Permutations Prints


As part of the Permutations premiere at the Aldeburgh Festival, 10th-16th June 2017, we made a series of limited edition risograph prints which explore the varying levels of enclosure offered by opening and closing the chamber doors. These were exhibited in Aldeburgh Music's Hoffmann Building in an exhibition showcasing the project's evolution under their Open Space residency programme. 

Printed by Risotto Studio, Glasgow.

Prints are available to purchase, please if interested!

Recording Permutations in the Kiln


During the last of our spring 2015 residencies at Aldeburgh, Tamsin and I recorded two of my six-part sketches. It was the first time she'd played any of the material for the six part sketches. We did this very simply using click tracks, a zoom recorder and logic. Some of the difficulties we experienced taught us more about how we will need to record Permutations when it is time to record the piece in full. This was a way of sharing what I had been writing with people at Aldeburgh as well as with Finbarr, Andrew and Tamsin. 

The two sketches we recorded, currently known as the Tuesday sketch and the Thursday sketch, each make use the space in a different way. 

One of the questions I had to begin to grapple with when writing the six-part sketches was whether the music could or should exert any control over the audience’s movements within the chamber. I suppose it is impossible to tell at this point whether listeners will be directed by the music in the way that I expect. The decision I made during the spring time residencies at Aldeburgh was that each of the sketches would play with the space in a different way, creating different relationships between the listener and the music around them. The Tuesday sketch directs the audience to the central chamber more than any of the others, although experiencing the it from one of the chambers would fragment and emphasise certain parts of the line. 

The Thursday sketch will be the opening of Permutations. Arriving into the chambers, the opening chords envelop the listener in sound from all sides. This will serve to aurally map out the entire space within Permutations for the audience. The nature of the chords is such that depending on a listener's movements or position, they will be given a different impression of the tonality of the opening of Permutations




six architectural characters

Family Portrait.jpg

Permutations Family Portrait

Our compositional exercises in expressing counterpoint in an architectural form culminated in a design iteration which focuses more on the idea of six architectural figures: individual ‘characters’, each with its own acoustic and spatial personality, corresponding to the individual solo-parts of the musical composition. This began to address our concerns regarding the acoustic and visual homogeneity of the previous proposal that we had begun with. These ideas are expressed by this timber model, all constructed in a similar manner but with proportional differences which came about through experimentation. Each volume - when struck against the walnut base pictured - resonated at different frequencies due to their differing masses and forms.

Contrapuntal script performance

With the help of Freya and three volunteers, including Robert Mull and visiting critics’, Ellis Woodman and Maria Smith, we performed a spoken piece in basic counterpoint for the rest of our peers in the Cass Free Unit. The script for the piece was a concise description of our aspirations for the project. The intention of the performance was to express some of the compositional ideas at the heart of the project, both in the music and in the architecture, whilst involving individuals external to the project in expressing the scope of its intent. It was an exercise in the use of performance as a didactic tool, a form of cultural production that is at once expressive of a set of creative values and at the same time teaches the participants and audience about a musical phenomenon. In many respects, the performance embodied more than just the spirit of the project; it also defined a way of articulating our broader aspirations for our own creative practices.



Architectural responses to the music

Following our first listening, we decided to review our architectural proposal and explore the idea of counterpoint. This resulted in a number of small, compositional studies, which sought to physically express the structure of the music. We used the models to look at how the solo-parts might be brought together in a more sophisticated manner than we had acheived previously, becoming increasingly interested in the notion of creating a family of architectural figures each of which is defined by the individual solo parts of Freya’s composition.



Equal Permutations


Architectural Headphones

In the very early stages of Permutations prior to our first residency with Aldeburgh Music, we went through a number of sketch iterations which informed how we moved forward in the project. The most significant of these manifested itself simply as a collection of six small chambers, each housing an individual recorded violin part. Through their orientation and proximity, the chambers both contain and project each of the six equal, interwoven contrapuntal lines. 

Initially, this was interpreted in a highly geometric form, a literal interpretation of the compositional structure of the music into a symmetrical plan. In this iteration of the project, the listener moves between 6 “hoods”. The variation in the composition is produced through the listener's movement only, within the otherwise entirely equal plan. It had been our intention that the vibrations of the music would pass directly through the material construction of the chambers, using transducers.

After interrogating this proposal, we came to feel that this proposal had a number of inadequacies. Specifically, with regards to acoustic isolation and the unsophisticated, disjointed experience of movement, the audience being expected to duck in and out of these ‘architectural headphones.’



Measuring and representing Counterpoint


This is 19th Century physicist, John Tyndall’s diagram describing the propogation of sound waves. Sound (and consequently music) - due to the invisibility of the medium - can only be described through analogy. In this case, the analogy is social in origin and describes sound’s effect rather than its physical properties in abstract.

One of the first ideas we had to translate into an alternative form of expression was that of counterpoint, which serves as the fundamental structure behind the composition of the piece.

Freya’s composition would be a recorded contrapuntal piece in 6 parts. It was important that from the very beginning we could find a way to understand and measure these parts, in order to help us understand their acoustic effect. We were interested in finding a way of responding to the physical properties of these parts in the scale of the acoustic space and development of it’s physical characteristics.

Dissecting the multiple counterpoint parts enabled us tobegin thinking about how they might be expressed physically.  We were interested in creating a spatial experience where the audience could enjoy the solo, duet, ensemble and full-counterpoint, all contingent upon their movement through the space. 

The vital ingredient in the experience of the performance is the participation of the guest or visitor, whose subjective experience and movement re-invents the piece each time; their interaction forming a fundamental part of the overall composition. Consequently, this has been a critical determining factor in the spatial organisation of the 6 parts and their hierarchy.