Architexture II : St Mary’s Reconstructed

Reconstructing St Mary's Abbey Thumbnail

Architexture II is a new vocal composition specially designed to make the most of the acoustics of a ruined building which doesn’t exist today. It’s 20 minutes long, and is a huge monolithic, choral sound-sculpture of industrial proportions.

Created by detailed part-writing, the singers constantly weave in and out of each other as the piece surges and flows in flurries of activity. It’s always moving, but I also wanted like to give a sense of being frozen in a moment, which is extended forever. I’ve always liked those moments in the movies where time suddenly stands still, yet meanwhile, you see all the internal details of the events flow past you in a kind of cool slow motion. Architexture II is little like that: expect a kind of ultra-minimal contemporary music (not in a 1960s way), yet one that delivers it’s message through huge, large-scale textures.

Taking inspiration from medieval music (in particular, the sounds of first practice, early polyphony), I’ve adapted historical composition techniques to become modern tools for sculpting a large-scale vocal composition. Polyphony, for many renaissance composers, was all about creating a beautiful sound world from intricate overlapping of parts. That’s all very well to help make some wonderful textures, but how can we achieve clarity too? I wanted to know! So, I’ve spent a lot of time moving tiny phrases and musical lines around so that absolutely everyone’s contribution is clear, despite the vast acoustic (and I mean vast – it’s 11 seconds long at some frequencies) the piece will be performed in.

We’re using a kind of acoustic augmented reality. St Mary’s Abbey was one of the largest buildings in York by the year 1266. It was knocked down in 1530. The idea is to overlay the acoustic of what St Mary’s would have sounded like onto the actual space which exists today.

Click ‘continue reading’ to read more about the project and listen to the rehearsals.

Continue reading


My need to compose is frequently driven by questions. Why, for example, since 1570, are there so few multi-part vocal pieces? What would it mean to write one today? As a resident artist at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada, I was able to develop some alternative modern approaches to traditional polyphony, concentrating on methods for improving clarity between parts and creating, huge, spatial textures in a 35 minute piece for one hundred singers, one to a part.  I’ve been interested in the opportunities that writing one to a part vocal music can bring for developing some extraordinary sounds in choral pieces. The possibilities for large, monolithic blocks of sound, contrasted against subtle and carefully positioned individual lines are extremely exciting in this format. I’m going to call this type of writing, for want of a better term, macropolyphony. Probably risky, I know, as Ligeti has famously claimed micropolyphony, but this isn’t related to that process. I’m working on methods for how parts might interact and inter-relate across extreme expanses of textural space.  If composition could do ‘big-data’, this would be it. Continue reading

Transmission cycle live in Bucharest

Transmission Cycle, my largest project for John Potter since Being Dufay was commissioned by the supported Jazz in Church Festival, Bucharest. John and I were joined for this 40 minute premier by Mihai Balabas, violin; Marina Pingulescu, violin; Maria Coltatu, viola; Corina Ciuplea, cello. Many thanks to the highly appreciative audience and the kindness of the organisers – it was a great evening.

Photo Credit: Robert Ghement
Transmission Cycle live in Bucharest | Photo Credit Robert Ghement

Thanks to all for the lovely review.  An audio clip is available here on soundcloud. All funds from this commission are donated to Romanian Children’s Charity, Copii in dificultate.

A new large-scale and as of today still untitled commission, for amplified strings and solo tenor, will be part of this ECM artist orientated festival in Bucharest this April. In a 40 minute epic journey, a slowly evolving tenor line floats above a shimmering harmonic haze where delicate details fade in and out of focus. Really pleased to give this premier alongside a great lineup for the rest of the festival – some amazing material here.

New sounds for choirs

In memoriam H. M. Górecki: Pod Twoją Obronę was commissioned by the Gaude Mater Festival as the new work in a special event to mark what would have been Górecki’s 80th birthday anniversary. The piece is a long, unfolding of a single vocal line, ending in an enveloping haze of harmony. It is written for 25 singers, one to a part, and the sense of focus changes through the textures as time flows forwards.

This extract is a recording of the premier performance on 1.05.2013 in Gdansk by the national chamber choir of Poland, Polski Chor Kameralny. The work is entirely in Polish and last for 18 minutes. Jan Łukaszewski, conducting.

Press comments: “The Field piece is emotional and expressive. Singers voices intertwine and unravel, creating a shimmering mass of sonic colours. Field translated inspiration not only from Gorecki, but Lutoslawski and Ligeti, into the chorus, giving it a new and involving sound. Listening to his work allows you to move briefly into another dimension. Warmly received by the audience,the Field, and the works of Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki, with excellent execution from Polish Chamber Choir, is a very good debut Czestochowa Festival in Gdansk”
(“Field Góreckiemu” | Dziennik Bałtycki | 06-05-2013)

Premier of new commission Pod Twoją obronę

Pod Twoją obronę  is a major new choral work commissioned by the Gaude Mater Festival, Poland, for the 24 voice Polski Chor Kameralny. It is written to commemorate the 80th birthday anniversary of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki.

Large-scale, intricate evolving textures emerge to create a haze of harmony and internal detail. Each singer is both a soloist, and part of the ensemble. Pod Twoją obronę goes beyond my previous work Architexture I in exploring new sounds for choirs through bringing a 21st century view to early music techniques. I have tried here to keep the spirit of  Górecki alive, though no material is quoted or borrowed.  The world premier is in Gdańsk on May 1st.

Read more about the concert, conducted by John Lukaszewski | Kościół św. Katarzyny | Gdańsk | May 1 2013

Ebor Singers performing Achitexture 1 live | 19.9.2012 | Photo (C) Kippa Matthews.

Architexture One for 10 voices

Specially commissioned, this  large-scale  polyphonic work is for ten voice choir which is spatially distributed.

Over the last few years, I’ve been working on devising some new types of polyphonic process, specifically for vocal music. This piece is the first fruit of some of my recent thinking about overlapping structures, and the wonderful sounds they can create. Polyphony can’t just be a structure or a system – it must appeal to our emotions, must result in singable parts without awkwardness, and provide a whole which is, somehow, more than the sum of the parts. Here are the Ebor singers, directed by Paul Gameson, in a short extract from the 22 minute work. Use headphones and switch to HD mode if you can, as the recording is very spatious.

Read more on the ideas behind this work >

Jos Zwaanenburg performs Field: Quantaform Series, CD release

Sonically delicate and technically challenging, the Quantaform Series is a new set of 26 pieces for solo flute which feature precise interactions between the performance acoustic and the notes on the page.

Here over on vimeo, Jos Zwaanenburg performs a couple extracts from our upcoming album recording.

The album is recorded on Sargasso Records, London, and is available on iTunes and Amazon, and other reputable outlets. Probably some non-reputable ones too.

Frozen Voyagers premiers at MUTEK, Montreal

Really pleased to announce that my new, multi-spatial audio project Frozen Voyagers, premiers in the RML Cinechamber at the MUTEK festival, Montreal this year on June 3rd at 7pm. Frozen Voyagers is a hard-hitting piece, dealing with contemporary social and cultural themes. The RML Cinechamber is an amazing, mobile immersive-media facility. It has high-resolution, multichannel audio and 10 screen surround video.

Frozen Voyagers uses the venue’s three-dimensional sound capabilities to the max, providing a feeling of concurrent and not stop action. This piece originally started life on an artistic residence at RML’s facility in downtown San Francisco.

More about the RML cinechamber can be found at

Leipzig: A-Cappella Festival

My thanks go to the wonderful team at the A-Capella Festival in Leipzig for their effective and unusual staging of Being Dufay.  John Potter and I performed this in the round in the beautiful Peterskirche, with plasma screens hung high in the rigging showing the films. The Peterskirche has a superb acoustic – something that is very important to me. Video from the gig is available

or at full quality on Vimeo here.