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"My first encounter with cup and ring marked stones was in 2007 while working on Half Life, a co-production between The National Theatre of Scotland and NVA with the sound curated by Barry Esson. Angharad Davies and I were composing and performing the music for two weeks for this outdoor production in the forest, in the dark, near the entrance to Kilmartin Glen in Argyll. Lee Patterson was also making sound art installations with Toshiya Tsunoda around significant prehistoric locations in the region. Angus Farquhar (creative director of NVA and member of Test Dept.) took us on many site visits and his infectious enthusiasm about the Neolithic era has remained with me ever since.
I moved to the North East of England soon after HALF LIFE and I was excited to be living close to so many cup and ring sites. Rebecca Shatwell and the AV Festival 2014 gave me a chance to explore this interest more deeply through two commissions: the first a collaboration with John Butcher called ‘Routing Lynn’ (released on ftarri-217), and ‘cup and ring’, a graphic score that I constructed for Common Objects and which is released on disc one. A chance encounter with the sound poet Bob Cobbing in the mid-1990s kick-started my fascination with Sound and Concrete Poetry and the process of converting image into sound. Since then many of my composed pieces have included graphic notation. When I saw cup and ring marked stones for the first time I thought they would make excellent material for a graphic score. The fact that so many interpretations of their function and meaning exist, and that a definitive reading of their significance still remains unknown, make them excellent inspiration for an open score. The live ‘cup and ring’ performance at The Mining Institute in Newcastle, as part of AV Festival 2014, had an unusual energy, and perhaps the aura was heightened further by an audience member making gestures and loud breathing sounds during the performance, as can be heard on this recording. For the score I drew on the book Archaic Rock Inscriptions: An Account of the Cup & Ring Markings on the Sculptured Stones of the Old and New Worlds (A. Reader 1891) as well as a number of books by the pioneering rock art expert Stan Beckensall.
‘repose and vertigo’ on disc two is a group improvisation, again performed in the North East of England, one year earlier than ‘cup and ring’. Andy Hamilton invited me to co-convene a Symposium on the ‘Aesthetics of Imperfection’ at Senate House, Durham University, and Common Objects played in the evening.
The two concerts presented on this release reveal different modes of working: one is an interpretation of an open graphic score and the other is a group improvisation. The members of the ensemble are the same for both concerts, but with slightly differing instrumentation and performing in two different acoustics. In placing them side-by-side, I hope to highlight the subtle differences in the group’s working processes."