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Five minutes with: Gwenaëlle Rouger

Gwenaëlle Rouger_o

Pianist Gwenaëlle Rouger will be joining Mark Knoop on stage as part of City Summer Sounds. We spent a few minutes having a chat with her.

We’re delighted to welcome you to our stage as part of the festival. Could you tell us a little about the works you will be performing? 

I will be playing a piece for piano and electronics called Dans le mur‘ (In the wall), by composer Georges Aperghis. Aperghis was inspired to write this piece by the graffiti that you see regularly out of the windows of commuter trains. He said he imagined that ‘the walls were a type of music, a sort of compressed music, compact, walls of music’. I like the violence and rebellion associated with this piece – it’s my kind of hip hop. The second piece is written for two pianos, live electronics and live video – I will be interpreting this with pianist Mark Knoop. It was composed by Michael Beil, and it is called ‘Doppel‘. I’m interested in its experimental format as a live visual and musical performance. I am also fascinated by the opportunity it gives to the audience to dissect and question the creative process by witnessing the composition and decomposition of the piece in real time.


You say that you perceive the concert as a moment of experimentation for both audience and performer. Why do you think it’s important to have this exploratory state of mind? 

This commitment to exploration and experience is the only way to take part in the evolution of the concert format, and the place of the pianist within it, from accepted 19th and 20th norms to what it will become in the 21st century. It is necessary for us to question existing models. By thinking of a concert as a shared experience for both audience and performer alike, we create a unique social moment and facilitate more engagement from the audience. When both listener and interpreter are sharing in this moment of experience, we create a positive creative feedback loop, which keeps the music alive. As John Cage says in his book “Silence“: “The activity of movement, sound, and light, we believe, is expressive, but what is expresses is determined by each one of you…”


In 2013 you began a project called ‘Urgent Stimulation’, in which you are enclosed in a box whilst performing, purposefully blocking the audience from seeing any visual element of your playing. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?  

My project “Urgent stimulation” is a concert for solo piano in which I play inside a box made out of a light wooden frame covered in black cloth. This structure covers where the pianist sits, and the area around the keyboard, while the tail and soundboard of the piano are left completely open. This idea comes from the feeling I’ve always had that when I am unable to see the performer I feel more directly in contact with the sound. This piece is called “Stimulation”, because the purpose of art is to stimulate the sensitivity, and creativity which is in every person; and “Urgent” because for this stimulation to occur, one must be an active listener, willing to engage. The void that is created by the absence of the performer creates a feeling of something missing that needs to be filled. The listeners are left in front of themselves, and their relationship with the sound.  


You also are one of the artistic directors, and a pianist of the new music ensemble soundinitiative. Can you tell us a bit more about soundinitiative?  What works have you been working on recently and what is important for you in this ensemble? 

soundinitiative is an ensemble of 12 musicians created in Paris in 2011. We like to think of ourselves as more of a band, in which strong links are formed between the musicians because we play together on a permanent basis. We also like to work with composers on a longer term, in order to create this same bond – this is the case with the likes of Chris Swithinbank, Santiago Dìez Fisher or Joanna Bailie. Through our series ‘Hors les murs’ (Out of the walls), we work outside conventional concert venues; our next date in this series will be in an art gallery in Paris, for example, on 18th June. We will be playing, among other pieces, a cycle by Peter Ablinger. This summer, we are also performing pieces by Joanna Bailie, Santiago Dìez Fisher, Mauro Lanza et Jennifer Walshe at the Darmstadt festival. At Darmstadt, true to our commitment to the notion of audience as experience, we will be the associate ensemble in Simon Steen Andersen’s workshop “Extended Music”.


soundinitiative have a focus on collaborations with established and emerging composers, could you tell us how does this collaborative process inform your playing both of the new works and also more generally? 

As performers, we give a body, a breath to the music that only existed in thought when composed. The collaboration with the composer is extremely subtle and enthralling. Both parties must welcome in the other in what makes the core of their personality. This cooperation, and the feeling of shared accomplishment, is an enormous source of energy.


Mark Knoop and Gwenaëlle Rouger  perform as part of City Summer Sounds festival on Thursday 12th, 7pm in the Performance Space, College Building. 

Admission is free


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Five minutes with: Ed Fish (CUEE)

ed1Ed Fish is a final year student at City University London and one of the founding members of City University Experimental Ensemble. We took a few minutes to talk to him about CUEE ahead of their concert at City Summer Sounds.

What is City University Experimental Ensemble and why did it form?

CUEE is a student led ensemble who compose and perform new, improvised, conceptual and avant-garde music. The ensemble formed through a collective desire to play music that would expand our horizons and perhaps challenge our preconceived notions of what musical performance and composition should be. It also acts as a platform to discuss and try out new ideas in a friendly and welcoming environment.

One of the great things about the ensemble is the collaborative nature that seems to exist, and especially amongst performers/composers of very different backgrounds. Was this always the intention of the ensemble and is it integral to the music you perform?

I would say it is pretty integral. Some of our members are classically trained musicians or come from jazz, latin or pop backgrounds whilst others are computer musicians and scientists. I think that this diversity makes for a richer creative environment and allows us a variety of perspectives when we approach a piece or discuss an idea. We have always been completely indiscriminate as to who can join the ensemble and for us a curious mind is more useful than an ABRSM qualification. That’s not to say that some of the music we perform isn’t challenging though, but the challenge may be learning to echolocate, keeping rhythm on a teacup or interpreting a graphic score.

You recently performed works by James Saunders with Plus-Minus and James himself, and you will be performing Saunders’ everybody do this in tomorrow’s concert. How was that experience, and what is it about his music that you are drawn to?

The concert was a great opportunity for us to work with a professional composer and ensemble as well as getting a bonus session with composer Matthew Shlomowitz. I think I was a little surprised by how friendly everyone was and how interested James was to hear our ideas on the piece and our interpretations. The performance of everybody do this was fun but pretty hectic with so many musicians on the stage so I am looking forward to performing it with a smaller group in the next concert to see how it affects the way that the piece unfolds. Perhaps people who may have been less dominant in a larger ensemble may become more confident in a smaller group or vice versa. I think I am drawn to Saunders’ work because of the experimental nature of his music and its ability to explore interesting ideas with relatively basic indeterminate structures. For example the performance instructions for everybody do this are very simple but, when performed, the piece raises interesting questions about group dynamics and social structures. I was surprised watching the performance of the last concert how much of a loudmouth I was so I guess I have learnt something about myself in the process too. Maybe I will try to keep it down a bit this time.

You can see the recent performance of everybody do this, performed by City University Experimental Ensemble, Materials and Plus Minus here.

On a more personal note, you graduate this year and begin your journey into pastures new. Where do you hope to be musically in 5 years time? 

Fingers crossed I can get on a masters course and explore composition at a deeper level. I think my compositional output at the moment suffers from a lack of knowledge about existing practice, especially in new music and so over the next few years I am going to invest heavily in exploring existing works. It’s another reason why it’s so good to be a part of CUEE. I think the best way to learn about new music is to perform it. In five years I would hope to have a few pieces under my belt and have a clearer idea of how I define myself as a composer.

And finally, what’s next for CUEE? 

We should be getting a new batch of recruits next year and hopefully with that will come new music and new ideas to explore. Thanks to Newton Armstrong and Diana Salazar we have been put in touch with some exciting new composers and performers so we will aim to develop these relationships as we make the transition towards becoming a professional ensemble.


City University Experimental Ensemble perform as part of City Summer Sounds festival on Wednesday 28th, 1.10pm in the Performance Space, College Building. 

Admission is free

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Five minutes with: James Saunders

James SaundersJames Saunders  is a composer with an interest in modularity. He performs in the duo Parkinson Saunders, and with Apartment House. He is Head of the Centre for Musical Research at Bath Spa University. On Tuesday his music is featured in a portrait concert performed by our ensemble-in-residence, Plus-Minus, including a new work composed specifically for the event. We spent five minutes talking to James about his work.


Your works tend to explore open forms and processes. This brings with it the issues of generality and specificity, something that you have talked about previously. What is it about the boundaries between generality and specificity that draws you to compose in this field?

At the moment I see them as two states, and pieces I make tend to be broadly either specific or general. By specific, I mean that the score will indicate a more tightly controlled series of activities, normally with definite sounds of some kind or a clear temporal relationship, but still may be open in some way. The general pieces leave a lot of possibilities left open, and might be used to generate more specific pieces themselves. Recently this has become more of a focus for me. I tend to sketch out ideas for pieces in my notebook, some of which stay there for good reasons, but others are made quite quickly into scores, normally short verbal descriptions of processes. I’ve found over the past few months that they might also exist in a more specific state, taking the basic process and fleshing it out, giving it a context, normally with particular sounds. So as an example, I wrote a piece ‘things whole and not whole’ for Basel Sinfonietta in 2011 that models the way birds flock. The musicians are able to use any sound sources or instruments, as long as they can produce short sounds on cue. The new piece on bare trees in the concert on Tuesday is a version of this, but the players are given a series of pitches in short phrases. The cueing system is the same, but a different kind of patterning emerges, with each phrase coming to rest on a repeated unison pitch. I expect some of the other general pieces might develop in this way.

You have composed a new piece for Plus-Minus, being performed on Tuesday, in which you use a mutually orthogonal latin square to control various permutations of four parameters. Can you explain a little more about this compositional process and what we can expect of ‘so many territories’?

They’re a bit of a mouthful aren’t they? I first came across them in relation to George Perec’s ‘Life: A User’s Manual’, which is one of my favourite books and through which I developed a fascination with the Oulipo. Perec uses a Graeco-Latin Bi-square, which is a square gridded arrangement with each cell containing two elements, one from each of two sets. Across the square, each element of the two sets appears in each row and column only once, and each combination of the two elements occurs only once across the whole square. In the book, Perec uses this to determine the constraints for each chapter of the book, creating a set of permutations of elements from which to construct the narrative. It is possible to create squares with more than two sets, and they are mutually orthogonal if there is no repetition of the different combinations of elements across the square. In my piece, the score is presented as a 8×8 grid of cells. It took me a while to find four mutually orthogonal squares, but the result is that each cell contains a unique combination of four musical parameters (two pitches, a dynamic and articulation). In some parts this is rationalised a little where unplayable results occur, but it allowed me to define a space, both sonically and on the score. The players move across this grid independently, creating loops and chains of events as they progress.

so many territories - accordion copyYour recent works also employ musical cueing systems that explore group behaviour in your works. How does ‘so many territories’ fit within this context of cueing and group behaviour?

There’s no cueing in ‘so many territories’ as such, but group behaviours may emerge. The players work independently across the grid, but stable states may sometimes develop where repetitions of cells in a fixed relationship occur. If this happens, players may either choose to submit and move on, co-exist for a time, or refuse to move on and wait for the other player(s) to submit. This determines the progression.



‘everybody do this’ was recently performed in Bath with four performers [watch here]. Next week we will see this performed with a larger group of around 20-25 performers. How do you expect the outcome to change considering the much larger ensemble?

Good question. It is likely to be a lot more chaotic of course. The piece works by each player giving spoken cues for actions to which the other players respond. Cues relate to pitches, noises, and devices, so for example if someone says ‘pitch 4’, then everybody plays their fourth pitch sound. The choice of sounds is left to the players to decide independently, so the combinations are determined through distributed decision making. All players give and receive cues simultaneously as they want. In the first performance it was possible for all of us to hear the instructions easily enough. Patterns were constructed and broken regularly, and there was a relatively high degree of order. With a much larger group it will be very different. It is likely that it will oscillate between having a few dominant voices to which everyone responds, smaller localised groups of concerted activity, and a few loners. To be honest, I can’t wait to find out. This piece is another group behaviour piece and is part of a series which explore organisation structures. So if this is a many-to-many relationship, the other pieces use one-to-one (‘what you must do, rather than must not do’, 2012), many-to-one (‘you say what to do’, 2014), and one-to-many (‘I say what to do’, 2014). These will all have been performed by the middle of the year, and the next stage of the project is to look at other more complex relationships. The master plan is to use these as modular blocks from which much larger networks can be built. They model organisation structures, and these tend to be complex, and often short circuit themselves at some point. Anyone who works in a big organisation will know what this feels like, so you might identify with the chaos which ensues in the piece, despite the occasional havens of order.


You can find out more about James Saunders and his work here:


James’ works will be performed on Tuesday 8th Aril at 7pm in the Performance Space, College Building. 

Admission is free. To book a place head to:

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Five minutes with: Kalia Baklitzanaki

The new term has arrived, and with it City University Concert Series 2013-14. Next week Kalia Baklitzanaki takes to the stage with her ensemble and we spent a bit of time with her talking about her musical influences.


Your performance at City University London will include both traditional repertoire from the Mediterranean and Middle East, and your own compositions. Can you explain how these connect, and how your compositions are influenced by the musical traditions that you have learned?

Growing up on the island of Crete in Greece, I was surrounded by traditional music. Music there is very much a living tradition and a part of the seasonal life cycle. The folk music of the island and of the rest of Greece have strongly influenced my compositions. Historically Crete has been a point of contact with many other cultures such as Venetian, North African and Ottoman, and I have therefore been interested in learning about the music of these cultures as well. Some of the repertoire I will present tonight reflects my travels and studies with musicians in these areas.


The instruments in your ensemble come from a number of different musical traditions. Why have you chosen these particular instruments, and do you face any problems when trying to integrate them?

I selected the instruments and instrumentalists in my band, as they are ideal for interpreting music of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Vasilis Sarikis will be playing percussion used in Greece, Turkey, the Middle East and Spain such as: riq (tambourine), darbuka (goblet drum), frame drums and cajon. Jon Banks will be playing the kanoun (zither) which is used in Greece, Turkey and the Arab world. Theo Lais will play the Cretan lyra (fiddle) and laouto (lute). I will be singing in various languages, playing the nay (reed flute) used in Greek, Turkish, Arabic and Iranian music, and the Greek/Bulgarian kaval flute. Ruth Goller will keep us all together with her bass line on the double bass which has successfully been incorporated into traditional music of these areas. All the musicians are amazingly talented on their instruments and I am really pleased to be able to work with them all!


Can you tell us about the other music and dance projects that you are involved in?

The other main project I have is ‘Dunya Duo’ with percussionist Vasilis Sarikis, where we write and explore repertoire for nay, voice and percussion. Projects and musicians I have worked with in the past include: Natacha Atlas, Syrian, Kuljit Bhamra, Kharabat Ensemble, Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Kit Downs, Jadid Ensemble and Paprika.


You have lived and studied in London for a number of years. Do you feel that the city has influence the music that you write and perform?

London is a crossroad for many artists, and this has given me the opportunity to work with a great variety of artists and musical traditions. The support provided to the arts has also been invaluable for creating and sustaining projects.


You can find out more about Kalia and her music here:

Kalia will be performing on Tuesday 22nd October at 7pm in the Performance Space, College Building. This concert is part of Inside Out Festival.

Admission is free. To book a place head to:

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City Summer Sounds: Five minutes with Georgia Rodgers

In the final of our series of five minute interviews, we spoke to Georgia Rodgers, an Islington based composer pursuing a PhD in Music at City University.

This piece has come after a year long collaboration with cellist Séverine Ballon. How did that come about, and how has it been working with her?

I was introduced to Séverine by my supervisor Newton Armstrong last October, and she was kind enough to agree to work with me on this piece. It has been an absolutely brilliant experience and a real privilege. Séverine is a fantastically talented cello player. She plays with several renowned ensembles and is also pursuing a PhD in extended cello technique. Not only that but she is a great teacher; she showed me what is possible on the cello, what works and what doesn’t. She helped me to focus on the sounds I was interested in, to concentrate on what was important in the composition, and to communicate my ideas. She is also very patient! I’ve learnt so much from her and I’m very grateful.

Your piece combines electronics with the solo cello. How are these two aural aspects interacting with each other?

Ah, well that’s the million dollar question! The electronic sounds are derived entirely from simple processing of the live cello. Everything coming out of the loudspeakers is a slightly delayed or layered version of the live sound from the stage. In fact, the question you ask – how do the electronics and live sound interact with each other – is one of the key concerns of the composition. I’m interested in how our perception of the sound of the cello is altered when we hear a mix of live and electronic versions of it. I think by actively considering what we are hearing in this way, we may learn something about our own perception, what sound is and how it behaves. So, how do the two parts interact? I’d be interested to know what the audience thinks after hearing it!

You recently had a performance of your piece ‘A to B’ which is for acoustic percussion and electronics. How does this piece relate to the upcoming piece?

Yes, ‘A to B’ was performed at City in May this year by Serge Vuille. He did a really great job. The two pieces are quite similar in terms of their fundamentals: both have a solo instrumentalist playing on stage and four loudspeakers positioned around the audience. In both pieces the electronic part is derived entirely from the live instrumental sound using simple delays, layering and some transposition. In ‘A to B’ I investigated a range of extended playing techniques, a literal hands-on exploration of the percussion instruments, exploring the different sonic textures and spaces that could be created. In this new piece I think I have narrowed the range of instrumental material and electronic processing in order to concentrate on very small changes in the sound, trying to isolate thresholds in our perception, for example when does a noise become a pitch? When does a discrete sound become continuous? When does the space shift from front to back, left to right, near to far?

On Monday, your new piece is going to be performed alongside Morton Feldman’s ‘Patterns in a Chromatic Field’. How does your work fit in with this work? Are there any direct influences?

‘Patterns in a Chromatic Field’ is a fantastic piece; I’m really happy to be programmed along side it and am looking forward to hearing Séverine and Mark perform it. I don’t think there are any direct influences from it in my piece, but I am very interested in Feldman as a composer, in particular his approach to time. Feldman said that he was interested in getting at time “in its unstructured existence…before we put our paws on it” – our perception of time as a phenomenon, before we divide it into minutes and seconds. In ‘Patterns…’ he uses slightly varying repetition, a large time scale, and other techniques to approach this. My piece inhabits a very different world sonically but one of my concerns whilst composing it was accessing the present moment, by enabling us to consider our perception of sound.

Finally, “Listen to yourself listen” is a term you have applied to some of your research. What does this mean, and how does this come into play in the new work?

Listen to yourself listen is a phrase I’m using (with some poetic license) to imply a duality of listening – listening whilst at the same time understanding what it means to listen. This is why I’m interested in exploring our perception of sound and how it changes, where the thresholds of perception happen, at what point we hear one thing as opposed to another. I think it’s important to be conscious of our perception of sound in order to approach the sound itself, to learn more about what sound is and how it behaves, as well as learning more about ourselves perceiving it.

You can hear more of Georgia’s music here:

Her new composition will be performed by Séverine Ballon on Monday 24th June at 7pm, alongside a performance of Morton Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field.

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City Summer Sounds: Five minutes with Mark Knoop


City Summer Sounds is now into its second week. We caught up with pianist Mark Knoop to talk about his upcoming performance in the festival next week.

 You are going to be performing Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field in next week’s concert, which is very much a piece about communication between the two performers. What does this piece mean to you?

Patterns in a Chromatic Field is an amazing late Feldman work of about 80 minutes duration. Séverine and I have talked about playing the piece for many years, so it’s great to have the opportunity to perform it at last. The title seems simultaneously rather dry musicological language, and also suggestive of the visual arts. Feldman actually subtitled the work “Untitled Composition” and is said to have preferred this designation.

“Patterns…” shares its scale with other late Feldman works, but has a more active surface than the big solo piano pieces. I think of the piece as if viewing a small, highly intricate, slowly rotating crystal, lit from one angle by strong light. As the crystal rotates, we see more detail emerging, then the view suddenly changes as the light hits a new facet.

The cellist Arne Deforce has pointed out a link to the work of Jasper Johns, who writes:

Take an object.

Do something to it.

Do something else to it

Do something else to it.

You’ve performed a number of Feldman pieces in recent years. As a pianist, is there something that draws you to his music?

Feldman’s piano writing is fascinating and powerful, also demanding and frustrating at times. I suppose I was initially attracted to the performative challenge of maintaining the scale of the long pieces, but even the shorter pieces have an way of immediately creating their own unique identity. Feldman does what he wants to do, there is no suggestion of compromise or concern with reaction or result.

You’re an Australian performer, now based in London. What was it that brought you to base yourself in London?

I moved to London in 2000 from Australia partly to distance myself from a rabidly reactionary conservative government and the Olympics. So that worked out well…

You seem to have a real focus on performing new works. Is there something you particularly enjoy about performing new works and collaborating with composers on new works?

Of course! I see music — like any other artform — to be primarily about creation. In order to have any relevance to contemporary culture, we must be continuously creating and collaborating. Marcel Duchamp maintained that art is no longer art after 20 years — of course in the performing arts there is a place for re-creation and reinterpretation, but the principal view should be forwards, not backwards.


You can find out more about Mark Knoop here:


Séverine Ballon and Mark Knoop perform Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field alongside a new work by Georgia Rodgers on Monday 24th June 2013 at 7pm, in the Performance Space (ALG10), College Building.

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City Summer Sounds: Five minutes with Annie Yim


With City Summer Sounds now officially under way, we had a quick chat to Annie ahead of her performance tonight.

Your programme features works by Schubert and Schumann. What is it about these pieces in particular that made you want to perform them?

Schubert was an important influence on Schumann.  Both composers wrote great song compositions and song cycles, and this lyrical quality shines through their instrumental works.  I have always enjoyed programming them together.  Between Schubert’s Improputu in B-flat major and Schumann’s Humoreske, I’m playing two Schumann songs transcribed by Liszt.  They are both love songs, written to express his ardent love for Clara before they married.  Widmung (Dedication) from Schumann’s song cycle, Myrthen Op. 25, was presented to Clara on their wedding day.  Fruhlingsnacht (Spring evening) is from his Liederkreis Op. 39, set to poetry by Joseph Eichendorff.


You are currently writing a doctoral thesis on Schumann’s influences upon Brahms. How does this research feed into your performance of Schumann’s works?


My research is on Schumann’s influence on the young Brahms, specifically on the little known and very different original version of Brahms’s Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8.

Performance and musicology are very closely connected. They are quite different approaches, but for me as a performer, the goal is the same. My research involves multiple perspectives, including historical, analytical, performance practice, and performing traditions, all of which build one’s understanding of the composer, the music, and the tradition of interpretations of the music. These great works of art require much more than musical instincts to re-create or discover their meaning. I focus very much on Schumann’s musical-aesthetics in my current thesis, which are complex, as his literary and esoteric aesthetics are often entangled by preconceptions about his mental illness, a biographical aspect which often undermine Schumann’s musical innovation.  Brahms, even at 20 years old, recognized Schumann’s genius and ingenuity, and became hugely influenced by his mentor throughout his life, even though they met only four months before Schumann was incarcerated in the mental asylum.

You also recently presented a lecture-recital on humour in Schumann’s Humoreske Op. 20. What aspects of humour can the audience expect to hear in your performance of this piece tonight?


Our understanding of humour is quite different, as Humoreske is by no means light-hearted!  The German notion of Humour was originally a literary aesthetic in the 19th Century, championed by writers such as E.T.A. Hoffmann and Jean Paul, who were Schumann’s heroes.

Jean Paul wrote that humour is represented by ‘an infinity of contrasts’, and that laughter is produced when juxtaposing pain and greatness.  For example, in Hoffmann’s novel Life and Opinion of Tomcat Murr, he tells two different but related stories, alternating them often at crucial moments to interrupt one from the other.  Humoreske is used for the first time in history as a musical title by Schumann here.

What happens in Schumann’s Humoreske adheres to it’s literary origin.  We have two contrasting but related tonalities, B-flat major, and G minor, which alternate throughout the work (just like in his Kreisleriana Op. 16).  The great moment arrives towards the end in a frenzied section, when we hear three fff chords in B-flat major, followed immediately in G MAJOR – a terrific sense of freedom is achieved as he breaks free of the B-flat major/G minor plot!  He has reached the zenith through ‘humour’. The Humoreske is indeed Schumann’s musical novel.

You can find out more about Annie Yim here:

Annie Yim performs a programme of Schubert and Schumann tonight (Tuesday 11th June 2013) at 7pm in the Performance Space (ALG10), College Building.


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City Summer Sounds: 5 minutes with Joanna Bailie



On Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th June Joanna Bailie brings her camera obscura inpsired installation to City Summer Sounds festival. We managed to find some time to chat to her about the work as she makes her final preparations:

Your installation ‘Northampton Square’ employs a large camera obscura. For those that don’t know, how does a camera obscura work?

Camera obscura means “dark room” in Latin, but not the kind of dark room in which one develops photographs. In fact it’s a very large version of the inside of a camera — a dark space with a hole cut in one side to let the light (and the image) through, plus a surface onto which to project this image. It works because light travels in straight lines. Of course I only have a projection screen, not a surface covered in chemicals that react to the light, so I cannot preserve any images, they must be experienced live by the audience.

You’ve had a number of works in the past few years focusing on the concept of a camera obscura. What was it that drew you to this medium?

Yes, perhaps I’m a little obsessed. I saw my first camera obscura at an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery on art and illusion about 10 years ago. It was a shed sitting outside the building with a view on Waterloo Bridge. I didn’t know what a camera obscura was at that time, and I was quite taken aback by the image of London in motion, upside down. There was a peculiar quality to the image — I thought it was the most vivid thing I had ever seen. It’s absolutely pure projection of continuous reality, unlike a film with its 24 images per second. A camera obscura has no frames, it’s way beyond HD. It has a level of resolution that HD will never attain. I never get tired of making camera obscuras nor of the effect they have (on me).

Before this installation I made two pieces using a camera obscura, the first with a German scenographer called Christoph Ragg and the second with a string trio. It’s important to say that both these pieces used a theatrical camera obscura, meaning that the bright space that was projected into the dark one, was an interior and thus had to be lit by a lot of theatre spots in order to be bright enough to create a good image. Northampton Square will be lit by the sun of course.

The audience gets a very intimate experience here, getting right inside the camera itself. What do you hope an audience member will gain from ‘Northampton Square’?

First of all I hope, like me, they’ll enjoy the incredibly vivid quality of the image. It’s not intended to be a didactic work at all, but people often end up learning about how a camera works for the first time and they can’t believe that all it takes is a dark and light space with a hole between. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, you might expect the hole to simply let a ray of light into the dark room, which makes what happens that much more amazing. The sound is another thing altogether. It’s a bit more intimate and complex and makes use of a freezing process where the live sound is periodically frozen into a sustained sound. The intention is to make the audience listen to the live sound in a different way, to hear it as a potential music and to experience the contrast between it and the image. The sound is broken up, discrete and abridged while the image, as I’ve already mentioned, is pure continuity.

This installation in particular plays on the boundaries between music and non-music, and unlike the previous camera obscura works relinquishes a certain amount of control to the world outside the camera. Is this balance of music and non-music something that you have focused on before, and what inspired you to focus on this?

The idea of using real life as the basis for some kind of artistic narrative has been the basis of many of my recent works using field recordings. But of course with field recordings you can select what you use from all the sound you’ve captured. In the installation the sound and image are always at the mercy of what happens because they are live. My idea is to try to compose the real life coming into the installation by making a score: a set of (almost) live sound manipulations that the computer has to perform on the microphone feed. The score is quite elaborate and works fairly well regardless of what is going on outside. Occasionally something very special happens at exactly the right time and it’s all just chance (by the way, I recommend coming to see/hear the installation exactly on the hour for reasons that will become obvious!). You could say that the installation is all about creating a frame for reality via the projection screens that physically frame the image, and the computer manipulations that successively frame and unframe the sound.

What’s next for you and the camera obscura project?

Well Northampton Square will be the third incarnation of the installation (the first and second were in Brussels and Belfast). The fourth is set for Brussels again during the Tuned City Festival. That one will look onto a very busy road and will be very different from Northampton Square. Following that I’ll be creating a theatre piece about condensing the last 100 years of history with a German theatre-maker and actress called Katja Dryer, and working on my PhD of course!


You can find out more about Joanna Bailie here:

The installation ‘Northampton Square’ will be open between the hours of 12am and 6pm in Northampton Square Bandstand on Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th June 2013.

For more information about City Summer Sounds head to:

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Five minutes with: Luci Briginshaw

Luci BriginshawLuci Briginshaw (soprano) and Ian Pace (piano) will be performing tonight in The Performance Space, 7pm, City University London. We spent five minutes having a quick chat with Luci ahead of rehearsals:

Firstly, please tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I graduated from King’s College London, where I did an academic music degree (so not much to do with singing), ten years ago. Since then I’ve been working in an office, and on the side repeatedly trying to get into music college to study singing further. This never really happened, so I’m striking out on my own! I’m very soon going to leave my office job, and be a full-time singer, and this is thanks to my position as an official operatic busker at Covent Garden Market, which, believe or not, does now bring in enough money to live on. I do also occasionally get paid to be in opera productions!

How did you get into music and what made you pursue a career as a musician?

I’ve always wanted to be a musician for as long as I can remember. I badgered my mum to teach me the piano as soon as I was old enough to stand up and bang on the keys. She very kindly financed private piano lessons for me from the age of 5 to 18, and somewhere along that line it became clear to me that singing, and not the piano, was my true love, (although being a pianist is an invaluable aid now I am a singer).

What is it in particular that draws you to opera?

Great music sounds best when sung by a really beautiful voice, in my opinion. Opera has the best tunes, and I want to be the one that sings them!

You’ve recently performed roles such as The Queen (The Magic Flute), Clorinda (La Cenerentola) and Olympia (Les contes d’Hoffmann) as well as Mrs Rogers/Nurse in the new children’s opera My Mother Told Me Not To Stare. What has been your favourite role and why?

I am also about to sing the role of Leila in the Pearl Fishers in April, which I think will be lovely, as well as The Queen of the Night yet again in November. The Queen sings two absolutely phenomenal songs which are great fun, but as a role I couldn’t really say it’s my favourite because in reality you’re very disconnected from the rest of the cast, and spend most of the opera backstage, which is a little dull. As an experience, rather than just as a ‘role’, I would say my favourite job has been the new opera last year, as it was so special to feel I was part of creating something truly new, not just trying to emulate what thousands of sopranos had done before me. And it was also just a really great show!

Yes, creating something new is certainly a different challenge. Is that something you would like to be involved in the future, creating and presenting new operatic works?

I would love to do more contemporary work, yes; it’s very exciting to me. The only downside is it’s incredibly difficult to convince the public to come and see something new; they are very apprehensive, and worried they won’t like it. It’s such a shame that so many wonderful new pieces are being ignored.

Was it a different challenge performing specifically for children?

The challenge of performing to children had largely been taken care of by the composer and librettist, who had created a wonderfully tailor-made children’s story, with accessible music; but a challenge that I, as an actor, had to face was that all of the singing I did was performed with some kind of mask on my face. This meant that all the expression I put into had to be via movement of my body, which did take some getting used to.

It can be difficult to bring together the many hundreds of versions of well-known works when it comes to performance. How do you normally go about approaching well-known works with regards to taking influence from others, yet maintaining your own interpretation and voice?

I tend to learn a piece from the music on the score, and not listen to anyone else performing it until I have already learnt it. Having said that, for extremely well-known works, there is no avoiding the fact that you’ve heard it many times before. I think you just have to colour your interpretation with feelings that accompany the “getting inside” of that particular character – this will always result in an individual performance, because no-one else can be inside your head and therefore sing it exactly as you do.

Finally, what tips do you have for others pursuing a career in music, and more specifically opera?

If it is truly what you want to do, then don’t give up. Don’t bother taking personal offence at any criticism given. And also, although this bit can be tricky, really make sure you have the right teacher. You can waste years going to the same teacher because you like them, or they make you feel comfortable, but you should know in your heart whether or not they are advancing your technique at a noticeable speed. If not, shop around. And don’t give up! Mainly, don’t give up.


Luci will be performing a programme of Rebecca Clarke, Vincenzo Bellini, Richard Strauss, Jules Massenet and Ambroise Thomas, in the Performance Space tonight, at 7pm.

Admission is free; further details can be found at:,-passion-and-madness



PAKAW! at City University

On Tuesday 9th October PAKAW!, the all-female combo that pushes the boundaries of the traditional, visits City University London’s Performance Space.

Katerina, Muzmee, Paressa, Olympia and Duygu met in the lively Rebetiko music scene in London. The diversity of their musical backgrounds – from Classical to Latin American, from Byzantine Chant to Ska, from Turkish rhythms to Russian Polyphony – means they have an intoxicating range of colours and flavours to draw upon. What unites them in spirit is their love for Greek music and all the traditions and historical worlds it touches, from the Balkans to the Greek Islands, from the Black Sea to the mountains of Epirus.

As the only all female band with a Greek repertoire, PAKAW! turn heads before they play a note. PAKAW!’s performances radiate a unique energy, always capturing their vibrant audience, be it in London or the beautiful island of Mytilene. They have played in venues across London, including the National Theatre, and have toured to Istanbul and Athens.

The concert is at 7pm in the Performance Space (ALG10), College Building, Northampton Square.
Admission is free, places can be booked via:!

Find out more about our concert series at: