What am I doing here!?”

A little investigation into how my position within the Moon Arkestra can be considered a form of whistleblowing particularly within and between different musical genres.

Project Description/Abstract

Through several short experiments I decided to apply skills and techniques in contexts outside of their original/intended/expected use to discover a more rewarding process of music-making.

I am considering how my own musical training—which comes from a Western Classical background—has both limitations and benefits, which can be considered and shared beyond the confines of traditional Western Classical Contemporary circles. By sharing skills and techniques that I have learnt through this training with people who otherwise may not have accessed them, I believe that my actions can be considered a form of whistleblowing.


Here, I am using the term ‘whistleblowing’ to refer to the sharing of information, skills, and/or techniques that would usually be protected or hidden in some way, with people who would not generally have access to these ways of knowing and creating. In this sense, I am considering my position within the Arkestra to feature two directions in which whistleblowing takes place. The first method of whistleblowing focuses on compositional and rehearsal techniques, derived from skills that I have learnt through studying composition at university and taking part in ensemble music-making, both as a conductor, workshop leader, and performer, and utilising these outside  of these traditional homes and within the context of the Arkestra. Thus, in this way, whistleblowing can be seen as a way of instrumentalising Western Classical Contemporary Music practices outside of that exclusionary bubble.

The second mechanism of potential whistleblowing (which is, by the nature and timescale of this project, future-oriented) emanates from and through participating actively in the collective that is the Arkestra, which over the course of several weeks found its own musical vernaculars, and rehearsal and performance practices. Through this, I have been able to experience techniques, skills, and knowledge that I would not otherwise have been party to. My intention is to share these inherited practices with other groups and settings in the future. I foresee that this will exist in future situations where I am running or leading rehearsals, where I am composing and communicating musical ideas to my peers, and where I am leading workshops in educational settings.

Alongside these considerations I have been engaging in several small creative ventures. These particularly centre my role as listener. This project is considered and presented as several short case studies taken from my time on the tour. A common thread throughout is focusing on the importance of listening and the different ways that we can, and do, listen:

1) Audience…

Who is it for? Who is listening?

It is fair to say that the audiences we had at Tour de Moon were of varying size. But what does it matter if there are 2 people watching or 32? What if the audience is just a sound engineer and a lonely pigeon?

Well, in answer to this question I am going to divert slightly and talk about the performers, because the audience is made up of far more than passers-by and lookers-on. And to reduce a person to merely an “audience member” is to forget and ignore the individual role that each audience member has in a performance. The boundary between performer and audience doesn’t exist, everyone involved in engaging with art is inhabiting both of these roles to some extent, at different times.

In my compositional practice recently I have focused on the role of the audience. They are so often considered to be just the ones who listen (indeed, the word “audience” comes from the Latin “to hear”). But listening is an active engagement; every audience member inhabits a performative role. By simply being present, they occupy the space of performance, performing the role of audience. Even people who are unwilling audience members, who walk past quickly on the phone and are unengaged, by sharing a space that is a performance space, they are perceived by the other participants and therefore are performing in some way. The opposite then is true too. The people on stage are not just performers, they are part of the audience because they are also listening, watching, engaging. They are audience to their fellow ensemble members, and also audience to the people who are there to watch them. The construction and preservation of a binary opposition between the roles of audience and performer is not useful, and can only lead to unimaginative performances and unengaged audiences.

We engaged with the audience as people rather than audience by inviting them to join us in thinking and imagining. The community altar, which opens the set, creates a space where people are invited to share objects and thoughts about their town. By inviting the audience to engage as equals and participants in the creation of something, we were inviting them into the performance.

And it is also through this that we, the performers, become better audience members; better at listening to the other people on stage, and better at judging the situation, gauging the dynamic and the vibe both on stage and off. It is this that makes us better improvisers

1a) Unplanned Subplot about Improvisation

All of our performances as the Moon Arkestra involved elements of improvisation. Both on an individual level and also as a larger ensemble. Improvisation is a huge and varied set of skills which take years of learning and development,  even as an individual or a small group. Therefore,  being thrown into it as an ensemble of 9 completely different musicians, who barely knew each other,  was a challenging experience. In such an environment it can be easy to play, to make noise, but difficult to listen and to think about how and where your sounds fit within the overall tapestry of sound.

I have had experiences of making improvisatory music with similar-sized ensembles. I used to lead an ensemble called Discord/Datcord, made up of 12 players with whom we performed a selection of new music. This involved playing distinct types of music from different types of score; we experimented with varying patterns of improvisation, both completely free and guided – by text prompts, images, games . And I thought about Discord/Datcord as we, in the Arkestra, were beginning to explore how to perform together. One of these really important things that I found with Discord/Datcord was that whatever type of music we were tackling, however we were trying to do it, the best way to approach it was with an openness to trying things out and seeing what happened and not being too precious about anything. The importance of allowing people to suggest things and to have a chance to fail was both profound and pivotal in generating trust and creating communion. By creating a space which encourages risk and experimentation through play(ing), everyone was able to have and share ideas without fear, and was able to be listened to through that.

The most important thing is to be aware of and give space to everyone else (kind of like driving). The skill is not in the playing but rather in the listening… Not in the notes, but in the gaps between them.

2) Rehearsal

What is a rehearsal? What does it mean to rehearse? To practice? To prepare?

In my formative experiences of music-making, there was usually a formulaic structure and approach to a rehearsal, based around punctuality and getting to playing as quickly as possible and playing to reach a point of perfection and listening to the leader, but always with a clear idea of who is leading, whilst aiming to play as much as possible. With the Arkestra rehearsals worked differently.

An ensemble of 9 has certain challenges. It’s small enough that it doesn’t need a conductor to lead everything, but it’s large enough that without any leader progress can be slow and rehearsal can be jumbled and unrewarding. We, the Moon Arkestra, found our way gradually but confidently, over the course of several weeks. I will talk about one particular thing that I believe to be a strength of the way we came to manage rehearsals.

Talking! (and more specifically, listening!)

Many Arkestra rehearsals were defined not by playing and practising making music together, but instead by the way we discussed the music that we had made, or were about to make. Not only did we talk about the sounds, but we also discussed how we felt. The incorporation of feelings into rehearsal spaces and time is something that I think enabled us to play and exist as an ensemble both on and off stage. This is something that I am really not used to, and, admittedly, earlier on in the tour was something that I found difficult. Both difficult to discuss and describe how I was feeling about something, or how I had been feeling a day or so ago, but also difficult to trust that the time we spent talking and being open and checking in was valuable rehearsal time. This is one of the most important lessons that I learnt over the weeks we were on tour;  sometimes allowing space to check in and discuss each person’s needs, hopes and worries is the best use of time.

We often created a space where each person would have 1-2 minutes to talk, and share what they were thinking, without any input or interruptions from others. We would go all the way around the circle hearing equally from everyone. Beginning a rehearsal from an equal foundation, without hierarchy, meant that every space was beginning as we meant to go on. By learning to listen to the words each other was saying, we were also learning about how to listen to the music we were playing on stage. I described, at one point, that our set could be thought of as a ball of energy that is passed around each person, and is malleable and shaped by each one of us. The ball of energy was followed, watched and cared for by each of us in our own ways. With hindsight, this description would not have come to me had it not been for the conversational equivalent, where we follow the energy around the room, listening to the different thoughts of everyone in the space. This is definitely something I will carry with me in my life. The importance of checking in when establishing creative and social  spaces. This sharing is a gesture of care as it establishes the kind of dynamic, relationships and hierarchies (or lack thereof) that we want to bring with us through the whole interaction.

3) Transcription

The final, and arguably most substantial part of this project is a consideration of transcription. How can the act of listening be used in different ways and lead to the creation of new things?

Picture the scene:

It was a beautiful summer’s evening in Southampton. I believe it was a Sunday. I was excited and energetic and ready to do something. There was a DJ playing… and I was listening to the music. And I was listening to the sounds of the people walking past and the sounds of their feet on the floor. And the sounds of the feet of the pigeons on the floor. Pattering. Tapping as they ran between the shadows of the tables, looking for crumbs or trying to find the pulse. And the sounds of my own feet as I walked or ran about the site. The sound of my book wobbling and the egg shaker in my bag shaking as I jumped. The sun, as it lowered itself gradually through the sky, seemed to hum with a warm energy. The generator on a nearby lorry actually hummed, with a seemingly warm energy. Or was it just a warm evening?

I sat down and took out my little book of manuscript paper and began to write down snippets and passages from what I could hear. I was zoning in and out of the music—the melody, the chords, the instrument sounds, the beat—lifting short fragments of it and writing them down as best I could. I had a pitch pipe in my pocket that I used to find the right notes sometimes, but just wrote down as close as I could get to what I was hearing. Well, not what I was hearing, but what I was listening to. The act of listening is an active engagement. Especially when scrutinised as it was by my hasty biro scrawling. The process allowed me to draw attention to how I was listening. Is it possible to listen to every sound that is happening at a given time? There are different levels of listening and different ways to recall a sound.

So, what was I doing here?

I was engaging with my sonic environment as an active audience. By deciding that I was listening to everything I could hear with equanimity. I wasn’t actively trying to hear the amplified music over the sounds of people walking around, or the murmurings of conversation  over the generator. I did wander around the site as this was happening, closer to engine noise, or pigeons, or the speakers. And in my wandering, different sounds became the foreground of the tapestry I was listening to. So I wrote these bits down, and ended up with several pages of fragmented musical material. Most of it is pitch and rhythm from the music that was playing, or lyrics from the songs.

What then??

And then, outside this environment I took these fragments, which are now mostly unrecognisable as the songs from which they originated, and built them into something completely new, completely different from what they were before, on the site. This isn’t a process that is about replicating something, or trying to retain any of the essence of what something is or was, but rather a process of using foraged materials (sound materials in this case) as the starting point for something else.

I decided to approach this collection of foraged fragments as though I was doing a small composition project. Having spent some time whilst on tour playing the keyboard, and really enjoying the process, I was reminded of the idea of a Baroque Fugue. This then became my point of departure into creating a new sonic piece.  Not because I wanted to write a perfectly formed Baroque Fugue, but just because it seemed like a very distant style of music from listening to the chance collaborations between pigeons, a DJ, and a generator, and beginning with this distance seemed like it would be a fun approach to this part of the project. The other reason for this choice is that I have never actually written a fugue, and that felt like a good and fun challenge.

So, what have I done? I have written two very short fugues made out of subjects that were taken from transcribing the sounds of that Sunday evening in Southampton. Rather than being bound by the rules of what a fugue is, and what a Baroque style is, I moved away from the Baroque Fugue sound and have moments that do other things, based on what I felt like that piece needed at specific moments. I have illustrated this in marked-up copies of the two scores below. The sound will be played in the presentation of this project.

Fugue 1. I think of this as having a title of “somebody who loves me” because the end of the subject is from the tune of the Whitney Houston song “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” at the point where the lyrics are “somebody who loves me”.

This was created as follows:

Here is the full fugue:

Fugue 2. This one has a stranger tonality, moving in and out of keys quite a lot. I like that, I think it sounds cool. It goes off and does something different in the middle and then at the end the left hand gets gradually lower and lower and the right hand gets higher until they both run out of notes to play on the piano. It’s quite a silly ending because of that. I think that visually that is quite fun because the pianist’s hands get more distant from one another, and this concept/experiment is about distance – between genres, styles, vibe etc.


1 “fugue.” In The Oxford Dictionary of Music, edited by Kennedy, Joyce, Michael Kennedy, and Tim Rutherford-Johnson. : Oxford University Press, 2012. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199578108.001.0001/acref-9780199578108-e-3627.   

Epilogue (to be read while thinking about the picture on the wall behind the bed of every Travelodge)

Or, if you like, Travilogue.

A couple of days later.



Sitting in the foyer of the Travelodge.



A lidl pastry and a thermos of instant coffee.

An almost uncrossable road.

It burns my mouth.

Maybe I was drinking iced coffee.

I take out my manuscript paper

and a pen.

No, a pencil.

There is soft piano music

Gently twinkling from above the vending machine

Relaxing Sparkles and shades of blue

Glass perhaps… or ice … 

The ocean…?

Twinkling around the watery red of that embarrassed sun.

The Clown’s nose.

A bowling ball.

A single red eye, glinting in an old photo

Perhaps not… it is an abstract artwork.

I look at the paper resting on my knee. 

The tame, unsupported melody line wafting around the plastic sofas,

Probably about an A?

I begin to write…