Five Quick Questions with Helen Papaioannou

Helen has recently completed her score Backscatter for the Workers Union Ensemble. We are really looking forward to rehearsing and performing the work in April at Playlist on Tuesday, 11 April, 2017 and Nonclassical on Wednesday, 12 April, 2017.

Ahead of these performances, we asked Helen to answer five quick-fire questions…

1- Tell us briefly what we can expect from your new piece for Workers Union Ensemble?

Backscatter is a sort of mottling of sounds and notes which are bounced, echoed or split between individual players or subgroups. This hangs around short lines and motifs that churn into mechanistic loops, exploring different colours and textures within the ensemble.

2- How does your new piece for Workers Union compare to your previous works?

As in many of my recent works, particularly Splinter (2016), the piece is built around hocketing. My fascination with hocketing lies partly in the interpersonal thrill & playfulness of coordinating patterns between two or more people. In recent pieces of mine this interleaves with an exploration of cueing and game strategies.

Backscatter retains this quality, but doesn’t use cueing systems. It’s a little less frenzied than my recent music (although it still has its moments!). My interest was drawn to weaving and hocketing motifs and lines through the group, particularly because of the wonderful colours and textures afforded by Workers Union Ensemble’s unusual instrumentation.

3- Is there anyone who you can single out as being the biggest influence on your music?

That’s a really difficult question, it’s hard to pick only one person. In this moment I’d say that as an all round influence, John Zorn is important both musically and in the way his approach continually evolves, with a curiosity spanning different styles & scenes. His game strategies have also influenced some of my ideas, and I’ve given this answer also because of the other musicians I’ve discovered on the Tzadik label.

But my response to this question will probably change depending on when you ask me!

4- What is on your current playlist?

A recent playlist I made for someone includes: Jo Kondo, Louis Andriessen, Annie Gosfield, Bartók, Kevin Volans, Charming Hostess, Deerhoof, Container, Lozenge, Fairouz, Henry Threadgill, Satie, Nancarrow, Fabrizio D’André, Anthony Braxton/Roscoe Mitchell duets.

5- Do you have any exciting projects coming up?

I’m really excited to join Agathe Max (violin, electronics), Gareth Turner (electric double bass) & Valentina Magaletti (drums), with myself on bari. sax. at Supersonic Festival in Birmingham this June.

I’ll also be revisiting a collaboration with Matthew Lovett, Medi Evans, John Rowley and Mike Pearson. Last November we performed a version of Angharad Davies’ photographic score Rydal Mount, with improvised music & spoken word. We’re putting our heads together to organise more performances soon.

I’m also writing some music for and with HoKKeTT, a new trio with Tina Hitchens (flute) and Yvonna Magda (violin). 

Final Two Quick Questions: Ryan Latimer

Better late than never (on the third day of our tour!) here is the fifth and final edition of our two question series. This time it is our Composer-in-association for 2015 Ryan Latimer. His work King is second work of Ryan’s that we have commissioned and performed.
Pick up your tickets now for our gig at the Warehouse tomorrow evening:

WUE: In what way does your piece respond to the ‘On & Off’ theme?

Ryan: The dialecticism suggested in Steen-Anderson’s title is also a common feature of my own work more generally, as it is for many others. I use the term ‘dialectic’ simply because the notions of ‘On And Off And To And Fro’ are not just contrasting ideas but are intrinsically related and relative to one another; they’re connected precisely because of their direct opposition. At the risk of becoming too technical, there are, in many types of music, examples of these binary relationships – tonic/dominant, major/minor, call/response, antecedent/consequence and so on. The majority of my piece playfully brings into contention these various devises and explores their functional (and dysfunctional) properties. However, this isn’t entirely what the piece is about and there’s a small twist in the tale towards the end, which extends this notion beyond the purely musical.

WUE: What music are you into at the moment?

Ryan: A composer friend (I’m not sure how these differ from normal friends) recently recommended to me a book called ‘The Arab Avant-Garde: Music, Politics, Modernity’, which has unveiled to me a seriously exciting wealth of radical music making happening throughout the Middle East. Ranging from heavy metal, hip hop, musical theatre, sound installation, jazz and cross-discipline collaboration, all of this work engages profoundly with the socio-political realities of its home regions, in a way I feel much of western ‘art music’ does not. It’s been quite a liberating experience discovering this stuff; I’d recommend it.

Here is a retrospective exhibition of the work of Egyptian artist and musician Ahmed Basiony, who was killed during the 2011 political uprisings in Cairo:

Two Quick ‘On & Off’ Questions: Benjamin Oliver

The fourth in our two question series is well, me…Ben Oliver, the conductor of the Workers Union Ensemble! Here goes…

WUE: In what way does your piece respond to the ‘On & Off’ theme?

Ben: In my piece, ZEROS AND ONES, I work with the idea of musical switches that either turn different musical materials ‘on and off’, or transform them in some way. So for example at the beginning of the piece the piano has a descending pattern that turns ‘on’ layers of material, and a high angry chord turns ‘off’ layers of material. As the piece develops switches also reverse, slow down and speed up the music.

WUE: What music are you into at the moment?

Ben: I have a lecture I do about Ives most years at Southampton. I love his music and The Houstatonic at Stockbridge blows my mind every time I hear it!


I’m writing a piece for ensemble and poet and the moment and my favourite discovery in researching the piece has been a really tiny piece featuring Kenneth Patchen called Murder Of Two Men By A Young Kid Wearing Lemon Colored Gloves:

Murder Of Two Men By A Young Kid Wearing Lemon Colored Gloves from AdamPellinDeeve on Vimeo.


Two Quick ‘On & Off’ Questions: Kate Whitley

With only a few days to our rehearsals start here is the third of our super short interviews leading up to our ‘ON & OFF’ tour (18th-21st February), this time with composer and pianist Kate Whitley.

WUE: In what way does your piece respond to the ‘On & Off’ theme?

Kate: I love the little fragments of sounds in On  And Off And To And Fro, the delicate gestures and ideas that flit by. I tried to explore a similar idea in my piece, although on a totally different sound level! It is a fun piece to respond to because it’s so bold and disjointed.

WUE: What music are you into at the moment?

I am learning some tiny Kurtag pieces at the moment, which has got me really into his music! As well as Jonathan Harvey whose Tombeau de Messaien I am playing in February.

Here is Kurtag performing his amazing Perpetuum Mobile:

Two Quick ‘On & Off’ Questions: Mic Spencer

The second in our series of quick composer questions is Scottish composer Mic Spencer. His new work for us is entitled CLSTRBMB.

WUE: In what way does your piece respond to the ‘On & Off’ theme?

Mic: OK – I’m going to be honest – I didn’t realise I was supposed to be responding to Simon’s piece haha…however – I’d say that the use of megaphones in my piece ties in to an extent with the Steen-Andersen, and I might well be able to think of other ways as I write the programme note tonight!

WUE: What music are you into at the moment?

Mic: Wow! I’ve been revisiting Nono in the light of a friend’s sudden death (who happened to love Luigi’s music); which is off-set by recent purchases of Funkadelic and an album by John Parish and P J Harvey (I have their first collaboration ‘Dance Hall at Louse Point’, bits of which I used to teach in composition modules at the University of Leeds and only just discovered this 2nd collaborative venture over Christmas) – all stimulating stuff, if a tad eclectic!

Thanks Mic. Here is a clip of PJ Harvey and John Parish on the David Letterman Show:

Two Quick ‘On & Off’ Questions: Jay Capperauld

In preparation for our upcoming ‘ON & OFF 2015’ tour we’ve asked the five composers who have written new works to answer two quick questions. We’ll be posting their answers in the coming weeks in the build up to the tour (18th-21st February).
First up is Jay Capperauld who we commissioned to write a new piece for us after he won the Heidi Cupp Award in our inaugural call for works in 2013:

WUE: In what way does your piece, Circumstantial Awareness at Zero-Depth Entry, respond to the ‘On & Off’ theme?

Jay: “On & Off” inspired me to explore the idea of coexisting opposites within one cohesive expression.  In this case, I am attempting to find a level playing field between logic and non-logic – both in a musical and psychological sense – with the intention of allowing each an equal precedence to influence and govern the compositional decisions made in the work.

WUE: What music are you into at the moment?

Jay: At the moment I’m listening to a lot of Birtwistle, Romitelli and Feldman. But I’m probably always subconsciously listening to Ivor Cutler.

Thanks Jay. Here is our favourite Ivor Cutler tune: