Bluecoat Commission

‘Playing the building’ Autumn 2017

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.






2) Paper

Back to paper. I’ve been working a lot with ink and paper lately, trying to simplify my scoring, be intuitive. Brush and ink.


During my R&D visit to Iceland in January I saw the landscape as a score. The snow as white paper. Inspired by Chinese hand scrolls and my sketching.


I printed it out as a landscape score. Imagining it to be very long, literally a soundscape. You have to walk it, to play it. The architecture of Bluecoat is a rhythm of features and events just as the black details of branches, grasses and inclines, for example, are in the snowy landscape graphic score above.

Below is an example of an earlier work of mine how I translated a feeling that I got from an apartment block. Brightest white shimmering reflecting from the sun towering high in the blue sky. With all it’s features. Lore Lixenberg is singing.

Apartment House Lyrics – JobinaTinnemans

Excerpt I’m referring to start at 14’30”


Back to a landscape size score. I would like to use the entire space of Bluecoat. Describe it with sound. Imagine the score following the walls at it’s full length. Into an elevator. Out on the balcony. The ensemble members have to play their parts whilst walking.

Several parts are performed from several starting points. Music comes closer, grows distant. Some instruments sound loud, others faint, depending on where you stand in the building listening.

This can be pure sound based, without words. Or introducing vocals to it.  Or……

…we go to the next step.


3) Non Sibi Sed Omnibus

(Not for Oneself but for All)

Historically, Bluecoat is a people’s building with its life as a charity school and now as an arts centre. Many people have been stepping through these buildings as a class, making part of the bohemian atmosphere of dances, parties and performance, as a concert audience or visiting exhibitions.


I’m planning on using the landscape score for footsteps again all throughout the building. A professional musician takes the lead, being able to read the tempo, rhythm and measurement variations and the non-musician copy her/him. It will be a percussive composition with tempo changes, rhythm changes.

The idea is to have several groups to create the composition, a fabric of textures starting at several points in the building. Anyone who can produce footsteps and follow the lead musician can participate. We can have a call to find performing walkers with several types of shoes. Members of the Blueroom ensemble can take part. There might be room for contemporary dance to generate the steps in a choreographed way.

If we treat the score as a tapestry, a sound tapestry, we can tell a story. The performing steppers might stop and read out words. Here is an opportunity to interweave heritage topics since it’s an anniversary commission.