For those already initiated to contemporary music, Jennifer Walshe needs no introduction. She has performed in and written for the most prestigious and well-known international music festivals (Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik Darmstadt, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and Donaueschinger Musiktagen, to list a few), and has enjoyed a fruitful and varied international career as a composer and vocalist for well over a decade.

For the upcoming concert on Saturday 31st, I have been learning a piece by her called THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE. It’s one I’ve wanted to perform ever since my composition tutor made me aware of it a couple of years ago (love at first sight, you might say). This is because, first of all, I had never seen a score with pictures of people skateboarding on it before (come to think of it, I haven’t seen one since). Second of all, I had never seen a score that was printed on/as a T-shirt. This was a score that went beyond the realms of simple instruction-giving and made a case for being appreciated in itself as a piece of visual, material, and conceptual art.

Then, there’s what the score actually asks you to do. Something that much of Jennifer Walshe’s work explores is a “method-acting” style approach to composing, where the performer inhabits the piece day in day out, in character, as it were. (She recently wrote an opera where the protagonist is a female boxer, in which singer Laura Jayne Bowler actually learned to box with ex-professional Cathy “The Bitch” Brown). The piece reaches beyond the usual confines of the concert hall and practice room, and becomes a part of your life.

In THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS, the performer is first and foremost asked to “learn to skateboard, however primitively”. This is an activity that I had naively thought would be quite straightforward. It’s not. The first reason why is that, and I know this sounds obvious, the ground rolls underneath you. For a while, gone is that well-loved stability where you are master of your movement. You are a servant to the flow of your board. You’re rolling, bro. All the time. The first step, then, is to get used to moving in what feels like fast forward. (Actual skaters, those for whom the synergy between human and board has reached levels of natural effortlessness, will of course not see this type of movement as fast – if you skate for long enough I’d imagine you might see walking as unbearably slow. But this is a total beginner’s perspective, and I hope I’m not alone in feeling like the first time you try to skateboard, the speed and lack of control is a tiny bit scary. I guess overcoming it is part of the appeal.)

The second reason is that the activity itself requires you to engage differently with the environment around you. An incline is no longer just an incline; it’s an opportunity. A strip of smooth tarmac has a certain feel; a cobbled alley isn’t going to be particularly pleasant; wood is fast, rubber is slow, grass is an injury-safe sanctuary for practising ollies. You go around spotting these different zones where different types of movement and behaviour are possible, earmarking that spot for speed, or that one for smoothness, or that one for attempting a trick. Without wanting to sound too grandiose, skateboarding changes your perception of life.

Examine and meditate on optimum skating environments […] Go for a walk and imagine being able to skate everything you see […] Contemplate the ability of skate-boarding to articulate space, find new paths through architecture, fresh uses for it. – Jennifer Walshe, THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE (2004)

I had played the roller-skating video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 on the PC, a game in which you go around skating everything around you, no matter how impossible it would really be (ridiculous jumps between ledges at great heights, no chance of dying or breaking bones, a skateboard that starts moving automatically like it has a 5L engine – it’s a game after all), and, well, this was like playing that, but in real life. Slower, and in your head rather than on a screen, but real nevertheless. It’s like playing your environment. The function of everything changes – houses are no longer spaces for people to live in, they are objects of certain roughness lying at a certain angle, connecting to other objects with different roughnesses which lie at different angles, which themselves are only a jump and a 1080 away from more objects lying at equally different angles… I spent several days wandering around my neighbourhood doing exactly what the score describes – interacting with every single ledge, fence, bench, or wall, making occasional videos, often to the amusement of bystanders (one of whom stopped and asked me whether there was anything wrong with the handrails on some public steps, presumably assuming that I was some sort of vigilante inspector for rails, ledges and fences). Encircled by high-rise flats, lining a busy road with moving traffic, a public playground, replete with ping-pong tables, see-saws, round metal gyrating chairs and bicycle parking racks, became a sea of potential.

Compose an imaginary path you would like to skate. This path should push and force you to limits, be rich, beautiful, complicated and stylish, and incorporate some tricks. This path is limited only by your imagination. – Jennifer Walshe, THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE (2004)

Reading this sentence made me remember why I became a musician in the first place: to let my imagination run wild. I’m reminded here of an interview with the author Jonathan Franzen where he says “I think it is what the serious writer is needed for now: to assert the right to imagine.” I can think of few musicians who would disagree if we replaced ‘writer’ with ‘composer’ or ‘performer’. Maybe it’s just worth remembering that you also have the power to unlock that right for others – something all music should aspire to do.

–Louis d’Heudieres

Better Know A Weisslich: Leo Svirsky

Leo’s probably one of the smartest people I know. His work as a pianist betrays an omnivorous taste that borders on the encyclopaedic. As at home thundering through Stockhausen’s Kontakte as the most delicate Beuger or the most bombastic Beethoven. He is a relentless promoter of new pieces, both as a performer, and as the host of an intimate and uncompromisingly long and quiet concert series held in his front room, which attracts a calibre of performer that belies its humble setting.

His compositions lie within the wandelweiser tradition. Often a single page holds a set of carefully chosen pitches and a small set of instructions. Take for example, his exquisite Trauergondel (, in which tiny fragments of Liszt gently float against each other inside the ghostly and transparent exoskeleton of the original piece, or For John McAlpine ( for small ensemble.

Two of his largest works set texts by Paul Celan, Atemwende ( and the more recent Tenebrae (, which was premiered in Dusseldorf this summer; an “opera” in which harmonies unfold with a meticulous slowness.

As an improviser on accordion or piano he is active in the Dutch free improvisation scene and has released records with the violinist Katt Hernandez ( and his more jazzy group Trialectics (

His roles of pianist, composer and improviser reach a nexus with the album Songs In The Key Of Survival ( Sparkling and morphing piano improvisations sandwich a set of what I am ill-advisedly calling “singer-songelweiser” voice-and-piano compositions which resolutely refuse to play ball. Simple patterns and lost-connection cellphone silences leave songs on pause before another relentlessly pessimistic lyric reminds us that “the glass is half piss” or “critique itself becomes impossible”.

Here’s a fantastically restrained recording of some of the tracks from Songs In The Key Of Survival dovetailed with free impov:

-David Pocknee

Better Know A Weisslich: David Pocknee

Political activism, text score calendars, and reconquering musical complexity for the untrained performer are all part of WEISSLICH co-curator David Pocknee‘s unapologetically eccentric output. In a random order, here are some of the things that I love about his work.

The New Fordist Organisation, a group of composers and artists of which David is a part, who apply the principles of industrialised mass-production to artistic creation. Three of my favourite things that David contributed to their exhibition at GEMAK, The Hague, in 2013 (although the many wonderful things they create deserve to be explored in full) include:

a computer-driven method for composition, which lets you improvise an orchestral piece with a MIDI controller and simultaneously writes the score. Efficiency is maximised to the point where you can produce a 10 minute orchestral work in 20 minutes.

An efficiency-saving method for painting which uses a computer to analyse an image and break it up into individual brush strokes of different colours. Any untrained painter can then reproduce the image by copying the brush stroke he or she is told to apply by the computer, which projects these onto the canvas.

An efficiency-saving method for showing untrained performers how to play the piano by transferring the notes of a musical score into a sequence of lights which is projected onto the keys of a piano, showing the performer which key to press at which time.

What I especially like about these works is that they walk the tight-rope between irony and po-faced seriousness beautifully, something which comes back again and again in David’s work. Yes, the whole thing can be read as a critique of (post-)industrial capitalism, but the works the New Fordist Organisation creates in the process are so formally and conceptually interesting that could just as well be appreciated in and of themselves. So you go between these two poles, unsure as to whether the pieces should be seen only as criticisms or whether you are meant to enjoy the sounds/shapes/movements/words they make. Also, check out their beautifully produced exhibition catalogue.

Augenmusik III: The Picture of ASKO|Schönberg (2012) is best described as a concert hall work of musico-political activism. In this piece, the instrumentation and musical material reflects the fact that between 2009 and 2012, Asko|Schönberg ensemble received the fifth highest amount of state funding amongst Dutch ensembles, and, in 2011, spent more than half of their concerts performing one piece, Kurt Weill’s Threepeny Opera. The piece does what so much music wants to do but shies away from: talk explicitly about what is necessary for musical practitioners to receive state subsidies for art and culture, a process which, as is made evident in the piece, is too often embroiled in

appealing to the only criteria that modern western-european governments think is a judge of quality: profitability and popularity. – David Pocknee, Augenmusik III: The Picture of ASKO|Schönberg (2012)

The performance comes complete with diagrams showing the flow of public subsidy for the arts in the Netherlands.

On a similar theme is Economics (2010), a piece saturated in socio-political irony where the performers throw money on each other’s scores to dictate how and what they play. The score notes that

It is probably best to make a note of how much money you put into the piece before starting. This prevents fights. Players can ask the audience for money. This is a form of public subsidy. – David Pocknee, Economics (2010)

A wonderfully raucous recording can be heard below, where one performer in particular is being pretty heavily invested in.

The first time I got to know David in flesh and blood was through the Text Score A Day project, which had him brushing each tooth with an individual toothbrush, finding all the possible permutations of four plastic cups, and shouting at an imaginary dog to ‘drop it’ for an unadvisedly long period of time, at the first WEISSLICH concert in 2014. The Text Score A Day project involved one text score comprising no more than 140 characters being tweeted each day, every day, for one year between 2012-2013, on the Twitter account @textscoreaday. True to text score tradition, some are thought experiments, provocations, statements, meditations, temptations, fantasies or witticisms as much as (or as well as) instructions to action. The project has now been turned into an online calendar which will renew itself for all eternity. You can see what today’s text score is here.

As well as making concert hall music, art installations, and online text score libraries, David writes essays and publishes journals, tackling subjects as diverse as sadomasochism, virtuosity, human sexuality or indeed public funding and sub-prime culture. You’ll most likely find some strand of conceptual thinking in his piece for the upcoming concert. What I’ve given you here is really the tip of the iceberg as far as his output is concerned, so for the curious amongst you who want to open the pandora’s box that is his brain, I strongly recommend visiting his website:

-Louis d’Heudieres

Better Know A Weisslich: Beavan Flanagan

Bangers for your belly, romantic apples, and this futuristic pedagogic resource:

‘What is This Thing Called Trumpet?’ (2014)

Welcome to the musical mind of Beavan Flanagan – another composer featured as part of our Better Know A Weisslich series in the lead up to our 31 October concert at Hundred Years Gallery.

Beavan is a Canadian composer currently based in Manchester where he is pursuing a PhD at The University of Huddersfield. Beavan writes music for instrumentalist and electronic mediums, and starting from 2013 began making experimental sound art. I became especially interested in his music with the first of his experimental sound art pieces, No Chance Music, a web-based piece that feels an awful lot like playing the sound art lottery – just as hopeless as the national lottery and with a reward equally fleeting as it is rare. Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Beavan Flanagan”

Better Know A Weisslich: Eleanor Cully

Continuing the ramp up into our next Weisslich concert, we present the work of British artist Eleanor Cully. Eleanor has been active as both a composer and performer of contemporary music, and as a visual artist. She currently resides in Huddersfield where she is completing a masters degree in music composition at The University of Huddersfield as part of the Centre for Research and New Music (CeReNeM).

viola drawings (2015) by Eleanor Cully

Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Eleanor Cully”

Better Know A Weisslich: Robert Blatt

As part of our Better Know A Weisslich series, we are profiling American composer Robert Blatt, currently based in Miami, where he runs Inlets Ensemble (

Robert’s work was performed in WEISSLICH 4 back in October 2015, when this profile was originally written, and he’ll be appearing in person, performing, as part of WEISSLICH Vol. 9 in Manchester and London 13th and 14th January 2017 along with Ensemble Pamplemousse and Antonia Barnett-McIntosh & Emma Bennett.
I’ve known Robert since we studied together in The Hague between 2008-2011, and it’s always a pleasure to present his music, since it encompasses such a huge variety, yet manages to attain a consistently high quality across so many styles and media.

Some of my favourite pieces are the sprawling, multi-layered, metaphorically-rich, alchemical music-theatre works, he wrote in The Hague, such as Sacrament or: Meanwhile the earth has intercourse with the sun, and is impregnated for its yearly parturition (2011), and Nuit or: That which is below is as above, and that which is above is as below. (2010), both of which married an expansive vision to an aesthetic of financial pragmatism I’ve rarely seen matched; both performances, unfortunately, are barely documented – you really had to be there…

As well as these monumental compositions, his installation work is extensive, encompassing the destructive Guitar Swing (2013) (, in which a suspended guitar acts as a mechanically-controlled battering-ram to destroy a wall of sexually-explicit vinyl album covers, and the more conventional sound-art works such as Elements (2013) ( and Utility Poles (2014) (

Then there are the interdisciplinary performance pieces, often performed with Acid Police Noise Ensemble, such as Pars Pro Toto (2011) (, a collective composition which sprawled over several rooms, and the loud and violent Lucifer, The Scapegoat (as part of Stockhausen Serves Terrorism (2011) which led to the Dutch police shutting down the concert.

Technology as aesthetic mediator makes frequent appearances in his work, sometimes manifest through algorithmically-generated scores, of which the most extreme versions occur in the relentless computer-aided creativity of The Art Of Production (2013) (, as part of the New Fordist Organization exhibition and the epic, completist Forty-Three Thousand Five Hundred and Eleven (2015) for solo guitar ( In other places, technology occurs in the creation of new instruments, such as the Light Organ (from Glass Onion (2012)), a contraption of light-bulbs contact-mics and computer, coupling light and sound ( Elsewhere, technology appears as a mediator of listening, in works such as Three Blind Mice (2014) ( or Walking Listening (2014) (, both of which use specially-built electronics to change the performers’ relationship to the environment, themselves and their fellow performers through the use of white noise to map a space for blindfolded performers, or the algorithmic control of a listening walk via a small box with GPS, delivering walking and listening instructions via LCD screen.

Yet another part of his output deals with small works that use simple means to generate complex results, such as his Change series (2011-) of coin-flipping works, a brevity present in his contributions to the @textscoreaday twitter feed. Other smaller, intimate works defy easy documentation, such as the beautiful Empathy for two performers ( or site-specific works such as Orangerie Geometry (2014), written for the Darmstadt Orangerie.

And finally, there are those works that deal with brutal sheets of noise, such as the recent Igneous (, for four performers with stones, tiles and video written for the Rock, Paper Scissors series of three concerts he organized in Miami ( Oryza Sativa ( (2010) for two electric guitars, hammond organ and rice, and Discriminate Brutality (2011) (, for two prepared electric guitars.

For those reading this as potential Weisslich concert-goers, hoping that this post will illuminate Robert’s output in such a way to that would allow them to know what to expect when his work appears on the next Weisslich concert, it is probably clear by now that his output manifests such stylistic and instrumental diversity that any single piece I attach below will be a hopelessly one-sided encapsulation of his work. So, instead of picking a piece that is similar to the one you will witness, I’ll just pick one of my favourites: the strikingly simple, but effortlessly beautiful L’Ascension (2012) for solo piano, played by Leo Svirsky:

– David Pocknee