Projects with students

Plus-Minus is committed to education work and proud of the relationships we have developed with both the music departments and the composers we have met there. Musicians are increasingly exploring across genres, are multi-disciplined, inspired by the physicality of performance, using the ever developing world of technology to expand their sound worlds and experimenting with different methods of notation. Students looking to become a part of this exciting world need a broad range of experiences and skills in order to maximise their creative potential. Plus-Minus brings its knowledge, broad set of skills and fearlessness into providing a platform for composers and performers to develop their ideas in a supportive and nurturing environment.

I’m confident in saying that all the students feel valued, whatever work they make.

The players [of Plus Minus] manage to get the difficult balance between being critical, pragmatic, and friendly absolutely right. It is a real working environment, and gives student composers a comprehensive insight into the way rehearsals function in the real world. In particular the flexibility they have is astonishing, whether it is working on a klezmer piece or a score involving opening bespoke cardboard boxes, and in all cases present the same professional and supportive approach to the composers. This is such a valuable trait, as the style agnostic nature of the work we see requires this lack of subjective judgement. I’m confident in saying that all the students feel valued, whatever work they make. The group also come to the student workshops fully prepared. They always know the pieces, sometimes better than the composers, and workshops are not rehearsals where the pieces are learned: the starting point is the student response to their piece in a performance-ready state. It goes without saying that they are extraordinary musicians, and at the heart of the experience this total commitment to working at such a high level is inspirational to the composers.

— Prof. James Saunders, Bath Spa University

The ’lock-down’ of Spring 2020 presented new challenges, which also provided exciting new creative opportunities and ways of working. Plus Minus engaged in projects online with Bath Spa University, Surrey University, Guildhall School of Music and Reid School of Music, Edinburgh University. Each was different in its own way and we are really impressed with the positive and creative approach each composer took. Although working in such a way can never replace live interactions between both performers and the audience, we hope that this is a very respectable substitute. Perhaps there are new subtleties to appreciate and new ways of communicating we will all have to get used to for the meantime?

Bath Spa University

Composition masters students, March-May 2021

Our regular project with Bath Spa University continues this year with online sessions spread over three months. Composers will write for viola, piano and percussion, with the focus on non-metrically synchronous works which might be performed whilst physically separated.

The works will be performed and recorded online on Wednesday 26th May.

Reid School of Music, Edinburgh University

Composition PhD students, July 2020

The original plan was a workshop and performances for trio of violin, clarinet and piano. We had met all three composers in November 2019 workshopping their ideas for these pieces, which helped greatly. After ’lock-down’, each composer had an individual online session with each musician to discuss aspects of their piece. A plan was then made as to the best way to record the pieces, be it with click track, overlaying tracks or improvising with given material.

Ioannis Panagiotou: PLAY ME

Ioannis’ piece had a very strong visual element to consider. We each made our own films following Ioannis’ instructions. The notated sections were individually recorded using a click track and mixed together by our own sound engineer Mark Knoop.

It was one of the most fun, creative and professional collaborations I’ve ever done.

— Ioannis Panagiotou

Aggelos Mastrantonis: Shoggoth

Aggelos provided us with a click track and we began by recording the piano part first. Clarinet and violin parts were then recorded individually listening to both the click track and the piano part in order to ensure parity of pitch and accommodating a musical flexibility.

Jack Walker: Assembly Lines

Jack’s work was a prompt-based improvisation game. Over the course of several online session we discussed material and techniques, and then recorded sections of improvisation whilst listening to a prompt track provided by Jack. These were then edited into the final piece.

Guildhall School of Music

Composition masters students, June 2020

The original project was for six Masters Composition students writing for a six piece ensemble. Discussing with the Guildhall we decided the numbers provided a perfect opportunity for each composer to work more intensively with one musician and create a solo piece. Composers were allocated a performer by the highly technical drawing of names from a hat and each composer had numerous consultations through video link to learn about the instrument in more detail and get feedback as the piece developed. Some also used electronics, mixed the musicians recordings with other material and others really explored the limits of just the instrument. As musicians we found this a rewarding and inspiring way to work.

Erchao Gu: Two Lines and a Refrain About Homecoming

Aisha Orazbayeva, violin

Joanna Ward: Before/beyond (a page in a book)

Mark Knoop, piano/synthesiser

Anna Semple: They Don’t Bounce They Skim

Vicky Wright, bass clarinet

Alex Mills: Nearly Nothing

Joseph Richards, percussion

Bath Spa University

Composition masters students, May 2020

Our regular project with Bath Spa University moved online, with postgraduate composers writing pieces for clarinet, cello and piano for remote recording. The composers benefitted from a joint workshop with each performer individually, where they could all learn from and comment on each other’s work in progress. The trio then recorded their parts separately to make the edited recordings below.

Barak Arbel: Reflections

Jamie Floyde: Fatalism

Jianan Wang: Unicorn

Liam Hayes: Revolve

Paige Halliwell: Iridescence

University of Surrey

Composition projects, May 2020

Experimental conference call

A planned collaborative composition day with composer David Helbich was converted to an online experience based around the now ubiquitous video conference call. Plus-Minus created three videos to which students were invited to respond; the resulting short films were then used as building blocks for new compositions via a specially built website here.

David Lovatt competition

The brief for this year’s David Lovatt composition competition was to write a work for piano and electronics. After an in-person seminar in early March, just before lock-down, four composers were selected to take part. Mark Knoop worked with each student over several online sessions to record their pieces, and we then held a virtual concert to watch the finished videos together.

Coral Man: Playground

Elliott Morgan: Transport

Anne-Marie Cundy: Two Months

Tristan Hidalgo Hopson: 7:8