Part of Classical Season 2019/20

The second day of a weekend dedicated to meditative listening and deep concentration.

What can you expect from this weekend?

The soft strains of Malibu's spoken voice with swells of 16 live cellos and cut-up sound Foley. The entombing chorales of Nivhek.

The slowly layering canons of John Luther Adams' Canticles of the Sky, 16 individual cello lines evoking the movement of sun and moon in a fantasy sky.

The dark underworld chromaticism of Morton Feldman's Triadic Memories, performed by Eliza McCarthy, where the flow of piano tones become an unspoken mantra to infinity.

Laura Cannell's long-drawn studies of medieval folk fiddle and double pipe music, riffing on melodies which feel both close at hand and buried by stages of modernity.

The music of Tod Dockstader is interposed throughout Sunday afternoon. Stereophile has said of the composer, 'Tod Dockstader belongs in the select company of Varèse, Stockhausen, Luening, Schaeffer, Subotnick, and the other pioneers of electronic music or musique concrète. His achievement is on a par with the best in his field.'

His otherworldly 1966 piece Luna Park takes in sped-up laughter, a generator, a dropped marimba, piano and bamboo flute.

Dockstader explained, 'the third part used one generator... all the notes were 'played' with a razor blade and splicing tape, then the tape was sped, overdubbed, and inverted.'

Heard later in the afternoon, the radical Traveling Music is strictly organised around a limited number of sound materials.

Dockstader explained the origins of the piece's name: 'When I got the use of a two-track recorder, I used this piece, instead of doing a new work, so I could concentrate on teaching myself the techniques of placing sound in space (between speakers) and moving it through space – hence the title. (Jackie Gleason, in his black-and-white TV days, used always to ask the pit-band conductor for "a little traveling music" to help him move across the stage.)'

Morton Feldman called his Triadic Memories for solo piano the 'biggest butterfly in captivity' with a duration ranging from 60 to 90 minutes.

The richness of the piece is expressed in extremely soft dynamics, ranging from ppp to ppppp. 'Softness is compelling,' commented the experimental composer Cornelius Cardew, 'because an insidious invasion of our senses is more effective than a frontal attack.'

Feldman spoke of the piece as exploring new possibilities of processing music for the listener. '[it] was a conscious attempt at formalizing a disorientation of memory. Chords are heard repeated without any discernible pattern. In this regularity (though there are slight gradations of tempo) there is a suggestion that what we hear is functional and directional, but we soon realize that this is an illusion: a bit like walking the streets of Berlin – where all the buildings look alike, even if they're not.'

Laura Cannell creates a bridge between minimalist patterns and ancient sounds in music that brings together her own melodies, improvisation, and snippets of early and medieval music. The Quietus calls her 'the queen of improvised location violin.'

The conceptual artist Hanne Darboven set out to develop her large-scale installations, comprised of tables of numbers, into a radically different music: 'My systems are numeric concepts that work according to the laws of progression and/or reduction in the manner of a musical theme with variations.'

Her major composition for organ, Requiem, is based on calculations around the dates of the 20th century, from 1.1.00 to 31.12.99, and segments of Bach's Toccata in D Minor.

It's performed by organist James McVinnie, known for his impressive interpretations of new and radical works, including music written for him by Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, Squarepusher, and artist Martin Creed.

The fantastical inches ever closer in the sound-work and storytelling of Malibu, whose quiet intensity across music and spoken word creates a gauzy ambient world of extraordinary emotional power.

Her set with spoken word, laptop, electronics and 16 cellos from the London Contemporary Orchestra is followed by a performance of John Luther Adams' Canticles of the Sky, in which the cellists become a choir giving voice to a euphoric vision of astrological multiplicity.

The first part of the piece, which was conducted by Coates at its UK premiere in 2017, evokes the sky in the composer's home, Alaska, where sunlight and ice can create the illusion of numerous suns, or parhelia, in the arctic sky.

The festival comes to a close with an enigmatic audio experience from Nivhek, otherwise known as Grouper's Liz Harris, who creates a soundspace which glimmers between the human and the ethereal, its pockets of intimate field recordings, throbbing drones and expanses of angelic voice causing the hairs to rise on the back of your neck.

Oliver Coates is supported by PRS Foundation’s Open Fund.


David Sheppard sound amplification
James McVinnie organ
Laura Cannell medieval violin, double pipe
Eliza McCarthy piano
16 cellos from London Contemporary Orchestra
Malibu electronics
Oliver Coates cello


Dockstader: Luna Park
Darboven: Selected books from Requiem for organ
Laura Cannell: The Earth with her Crowns for medieval violin & double pipe
Dockstader: Traveling Music
Feldman: Triadic Memories for piano
Malibu: One Life
John Luther Adams: Canticles of the Sky
Nivhek (Liz Harris): Set

Dates & times

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Queen Elizabeth Hall


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Related events
Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer at 7.20pm: 16 cellos from London Contemporary Orchestra directed by Oliver Coates perform John Luther Adams' Canticles of the Sky. Admission free.

Event information
DEEP MINIMALISM 2.0 takes place on Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 November. Take a look at Saturday's line-up.

view Saturday line-up