Bluecoat commission – fundamental movements


To: Bryan Biggs

Date: 24-03-2016

3 concepts, initial phase, pre R&D.


The Bluecoat building is made out of bricks. It has been the significant material to marry the original and recently added new parts of the architecture. Some of these brick walls are now 300 years old – if only the walls could talk.

The sound of a single brick is really beautiful and resonant. Unfortunately one can only hear this when a building is being built or broken down, not when it is in full swing. It’s a very humble thing – it’s a brick way of saying ” Non Sibi Sed Omnibus (Not for Oneself but for All) “, which is the Bluecoat school motto.


Bricks are the building blocks of a structure. Education is the building block of a society, the start of Bluecoat. Art, the current use of the building, often starts from opportunities like residual spaces or materials. Translated this into the production of bricks, shards of clay are slid off to make them angular. These remnants come all in different sizes, which will resonate in various frequencies.

brick shards 2

brick shards 6

brick shards 5

brick shards 4

I was in Iceland visiting Pall Gudmunson, who creates so-called stone harps, tuned like a xylophone. Baring this in mind I’m thinking of the brick shards and how they will tune. In this concept they represent the Arts use of the Bluecoat Chambers.


brick shards

Currently I’m working with the sound of paper pages turning, as part of my compositions, for piano or string ensemble. The sound of paper is a delicate texture that reminds of natural textures such as the rustling of leaves, or the sound of gusts of wind or the waves of the sea. It’s the most essential form I have come to, to include musique concrète in my pieces. It’s the paper score itself.

Turner Piece


Back to bricks. Here is a variation to this. I’m starting to play with this minimalist concept of the score being a sound source, an instrument, in it’s own right. I’ll be notating on the bricks, as if a brick is a page of a score. When the performer has finished the brick page, it needs to be moved to go to the next page. Maybe it moves to the next musician, depending on the composition. This moving is over other bricks, which creates this lovely sound you heard an example of above. Similar to the page turning scores, I time the moving of the bricks by how much I notate on one brick page.

When the clay is still wet I can inscribe the notation, much like rune script.


Because of the bricks and the movement, there is a visual aspect to this concept which can be developed. How the Bluecoat building moves and changes.

The brick shards will be used in the same way, yet there is a tonal quality introduced, similar to the stone harp in above sound example.

Additionally, from an electronics compositorial view point, many types of bricks have holes in, to make them lighter. I’d be interested to put contact mics in some of the bricks, and when these bricks are moved, their sound is processed and a whole new world of sounds becomes available to work with.

Below are examples of working with piezo microphones turning the paper pages of a score. The rustling paper sounds are digitally processed in various ways.