Field Instruments

Field instruments are software instruments made from field recordings that are programmed in such a way they function similar to a natural sound, they are not a static ‘phrase’ or ‘tape loop’. The tree will keep rustling, the same, while always slightly different. The blackbird will keep singing, or not, as they do. The wind will keep its mercurial texture.

Due to the nature of the programming of these field instruments they don’t perform on a standard keyboard. Dedicated hardware is designed to play the field instrument for recording purposes of the composition or its live performance.

photos and sketch by J Tinnemans

Varèsotto, Hinterland of Varèse

Varèsotto, Hinterland of Varèse (2018)

for field instruments, sound processing and orchestra

This work features field instruments I made of the sonically rich calls by wren and of human voices mimicking wildlife calls, performed by Kammerkór Sudurlands (more below).

Varèsotto is an orchestral work with dedicated virtual instruments as a member of its performing musicians, not only in software, but also in its performing body, the hardware.

The field instruments in this piece don’t perform on a midi keyboard, I’ve made custom controllers that a performer can play, following their part in the score the conventional way.

Xenakis’ pavilion hosting Poème Électronique at Brussels World Fair 1958

Varèsotto takes you to the hinterland of Edgard Varèse’s sound poetry Poème Électronique, the world’s first mixed-media

installation, for the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair in 1958.

In 2018 MAD arts organisation commissioned me to write a tribute to commemorate the 60th anniversary of this mixed media work by the Van Abbehuis in Eindhoven, NL.

In Varèsotto the field instruments populate a wide orchestral landscape with tiny, detailed sounds that come into focus as your eye wanders through the landscape.

The album Five Thoughts on Everything features this work, see store.

Preview of Varèsotto, Hinterland of Varèse, taken from the album Five Thoughts On Everything

Order Varèsotto, Hinterland of Varèse score at Donemus / email

Killing Time, MATA festival NYC

This composition fuses two of my categories, field instruments and music for non-musicians

Killing Time

for ensemble and field instruments on prepared knitting needles, was commissioned for the 2013 edition of the MATA festival in New York.

Killing Time première in Roulette, Brooklyn

It is my first composition to use virtual field instruments with dedicated hardware in combination with non-musicians.

I made field instruments from my local soundscape in Pembrokeshire, Wales, including wildlife calls from seals, coastal birds and their colonies, from various strengths of wind, from water and under water. The most present field instrument though was the instrument I created from my local soundscape’s silence.

string causing duration rather than pitch

Unlike an instrument where the length of string determines pitch, in Killing Time the length of string determines time between stitches and therefore the timing of the music.

Killing Time features performing knitters whose knitting action generates a timeless soundscape more lively and evocative than a field recording ever could.


This is the trailer of a full-length ‘making of’ documentary showing the work’s developments with my local community in Pembrokeshire, UK, and of the production in New York.

Five performing knitters in Pwll Deri, Pembrokeshire, Wales
NY Phil WWI programme note

Knitting in concert venues has been the centre of attention before.

As found in a New York Philharmonic program booklet dating from 1915
Image published with permission

According to this 1915, WWI, New York Philharmonic programme note, knitting was ‘interfering with the artistic enjoyment‘ of a concert.

Performing knitters in the landscape in which the field instrument sounds are located, Pwll Deri, Pembrokeshire, Wales


Vogue Knitting Live! booked ‘Killing Time’ for ensemble and field instruments on prepared knitting needles to be performed on their catwalk in 2016.

Performing knitters Lysa Chen, Luba Naumova and Mark Schuyler at the Vogue Gala, photo by Natalie Viray-Fung

More performances of Killing Time

This work has been performed in St. David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire, during the Gwanwyn Festival in the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, for Voluntary Arts in the Norwegian Church, also in Cardiff, and at the Sheffield Doc Fringe Fest.

Norwegian Church Cardiff

The patterns made by needles are triggering natural sound textures “…as delicate and lovely as a piece of fine Irish lace.” (Bernie Krause)

Order Killing Time mixed discipline score at Donemus / email

Sounds and Stories

Sounds and Stories (2018)

for locally sourced field instruments, prepared knitting needles and storyteller

Together with the Finnish arts organisation M-Cult and Rune folklore singer Ilona Korhonen a further work with knitting performers and field instruments, called ‘Sounds and Stories‘, was developed and performed for the opening event of the Maunula-talo in Helsinki.

Five performing knitters and singer Ilona Korhonen, with Jobina Tinnemans live sound processing, performing in Maunula-talo.

During the production of this participatory community concert I sourced all the sounds I needed from the local area around the Maunula house and program them into field instruments.

Devising the prepared knitting needles, the performing knitters would generate the live sound design, or sound track, to the story, an origin story of the Kantele zither, Ilona was singing in the old Finnish language called Rune.

M-Cult short documentary about the development of Sounds and Stories

commission a Sounds and Stories projectemail

 Kammerkór Su∂urlands

Kammerkór Su∂urlands (South Iceland Chamber Choir), in collaboration with Curated Place and Creative Europe, commissioned me for site-specific choral works for the Cycle Festival of Music and Arts in Kópavogur, Iceland in 2016.

Six works were created for the mixed-media production Reflections over Verisimilitude together with Danish filmmaker Jakob Tekiela.

Filming in Snaefellsness, Iceland

The choir traveled to the peninsula of Snaefellsness where they were recorded and filmed singing in and with the landscape.

Filming Kammerkór Sudurlands on location.

In Hellnar and on Djúpalónssandur I directed the singers to vocalise as if they were the sons and daughters of the site, perched on windy grassy banks or balancing on rocky boulders amongst kittiwake seagulls.

Djúpalónsdóttir & Hellnarsson

for field instruments and SATB choir

following the same technique for wildlife field recordings, I created choral field instruments from vocalisations made by the South Iceland Chamber Choir singers. The sonic textures and timing these instruments use are more akin to wildlife calls than typical human vocalisations.

Premiere concert at Cycle Festival of Music and Arts, Kópavogur, 2016, filmed by Brian FitzGibbon.

The album Five Thoughts on Everything features this work, see store.

Kammerkór Sudurlands (South Iceland Chamber Choir) are, from left to right, Andrí Hilmarsson, Guðjón Stefánsson, Kristín Sigfusdóttir, Elín Gunnlaugsdóttir, Unnur Sigurðardóttir, Sígrun Steingrimsdóttir, Örlygur Ben, Jónas Helgason, María Sól Ingólfsdóttir, accompanied by kittiwakes and directed by Hilmar Örn Agnarsson. Filmed by Jacob Tekiela / art direction by J Tinnemans on location in Snaefellsness.

Order Djúpalónsdóttir & Hellnarsson score at Donemus / email

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