Pop Up Maggie's Centre at The Lowry in Manchester

Following successful Musicity commissions in London and China, Nick Luscombe invited me to work on a collaboration with Musicity for an exhibition space at The Lowry in Manchester. The brief was simple, a 12 minute track, lush but minimal ambient inspired, maybe some wind chimes but no whale song or running water. I was also given mock up images of the space itself, a ‘pop up’ Maggie’s Centre designed by Ab Rogers. 

Maggie’e Centres provide :

Free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their family and friends, following the ideas about cancer care originally laid out by Maggie Keswick Jencks. Our Centres are places to find practical advice about benefits and eating well; places where qualified experts provide emotional support; places to meet other people; places where you can simply sit quietly with a cup of tea.

It was important that my music connected with the positive philosophies of Maggie Keswick Jencks, and contributed to a space that would be stimulating, elevating and inspiring.

My initial thoughts were that a 12 minute piece looping in a public space would get repetitive very quickly, so I suggested something longer, possibly using a generative composition technique that would create a long evolving piece with controllable moments. My main instrument, the Buchla Electric Music Box synthesiser, lends itself to this approach. 

Nick's suggestion of wind chimes led me to find a French company, Zaphir, that make a  beautiful range of wind chimes, each with a different series of notes. I chose 'Sunray' and 'Twilight' and a compositional approach started to form; I would create two pieces to be used at different times of the day, each using one of the wind chimes, with subtle electronics that would loosely mirror those chimes. 

I programmed the Buchla Synthesizer with the notes from each wind chime and created a generative self playing patch. If left alone this setup would play forever, randomly playing back those preprogrammed notes, never repeating itself. The 'source of uncertainty' module (a key element of the Buchla modular synthesizer) providing an electronic 'breeze' to activate and modify the notes. My role as a performer involved directing how this breeze would affect certain properties of the electronic sound - the intensity, speed, pitch range, amplitude envelope (fast/slow attack, sustained or short), timbre and position in the stereo field. This material was recorded first. 

I then added Kalimba via the Ciat Lombarde Cocoquantus, a cosmic lo-fi looping device. This added a dusty warm fuzzy character, sometimes happy to sit in the background, with occasional musical motifs peeking out and interacting with the Buchla electronics.

The wind chimes were added last. I let the Buchla electronics track guide the intensity and timing of the performance of these, continuing the idea of the electronic breeze running through these pieces. 

At all times I was conscious of the space in which this music had to exist and how it would be experienced by the people using that space. It had to be quite contained - too dynamic and it would be a distraction, possibly even annoying. On the other hand I knew the space would be multi purpose, some people might be there to relax whilst others might use the space to work, and so I wanted it to have moments of calm contrasted with the occasional gentle flourishes, like little mind activators. I spent a lot of time getting this balance right both in the performance and the mixing, the latter requiring space and time to live with the material. 

Creating tracks like these is a form of therapy for me, the process soothes and calms my anxious mind and takes me to a mediative place. I hope they do the same for people that hear them.

A short snippet is here -

The pop up exhibition runs from the 9th of May to the 9th of June at The Lowry, Manchester.