The Wright Stuff: a look ahead to this year’s festival with Guest Artistic Director

March 7, 2014

Amidst the whirwind preparations for Sounds New 2014, I caught up with Guest Artistic Director of this year’s festival, Matt Wright, to find out more about what’s coming to Canterbury in May.

What’s in store from SN this year ?

Everything's all Wright...

Everything’s all Wright…

MW: This year, Sounds New is featuring the very best names associated with contemporary European and Indian classical traditions, cutting edge jazz and African groove, improvised and experimental music, poetry, dance, interactive installations, sonic art and laptop sets in gallery spaces, on the high street and on the web!

Phew: I’m exhausted just thinking about it all! ‘Connections’ seem to be an important facet of the programme this year; tell us about them.

MW: We’re exploring connections between performers working in different traditions as a big part of Sounds New. We’re bringing a large-scale multimedia event, within which contemporary ensemble Icebreaker will perform Apollo: For All Mankind with music by Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno and film footage from NASA. We’ll be celebrating the music of Canterbury Scene legend Robert Wyatt, in both a new exhibition at the Sidney Cooper Gallery (featuring a new work by sound artist Janek Schaefer) and a unique recomposition of Wyatt’s ‘Cuckooland’ album, bringing together the Brodsky Quartet, radical vocalist Elaine Mitchener, arranger Tony Hymas and my own live laptop sampling. Contemporary jazz also features too, in the work of Robert Stillman and Mercury Music prize-nominees Led Bib.

Connecting with local composers is also a feature this year.

MW: That’s right; we’re so lucky that so many musicians linked with Kent also have international reputations, so the brilliant vocal group Exaudi will be exploring the innovative work of composers such as Claudia Molitor, and Lauren Redhead and Thomas Oehler also present their own works. I mentioned Robert Stillman earlier: he will fuse together influences of Americana, the avant-garde and jazz in a fantastic record launch event. Saxophonist John Harle, well known to Kent audiences, will also perform high-quality new repertoire composed for him by CCCU students.

And are there some new connections being explored this year ?

MW: Yes; we make new connections with the Free Range experimental concert series (including ‘Eating Sound’, which focuses on the connections between music and high-end local cuisine) and two unique Equator Festival events: Congolese band Kasai Masai  (5th May) and North-Indian sarod virtuoso Wajahat Kahn (9th May). There are also events focussing on innovative connections between dance, film and light.

And birthdays are being celebrated too, I notice ?!

MW: Indeed! We continue our strong association with the London Sinfonietta in a unique five-day residency, supported by Canterbury Christ Church University, culminating on 5th May with a performance of Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union to celebrate his 75th birthday. …and we’re celebrating another internationally-renowned, Kent-based musician with a rare solo concert from Evan Parker to celebrate his 70th birthday.

And we’re continuing to develop our relationship with poetry ?

MW: Yes; the brilliant Sounds New Poetry will return, featuring site-specific readings (3rd-5th May) and writers-in-residence at the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge (6th-9th May).

There’s a synergy between audiences for new music and new poetry, isn’t there ?

MW: Yes, ‘Sounds’ and ‘New’ are terms that shouldn’t just be reserved for music, I feel, and the live performance of poetry is very strong in Canterbury: it is something that Free Range and the ZONE poets at the University of Kent have really helped to bring closer to ‘music’ audiences. I’m looking forward to further connections between music, sound and the spoken word right across the festival.

Inspiring musicians and audiences of tomorrow continues to be important, reflected in the educational aspect of Sounds New; what’s happening this year ?

MW: Building performers and listeners of the future is very important for us; all of our programming has education at its heart. This year our programme of events for young people culminate in the ‘All for One’ event at St Peter’s Methodist Church; there’s also the ‘Curious Curator’ exhibition and ‘the Black Box’ project (which grows out of our innovative ‘Big Brand New’ ensemble).

So, to sum it up: a vibrant, eclectic and innovative festival this year with plenty to look forward to ?

MW: in short, the festival is as packed as ever and we hope to see you there! Early bird tickets will be available soon from: so make sure you’re keeping an eye out…

Sounds New Roadshow: the teacher’s view

June 21, 2013

The Sounds New Roadshow, the travelling part of our education arm, recently visited St Eanswythe’s Primary School, Folkestone, on its county-wide tour of schools. Here’s what one of the members of staff had to say about the day…


st_e_logoThe Sounds New Roadshow’s performance was an original and inspiring experience for the children at St Eanswythe’s Primary School, providing them with a useful insight into the creative world of musical composition.

The personalities of each of the instrumentalists were effective in engaging pupils from the ages of 5 right up to 11. Each musician captured the minds of the children through introducing their instruments and offering an insight into the unusual and creative ways in which they can be played.

The children particularly enjoyed taking the lead as conductors and offering their thoughts on what the guitarists composition should be called, based on their own interpretations of the piece. Their thoroughly worthwhile, educational and interactive performance left the children buzzing with excitement at the possibility of learning to play such instruments themselves!

Lucy Burnett, Year One teacher.

Image Gallery: All for One

June 19, 2013

As part of Sounds New’s educational mission, the popular All for One series of concerts for schools and families ran again last month at St Peter’s Methodist Church, Canterbury.

Pictured are pupils from St Peter’s Methodist School and St Stephen’s Junior School, working with Phil Wright from the Philharmonia on pieces including Paul Burnell’s Aim Straight for Starlight.

Images © Sounds New / Peter Cook (used with permission)

Mallets in Wonderland: an interview with percussionist Greg Felton

April 30, 2013

With the Universe of Sound installation in full swing at Augustine House, I caught up with percussionist Greg Felton, who’s a part of the experience; he told me about his involvement with the project, the ‘stress-relief’ possibilities of percussion-playing, and the discovery of some choice eateries in town…

Tell us a bit about your background

Greg: I trained as a percussionist at the Guildhall School of Music, and after graduation I worked as a percussionist for a couple of contemporary dance companies.  I eventually began to dabble in creating promotional films for musical projects and music videos, editing and website design, and so decided to do an internship with the Philharmonia’s digital department, in order to learn how to do all these digital things properly.

Greg_1Whilst I was at the end of my internship we filmed Universe of Sound in January 2012. Since completing my internship I’ve been working as a freelancer, doing camera operating, film editing, score reading, as well as performing as a percussionist and drummer.  I’m a regular freelancer for the Philharmonia’s digital department when they need an extra pair of hands, and I live in the Percussion room throughout Universe of Sound.

How did you come to be involved in the project ?

Greg: When we set up Universe of Sound at the Science Museum, we realized that it would require a percussionist in the room to help encourage people to join in and play along, and to make sure people have the correct drum sticks in their hands etc.  We’d filmed the on-screen tutorials, where two percussionists from the Philharmonia describe the next percussion entry, and these worked well.  But as the installation progressed,  I was able to devise a kind of ‘rolling-percussion-workshop’ which would shift depending on who was in the room and what they wanted to do, and at what time they had arrived during the piece.

What’s been your experience of it – visitors reactions; do they get stuck in, are they shy ?

Greg: I find that whilst some people can be a little hesitant at first, the moment you have tried one of the tutorials, it becomes addictive.  It wasn’t unusual to get people who played the entire hour-long piece through on percussion.  In some extreme cases, people were coming back, day after day, learning the percussion parts all from memory.  It works on so many levels, with wild schools workshops with bigger groups, to more personal detailed sessions where people get a real sense of what it involves to be an orchestral percussionist.

And now of course the percussion is in the Portakabin, which helps a lot!  Previously when the percussion room was attached to the main room, we’d need to be a bit sensitive during the quieter movements such as Venus, so that the music wasn’t drowned out by noise.  But now if someone wants to feel the full force of the bass drum and tam-tam, they can do so at any moment during the piece.  You’re free to hit anything you’d like, as loud or soft as you’d like, with or without a tutorial.  It’s more flexible.

What benefit or value do you think the project has ?

Greg: It works on all levels.  But I think it’s important to feel just how much expressive potential there is in the percussion section.  I love it when people are overwhelmed by the ridiculous volume of the tam-tam.  I can then confirm to them that it really is that loud in the orchestra.  The percussionists really do strike their instruments that hard when Holst writes ‘fff’ as a dynamic.  It’s important people see that there is nothing ‘safe’ about orchestral music.  It’s intense and brilliant.

Have you had any mad moments with visitors to the installation ?

Greg: So far in Canterbury we’ve had some brilliant moments.  At one stage we had about thirty people in the percussion portakabin all at once, comprised of a schools group along with some students from the university, and some adults.  Together, we all played through the Talbot piece, Worlds, Stars, Systems, Infinity and straight back round to Mars again. Yesterday, two students let off some ‘dissertation stress’ on the bass drum, which was hilarious!

And how are you finding Canterbury during your stay  ?

Currently loving Canterbury!  We discovered the Belgian beer restaurant, which also does stunning food.  Also had some amazing crepes in the Chocolate Café, and we even had an evening when we caught some bands at a gig up at the studio in the Marlowe Theater.  There’s a lot going on here, and we’re really enjoying ourselves.

Follow Greg on Twitter. With thanks to Greg for his time.

Composition Day gets Sounds New underway

April 25, 2013

A couple of images from the Star Compositions and Darker Matters composing day last week, with which this year’s Sounds New began.

Involved in the event were pupils from Simon Langton Girls Grammar School and Barton Court Grammar School.

The day involved a fascinating talk from Richard Slaney, head of digital at the Philharmonia, who showed the pupils a tantalising part of the Universe of Sound exhibition before it opens this Saturday.

Then Paul Edlin, outgoing artisitic director of Sounds New, gave us all an insight into Holst’s The Planets, including the detail that Holst lived in Essex!

Education Manager Peter Cook and Paul then took the musicians on a voyage of compositional discovery, exploring ideas from Holst’s music combined with improvisation techniques, culminating in the pupils’ performing the results of all their hard work.

A great day, and a terrific start for this year’s Sounds New.

Aim for the starlight: Paul Burnell at Sounds New

April 25, 2013

Aim straight for the starlight is an education and community development project at this year’s Sounds New, in collaboration with CoMA.

Paul Burnell

Paul Burnell

Leading to a public performance of composer Paul Burnell’s Aim Straight for Starlight, this is a project where the composer himself will come down to work with local schools and the CCCU ‘Scratch Orchestra.’ The piece is composed with this educational and community purpose in mind and its instrumentation includes (amongst others) different hand-held percussion instruments as well as ocarinas, melodicas, even bottles, all of which can be used by children performing alongside professional players (playing wind, brass and string instruments), giving them a real sense of playing as part of an ensemble in a public occasion.

This project is helping to strengthen the relationship between CoMA, Sounds New, the local community and Christ Church University; an educational project, where amateur musicians and students studying to become professionals work alongside each other and with school children towards a public concert.

The performance of Aim Straight for the Starlight will be a part of  the All for One concert series, in the concert taking place at St Peter’s Church, Canterbury, on Tuesday 7 May at 11am, with a discretionary entry of £1.

Sponsored by Kent Soundhub

Sponsored by Kent Soundhub

Curious Curator: Sounds New exhibition at The Beaney

April 20, 2013

Sounds New encourages all manner of creative responses to contemporary music, and the Curious Curator, an exhibition of artwork, poetry and sound installations inspired by our theme of the Universe of Sound, will be at the Front Room at The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, in the heart of Canterbury.

The exhibition will include work from artists, musicians and poets from local schools and the community, the university and poetry groups, and runs from May 4 -12, including work from students from Langton School and the University of Kent: admission is free.

Curious Curator

Curious Curator: click to enlarge

Bring your curiosity…

Seeing stars: composition day next week

April 10, 2013

Ahead of the composition day at Sounds New next week, I caught up with Education manager, Peter Cook, to find out what’s in store.

So, Sounds New starts next week: what’s happening next Wednesday ?

PC: It’s the secondary school composition day, called Star Compositions and Darker Matters.

And what does this involve ?


Captain Cook…

PC: Well, we’ll be exploring the extraordinary exhibition installation called the Universe of Sound, which is on show as part of Sounds New this year and features a ‘walk-in orchestra’ viewable from wild and wonderful angles, performing Holst’s The Planets and a new piece by Joby Talbot.

Ah, yes: the composer of the recently successful ballet-score to Alice in Wonderland at Covent Garden ?

PC: That’s right! And the Head of Digital from the Philharmonic, Richard Slaney, will be at the composition day and will be talking about how he put the installation together and why it is a ‘must-see’ exhibition.

And how will you be exploring composing that day ?

PC: Paul Edlin, a former President of the ISM and a composer himself will be talking about Gustav Holst, as well as his own compositional technique. After listening and watching aspects of the installation on video, we will break into smaller groups to explore new sounds ourselves. I’ll be exploring improvisations connected to the theme of the day. We’re very excited to hear from both speakers and to work with young musicians to create something really special. And the day will end with a recording of what we achieve and a discussion about the relevance of new music.

We’ll bring you pictures (and maybe even some of the compositions) from the day. Find out more about the Universe of Sound, which comes to Canterbury on 27 April, here.

Sounds New educational events in May

March 27, 2013

As usual, education is a key aspect of Sounds New’s mission to help introduce audiences – particularly younger ones! – to today’s music, and this year is based around the Universe of Sound project which the Philharmonia is bringing to Canterbury next month. Once again, Sounds New is pleased to be making many of these events free, as we inspire and enthuse younger minds and take them to the stars – and maybe even beyond!

sn_educationThe education arm opens with Star Compositions And Darker Matters on Wednesday 17 April, from 9:15 till 3pm at Canterbury Christ Church University. This will be an interactive composition day for 13-18 year olds, at which Richard Slaney from the Philharmonia, who made the installation, will introduce ideas behind the the Universe of Sound. Sounds New composers will also explore new composing techniques and the music of one of the key British composers of the twentieth century, Gustav Holst. This is a practical day too, so we encourage people to bring their instruments!

Returning this year will be the Sounds New Roadshow, for which you can book a performance of new music at your school or community venue, given by students from Canterbury Christchurch University, led by our Education Manager, Peter Cook. Performances last about fifty minutes and will be tailored to suit each age-group, including primary and secondary schools and community groups. The roadshow will be ‘on the road’ from May onwards! Visits are free but organised on a first-come, first-served basis so booking is essential.

Our popular series of All for One concerts for any school or community group together with their relatives and friends will also be returning to Sounds New, taking place at 11am on May 7 and May 9 at St Peter’s Methodist Church in Canterbury. On May 7, musicians from both the Philharmonia and Sounds New will perform new works plus a new piece, Aim Straight For The Starlight. The concert on May 9 will showcase new music, including a performance by members of the Philharmonia. Admission for these concerts is £1 (discretionary)



Families can enjoy A Musical Guide To The Galaxy on Sunday May 5 at the Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury, between  11am-5pm; an action-packed family day of extraordinary musical happenings with workshops and dance too. Sample bite-sized concerts in the Gulbenkian Theatre and the new-Colyer Fergusson Concert Hall (next to the Gulbenkian Theatre) as well as hands-on arts activities in the foyer. Admission is free for children and £5 for adults. More on the Gulbenkian webpage here.

Curious Curator, an exhibition of artwork, poetry and sound installations inspired by our theme of the Universe of Sound, will be at the Front Room at The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, in the heart of Canterbury. The exhibition runs from May 4 – 12, showcasing work from students from Langton School and the University of Kent: admission is free.

For more information about any of these events or to book, please e-mail the Education Manager, Peter Cook. we look forward to welcoming the young (and the young-at-heart) to the exploration of new music with Sounds New once more this year.

Piper at the Gates: Idiophonics and home-made instruments

May 9, 2012

St Peter’s Methodist Church resounded to the sound of home-made instruments yesterday, at the second in the ‘All for One’ series of educational events as part of this year’s Sounds New Festival.

Organised by Peter Cook, local school-children flocked to the church to explore a variety of home-made instruments concocted from all manner of found, everyday objects, including plastic piping and kitchen utensils – not the sort of materials you might expect, perhaps!


Pictured above is one of them: a fanfare trumpet made from a length of plastic piping and a kitchen liquid-funnel, played from the balcony at the back of the church in true heraldic fashion.

The last event in the ‘All for One’ series is tomorrow, when students from Christ Church University will explore all manner of extended techniques on several instruments, showing how contemporary composers can get instruments (and players) to do things you might not expect!

The event starts at 11am at St Peter’s Methodist Church.