Questions, Answers and Recommendations

Recently I was at a youth festival/conference as part of a team that run a music café and venue called The Lounge. I spent the week working with brilliant musicians and was part of a Q&A panel on the last day of the festival. The last question was “What are you listening to at the moment?” We all gave brief answers, that I’m sure were useful, but I thought it would useful to write a brief blog on what I’m enjoying at the moment and why.

Billie Eilish

WHY: I first came across Eilish through a series of memes of her song Bad Guy. I listened to her song and watched her Glastonbury set and loved her style. Her basslines are great and her synth riffs catchy. And Bad Guy contains one of my favourite recent lyrics:

My mommy likes to sing along with me
But she won't sing this song
If she reads all the lyrics
She'll pity the men I know


Anna Thorvaldsdottir

WHY: Thorvaldsdottir’s music is beautiful. A soft soundscape of harmony, dark and haunting flourishes, glimpses of beautiful melody. I first heard her music on Q2’s Meet the Composer and loved it ever since.

STAND OUT TRACK: Transitions

Andy Kyte

WHY: I had the privilege of meeting Kyte a few years ago when he performed at The Lounge. He has long pursued great song writing and composition within a contemporary Church setting — in an era when there has been much music happy to simply create poor imitations of existing music. His latest album looks at the theological concept of Hope Deferred and is well worth a listen.

STAND OUT ALBUM: Hope Deferred

Poppy Ackroyd

WHY: Ackroyd is a Brighton based composer/performer. I love her use of multi-media and hopefully will get to see her live soon where she uses projections alongside her live performance.


So there are a few of my favourite artists and there are many more I haven’t covered. Who are you listening to?

Alice Fraser: Audiences, Consent and Experiences

Last week I had my Masters graduation. Ending one era and beginning to think forward to the next, I’ve been thinking A LOT about my own practice. Two key themes have stood out: how do we as composers/producers best gain consent from an audience when producing ‘uncomfortable’ music, and how can art help foster understanding and ‘getting to know’ a composer/performer. In the midst of these thoughts: Alice Fraser.

A fortunate turn of events (or unfortunate as they were created by illness) meant I was in London on the day Alice Fraser was recording her show Ethos. I’d first heard of her through The Bugle, a weekly satirical podcast. She was brilliant. Then I found her own podcast Tea with Alice - also brilliant. Then I listened to her trilogy of stand up shows: Savage, The Resistance, and Empire (which are all free podcasts as The Alice Fraser Trilogy). I’ve said before that I often write her about art I’ve fallen in love with and I already knew on the way to Ethos that a blog would likely follow. Alice Fraser produces the sort of work that makes be want to sit down with her and ask all sorts of questions. What was the process behind this? Why did you phrase it like that? How do you respond to this? It is thoughtful, intelligent, creative. It is good art.

As luck would have it, a twitter comment about part of her show led to a small discussion on twitter which was then summarised and expanded in places here. Both worth reading, and I’m going to do a similar thing from my side of the conversation here.

Brief Mentions

“we're all complicated people who use different voices in different spaces, and I don't want to be a larger than life character. I want to be myself, more or less.”

The distinction between ‘fans’ and ‘people who like my work’ is really nice. It’s nice to see an alternative to ‘artist as brand’.

I wanted to be able to do that bit at club nights in the middle of nowhere and have hyper-masculine blokes humming a consent anthem the next day.

Writing something in a way that can convey a message and carry that message out of the performance space - genius!

Audience Consent

Those who know my recent work also know how important audience consent has been. Words is my latest piece and uses different types of literature discussing sex and relationships. The six movements and their texts were: Choice Words, Erotic Fan Fiction; Sacred Words, Song of Songs; Community Words, Yahoo Answers posts; Professional Words, Agony Aunt Columns; Policy Words, Government Sex and Relationship Education Guidelines; Medical Words, Grey’s Anatomy - first edition. These words then spoken (I will write more about the workings of the piece when there is a recording to share) cover love, erotica, abuse, worry, confusion and many more themes. At some points it is subtle and at some points, particularly where yahoo internet trolls become involved, it is blunt and vulgar.

With this in mind a good portion of the piece’s performance directions are about being clear with audiences and performers about the nature of the piece. I aimed to have gained audience consent to these themes before the piece started.

Alice Fraser has created shows that directly ask the audience for consent to discuss uncomfortable content mid-show, and offers them the opportunity to leave. Her shows are even structured in such a way that if you do leave at these points you will still have experienced something that structurally works as a completed form. I find the idea of giving the audience a level of control in order to bring them with out on the journey fascinating. I’d love to explore this more within my own work, but equally am unsure if music (even my contemporary music) works like that. Comedy has an interactivity within it that concerts do not. Although, we’ve created a more interactive experience between composer and performer. Why not audiences too?

The other thing that particularly interested me was only briefly mentioned…

“I wanted it to map my own experience”

I don’t want to spoil the content of any of her shows. So I’m being deliberately vague in saying that Savage maps her experience in a unique way and that the audience consent discussed in the tweets contributes to this. But, it maps her experience really well. With my series For… I’ve sought to write pieces unique to people. In There will be Dread we sought to create stories interactively for people. But in Savage, and The Alice Fraser Trilogy in general, the audience is taken on a journey that portrays her experiences. And in some small way captures them in a microcosm. I’m currently thinking about how my music can be used to portray a performer’s personality, or an aspect of a community or location. I have many thoughts, and nothing concrete yet. But I know I will be listening to the trilogy again as I develop them further.

If you’re new here

and you’ve read this far, thank you. I hope you enjoy what you see and hear throughout the site. I’m a composer creating art and music using text, amongst over things. If you find it interesting or have questions feel free to get in touch. If you’re interested to hear more about Words let me know- there is a score available, in PDF and book (yes, a literal book) form. I’ll be blogging more about it as I create a recording but I have no set date for that, so feel free to use my contact form or twitter if it piques your interest.

Finally. If you were at the Ethos gig (or if you’re Alice Fraser). Yes, it’s still stuck in my head and its been nearly a week.

Merry Christmas Everyone

It’s Christmas Day and I wanted to share with you some new work. In what is coming a yearly tradition I’ve written a series of Christmas related pieces. This year I made ten postcard pieces, each being a text score representation of a Christmas song. Unlike last years Christmas cards, these are not for sale and only one physical copy exists of each piece. They were given as presents, but the digital versions are presented here for your enjoyment.

Merry Christmas

Darlings with Fringes

My blogs tend to fall into one of two camps: this is what I'm doing, or this is what I love. I've written about a number of art works that I've essentially fallen in love with. Some have changed my practice, many just inspire me to make the best art I can. So, can you guess which type of blog this is.

One of the many joys of living in Bath is that every year the Bath Festival comes to town. And with it comes the Bath Fringe Festival. Unfortunately,  I was out of town for most of the festival. Then, as I was thinking about how I wanted to see some of the fringe before it was over, a woman standing near a puppet stepped towards me: "Do you like theatre?"

Truth be told I was aware of Darlings before this point. I'd looked at the fringe website, saw Darlings, saw "brutally vulnerable … look at modern relationships, manipulation, and how they are tied into our childhood experience", decided this looked too dark, closed the site. Still, after a short discussion about theatre, music and Freud I'd decided to be in the audience that evening - and I'm glad I was.

One of the things I love about writing this blog is that I don't have to be a critic. I can write about what I love and about what excites me without having to look for negatives. In line with that, there's a lot I could write about the show but I'm just going to mention a few things that particularly stood out. I'm not sure how these relate to my practice, but I loved them and I'm sure it'll feed in at some point - watch this space. 

Foreshadowing and Puppets

First off these puppets are beautiful. In finding the pictures below I realised that that's not an inherent quality of the puppets. The actors manage to give them such humanity. The vulnerability in a small, silent puppet was captivating. I feel like I could have stayed in those puppet-led moments for hours (although it's worth remembering that, in all art, without the wider context moments like these lose their power)

Once they've made their first appearance they are unforgettable. And every time they return they bring with them a sense of foreshadowing. Without giving spoilers, they provoke an "oh, we're going there again".

This feeling is strengthened by the use of music throughout. Largely a collection of diegetic sound, those non-diegetic moments cut through and create an immersive experience. Before we finished our first iteration of There will be Dread I was concerned that non-diegetic music could remind people that they're in a fictional space. Instead, it drew them deeper in and that was the same in Darlings.

Unreliable Narrators

I'm going to try and keep this spoiler free, so it could be vague.

At the end of the show, I realised I couldn't tell you the facts of any scene. I wonder if I'd have a different experience if I knew nothing of the themes beforehand. I spent some time trying to decide if the relationship was manipulative - I'm not sure it actually matters. How much does Eve project onto Gabe? How much is Gabe a liar? Are childhood memories accurate portrayals of events? Eleanor Hope-Jones has written a work that raised all these questions and, wonderfully, answered none. But isn't that the point of art? To ask questions, to provoke thought, not to give definitive answers.

Creative Use of a Bathtub

Throughout the performance there is an ever present bathtub centre stage. This has spoiler heavy meaning far beyond anything I'm going to say here. But, it occurred to me towards the end of the show that I don't think we ever see Eve and Gabe in the actual bathroom. I've seen less conspicuous objects used in staging, a stage block can be any number of things. But a bathtub has a specific purpose, that it could be used in place of any household furniture without seeming weird is a credit to the team.


I saw this on it's last night at the Bath Fringe. Palomar Theatre are next taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe, and am so glad they reached all the crowdfunding targets they needed. As I mentioned at the start of this blog, experiencing art can sometimes be a little like falling in love. Looking back at pieces such as Mothertongue, Nico Muhly; In the Light of Air, Anna Thorvaldsdottir; Do You Be, Meredith Monk; and many more I can see this. Once again, by the end of Darlings I knew - I'd fallen again.

Collaborations, TableTops and Dread

This last week I ran the first test run of a new collaboration I've been working on with Micayla Tose. Building on my work with location and hers with film music, we created an interactive work using the role-playing game (RPG) system Dread.

Dread is a horror RPG system that uses a Jenga tower to create tension. Every difficult action by a player requires a block to be pulled from the tower. If the tower falls then the player's character dies. More information on the system can be found here.

Together we've created a scenario and accompanying music that enables a musician and host to collaboratively lead a group through a sound world based narrative experience.

The performance that resulted was unique in my experience. Like most improvised works, myself and Micayla were collaborating throughout. She would be listening to my spoken cues and reacting with the music, likewise I would be listening for her musical cues and reacting with narrative direction. In this work the audience, our four players, were also collaborative partners. Our musical and narrative changes were informed by the actions of our players. 

Soon there will be a highlights film of the evening. But this performance is always best experienced as an interactive one. We're already discussing possible developments of this idea. In the meantime, if you want to experience this interactive night for 3-5 people- get in touch!


Writing 'for'

In my last blog I mentioned I'd started writing a series of experiential pieces for specific individuals. Each piece is sent as a postcard to it's recipient, there is only one copy and it is handwritten. I'm currently enjoying writing for individual people and with these postcards I've tried to create pieces that are unique to the tastes and interests of the recipient.

One question raised by this is how to document the pieces. These postcards are designed to be one-offs. Sharing images of them would spoil the intimacy of the work. In other situations I might have chosen not to document the work but in this case an alternative option presented itself. 

Each postcard is unique but the message written on the back is the same:

"I'm writing a series of personalised pieces. This is the [insert number here] in the series. Would be great to hear how it goes and any responses you have to it. David"

Each response I've received has been as unique as the postcards. One person sent a video of their performance, another sent a description of how it impacted their day. These responses gave an insight into the works without breaking the intimacy of them. 

So as a documentation of them I am collecting the responses here. Sometimes the recipient will choose not to share their response, or for it not to be made public. In these cases there will simply be a name of the piece and the date it was sent.

Writing for people not for instruments

Recently it was suggested that I write a series of experiential pieces (see past posts) that were less general. In response I've begun writing a number of these pieces for individuals. This has caused me to think more about how I composer for performers and I thought it might be interesting to think through that process here, maybe you'll find it equally interesting.

Music for Children is a piece I'm writing for saxophonist Sophie Gibbett. Originally inspired by Sophie's wonderful tone in her playing, the piece has quickly become less about the instrument and more about the performer. Music for Children is now a piece that explores playfulness and childlike-ness (in the positive sense) and the interactions between child and authority. This change took place as I became less interested in the instrument, and more interested in the person performing it. 

Following this I have started to collaborate with Kira Thomas on a piece that aims to bring Goth sub-culture into the western classical performance space. While in its early stages this work has begun from an interest in the performer as opposed to the instrument.

One question this has raised is of multiple performances. Can a piece written for a performer ever be performed by another person? If it is, does it remain the same piece? Perhaps someone other that Sophie can perform Music for Children but in doing so they become an avatar for the original Sophie. I don't know the answer to these questions, I may never know. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

What I do know: right now I'm finding it far more interesting to write for a person rather than an instrument.

It's Begining To Look A Lot Like Christmas...

I spoke in my last blog about a series of postcard pieces I'm writing around Bath. Well, exciting news ahead!

I've written a series of five pieces using similar concepts but set around Christmas. The pieces look at different parts of Christmas day and help highlight shared experiences between us, as well as create new ones through the pieces.

These pieces are designed to be presented as Christmas cards and you can be part of making this happen. I've started a kickstarter campaign to fund the project. The campaign is also working as a way to order the cards in time for Christmas. There's only ten days left to be a part of this project and you can check it out here

A quick sample of the card design is below, although it's in the final stages there are still changes taking place.

Please consider purchasing some cards, spreading the word, and helping support an emerging composer. 

Card Design.jpg

Long Time, No Speak

It's been a while since I updated the blog here, and I plan on restarting my pervious schedule on posting something once a month. But today I wanted to bring you all up to speed on what I'm working on, particularly two main projects.

Experiential Pieces

Over the Spring I was shortlisted for the Bath Spa University Porthleven Prize 2017. This prize has been run yearly to award a group of artists across disciplines with a residential and exhibition opportunity in Porthleven, Cornwall. As part of the shortlisted group I took part in a shorted residential visit and amongst other things wrote the piece we're all white girls here (available under the scores tab of my website). This was a verbal score intended primarily to be shown in exhibition, with the music being created in the imagination of the reader. It tried to recreate an experience on a beach in Porthleven. Since then I have been working on expanding the idea and the works have slightly changed in their approach. 

I'm now writing a set of postcard pieces set around Bath. Each piece is a verbal score printed on a postcard and takes place in a different area of the city. The score is performed on location, but is then sent as a postcard. The aim being for the score to recreate a version of the performance in the mind of the receiver. This, similar to regular postcards, will link two people in an experience over distance.

Choice Words

I've written before about Choice Words; a piece that uses erotic fanfiction as it's source text. This piece was made to explore the subject of sex and romance in a specific genre of literature. I am now looking at expanding the work to a series covering different genres. Currently, I am writing a work using Song of Song as a text. I intend this to be a series that can be performed together, each work giving greater context to the others.

So Much More...

I'm also working on a piece for Saxophone with Sophie Gibbett, tentatively titled Music for Children. And there are many other ideas and projects in the ether, and more blog posts - watch this space.

If you have anything you'd like me to blog about, or any questions in general - get in touch!



Staying Creative (or How Do You Do That?!)

It's a question that I've been thinking about recently - how can people be creative to deadlines? Not only a question that's interesting to many students with a creative assessment. But as someone who wants to build a career on it, an essential skill! So, I included it on a list of possible options for a blog post and nearly 100% of respondents also wanted to engage with it. So, here's some thoughts on how to stay creative when you don't feel like being creative.

Inspire Ideas

I'm still learning where my ideas come from. But I know some come from nature, some from other music, some from other creatives, and a good chunck sneak in with pop-culture. So I try to make sure i spend time in places of beauty - living in Bath helps. I listen to artists I love - HAIM's new album is brilliant, anything by Poppy Ackroyd, Anna Thorvaldsdottir or Meredith Monk always helps inspire me. I try to delve into other types of art - some link to my own work, many don't at all. And importantly for me, I subscribe to youtube channels and podcasts. Far too many to mention - NightVale Presents podcasts, Jenna Marbles, Geek and Sundry, ThreadBanger, Simply Nailogical ... ... ... So. Many. More.

Encourage Action

Most helpful thing I ever did was by accident. I discovered things that made me want to be creative. People who know me will almost certainly have heard me talk about Q2's Meet the Composer with Nadia Sirota, The Comedian's Comedian Podcast with Stuart Goldsmith, and You're Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day. Listening or reading to these makes me want to compose, even when I don't have any ideas. IMHO, Meet the Composer is a must for composers. And I can't rave enough about Felicia Day's book. 

Listen to the Voices Outside Your Head

You'll have noticed by now that many of the things I've linked to are produced by women. I try to keep up on a few blogs/podcasts that interest me but are outside of my field. Philosophy, theology, Hip-Hop - all areas that I know enough to understand and follow, but aren't what I do as an artist. That's all part of trying to remain inspired, by I'm often provoked as well. Like when I read this on the dominance of "white, male, Western, straight, able-bodied, cisgendered" academics and how to break that cycle of thought.

The answer, obviously, is to be intentional in reading authors who are not like me, to deliberately expose myself to voices not like mine. I need to work on this for all of life, but for now, it will be my discipline this Lent.

Steve Holmes, 2017

I realised, if I only listened to music like mine from people like me. Then I'd never learn from the amazing people who aren't like me. So far that's meant a lot more women. But I hope to expand my listening to more 'minority' groups. I hope to remain aware of my unique viewpoint, by learning from others equally important and unique viewpoints.

Talk the Talk

'Simple' - talk to other people doing creative things. We all struggle to create at times, and we can all be helped and supported by those around us.

Walk the Walk

Finally, I'm intrigued that performance artists aren't faced with this question in the same way. I can't imagine an improviser being asked 'how do you improvise when you don't feel creative'. And I think that's because they just do it and see what happens. So if you can't inspire creativity, just try to do something. You might throw it all away, but you might end up with that one line you like. (yeah, as easy as that right?)


How do you do it? What do you think of my thoughts? What am I missing? Let's #TalkTheTalk on this one.


Curiosity Inspired the Cat

Curiosity killed the cat, and yet creativity relies on it. And I recently came across two works that this is true of more than ever. Curious?

Recently I've been privileged to have a piece workshopped with Plus Minus Ensemble at Bath Spa University. I blogged about the process of writing that piece last month. But while there I was also able to see my colleagues on the Masters and PhD courses have their work performed as well. One of these pieces was Community of Objects by Caitlin Rowley. The piece involves the opening of beautifully crafted paper boxes, each with an instruction to be followed inside. This description, while accurate, doesn't do justice to the experience created. As performers open these boxes the audience is drawn into their curiosity. As they carefully examine and unwrap their objects, we were drawn to experience the event vicariously through them. The whole exerience was brilliant.

Then, this week I visited the Bath Spa Art Degree Show - where all final year art students are able to showcase their work. I was keen to see the work of the visual artists I'd recently worked with as part of the shortlist for the Bath Spa Porthleven Prize 2017. One of these artists was Summer Coleman, and when I found her name it directed me to a door. A torch hung on the handle, and a sign invited me to enter a small dark room. The torch illuminated a small space in the darkness, and I was surrounded by pebbles? Looking closer they weren't pebbles, they were sculptures. Each unique, some glazed, some coloured, all made by hand. Once again the work was one of curiosity - what does this next piece look like? I wonder how she made this one? Each piece bore it's makers prints, your fingers could rest in the marks left by the atrists. 

Reflecting on these two works now, I see the great level of intimacy involved. When the viewer is brought into the process of curiosity they share a unique experience with the performer/composer/artist - even if they are in completely separate locations.

My own work shows the end result of curiosity. I explore the world around me, and once I find something interesting I comment on it through my music. But these works invite the audience into that process. They still comment on the world, but in a way that equalises the positions of power. The artist is made vulnerable and the audience is invited to explore alongside them.

Can I explore this in my own work, or is it just a different style to mine? Who knows. But, I'm curious...

Lessons from Controversy

Recently I finished a piece I've been working on for the last few months called Choice Words which explores the ideas and motivations behind erotic FanFiction. A speaking piece that involves offensive language and descriptions of sexual acts; it is easily the most provocative and controversial work I've written. Whilst writing I've had conversations about why I am writing the piece, whether a composer should expect their work to be performed and the ethics of performers' rights. All of this has caused be to think about composition more generally and this blog is a reflection on the experience so far.

Firstly I believe that all music should, in a broad sense, be performed. This may be in concerts or synthesised, I've even written works where the 'performance' takes place in the mind of the person reading the score, but the piece isn't fully realised until this happens. Having said that,  no performer is obliged to do this and in writing Choice Words I was more aware of this than usual. But why are composers not always aware of it? Every piece I write requires the time, energy and talents of its performers. Every performer I work with deserves the knowledge that everything I ask of them has been thought through in complete detail - regardless of whether it is to play a 'simple' note, or speak an offensive word. Three questions arose in this process that I will now ask myself of future works.

1. Why?

There are two elements to this, which I think often have the same answer. Why am I writing this, and why should anyone perform it? With Choice Words there was an idea that I believed to be strong and raised important questions about language and cultural attitudes (an area that often surfaces in my work). Those who wish to perform it will likely do so for the same reasons I wrote it. The only addition is that I wrote it because if I didn't, I wasn't aware of anyone else who would cover the same area.

2. How?

Is this the best way to achieve my aim? Is music a better option that poetry, for example. Even then, is a melody using a major scale/an atonal cluster-chord/and text-score the best music to fulfil it. In writing h a controversial piece I had to be confident in the idea and able to defend it. Imagine if we always made sure our ideas were defendable, even the ones we know won't be questioned.

3. Presentation?

Choice Words has resulted in a score printed on off-white laid writing paper, 23x18cm, 100gsm. The font is Bookman Old Style. The pages were printed single sided and not bound together. Each of these choices was given great thought: what would it convey about the piece, how would it impact the performance? If I was writing a 'normal' score, I would have printed on A4 printer paper, using the standard settings in Sibelius. Why should all music not go through the same level of detailed thought?

In short: Why am I composing? Is this the best way to achieve that aim? Is this the best way to present my work? I suspect that these three questions will change how I compose.


PDF copies of Choice Words can be requested through the Scores page on