On one of my trips to the UK a few years ago, I found myself without a violin... so I bought a sturdy student model which I fondly nicknamed 'the stunt violin' - it accompanied me on various adventures, including an expedition out to St Kilda. However, I then found myself with 3 violins (err... and maybe some extra guitars too?) which for a minimalist like me seems a little surplus to requirements! So last month I donated a couple of instruments - including the stunt violin - to the wonderful organisation Music Broth in Glasgow, who are aiming to establish a catalogue of music instruments and musical equipment within the community that people that can access for any musical venture. This is an amazing project, and I encourage you to donate any instruments that might be hiding in a cupboard or languishing under a bed!
The National Theatre of Scotland's Engine Room programme offers great opportunities for artists, and I recently spent a fantastic 'Guest Room' week out at their Rockvilla headquarters. I had the use of a lovely rehearsal space for five days, and explored some ideas for a new solo show. I look forward to sharing some of this new work with you soon at my solo performance Under the World for the Faclan Festival in November!
"Although most of my life has been devoted to fiction, I have always thought of myself as a poet. I do not write poetic prose, but feel that my outlook on life and my perceptions of events are those of a poet. Whether in prose or verse, all creative writing is mysteriously connected with music and I always hope this factor is apparent throughout my work."
Now that my solo albums are almost complete, I'm enjoying being able to be more fully immersed in my next creative project: writing a new work for violin and string quartet inspired by a selection of Muriel Spark's poetry. I'm currently reading through Spark's poems, combing through my folder of musical sketches, fragments and ideas, getting reacquainted with my violins... and just seeing where that takes me.
This project is supported by Creative Scotland’s Muriel Spark 100 fund as part of the centenary celebrations for Dame Muriel Spark, one of Scotland’s finest and most internationally respected writers. I'm very pleased to announce that I'll be working with the wonderful Brodick Quartet, an ensemble comprised of four of Scotland’s most outstanding young string players!
We'll be premiering the work at the Scottish Poetry Library on the 14th November.
I've just spent a busy week up at Black Bay Studio on the island of Great Bernera, working with the fantastic Pete Fletcher. As well as doing a bit of new recording, we've also made it through the final tweaks and mastering of the solo tracks I recorded last summer. I listened to the masters yesterday, and have - at last - given them the thumbs up! It feels fairly surreal to have reached this stage at last, and to be honest I'm pretty exhausted. It's been a challenging process finishing what has now ended up being enough material for two albums. I constantly veer between the harsh opinions of 'perfectionist-me' (who's never really happy with anything) and the other me that seems, fortunately, to be a slightly more balanced person! This last push to the finish line is definitely the hardest and scariest part of the process and involves a lot of letting go - but I'm happy to say that I feel like I've made something I'm proud of.
It won't be long before I'm ready to share some new music with you all, which is both scary and exciting - stay tuned for further news on a release date!
Over the last month I've been happily immersed in a variety of work: revising and preparing a solo piano score for recording, finishing the last round of revisions on my two solo albums, and planning out a new work for violin and string quartet. I've also been thinking quite a lot about how I approach both life and work and have recently read several books which have had a really positive impact on my practice: Solitude by Michael Harris; The View from the Studio Door by Ted Orlando; and Antidote by Oliver Burkeman.
Although working from home has its challenges, I've realised that I'm very, very lucky to have that freedom. It does require discipline, but I'm also learning to be gentler with myself: that it's OK to have slow days, and that not every day will be amazingly productive. Composing is intensive work, and the reality is that I can rarely do more than 4 hours a day. Plus it's important to give things time to sit and percolate for a while, so that I can return to them with a fresh perspective. Sometimes I just have accept that I need to plod away at the slow, often repetitive work that is an essential part of the composition process: arranging, reworking and revising.
I now try to approach different types of work in separate 'blocks' - and I stay strictly offline when I'm composing or writing. When I'm free to work without interruptions or distractions, my ability to concentrate and follow a task through is much stronger - plus I enjoy it a lot more when I'm fully immersed. I've also been adjusting my work routine to allow more time for thinking and dreaming. I have a tendency to feel that I must fill up all the available 'work hours' of my day, but I'm actually much more productive when I work in a series of shorter, focused bursts.
I aim to spend at least a day a week in a different space (outside my home studio). This can be as simple as taking a notebook outside, doing some writing in a cafe, or while travelling on a train. I also walk every day, which feels vital to my physical and mental health and fitness, and to the health of my creative practice. As well as making contact with the natural world, my daily walk is my meditation, and the very act of walking is a wonderful way of working through ideas.
"The most common response to procrastination is indeed to try to 'get the right emotion': to try to motivate yourself to feel like getting on with the job. The problem is that feeling like acting and actually acting are two different things. A person mired deep in procrastination might claim he is unable to work, but what he really means is that he is unable to make himself feel like working... "
-Oliver Burkeman: Antidote
It's been really useful to identify my own bad habits! One of the forms of procrastination I've had to own up to is that I often prioritise things like administrative tasks over creative work. Somehow the creative work was consistently ending up at the bottom of the to-do list. Oh, I'll just spend a day updating my website and get onto the actual music stuff tomorrow... or the next day...
Sure, sometimes admin can be creative too - spending a few hours rewriting my bio can help me work out where I'm at, what might have changed, and what's important to me right now. But it's also something I use to procrastinate! If I haven't had a routine for a little while, beginning a project sometimes feels scary and unfamiliar - I feel vulnerable and uncertain and start to doubt my abilities. I'm afraid to start because I fixate on the unknowns of the future, instead of being in the present So I've simply made a decision to actively and decisively put creative activities first - composing, playing an instrument, thinking, dreaming and walking. There isn't ever going to be a perfect, magical state of feeling 'ready to work'. There's just now.
My piano score - Iceland in Moving Pictures - is now ready to send to Kvikmyndasafn Íslands, the National Film Archive of Iceland! I wrote and performed the work last year at An Lanntair's Faclan Festival, as a live soundtrack for Ísland í lifandi myndum, a fascinating 1925 Icelandic documentary created by filmmaker Loftur Guðmundsson. This was a very rewarding project, and it was wonderful to work in collaboration with the Icelandic Film Archive. We chose the first 35-minute section of the film for the event at Faclan, and Erlendur Sveinsson and his team at the Archive created English titles specially for the showing.
In January 2018 I was invited to include the work as part of the exhibition SSA & VAS TOGETHER, showing at the Royal Scottish Academy, and the film and my recorded score were installed in collaboration with An Lanntair and the National Film Archive of Iceland.
I'm currently doing some revisions in order to transform the work into a solo piano suite, which is proving to be rather fun - I've thrown in an extra 'storm', and I'm attempting a virtuosic theme and variation movement (and probably driving my poor neighbours a bit mad with all those experimental arpeggios). Then I'm heading up to the Isle of Lewis in a couple of weeks to record it as a new album at Black Bay Studio, where I'm looking forward to getting reacquainted with my favourite Bechstein piano!
I was recently notified that I was unsuccessful for an opportunity I’d applied for - and although this is a pretty regular (and expected) occurrence, for some reason it hit me quite hard this time. I’m still trying to work out why exactly, as I thought I was getting quite blasé about the uncertain outcome of applications! My usual strategy to avoid disappointment is to simply assume in advance that I won't get something - I know that there are a lot of artists out there applying for what are a finite series of opportunities. But, alas, I admit that it's just not possible to be entirely objective - when I’ve spent a long time thinking, writing and dreaming about a creative project that means a lot to me, I inevitably start to look into the future and imagine all the exciting things I might be able to do if this particular application happened to be successful...
I try to manage some of my application dilemmas in a couple of different ways: by being very specific and only applying for things that genuinely align with my practice and creative goals; and looking at the process itself as a valuable one that can help me to clarify and refine my creative ideas. But there's still that seemingly inevitable feeling of disappointment - even failure - when I don't succeed, which often makes me question why on earth I put myself through it at all.
My career path has had a few interesting twists and turns over the last two decades - after some fairly intensive classical training, I went on to explore a lot of different freelance creative work, and in 2010 decided to suspend my musical activities for a while to focus on my visual arts practice. After five years I began to return to the idea of performance again - music came back slowly but surely into my life, and I had a greater clarity about how to approach the development of my work as a composer and performer. It feels absolutely crucial to have been through that process, and I wouldn't do anything differently, but you inevitably lose a lot of professional ground in five years. I pretty much dropped off the musical radar entirely - by my own choice - and then when I did decide to come back to music, I promptly moved to the other side of the world! So I'm working hard to build up a creative profile, and I have to constantly remind myself that it's a slow, gradual process.
This year I’ve written 8 applications so far, and altogether over the last two and a half years I've submitted nearly 40 different applications for grants, residencies, festivals, performance and development projects… Apart from anything else, that feels like far too many hours spent gazing into a computer screen! A handful of those applications have had successful outcomes, but only one actually involved any tangible financial support - very often residencies, showcasing or professional development opportunities still require the artist to pay for things like entry fees, travel and accommodation. I’m not a speedy application writer either, so it can easily take me up to a week to finish something more involved. Time that I often think could be much better spent on creative work - writing new music, for example!
But then without the opportunity to show or develop that creative work further, where do I put it? I want to share what I do - that’s one of the primary reasons why I returned to performance. So at the moment if I want to continue to support myself as an artist I must keep juggling all these things: making the new work, applying for the funding and opportunities to get it heard, and learning to be more philosophical about the disappointments and setbacks along the way.
I'm juggling several new creative projects at the moment, and I suspect they're all are going to challenge me in unexpected ways - mapping out structures and textures for a new work for violin and string quartet inspired by Muriel Spark's poetry; revising a solo piano score for a recording in July; and spending a week in August in the National Theatre of Scotland's Guest Room undertaking a creative development to begin writing a new interdisciplinary solo show.
In my mind these projects are full of promise and exciting visions of new creations. But to be honest I'm also pretty daunted by the reality of transitioning from an abstract idea to actually writing and creating a tangible series of works. It's made me look again at my thought processes around creativity: particularly to examine certain negative mental habits that seem to trip me up on a regular basis. Most often it's simply fear that holds me back from creating something; usually the fear of it not being 'good enough', whatever that means! I also have a tendency to focus on the things that might go wrong (rather than imagining the things that might go right). I believe it's essential to be able to critically assess my own work, but I know I can do this to excess.
Sometimes I delay starting something because I'd almost rather avoid creating it at all than risk the possibility of it being mediocre! But despite this hesitation there's an inner need to make things that eventually overcomes my reluctance. The process of musical composition in particular can be quite exhausting, but there's also an enormous satisfaction and pleasure in being fully immersed in a process that employs so many different mental muscles. I'm learning (slowly) to give new work and ideas space to breathe - to allow them to be imperfect, trusting that they will develop in their own time. And I'm resolved to remember that all I need to do is simply begin:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance..."
W.H. Murray (Scottish mountaineer and writer)
An update about my forthcoming solo album! Despite some delays I've been working intensively on finalising the tracks - it's just taken a little while to work it all out, as I have so much material I've now decided to release two albums. The plan is that the first one will be completed in July/August, and then I'll release the second towards the end of the year. I'm working with the fantastic Pete Fletcher at Black Bay Studio to get it all finished, and I look forward to sharing some new music with you very soon!
It's been a while since I shared some news, but as Spring arrives my creative energy is beginning to emerge again. April has certainly been eventful so far! I've just relocated to the mainland after spending most of the last two years living and working in the Outer Hebrides, and I'm now based just outside Glasgow. It's a big change, but I'm excited about getting acquainted with the city's thriving creative scene. It's certainly shaping up to be a busy year ahead - I've been awarded a Creative Scotland grant to write a new composition for string quartet inspired by Muriel Spark's poetry, and the work will be performed at the Scottish Poetry Library in November. As soon as I get settled and unpacked, I'll be finalising the mixes for my new solo album and announcing a release date. I'm also working on a re-release of my first solo album, which will be available online soon.
In July I'm returning to work with Pete Fletcher at Black Bay studio to record the live piano score I wrote last year for the silent film Iceland in Moving Pictures. And after a successful application to the National Theatre of Scotland's Guest Room, I'm excited to be spending a week there in August developing a new interdisciplinary solo show. So please stay tuned for more updates over the next few months - I look forward to sharing a variety of new performances and artwork with you throughout the year!
I'm thrilled to be one of the recipients of the Muriel Spark 100 Fund: Endless Different Ways Grants awarded by Creative Scotland, part of the centenary celebrations for one of Scotland’s finest and most internationally respected writers. I'll be writing a new work for string quartet inspired by Spark's poetry, and the completed work will be performed at the Scottish Poetry Library in November.
In October last year I completed a commission for An Lanntair's Faclan Festival to write and perform a live piano score for a 35 minute section of the early Icelandic documentary Ísland í Lifandi Myndum, an early Icelandic documentary from 1925 created by filmmaker Loftur Guðmundsson. I'm very excited to announce that I've been invited to include the work as part of the exhibition SSA & VAS TOGETHER, showing at the Royal Scottish Academy! The film and my recorded score will be installed in collaboration with An Lanntair and the National Film Archive of Iceland. The exhibition runs from January 29th to March 8th.
Happy New Year everyone! After a busy few months I'm enjoying some quieter moments, and savouring the subtle beauties of the midwinter. It's a good time to reflect on the past year and begin to draw together the threads of this year's creative work. 2017 has been a very productive time - playing solo shows, recording a new album, writing and performing a new film score, and travelling to Australia for a residency and exhibition, among other things! I was also delighted to be mentioned by journalist Jan Patience as one of her 2017 Art Highlights, for my new score for the 1925 Icelandic silent film Ísland í Lifandi Myndum (performed at An Lanntair's Faclan Festival this year).
Thank you all very much for your support during 2017. I have some exciting new projects to announce soon, and look forward to sharing my new album with you in the Spring!
I'm delighted to be returning to Western Australia in November this year, where I'll be spending some time in the beautiful South-West region of the state. I'll be Musician & Artist in Residence at the Vancouver Arts Centre in Albany for several weeks, developing and researching an ongoing project entitled The River. I'll be exploring the Kalgan River and the Torndirrup National Park, collecting ideas for a series of new prints and works on paper, as well as developing composition ideas back in the studio. During the residency there will be a solo performance and an exhibition of my visual artwork.
I've just started composing an original live score for the 1925 Icelandic silent film 'Ísland í Lifandi Myndum' (Iceland in Living Pictures). Filmmaker Loftur Guðmundsson was one of the pioneers in Icelandic film history, producing both documentaries and feature films. The film and live score will be presented at this year's Faclan Festival at An Lanntair, Isle of Lewis.
Listening to the first mixes of album tracks today... I've been working towards recording this album for a long time now, so it's slightly surreal and quite emotional to be at this stage of the process at last, but also very exciting.
It's been a very busy summer so far, but this week I have a little time to get back to researching several new composition projects, including one that explores links between Australia and the Outer Hebrides. I spent a morning in the studio last month being interviewed and filmed about this project for an upcoming documentary. More on this soon...
Yesterday was my last day of recording and editing... what a journey! After many months of preparation it's been an absolutely fantastic experience to work on this album with Pete Fletcher at Black Bay Studio. We get started on the mixing in a few weeks time...
A short studio video from the last week - some last minute practice before recording the piano interlude from Last Waltz. Today I've begun the daunting task of recording all the vocal tracks... definitely the most challenging part of the process so far!
The last few weeks have been super busy - travel, album preparation, being unexpectedly shortlisted and interviewed for a London residency, trying to find time to actually PRACTICE album tracks (rather than just obsessively fine tune all the arrangements)... And generally attempting to stay on top of juggling performance, composition, admin and life!
It's certainly never dull - and now that I've spent a week or so getting to know this lovely Bechstein (now safely installed in the beautiful new Black Bay Studio) I can't wait to start recording proper next week!