A month in photos (Aug-Sept)

… in which I holiday in Australia, attend the first recording project and grand opening of the Visconti Studio at Kingston University, and then made a quick trip to Lisbon to present a paper at a Bowie-themed academic conference. You may have also heard me chatting about the studio on BBC 6 Music news last week (listen again here and here) - that wasn't nerve wracking AT ALL.

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David Bowie 1947 - 2016

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Bowie was is my icon. He represents the possibilities of creation and curiosity. Growing up and feeling like a very awkward person on this planet, it was Bowie that showed me that normal was boring and actually I could be anything I wanted, anything I could imagine. A shy Australian girl raised in a religious community, I imagined myself a life making music in Europe - he was my beacon for that journey. He continues to be that beacon of inspiration, a role model for the kind of musician and person I aspire to be: not a chameleon, the world reconfigured around him; post-modern without contempt or cynicsm for his sources; enthusiastic, curious and gleeful in his creativities, no matter what they were; dancing over genre boundaries like they don’t exist (which of course they don’t). The man had class. Even his death was a masterpiece. I will miss having him there on the planet with me.

(click the 'read more' link to see more photos/tributes)

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A month in photos

At the tail end of 2015 I took two brief trips to the states - first to Philadelphia to take part in the annual Art of Record Production conference at Drexel University. While I was there I got to snoop around the audio archives with the help of Toby Seay, who showed me Bowie's Young Americans tapes, some lost Stevie Wonder demos and some amazing examples of classic Philly Soul from the likes of The Delphonics, Patti Labelle and Teddy Pendegrass. Heaven!

A few weeks later and I was in NYC, enjoying a week mooching around the NYU music department. I even got some time to work on some cues for the upcoming film
Notes on Blindness, which will be playing at Sundance later this month.


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A month in photos

Took a trip Down Under in December to see my family and pick up my PhD from University of Queensland. Happy new year everybody x

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A month in photos



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A month in photos

Photos from the Ruthless Jabiru concert at Australia House (9th May), by Elly Mac

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Photos from the Soundtracks Festival playing with Lonesound (11th May), photos by Alexander Short

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Again with Lonesound at the Sofar Sounds Festival (26th May), photo by Steve Nelson

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(photo by James Houghton)
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Updates after a quick trip down under

A few updates in brief since I'm fresh off the plane, feeling rather jet lagged and there's lots of laundry I need to be getting on with...

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Just got back from a trip to Australia where I got to see my much-missed family in QLD, complete my PhD thesis review milestone at UQ, enjoy the warmth of the sun, see some friends and celebrate my 34th birthday in Sydney. While in Sydney I got to meet up with
Peter Hollo (online friend, fellow musician and radio presenter) to chat about music, ideas and things for his programme 'Utility Fog' for Sydney FBi 94.5FM. You can listen to a replay/podcast that conversation, and the whole show online here.

Bigo & Twigetti has been asking artists on the label to remix each other's tracks, with a compilation of the results being released later in the year. My remix effort was a chopped up version of 'Fighters' by Alice & Michi, a small clip of which you can listen to
here on Bigo & Twigetti's soundcloud.

Meanwhile excitement builds (in my mind most of all) for the concert featuring the world premiere of 'Kick', performed by the all-Australian London-based chamber orchestra
Ruthless Jabiru, hosted by the Government of Western Australia. The concert will be held at Australia House in London on the 9th of May - information about tickets/RSVP and the rest of the programme can be found here. The concert has been written about in the Australian Times, too.

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Found this under a pile of old scores...

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Just found this under a pile of old scores in my writing room. This mind map is from before the start of Machines, and it's interesting (for me, at least) to see this now after the thing is finished and out, comparing the intentions against the reality. Also shows my penchant for brightly coloured felt tip pens.


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Proud moment

Had a proud moment today when I received my copy of Pam Burnard's new book "Musical Creativities in Practice", and laid my eyes on the wonderful cover art by my good friend Kristian Purcell:

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... and an extra proud moment to see myself featured inside!

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Huge congrats to Pam, it's a fascinating and timely book - I am extremely honoured to have been involved. If you're interested, you can purchase a copy from Amazon, or directly from Oxford University Press.

Here's the lovely lady herself, talking about her research (she even talks a little bit about me at around 3 mins in. Also, notice the soundtrack used is "Core" from Feather Hammer thrown in for good measure! So chuffed!)



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I Care If You Listen: Hanging Out With Leah Kardos At Steinway Hall | Hang #2

While in New York City last week, I had the great pleasure of finally meeting up with long time twitter friend and fellow composer Thomas Deneuville, who runs the great new music blog I Care If You Listen (which you should all check out immediately, by the way).

We got to hang out together at the gorgeous
Steinway Hall, in the Henry Z Steinway recital room. He asked me a few questions and I performed a slightly ropey improv around the themes from Feather Hammer's Katerina on a piano probably worth more than my house. Check out the video below.



Video + Editing + French accent: Thomas Deneuville
Opening animation: Daniel Thompson at DTWebart (http://www.dtwebart.com)
© 2012 I Care if You Listen

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Feedback Loop

I thrive on feedback. I'm sure many others are the same, it's a large part of what makes being a composer so rewarding. That thrilling feeling when you have finished a strenuous project for someone to have that person happy at the other end telling you that they love what you've done. Or even just hearing a confirmation that you're on the right track - it buoys your progress, a signpost pointing you in the right direction. Take away the feedback and I find my headspace changes dramatically - suddenly I'm not so sure about decisions I have made, my brain says stuff like "they've had the files for 3 days and they haven't replied, they hate it and they don't know how to tell you"... when the creation that I thought was beautiful and full of promise is met with silence my ego cracks and crumbles like eggshell. Feeling needy and a bit pathetic, I might then scrap around for any kind of small validation: dig out some old reviews, listen to some of my best older work, ask my boyfriend "do you think I'm good enough to do this?". Ugh. The grey muck of withering self-belief mixed with self-loathing.

It's not that I want people to tell me I'm great all the time, don't get me wrong. It's just that working in a vacuum can breed some serious insecurity. I was speaking to a colleague about this earlier today and he told me the story of his friend who was such a perfectionist that he would never show his creative work to anyone - so wary of people's judgements made on his unfinished work - and he never finished anything. I can relate to that logic a little bit, but in my context those ideas throw a slightly more existential curve: just like the tree falling in the forest when no-one's around, am I still a composer if no-one ever hears the stuff I write?

It's all a bit sad to admit, really. The romantic ideal composer version of me would not be bothered so much. She would be sure of the quality of her own ideas and sod the rest. Everything she wrote would be formed with a clarity of purpose; it would say exactly what she intended it to say and it wouldn't matter so much what people think because she would have prioritised her own artistic satisfaction above all else. If only I was that confident; if only I was so convinced what I was doing wasn't rubbish... but the subjectivity of my experience leads me to question myself all too often. A few times I have been caught up in a project that at the time I thought had potential to be great, but with a bit of hindsight could clearly see was flawed and weak. A horrible feeling.

But despite appearances, I am not writing this to moan or complain. I'm writing this to help myself get a grip and stop being such a wuss. Dealing with feedback and handling criticism is obviously a big part of the job description and I should use this opportunity to get my priorities straight. Am I writing music to make people like me? Is it just about the money and commercial projects? Am I doing it solely to please and impress a client or commissioner?... or do I actually want to say something that reflects my own feelings and perspectives on shit? Honestly, I want it to be the latter more than anything else.

It may not look like it, judging by the action on this blog/site, but for the last 4 to 5 months I have been working my little bum off: a feature length film score that, when delivered, felt like 40 lbs of my own flesh (I enjoyed it immensely don't get me wrong, but maaan that was a lot of music). In addition, and after almost a year of faffing about, I finished and delivered demos and scores of the string quartet to the players. I also drafted a suite of 3 lyric pieces for saxophone trio, scored and sent. So far I've not heard anything from anyone about any of it - for various understandable and good reasons (people moving house, people becoming seriously ill, assorted technical dramas, etc), but still... nothing.

And I'm doing ok, I think. Im learning to trust my own good taste. It's a work in progress.
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Kristian Purcell


R34 at Mineola, NY, 1919, 2010 (Oil on canvas, 61x76cm)
click the images below to get info


Sometimes, when someone tells me they make art, I might expect the stuff they make will be "Ok...". Maybe it's just me and my pessimistic outlook on life, but I often have low expectations when it comes to these things (it's a good way to be, since most of the time I'm pleasantly surprised, which is a nice reaction, right?). These arty people show you their latest thing and you're all "Oh wow, that's great!" but in your head you're not really thinking it's truly great art, only that its great that they are pursuing creative endeavours in general. I've been in bands and struggling to have my music heard for years - some of it not very good at all - so I know what it feels like to be humoured by your mates. And of course you're grateful for it, that's what your mates are there for. We all need encouragement.

But then there are people that come into your life who are so good that they knock you on your arse, and you can't believe they are working day-jobs in Bedford and not being shown at the Tate. A person who forces you to recalibrate your scale of superlatives (that handmade coffee cup you liked on Facebook is suddenly not so literally "awesome", for example). Kristian Purcell is such a person. A proper artist. I also have the honour of calling him my friend.


I met Kristian rather unglamourously, as a result of trolling Myspace for potential musical collaborators. This was back in 2007 when Myspace was still sort of happening, but also sort of starting to shrivel and die. He lived in Bedford, he liked Bowie, he could sing and play guitar. That was enough for us (well, enough for me - I'm sure Matt would prefer the Bowie connection didn't exist, since he has had to endure both of us drunkenly screeching our way through "Teenage Wildlife" at least a dozen times to date. I don't think he finds it amusing, which is a shame since I'll probably be inclined to do this as often as I'm drunk on red wine for the rest of my life). He joined the band, we gigged a little bit, wrote some music together and
made a record in the spare room of my house. He worked various day jobs, teaching contracts and working at the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum; he wasn't famous or critically lauded or making any money from his wonderful art and it didn't seem right.

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I remember when he transformed the Wellington Street house he was living in at the time into a makeshift gallery and invited the town to see (and possibly buy) his work. It was a genius bit of initiative, and Matt and I both felt like arseholes for trying to haggle down the prices of the two small pieces we ended up buying that night. Mates rates? C'mon we're all struggling artists here... I also remember sitting with Kristian in the Gordon Arms a few days after Xmas 2008, having a deep discussion about music and art and what the hell we were doing with our lives. We're both the same age, and we share the same frustrations that stem from being unknown, from dealing with universal apathy on a daily basis, the fears that we might have missed our opportunity to be successful. During the course of that conversation we discussed studying our disciplines again and maybe I should take the plunge with the PhD. Within months that wishful drunken chatter had become a reality for me, a decision that (I feel) has put me on the right track with my career.

Kristian deserves success because his art is great. And it's getting better. If you're reading this and you're not familiar with his work, you need to
check it out immediately. If you have the means to, invest in one of his pieces now - they're bound to be worth stupid amounts of money one day (chat to him, he might be able to do "mate's rates"). Comment on his blog, because god knows we all need a bit of encouragement.

And the musical collaboration continues, sort of. There are wishy-washy plans to record new material with the band in the new year, but a far more concrete prospect is a gig we'll be playing together at Bedford Esquires on the 20th of November (this Saturday night). It's more a Kristian Purcell solo gig with me accompanying on piano. I think we're even doing a couple of Helzuki songs from that record we made in my spare room in 2008. Should be fun to bust out the furry red stage piano once again, it's been too long.

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UPDATE: GIg has been and gone, and
here's a review


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Postmodern life

It's a pretty overused word these days, for some synonymous with pretense, a category for confused art. People who don't know what they've made will often default to describing it as "postmodern". As in, "anything goes" or "I'm not sure...". As in, "it is what it is, that's just my take on things". You see I just spun around really fast seven times and then stopped suddenly and blurt out the first thing I thought of - there you go, that's art! Oh I just got out of bed, there's some more art! An easy solution, a creative crutch, some cheap ideas, a compromise, blinding the common folk with arty-farty-ness, wooing the academic stiffs with plastic soul, relying on a process to mask a gaping lack of ideas... Hacks, the lot of them! Right?

Ok, maybe that's a tad unfair - after all, we can't help but be influenced by the world around us, and we live a postmodern life - there is no escaping it. I grew up listening to a lot of The Beatles, around the same age I was playing a lot of Bach and becoming aware for the first time in my life of the power of film scores. Have these things imprinted on my music in any practically audible way? Probably not, but it's all in there... all bits floating around in the big soup in my head.

A good working definition of postmodernism that everyone can agree on is difficult to nail down - I'm not sure what I think of Kramer's itemised list of 'postmodern musical characteristics' (
"multiple temporalities"?). Georgina Born puts it simply: a synthesis of modernist processes and mechanisms in popular-culture forms (where modernism is defined as music written to challenge and educate, popular music written to sell or promote). K. Robert Schwarz echoes this idea when, in discussing the creative approach of John Adams, he describes a blending of process-based creation and intuitive response as an "eclectic postmodern" ideology. Certainly all of my favourite composers and artists do this — from Fitkin to Eno, Warhol, Bjork, Bowie, Reich, Bryars, Duchamp and Roy Lichtenstein. Mixing up approaches, consciously blending styles, "pick & mix"ing influences, using impersonal processes but treating or developing the results in an artistically intuitive way.

I guess this 'stylistic synthesis' definition works for me; if it is the right definition then that makes me one of them. How often does one ever talk about themselves in the context of an artistic ideology...? You may sound like a complete wanker if you keep banging on about how your work shows tendencies towards this and proclivities towards that, but every now and then it is good to think about these things - it helps to be reminded of what your priorities are, why you are compelled to create in the first place.

This postmodern ideology favours a communicative approach. The goal is not to educate or challenge, nor is it to sell or promote. The goal is to connect with a listener; to tell a story or influence a feeling using whatever tools are available. Film composers do this all the time - crossing stylistic barriers, working within cliches, anything it takes to create this connection. If the moment calls for the use of jazz elements, and he or she is not a traditional jazz composer, does this diminish the value of the music? Is it unauthentic? Pretentious? Can composers create music in different styles and traditions and still be taken seriously? Can Jonny Greenwood be a writer of pop songs and at the same time make experimental music, atmospheric soundtracks and then be a credible contemporary classical composer?

Of course he can - because he's a bloody marvellous composer. Music is a language, we use it to say things... and we can say whatever we like. It helps if there is someone listening to what you are saying though, if it can connect with people — at that point where music meets life, in those things that relate to the human existence: patterns, rhythms, melody, the tone of a voice, consonances and dissonances, memory and emotion. All the sounds and ideas that have gone before are now part of the vocabulary.

There is no real incentive for me to compose music that is deliberately challenging and impenetrable - if I were to try, it would be sad and pretentious and I'd probably fail hideously. Admitting alignment with the postmodern ideal is not pretentious, it's the truth about my own context. It's that soup in my brain that's been brewing since I first perceived music as a child, it's my preference to prioritise communication through music, using whatever means. Like Stewie here:


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Winter blues, singing along with The Flaming Lips & remembering Rostropovich




2009 is rolling along inevitably towards a bleak winter and new year; mid-November already and I can barely remember October at all beyond a general dark cloud of bullshit college stress, being tired and fighting off a cold. Oh, I did go and see "This is it" with Matt on Halloween night - a great film no doubt, so tragic and bittersweet. Left me feeling slightly raw, though. I guess this is our generation's Lennon or Elvis "is gone" moment. Surreal.
November has been better - saw the Lips last week at the Troxy in London, and if any gig can defeat the winter blues and put a smile on your face it would be theirs for sure. Confetti cannons, bouncing balloons, lazers, great songs, good times, good friends, Wayne Coyne in a plastic bubble, a room of people singing Yoshimi, Do you Realize?? and Fight Test in a booming unison... it was a tops night out, just what I needed.

Next week I'm attending a study day at the LCO where I get to take part in a music workshop that explores the links between composition & architecture. Just the mere thought of writing something that the London Chamber Orchestra might play in a workshop scenario makes me want to pee with excitement. I can't wait. Then on the 9th of December I have Fitkin's new Piano Concerto premier to attend. Suddenly Winter doesn't seem so dreary. :)

Dudley gets bigger by the day, and he's totally integrated into our lives now, it's hard to imagine what we did without him. Such a sweet pup, Matt and I had a minor scare when he ate a pig's ear a few days ago.... one minute he was happily chewing on it, next thing we knew he had gulped it down and let out a big burp. We freaked out for a bit, not knowing what to do. We looked online - which is probably the one thing a slightly paranoid puppy owner should NEVER do - and scared ourselves silly reading stories of dogs that died because of intestinal blockages, etc. We made such a fuss, but he wasn't bothered. He's a little toughian. Who will never get to nom on a pig's ear again.




Finally, I recently dug out some old Rostropovich recordings to compile into a mix tape for a friend - Lady MacBeth of Mtesnk District, the Shosta Cello Concerto and his wonderful recording of Britten's Cello Suites. Too good for words, honestly... I can't even begin to blog about how special these recordings are. I encourage anyone who likes their soviet era music to be bleak, tragicomic, intelligent, powerful and bleeding with raw downcast emotion to seek them out. Particularly the Lady Macbeth double disc from 1979. Perfection.
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You know I loves me some Philip Glass, but...

... the dude completely and exclusively owns the oscillating third, as well as the 3-against4/ 4-against-6 accompaniment pattern.

It’s real basic composition tool-kit stuff..., but every time you use it people are inclined to go “oooh, you’re referencing Glass here”, or worse accuse you of plagiarism and then refer you to Glassworks or The Hours or his Metamorphosis suite for piano as proof. Rah!
Minor rant over. I forgive you, Phil. But only cos you’re so awesome.

The trip to Ireland with my mother was quite nice, if not a slight let down after the sheer beauty-blowout of the Swiss Alps experience. Maybe it was the constant rain than put a damper (or should I say dampness) on things. They call it “liquid sunshine” over there. Poor sods, I thought we had it bad in England. In summary: the Guiness was tasty, the grass was green, the wind was windy, the music was “diddly”. Some photos included on the ‘read more’ link below.

So now Mum has returned home to Australia and life for us goes back to normal. Alas her leaving means the end of our holidays for the summer. It was great to see her again, aside from jetting about Europe we enjoyed some fine meals, a great gig at the Jazz Cafe in London... and most impressively, she managed to watch all three seasons of Deadwood in almost as many days! I think she deserves some kind of trophy for that, a small statuette in the shape of Al Swearengen.

Now I’m back in the studio, cleaning the dust off the mixing desk, preparing it and myself for a new batch of projects. To begin the process in a calm way, I’ve been scrapbooking some of the ideas that have been clogging up my brainflow these past 2 months: colours, shapes, textures, words. It’s all very stimulating, and some of the finished collages ended up crazy surreal. I’ll post some examples once I get to writing and demo’ing these things out.








mmm... “tators”. Potatoes for every meal. I was blocked up for almost a week afterwards.



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The Mystery Deal






Going through some old photos I found these little mysteries from 2007. This is me sealing some kind of deal with the legendary producer Tony Visconti (Bowie/Bolan), the particulars of which I can’t exactly recall since I was massively inebriated at the time. I think it was something to do with him coming to do a talk at my uni campus next time he was in the UK, though I’m sure he just thinks I’m some crazy drunk chick harassing him and didn’t take it seriously.

As I
don’t happen to recall (but am told), the night concluded with me being kicked out of this establishment.

You see... in America everything is big, you order a shot of neat whiskey is receive a half-pint, more if you tip them nicely. This is the reason why I can never live in America.



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Don't Make Me Cut You

Before I say anything I want to announce that I passed the ‘Life in the UK’ test! With minimal effort and hardly any study! I’m an honorary Brit now. All I need is to somehow get into football and start wearing tracksuit bottoms to work to complete the transformation.

Happy and busy with a handful of quite enjoyable projects right now. It is strange to be working on so many different things at once, and it’s weird how the same melodies and textures are coming out in all of these various projects, as if I’m really only writing one piece in many forms. As a break from the relentless music making, I’ve been busy sewing up some snarky crosstitch samplers to hang around my home (just finished the ‘irony’ one).

Here are a few that I still have lying around (I tend to give the best ones away to my friends)...






In other news, here’s a random list of things that are currently knocking about in my brain: excitement over the upcoming Morrissey tour; wishing the warmer weather would stay; wondering if I should finally go part-time at work; wanting a puppy for my 30th birthday; wondering if it is the right time to plant my vegetable patch; should I dye my hair red; should I continue resisting twitter; wouldn’t a nice hot bath right about now be so lovely. I wish the answer to all of these things is yes.


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