for 2 open instrumentation ensembles
2016, variable duration

Devised with Dr K. Sextet and York Music Centre Jazz Band.

Premiere: Dr K. Sextet and York Music Hub Jazz Band, Late Music Concert Series York, 5th March 2016.
2nd performance: Dr K. Sextet and York Music Hub Jazz Band, Castaway Music Theatre, Castway Arts Fest, Goole, 6th March 2016.

The pieces may be performed separately as learning and unlearning, or together as learning/unlearning.

Programme note
learning and unlearning are pieces of structured improvisation for two open instrumentation ensembles. The pieces can be played separately or simultaneously.

My initial ideas came from the dual ensemble format of Steve Reich’s Double Sextet and from seeking a response to the current global crisis of personal and mass upheaval. The ideas became more and more distilled down to two processes that focus on opposing ways in which sounds, and ensembles, can interact and coexist.

At the premiere, York Music Centre Jazz Band played learning; Dr K. Sextet played unlearning. Both pieces start with all players choosing and writing out sounds and pitches to use in performance.

In learning, performers choose one sound each. When they hear a sound they like played by another performer, they keep and notate it. Gradually the ensemble gathers sounds, energy and variety to create a communal sound-world.

In unlearning, performers choose all their own sounds first before launching into playing at the same time — but not together. Whenever one player disrupts another’s sound, the disrupted player crosses out their sound. The ensemble’s material erodes to silence.

In both pieces each player also plays a soft, sustained interlude, using a unique series of pitches. How the pitches are played differs for each piece; the interludes for each piece may or may not coincide.

The separate ways of listening for each ensemble sets up another musical link between the two. The learning ensemble will listen to the unlearning ensemble, perhaps even share their sounds, but not the other way round. Similarly, on stage the learning group form a semi-circle surrounding the closed-off unlearning group.

My warmest thanks to both ensembles and particularly Alex Wilson, Christian Topman and Dan Hield for helping to make devising learning/unlearning with the ensembles possible.