composer/musician/ZTT artist

Various articles and essays for publication and/or lectures.

HARMOLODICS: introduction to the School of Harmolodics.

part of Ornette Coleman’s Meltdown, South Bank Centre London 14-20 June 2009



The presence of performance in the age of electronic transmission

paper presented at the Cosmopolis conference in Manchester.

Introducing a glass of water to the sea - placing the work of Glyn Perrin

article published in the National Review of Live Art Catalogue 2001.

A Zeitgeist Thing: The Music Supervisor and Modern Soundtracks

article on film music published in the " VARIETY International Film Guide".

The End and Apocalypse Now

an introduction to music and feature film given at the National Film and Television School.

The End and Apocalypse Now
by Andrew Poppy

original introduction to music and feature film given at the National Film and Television School]

I would like to put the opening of the film we are about to see in some context by playing a song, a track from an album from the 1960s and by asking you to think about two different things. Firstly the poetry of the lyric expressed through words, images in language and sounds and secondly the music expressed through the organisation of sound in time. I would particularly like to draw your attention to the pulse of the music.

Listen to

The Doors: The End

from CD


Watch the opening scene of

Apocalypse Now

For anyone who has not seen Apocalypse Now the bald facts are these. In Viet-Nam in the 60s a Captain Willard is sent on a mission to kill a Colonel Kurts. Kurts is a brilliant American Soldier who has run a muck and set up his own army.

What are the questions we might ask? What does music do in a story about a soldier in Viet Nam? How does it contribute? Why is music there at all? When we see this opening sequence to the music and we see the face of someone overlaid by images of jungle and fire. Does this imply that this someone is listening to the music?

Is the music a way of getting us comfortable? Does it function like the early opera overture where there was some kind of fan fare to tell people to finish their drinks, the show is about to begin. Does The Doors track reminds us of the 1960s American culture?

Let’s explore this last idea. How can we summarise the American 1960 cultural context. It is the now hackneyed image of peace and love. It is sex, drugs and rock and roll. It is pleasure, sensual experience and liberation.

The dark side of pleasure is pain and violence and at a national level for America this meant the pleasure of war. The pleasure of war seems like a contradiction but it is certainly one the director acknowledged. It is clear Coppola wanted to make a profound film, a political and moral film even, but also an entertaining block buster. He was aware of the contradictions and moral dilemmas he faced in attempting to hold these contradiction in a single frame. (A struggle very well documented in a film made by his wife called Hearts of Darkness.) The contradictions are held together in the theme of the film: War as a trip. The word Trip starts from its associations with recreational drugs but moves into our legitimate pleasure and entertainment values and the story of Captain Willard and his river boat journey.

At one point the young soldier Lance who is escorting Captain Willard down the river gets a letter from home. His friend describes the experience of Disney Land. "There could never be a place like Disney land could there," the letter says. Lance looks around and replies "its here" This "it’s here" refers to our experience of the film also. This moment seems to the clearest articulation of the theme of the film: war as a trip to the cinema.

Having said all this the decision to open the film with the song The End by The Doors is much more than just scene setting. It is probably the most important single decision of the film. Everything that we experience is filtered through the world of this song. More than this, the song and the music gain significance at the pay off moment at the end of the film when the music reappears as the music of the ritual sacrifice. The meaning of Kurt’s death is transformed from being the job of an assassin, to the ritual violence of sacrifice. This mythical moment would not have been communicated without this music.

But: why should this particular music be appropriate for this role? We could say that the poetic language of the song and the persona of Jim Morrision the lead singer of the Doors have something to do with it. Morrison, the Shaman, the master of ritual ceremonies. He ushers in Apocalypses Now from his fund of nihilistic stories. The presence of Jim Morrison’s voice is important here. He is the narrator from beyond the specific world of the fiction. But the voice and the language are not strictly speaking the musical content. What is it in the music that is so appropriate? The drone like repetitive pattern of the bass guitar not only suspends us but connects us stylistically to non western music particularly of the east. Whilst still being a Californian rock band the guitar plays flourishes which could technically be call arabesque. The guitar style of sliding around between fixed pitches also conjures or refers to a non western musical world. But these are superficial things. What is most interesting about this music and its use in Apocalypse Now is something else.

A definition of what music is, might be: the organisation of sounds in time.

And it is time that this track explores so profoundly. For most of the song the music moves with a slow sense of pulse until about two thirds of the way through it reaches a most astonishing climax. A climax that builds in speed, twists and changes time until in destroys itself. The music destroys its own time. Ritual and violent death is the profoundly centre of this film and this music. Significantly the song does not end at this point so this musical image is presented with extraordinary clarity.

The moment is The End. The End of time. The musical image expresses the disintegration of the story, the hero and America values in a war without meaning or integrity. This is Kurts knowledge but he himself cannot return with it. This understanding can only be communicated by Captain Willard as messenger. Kurts’ message home is the film Apocalypse Now. So Kurts is sacrificed that time may begin again. The Christian iconography is appropriate. At a moment of utter self loathing a plea for cleaning and a moment of hope made possible through the traditional symbolism of ritual sacrifice. Finally Jim Morrison sings: "The end of laughter and soft lies. The end of nights we tried to die"

© 1997 by Andrew Poppy

The Presence of Performance
in the Age of Electronic Transmission

by Andrew Poppy

paper read at Bridgewater Hall Manchester 20 April 1997 for Cosmopolis part of Video Positive "escaping gravity"

Music extract 1 from Cadenza from the CD The Beating Of Wings (ZTT)

I am a composer. I am a composer in the traditional sense in that I use notation. I make marks on manuscript paper and musicians read the score to realise the music in performance. The score, the manuscript, is in some ways a primary text but it is not the music. Maybe the score is similar to architectural drawing: certain measurements, shapes and required materials are precise. Pitches and rhythms are measurements in some senses. Pitches and rhythms aren’t the music but an approach to organising them places the work in a certain tradition.

I write dots on pieces of paper but I am also interested in the nature and construction of recording and in this sense there is something in common with pop music production. I grew up trying to play Beethoven sonatas on the piano and listening in wonder to middle period Beatles.

The Beatles exploited the early multitrack tape recorder in a particular way. They were aware of avant garde composers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and they collaged random bits of radio broadcast with George Martin string arrangements and their own rock and roll. Listening to John Lennon’s I am the Walrus you are aware that it is a record production. A musical experience that could not happen outside the frame of the loud speakers. The space it presents is a shameless construction.

So, as a teenager in the 60s, along with my desire to play the piano was also a fascination with the studio. I was not aware that the Canadian pianist Glen Gould had applied this same fascination to the recording of the classical piano repertoire.

The two strands of my approach are: firstly a classical approach of manipulating pitches and rhythm through the medium of the written score and then a pop production approach that constructs the surface of recordings.

The piece we began with is called Cadenza. It’s a work for piano and electric piano. A cadenza is the part in a concerto where the orchestra stops playing and the soloist goes it alone. But my Cadenza is attached to no concerto and there is no orchestra. The piano part is woven with an identical strand of music played by an electric piano. This electric piano sounds something like a piano but, in being similar, somehow disturbs the character of the acoustic piano. Both sounds converge. The second piano is not electronic but electric. There is still a hammer mechanism but instead of strings and a sound board there are metal bars and an electro magnetic pick up. There is a logic behind excluding the orchestra. It’s the first stage of a journey. The acoustic piano desolves into a version of itself with electro magnetic pick ups. The next stage is to exclude both pianists and I am doing just that by playing you this piece on CD.

Music extract 2 from Listening In from The Beating of Wings CD (ZTT)

You’ve just heard two fragments of a piece called Listening in. The sound of it is made up of samples. Samples are fragments of digitally recorded sound that are instantly played back via a computer trigger. Most of the metal sounds come from the hulls of ships in the Clyde ship yard. Listening In is a kind of percussion piece made from about 38 different samples mostly of non musical sounds. The sounds are controlled and balanced and presented in a way that could only exist via the loud speaker.

Digital sampling technology is the perfection of the collage technique. Any recordable moment can be stored and juxtaposed and modulated with any other moment. I record a small skin drum in a studio in north London and place it beside the sound of someone hitting an oil tanker on the Clyde.

I do not believe these particular origins mean anything musically. I work with the sounds texturally and rhythmically, balancing them with the same sensibility as I would two orchestral instruments.

What is the nature of the cultural and social transition from post industrial to digital city? That is the question that has been asked.

Of course the digital revolution is a change but it is the last stage of a revolution that started with recording. Recording and its allied radio transmission technologies have produced the most profound changes in the making and consumption of music. The transition from post industrial to digital would seem to be about a perfection of recording and its modes of reproduction.

What is recording? What has been recorded? The implication is that something to do with memory is going on. Memory is selective like the act of writing history, its not a simple thing.

The word Recording is itself problematic. It hides the level of construction and aesthetic decision making that has taken place even in the simplest of recordings. But it has to be acknowledged that there is something that is being recorded. There is some original moment and that moment is in performance.

What is performance? If I sit and play the piano in your presence - is that performance? If I push the fader up at some point while mixing a recording of the piano playing, - is that performance? If I package the recording and send it out into the world - is that performance? A CD is a product of mechanical reproduction. Recordings atomise and fragment musical performance so as to transform its sound materials into a storable form. The sound of a pianist playing, is to all intents and purposes retrieved and projected in the space that exists between two speakers.

Recording changes our attitude towards time and space and it has radically changed the meaning and experience of the concert hall, the opera house and theatre. Glen Gould and The Beatles decision to retire from live performance are not clear until you have been involved in record production.

The focused and controlled moment of spontaneity that can live for ever in the object of recorded music casts a shadow over the live event. The live event becomes, the acoustically compromised, one chance to get it right. The audience’s expectation is palpable yet indistinct and various. The live event begins to appear untenable.

The CD has a world wide contituancy. It has access to human attention divorced from space and time. It is possible to see the convoluted activity of making CDs and releasing them as some kind of performance, in which making musical sound is only a small part. The complete CD package is a place for many different activities, involving the language of the liner note and the cover image. Through the CD I have an audience in Russia, in America and in Europe.

Yet at some point the shadow cast by recording over performance is so dark that recording starts to believe that performance is dead. Or insignificant or forgotten.

Again in some ways we are in the last phase of a process. What was once a theatre became a cinema. The screen still remembers its theatrical origin with the drawing of the curtain. In the 1970s the multiplexes divided the space. We have progress, we have choice, and TV channels have begun to splinter in a similar fashion. The point is that the site of performance has been undergoing dramatic change for decades.

I feel that I am always charting some kind of magnetic pull away from ritual. Classical performance, like the theatre of plays, extorts a solemnity from its audience that is not possible at home. Pop performance is attended by an ecstatic bacchanalian hysteria The CD and the radio broadcast do not position the listener in the same ritualistic space, what ever the music.

Music extract 3 Where is the Beauteous from the CD Ophelia/Ophelia (Impetus)

This extract is from an Opera for one voice called Ophelia/Ophelia. It is based on the character of Ophelia from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. The premise of the work is to see the whole of this classic text from Ophelia’s point of view. The technique for doing this is to make all the other characters mute. The Opera is made from all of Ophelia’s speeches. They are all responses: to her brother, her father, her lover’s mother and to her lover, who is Hamlet.

Ophelia is a character whose voice, her projection of herself, does not resonate with any other character. She has no witness. So her dialogue becomes a duet with herself. Her self and her echo become her companion. This idea is expressed by the single singer being written for as a duet with herself. This second self is indistinguishable from the first.

The clone denies authenticity, individuality and uniqueness.

The clone denies the unique time and place of performance.

In a staged version Ophelia sings with a recorded version of herself. In performance the live voice will always be balanced and supported and ultimately dissolved into a projected memory of that voice, a mechanical reproduction of itself.

Unfortunately this image has become more polemical than poetic. I wrote the work in 1995. The score was selected by the ISCM for performance at the Cultural Capital of Europe Festival in Copenhagen in 1996. The music director of the festival invited me to present a production. But cash for this kind of project is very hard to come by. I made a CD - partly because that is what I do - but also to help fund raise. The touring and production costs to put a show on for one night in Copenhagen cost at least three times the total cost of producing the CD. I’ll spare you the details of the fund raising energy expended. The performance was denied.

The city would seem to be an amalgam of public and private spaces. The High Street is one public space and the concert hall another. The writing is on the wall if we look at the high street since the 1970s. The shopping mall replaces and recreates the high street in a more controlled environment, complete with music and surveillance. It’s protected from the elements by day and locked up at night.

Television is the culture of the private space but it cannot escape the presentation or representation of public spaces and performance. In television there is an endless resynthesis of the public event: game shows, music programmes all have artificial audiences - even newsnight sometimes!

Perhaps TV sport is one of the few areas where the audience is not a controlled and constructed presentation. Although there is the commentary and the studio panel of experts framing and containing the game. But it would be wrong to believe that the site of performance endures here. Because, for the viewer, it is the image of the site of performance that is consumed. Luckily this comes cheap for the programme makers. People at televised football matches pay for their own tickets while their image is being recorded for world wide distribution.

The Indians who believed that photographs captured their souls understood something about copyright law and about the author and the performers moral rights.

I am going to end with an extract from a piece called The Object is a Hungry Wolf. and with 3 different versions of the same extract. The first is from 1982 played by The Lost Jockey an ensemble I wrote for and performed with at that time. It’s a rough one take studio recording made by John Leckie at Abbey Road Studios. It is effectively a live performance and is unmixed.

The second version was made in 1985 for ZTT Records. It was recorded as a series of overdubs onto mullitrack tape. In other words, the singers did not meet the strings. Different parts were recorded at different sessions on different days. This version was eventually released on my first CD The Beating of Wings

The final version made in 1987 has no one playing on it and was made as the title music for Tyne Tess TV programme The Tube. It was made using a combination of the Fairlight and Synclavier music computers.

Music extracts 4 three versions of the last section of The Object is a Hungry Wolf

The process of recording moves us away from ritual acts in public space. But there must always be a swing back to them. It is important that there is a literal space for performance. Cultural planners and those wielding the instruments of digital technology need to acknowledge this and make a commitment at whatever cost to the diversity of rituals that animate public space.

© Andrew Poppy 1997

Introducing a glass of water to the sea
placing the work of Glyn Perrin

by Andrew Poppy

National Review of Live Art Catalogue 2001

"One of the hardest things to do in the studio, if you're working on your own, is to lose control. One of the pleasures of the studio is control. In the piece I want to make I want all the pleasures of control whilst I'm making it and all the pleasures of losing the whole shebang when it's finishedGlyn Perrin

Four works scribe a trajectory to this point for Glyn Perrin. The Circus of Democracy for orchestra and tape, and Like He Never Was for 4 clarinets and samples are notable for their use of electronic and recorded sound. These sounds placed against the instrumentalists' physical presence, and traditional skill, signify the disembodied voice; the uncanny. They enter in the form of a subtle questioning of the assumed wholeness of the instrumental performance.

However in Romance with footnotes for 4 cellos, bass clarinet and tape made for the choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh the sequenced drum patterns relentlessly dominate the space, pulverising the physical. The percussion sounds bite and consume the sustain of the live instruments in a way that would not read if the percussion had been realised by live players. In a fourth work Cri/Me (1992) there is only recorded and deployed sound experienced through playback. The piece, constructed from vocal samples, echoes stylistically Steve Reich’s tape pieces and Luciano Berio’s electronically inspired extended vocal techniques.

Currently, Perrin's professed project is to escape language, theatre and the rhetorical. He is uncomfortable with music's co-opted role as the hidden persuader in hybrid art forms. He would like to make a work free of direct address, something on the cusp of audibility, drowning in the every day, not staged but discovered in some insignificant corner of the real world. Something that works with the thresholds of perception and intention.

Playback music of any kind privileges the listener/consumer in a particular way. The owners/performers/authors are absent allowing the listener to believe they are being directly addressed and their responsibility only to listen or not. To buy or not to buy. Even though the space from which the playback speaks can never be accessed the desiring listener is enclosed in a projection that realises the work.

This privilege becomes ironic in Perrin's project. Finding a neglected corner, he wants to dispense with the mechanisms that informs us that a ‘work' exists at all. He steps away from the lectern, believing that his role is to provide an imaginative possibility rather than persuade us of his craft and culture.

"Music (imaginary separation of hearing from other senses) does not existJohn Cage.

Are there different and necessarily appropriate modes of listening: in the concert hall, cinema, gallery, dance floor, car, shopping mall, neglected corner? Until John Cage began his questioning, it was supposed that authentic musical listening could only be done in a limited number of ritual contexts of which the concert hall was the most refined. Cage placed the nature of music within the act of listening, on the plane of belief, in a multi-dimensional body and in the particularity of a space. He revised the notion of pure music by propagandising the experience of sound in itself. The sound signifier is freed of the signified; no longer an index but a sensuous experience (hopefully).

Yet in a sense Cage only rationalised what recording technology had already realised. Recording makes the location of musical experience non-specific. It makes possible the re-contextualisation of any sound by any other sound in any other space. The biggest promoter of this state of affairs has been the movie sound track, where the sound of language, indexical noise and music jostle in a designed and publicly acceptable aesthetic co-existence. From the beginning the soundtrack has been one great big sampler.

Recording detaches the sonic material from its origin, its performance. Music created from samples - from the promenade-field recordings of Luc Ferrari through the experimentally tinged chillout dance music of DJ Crush to the assemblages of John Oswald made from thousands of fragments of pop music - is an extension of the music consumed through playback which dominates western culture. Be it Mozart or musak.

Since the 1950’s the performance and aesthetic conventions of western music have been radically reconfigured in the light of this fact. Four works scribe a trajectory. John Cage's 4' 33” (1952); the silent piece needs no introduction. Stockhausen's Mikrophonie I (1964) for one tam-tam and six performers is a kind of Chinese whispers played between the musician, the microphone and the mixing desk. Its methodology presents an image of the process undergone in any recorded or electronically mediated musical experience. Steve Reich's It's Gonna Rain (1965) uses two identical speech loops on two tape recorders. Naturally occurring phase shifting gradually produces a sonic experience of rhythmic and textural richness. Also using two tape recorders, Alvin Lucier's I am Sitting in a Room (1970) articulates the acoustic properties of a particular architectural space by continually re-recording in the same acoustic environment a simple spoken text. In both these works language gradually moves away from the symbolic to the sonic real of musical experience, moves our listening in to music.

Locating creativity in thought and play rather than a specific skill is a liberating political act in itself. So Yves Klein makes symphonies, John Cage makes poetry, Tadeusz Kantor paints. In his new work Glyn Perrin plays a circling and cancelling game. He is reinventing himself as a painter who makes audio art by introducing a glass of water to the sea.

934 words

© August 2000 by Andrew Poppy

Glyn Perrin is published by University of York Music Press. A complete works list and further details are available from them.