhere.

TR-J: Many composers I have spoken to have a somewhat relaxed attitude to the obligations and expectations of European or US musical tradition. Linda Catlin Smith, for example, says that one of nice things about being Canadian is that ‘you don’t feel examined’. Is this something you recognise? And, like Linda, do you find this liberating?

I think that expectations do exist but I can say that I’ve never tried to adhere to any. I’ve always found this resistance to ‘obligations’ and ‘procedure’ extremely important and integral to being an artist, even from a young age. As soon as something became trendy or derivative I would abandon it and look for something creative and inspired.

I’ve read analyses of my music that mention my escaping McGill University without ever having written spectral music. There were certainly expectations in the 1990s during my time at McGill. It was very rooted in the European tradition. I, of course, respected it from a historical perspective but in no way was I interested in devoting my time and energy to something that had already been done. I kept completely true to what I had set out to do, even though it came with a certain amount of obstacles. My thesis was a work for turntables and orchestra – with every aspect of the turntable part notated, as well as every vinyl excerpt determined and notated. This was not immediately embraced in the university at the time – in fact it divided the faculty. But I believed in it and that was everything. It still is.

Portrait of Nicole Lizée (c) 2014 Steve Raegele; broken cassette image by Redfishingboat on Flickr.