Belfast Processes (25 – 26 March 2012)

Photo courtesy of Caroline Forbes

The way I organise things makes great demands on the other musicians. I came to this specific combination of players with advice and recommendations from Franziska Schroeder. They have worked very positively and with great creativity to put flesh in the bones of the skeleton I presented them with and I feel privileged to have had the chance to work with them (Evan Parker, March 26th 2012)

Live Audio recording (mastered by Chris Corrigan, Sonic Arts Research Centre, Belfast)


Tom Arthurs (trumpet)

Steve Davis (drums)

Ivan Goff (Uillleann Pipes)

Una Monaghan (harp)

Evan Parker (soprano sax)

Pedro Rebelo (live electronics)

Franziska Schroeder (saxes)


Sunday, 25th March: all day rehearsal

Meeting of all the players at the School of Creative Arts, Queen’s University with Evan Parker.
For this first rehearsal we had a large resonating room with high ceilings.
These are the comments at the lunch break on the 25 March 2012, while working on ‘SOS’ (players numbers given below are random):

Player 1:

  • looking for sound combinations
  • understanding each player and his/her set-up and instrument
  • what’s each players meaning in the group
  • working in pairs to hear the sonic combinations
  • adding duos together to form small groups
  • longer improvisations become condensed and smaller groups start overlapping by duos accelerating
  • internal acceleration of ideas and sounds

Player 2:

  • duets, free, quartet, sounds become married
  • finding the pearls of wisdom; the grit and bits we can already see
  • Evan’s direction is always pure
  • the music felt timid at the start
  • the glue of the creative minds forced the music to produce

Player 3:

  • personalities
  • the balance of what ‘could happen’ and ‘should happen’
  • focus of constraint versus the risk of ‘freedom’
  • everyone’s stuff versus improvising

Player 4:

  • with each iteration of duos and other groupings, relationships and potential structural lines get refined; not so much in terms of material but in relation to group dynamics
  • electronics are sometimes problematic, only seem to work better when introducing new material rather than ‘extending’ what is already existing
  • a sound is starting to emerge around the unique characteristics of the ensemble due to Evan’s sensibility

Player 5:

  • Solo playing was difficult and so was the ‘fast’ playing
  • The element of response was again lost, although for a different reason
  • I felt as though all inspiration had to come from within; this both restricted the source of the material while increasing the pressure to produce it; i.e. doubly demanding

Player 6:

  • As a piper I was pleasantly surprised to see “all drone” at the top of the score
  • The notion of improvising ‘within’ a drone was a fresh and timbrally interesting approach for me
  • Finding the right timbre instrument (C or D pipes) was a key (!) decision (to do with dynamics but also to blend with soprano sax (Evan’s soprano)
  • I was surprised how well the trad instruments blended but the sensitivity of all musicians helps greatly
  • Evan mimicking piping ornamentation (rolls) and Steve providing gentle rhythms which allowed for more ‘traditionally melodic’ approaches


Sunday, 25th March: end of session comments (many of us were exhausted, hence the reduced responses)

Player 1:

  • Solos were about finding suitable sounds and combinations to ‘cushion’ the soloing player
  • The moment of becoming ‘conscious’ of when as a player we fall into a particular style was discussed; many players (including Evan) identified this

Player 2:

  • It seems obvious but when asked to play a drone, I was the only instrument (harp) which required an attack to sustain the drone; i.e. it wasn’t possible to gradually produce and sustain a sound
  • Drone in the context of my own background in traditional music relates to a lack of pitch change and not to the absolute un-interruption of a note
  • It is hard to find a balance between not playing dance music and retaining some reference to my background
  • When asked to play fast it is difficult to create time  away form that action, to listen and respond to the other players
  • I was surprised how I was able to find a musical response to each of the other musicians. I had felt some pressure when thinking about this prior to today, but one forgets when playing with others, half or more is given to you by those other people
  • I would like to find a way to make reference to dance music without directly playing it
  • The tonality of Irish trad music (modal) is one place to start as well as moments of ornamentation

Player 3:

  • Working on the solo sections was challenging; in terms of holding back in an accompaniment role as opposed to reacting to one another.
  • Finding the right sound/approach to compliment the solo was tricky
  • The flute allowed for more of a background role as opposed to the pipes (also they don’t allow for dynamics, esp. in an acoustic environment
  • Finding a balance in my own solo as a trad player on a trad instrument was tricky
  • Do I go for an approach that denies the instrument’s nature or do I go for a more natural / idiomatic sound? Evan wanted the latter and it seemed to fit into the context
  • At some point it felt inappropriate to use just trad material (actual melodies) – improvised melodic fragments seemed to fit

Monday, 26th March: rehearsal and set up in the concert space CUBE, Crescent Arts Center, Belfast:  3pm open dress rehearsal / performance for the public

Player 1:

  • Sound check in the final venue with local amplification of some of the most intricate sounds (on alto sax, harp, flute, pipes..) to cater for the altered sounds and approaches that players brought to the ensemble
  • It feels much more restricted than yesterday and everybody plays much less
  • Evan revised the score and altered the order of groupings; there is no drone anymore (I guess this was always just a starting point for the players to get to know each other!)

Player 2:

  • It came together!
  • Beautiful range of textures and focuses that simply improvising wouldn’t work in a group of this size and with this variety of backgrounds and within this time frame
  • Leaving space for ‘what people do’
  • People are at their best
  • The combination of ‘known’ and ‘unknown’
  • It will be interesting to see how much we stick to the rules !!!

Player 3:

  • A clear structure has emerged out of the materials developed yesterday
  • Going through each section has allowed for an understanding of form
  • The group feels like it’s moving together, with a great sense of the different sound worlds to achieve
  • Formal elements formed a space which is both complementary and parallel to others
  • Evan has composed !

Player 4:

  • It felt difficult at the end of the first rehearsal but for some reason it feels great today
  • The instruction is clear but at times make playing freely difficult
  • Chaos meets beauty, grit meets ice lakes, wires meet brass… I need to think about this
  • Free improvisation is a breaking of silence. The silence is perfect music that we as improvisors interrupt to propel the music, and then go to silence once again

Player 5:

  • It felt as if we were just beginning to get a feeling for one another’s sounds and the ensemble was finding its ‘voice’
  • As usual with these one-off projects you are left with a feeling “if only we could take this on the road” !


CUBE, Crescent Arts Center, Belfast, 10pm
Final Concert
to a packed house.


 Graphic score ‘SOS’