We Break Strings available now + SAMPLE CHAPTER: ‘(Non)Classical/(Non)Pop’

It’s been a busy few months, but I’ve got a lot to post on this blog before the new year. Most importantly, our book We Break Strings: The Alternative Classical Scene in London is now available to purchase (get it now from the Nonclassical website, for £20 w/ free CD). We had a great book launch event at Red Gallery in Hoxton, which involved performances from some of the musicians interviewed, as well as an exhibition of Dimitri Djuric‘s beautiful photographs, which make up a large proportion of the book. There was also a panel discussion on classical music outside the concert hall, which featured Gabriel Prokofiev, Igor Toronyi-Lalic, Kerry Andrew, Paul Morley, Tim Rutherford-Johnson and myself (available as a podcast on Sinfini).

photo by Dimitri Djuric

photo by Dimitri Djuric

We Break Strings features interviews with over 30 musicians, composers, promoters and critics from London’s alternative new music scene. As well as an overview and history of the scene’s unique aspects, the interviewees assess the motivations behind their own involvement, and more general discussions are organised thematically, touching on the importance of new spaces and audiences, the role of experimentalism and new composition, political dimensions and questions of funding, the particular characteristics of London as a musical milieu, and the relationship with the classical mainstream. It also includes four new mini-essays: on Nonclassical, on alternative venues, on the figure of the curator, and on ‘post-Fordist musical production’.

photo by Dimitri Djuric

We Break Strings

I’m very happy with how the book looks, feels and reads, and I like to think that it would be of interest to a range of different readers, whether or not they’re acquainted with the scene and musicians in question. At the very least, it’s a beautiful thing to look at – you can check out some of Dimitri’s work here. With Christmas coming up, I thought I’d share the first of the mini-essays here and try to pique some interest::: Continue reading

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We Break Strings: Kickstarter Project

Over the past few months, the biting point contributor Thom Andrewes has been working with photographer Dimitri Djuric on the production of a photo-book called We Break Strings: The Alternative Classical Scene in London. The book is an attempt at documenting a particular moment in London’s musical life. Alongside some superb photos taken at music events over the last two years, the text draws on interviews with musicians, composers, curators and promoters to discuss the recent trend in performing new/classical music outside of the more established institutional spaces in London.

photo by Dimitri Djuric

One of Dimitri Djuric’s photos from We Break Strings

The book is being self-published, with the help of Gabriel Prokofiev and Nonclassical, and in order to achieve this we’re now asking for support through Kickstarter. You can check out the project page HERE. This could just mean pre-ordering the book for £20 (UK shipping included), although there are some other rewards available including prints of the photos and tickets to Nonclassical events. Continue reading

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The whole project…

…reflects the most important thing for me, that the music comes from within the film, that it’s not something that was added later. Music is built into the fabric of The River of Fundament, as performance, as idea, as a set of relationships between what you see and what you hear, and as abstraction and narrative.

Jonathan Bepler on River of Fundament, aka rebirth of opera plz thnx.

Read the whole Guardian article here

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the biting point in 2014

Just a few updates on what’s been going on at the biting point HQ (instead of our usual listings, reviews and rants), alongside the two operas with Opera Erratica and the MAAP Collective:::

  • I’ve been working on a couple of books, the first of which is a collaboration with Nonclassical and the photographer Dimitri Djuric, and will be a kind of photo essay-cum-fanzine about DIY new music culture in London since 2004 (the first Nonclassical gig and record). I’ve been doing a load of fantastic interviews for this with some brilliant musicians, composers and promoters, and I’ve already gathered far too much material, so some of it might make its way onto this blog once the book is finalised. A lot of my thoughts and opinions on recent events, like the London Contemporary Music Festival, have found their way into the book as well. Publication date is likely to be sometime around October – more details to come soon.
  • The other book is my big pop musicology/philosophy/sociology of music tract which is slowly accruing on our sister blog, The Night Mail, and will eventually be edited and formatted as a free independent, ebook thing. It’s current title is Pop, Power & the Vocal-Subject, and although its focus is on the pop song, it does also bring together a lot of my preoccupations about music and politics in general. I’m hoping that will be finished for Christmas, but no promises…
  • My other most pressing project is my Masters thesis, which is on the subject of ‘critical music': ‘Can music (still) be critical?’. Depending on whether it’s any good or not, I’ll post it in some format on the blog by the beginning of September. I hope that, given all the research I’ve been doing for these writing projects, I’ll be able to extract some blogpost-sized chunks to share.
  • Finally, we’re hoping to write a second manifesto as a kind of critique of the first, reframing and refocusing it to better represent our current position, qualifying some of its conclusions and linking it more explicitly to radical politics. A lot of the manifesto we would now totally reject, but at the same time, it should be allowed to stand as a sincere statement from a legitimate position – that of ourselves as music listeners a few years ago – and it got enough attention that we don’t want to just remove it or just redact sections, but we do feel that it needs to be re-argued from a more self-reflexive standpoint.

For now, I hope you’re all as excited as we are that Multi-Story are performing Andriessen’s De Staat (AKA one of the best pieces everrrr) in the car park in August. TICKETS!!!

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Triptych: a new work by Opera Erratica


I’ve spent much of the last year or so working on a new opera with Opera Erratica, called Triptych, which had its first performance at London’s Print Room theatre last night. I’m very happy with the show and I’d recommend everyone to get tickets; it’s on for three weeks (17th May – 7th June 2014) at the Print Room, before moving to Wilton’s Music Hall for four performances (9th & 10th June 2014), as part of the Spitalfields Music Festival. Tickets can be bought here and here (starting from £10).

Triptych is an opera in three parts, with each part composed by a different composer: Christian Mason, Thomas Smetryns and Chris Mayo. The concepts, texts, staging, and some of the musical vocabulary, was developed as part of a series of devising workshops with the director Patrick Eakin Young, the composers, a writer (Orlando Wells), and the Opera Erratica Core Company themselves: five singers who have been training together in the ‘Viewpoints’ improvisation method. Continue reading

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White Haired Boy: an opera about Boris Johnson

White Haired Boy

Friday 28th March – performances 5pm, 7pm & 8.30pm, exhibition from 12pm

310 New Cross Rd, SE14 (nearest station New Cross Gate) – FREE ENTRY

One of the many reasons why I’ve been so inactive over the past few months is that my MA programme is reaching its culmination. One of the core constituents of this programme is a group project, with everyone on the course collaborating to create a piece of ‘political art’ of some kind. This year it just so happened to be an opera. Specifically, an opera about Boris Johnson, modelled on the Chinese ‘model operas’ of the Cultural Revolution. That was the brief.

This is, of course, a dream project for me (although that can be a double-edged sword when it also happens to be an assessed project, with a very limited timeframe, co-led by nineteen other people). At any rate, I thought I’d take the opportunity to try out some ideas on music and politics, and appropriated the role of composer/music supervisor early on. The final performance will be pretty crazy: a bricolage of intentions and agendas from a huge range of international backgrounds, taking place in a shopfront down the road from Goldsmiths College; a pop-up performance happening, in the literal sense that the aesthetic of the space and its set recalls a kind of pop-up book. And it’s directly, unashamedly implicated in capital-P Politics, given Johnson’s current shadowy ubiquity as pretender to the Tory leadership. I hope it can also be received as a timely protest action, given the Mayor’s ongoing campaign to bring water cannons onto the streets of London, as well as his involvement locally in the Convoys Wharf development project (more on this below).

White Haired Boy flyer

White Haired Boy is taking place on Friday 28th March; there are free performances at 5pm, 7pm and 8.30pm, and the space/set will be open with an exhibition from 12pm. Do come along, but come early because the venue is small. More info via Facebook…

There are some notes on my ideas, research and inspiration for the opera’s music below. The more I’ve explored the musical links between London and China, neoliberal and conservative ideologies, protest and reaction, the more avenues have opened up. I’m not sure how much of this I’ll be able to jam into the finished product, but it’s certainly given me a lot to think about… Continue reading

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merry christmas from the biting point

as you may have noticed, we’ve been on a break from blogging these last few months, while we’ve been finishing up a big and exciting project for our sister blog the night mail. we promise to get back on task in the new year – there’s been a lot to write about. for now though, please consider registering your objections to the southbank redevelopment if you haven’t (see previous post), and follow the developments at Long Live South Bank and Save Our Skatepark.

and if you’re interested in pop music and politics, keep half an eye on the night mail

and, also, merry christmas xx

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