Super Critical Mass: Voices

A few hundred people in Manchester Cathedral.
Eyes closed; silent; sat quietly, standing still or walking slowly.

Super Critical Mass

20 or so of the assembled, dressed in black, each at a position midway between pillars, sung and intoned according to a simple set of rules which, when unfurled at the rate of the singer’s breath, ebbed, flowed, combined and separated to form something that was neither ordered nor chaotic.

There are audio recordings, but they do not do the experience justice…

Super Critical Mass: Voices was, for me, one of the highlights of the Future Everything festival.

[An] immersive and meditative performance-installation that articulates both instrument and architecture, within which audiences can freely move about or sit and absorb.

[…] a contemporary take on a number of traditions including the orchestra, homogenous ensembles, sound installation, community arts, and public art practice.

Torn between jumping up and whooping and sitting in meditative silence, our end-of-performance round of applause was somewhat shell-shocked and muted. A moving experience with added computation, aleatory processes and people being really brave to stand singing with an unseen crowd flowing around them.

Loved it.

Theremin Day

For the last month or so I’ve been helping Mr Underwood get the planning together for Theremin Day: an afternoon workshop building an optical theremin followed by an evening of film and performance, including a live set on theremin from Ms Hypnotique

Hard work, but what a great day!

The workshop had a great vibe, especially as the sounds of working optical theremin began to mingle with those of drilling and the occasional piano performance:


Pretty much everyone got their noise boxes finished and working, with some great playing styles starting to emerge:

noise boxes from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

After the workshop we did a quick changeover and re-arranged The Edge ready for the evening performances. There was much packing away of soldering tools; construction of staging; testing of audio and visual equipment. It all stopped when Susi started to play on her theremin. What an amazing sound: so different to anything else. Everyone was transfixed!


The evening event kicked off with a selection of short films exploring the historical, technical and fun sides of the theremin. This was then followed by a set from 8bit Pete and his Thingamagoops. This included a live mic off to the side of the stage where people could come up and contribute to the maelstrom of bleepy noises and flashy lights with the workshop-built theremin(s). [What is the plural?!]

Next up was Mr Underwood’s performance of Steve Reich’s Pendulum Music for optical theremin and torch. Brilliant. Pete Ashton has posted a nice video extract.

After that was the theremin set from Ms Hypnotique who performed a wide range of music for us. In her own words, the set list was described as: “Varese, Walter Carlos and forgotten scifi soundtracks”. She did an excellent job of interspersing the music with interesting explanations and anecdotes – entertaining and educational!

Here are my photos from the evening event followed by a couple of videos of Ms Hypnotique playing. The last video is how she ended the set. Perfect!

Ms Hypnotique performs from a visual score from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Ms Hypnotique knows her audience from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Thanks to everyone who supported and participated in the day.

Concert Night Out

For the last week or so I’ve been using mscape to construct a soundscape of words collected from people using the Banff Centre at this particular moment in time.


Walking around the campus will generate random juxtapositions of these collected words and phrases, with the words and phrases being located in the space from which they were collected. No two walks will be the same.

Parts of the campus will be getting a slightly different treatment: the areas around the musicians’ rehearsal huts; the piano workshop; and a hill in some woodland. For these I’ve extended the collaborative process further, and have invited some of the musicians to provide instrumental phrases for re-combination.

A few chance happenings yesterday led me to catch some of the rehearsals for the weekly Friday concert, the second half of which was a performance of In C by Terry Riley. This was the first time I had come across this piece and it is my new favourite song music ever: resonating powerfully with themes in my recent practice.


The performance of In C at the concert was by turns long, repetitive …and hauntingly beautiful. One minute a part of you would be wondering when it would finish and the next everything would be swept away by a rising crescendo or an instrument’s voice standing out from the crowd. The varying shifts in focus were sublime …and nicely complemented by the glances and grins shared between the musicians as they intuited their way through the 53 phrases.

All Day Song

All Day Song from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Whilst we were inside the recital hall for a few hours listening to people not playing the piano, clapping music, electronics and recorders, and weeks turning alongside more traditional pieces, Kinny “K” Blaze was out in the corridor playing an excerpt from his All Day Song. This too was powerful stuff and allowed to bleed into the main space at certain times.

Billed as “The concert reimagined. Guest curator David Pay rethinks the concert experience by restaging and recontextualising the works of our resident musicians”, right from the start the event had me thinking critically about performance and audience and expectations and endurance. There was a feeling of it being a happening rather than a concert and I’m sure I must have been grinning madly throughout most of it. Certainly for In C I was literally on the edge of my seat.

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