Sage advice for every situation

My deck of the original Oblique Strategies arrived in the post today! :)

I’m so pleased to finally have them for real in my sticky little mitts and not just via an online applet, I’ve been thumbing through each card in turn, grinning to myself and imagining the crazy situations I could apply the directions to. Let’s draw one right now... it simply says “water”. Yes.

I attended the LCO New “Inspired by Architecture” study day on Monday in London. We assembled on the 9th floor of City Hall, listening to talks from the likes of Diana Burrel, Simon Bainbridge, Richard Scott, Cany Ash, David Gordon, framed by a spectacular view of Tower Bridge, Thames and the City beyond. Then we hopped on a bus and had a look at some modern functional architecture in the East End/Hackney. The idea is to compose a piece for orchestral ensemble inspired by the buildings we saw, the best few to be performed, recorded and published by the LCO early next year.

I love these sorts of things - the light a fire under you to get writing, but without the stress that comes with a real commission. And you get to meet other young composers, get a feel for what they’re trying to say. The issue I have with this work is one of ‘obviousness’... i.e., architecture and music share many concepts and vocabulary (line, form, structure, texture, repetition/pattern, juxtaposition, brightness/darkness/lightness, space/ambience, perspective/depth... the list goes on! The challenge will be to have the music refer to the buildings in an unobvious way, to avoid the whole “that line is this line, that colour is this colour” correlation that always turns out so trite and contrived. The music should maybe latch on to one detail and lose sight of the whole, or tap into the sense of movement and atmosphere, or the air that is divided and trapped within a structure. Or not... we’ll see how it turns out.

I have had some great responses to my wanted ad, and as a result some exciting commissions and collaborations in the pipeline! It’s been a while since I’ve written new music for individual players to perform, and feels strange after doing so much media stuff - the creative freedom is such a welcome change and takes a little getting used to. All this thinking of new work has given me the mojo to finish up my String Quartet for Ariella (finally). Progress!

Winter blues, singing along with The Flaming Lips & remembering Rostropovich

2009 is rolling along inevitably towards a bleak winter and new year; mid-November already and I can barely remember October at all beyond a general dark cloud of bullshit college stress, being tired and fighting off a cold. Oh, I did go and see "This is it" with Matt on Halloween night - a great film no doubt, so tragic and bittersweet. Left me feeling slightly raw, though. I guess this is our generation's Lennon or Elvis "is gone" moment. Surreal.
November has been better - saw the Lips last week at the Troxy in London, and if any gig can defeat the winter blues and put a smile on your face it would be theirs for sure. Confetti cannons, bouncing balloons, lazers, great songs, good times, good friends, Wayne Coyne in a plastic bubble, a room of people singing Yoshimi, Do you Realize?? and Fight Test in a booming unison... it was a tops night out, just what I needed.

Next week I'm attending a study day at the LCO where I get to take part in a music workshop that explores the links between composition & architecture. Just the mere thought of writing something that the London Chamber Orchestra might play in a workshop scenario makes me want to pee with excitement. I can't wait. Then on the 9th of December I have Fitkin's new Piano Concerto premier to attend. Suddenly Winter doesn't seem so dreary. :)

Dudley gets bigger by the day, and he's totally integrated into our lives now, it's hard to imagine what we did without him. Such a sweet pup, Matt and I had a minor scare when he ate a pig's ear a few days ago.... one minute he was happily chewing on it, next thing we knew he had gulped it down and let out a big burp. We freaked out for a bit, not knowing what to do. We looked online - which is probably the one thing a slightly paranoid puppy owner should NEVER do - and scared ourselves silly reading stories of dogs that died because of intestinal blockages, etc. We made such a fuss, but he wasn't bothered. He's a little toughian. Who will never get to nom on a pig's ear again.

Finally, I recently dug out some old Rostropovich recordings to compile into a mix tape for a friend - Lady MacBeth of Mtesnk District, the Shosta Cello Concerto and his wonderful recording of Britten's Cello Suites. Too good for words, honestly... I can't even begin to blog about how special these recordings are. I encourage anyone who likes their soviet era music to be bleak, tragicomic, intelligent, powerful and bleeding with raw downcast emotion to seek them out. Particularly the Lady Macbeth double disc from 1979. Perfection.

Using Ableton Live 8 Looper To Make My Own 'Alleged Dances'

Just now ordered a copy of Ableton Live 8 and I can't wait to get my mits on it!! From seeing what DJ Kutiman did using it to make the awe inspiring Thru-You youtube project, the capabilities of the Launchpad in live performance, to the completely awesome Ableton Looper application, I am very juiced up to write some music integrating this technology (and the temporal/improvisatory aspects that come with it) with more traditional instrumental score writing.

Kinda like what John Adams tried to do with his "Book of Alleged Dances" in the mid nineties with the triggering of prerecorded loops during string quartet performance, with Ableton you could create such loops on the fly while a performance is in progress... you could even bank these loops as they are made and re-trigger them in various combinations to create interesting textures and harmonic colours. Such exciting possibilities... and I imagine much more exciting and gratifying than watching a performance played along to pre-recorded material on CD (which, unfortunately, is what happened in the end to Adams' project).

I really love this idea of recording being temporal rather than definitive - to capture something quickly and manipulate it instantly. If only I could find a cellist who would be happy being my guinea pig for a day or two...


Peter Sant's Cadence

I just posted a clip from Peter Sant's latest video art piece, "Cadence" on the media page of this site (for the full length version - check out
http://www.petersant.com ). Despite my computer-related woes of late, I really enjoyed working on this project - camped out on the dining table with my MIDI keyboards and controllers strewn around the kitchen.

I originally got the job by responding to a post on
Composition Today (truly one of the ugliest arts-related sites ever to exist on the interwebs) - the artist was looking for a keyboardist/composer, and I took the bait. He responded in kind with a list of musical limitations and rules by which I needed to adhere. Also, I was to only receive the foley track, and not the footage, to score to. Here were some of the rules:

  • begin at precisely 2min 30 secs
  • contain a 'light' and discretely 'anticipatory' motif
  • never be 'dark' or 'suspenseful'
  • contain the following, in order of their relative quantity:
    • organ
    • synthesiser
    • piano
    • plus an optional extra (but not percussive)
  • not occupy more than 70% of the allocated time
  • operate at a tempo slower than a clock

There was a lot of back and forth - a few changes, a few edits. It was refreshing to work in this way, separate and remote from the visual element yet very close to it at the same time. Here's an example from the final score - the first occurrence of the main theme, beginning at precisely 2min 30secs...

Cadence [excerpt] by leahkardos -----

Finally! It begins

I received word this morning that at long last I am to commence my PhD studies at UQ, working with the wonderfully talented Dr. Robert Davidson! So chuffed! So excited!!

AND it’s a long weekend. AND tomorrow Matt and I go up north to see our potential new puppy for the first time. Oh happy day.

:D :D :D


Forty Six & Two (for piano, string quartet and female vocal)

This crazy idea
came about because I wanted to properly learn how to make the VSL solo string patches sound good. And also because I have always loved the song and I just needed an excuse.

Forty Six & 2 - arr. for piano & string quartet by leahkardos

Currently in love with...

... Sir John Tavener's ‘The Protecting Veil’. I’ve been listening to this 1992 recording by LSO + Steven Isserlis on cello .... just sublime!

I’ve always loved Isserlis’ playing, but after listening to this performance on repeat for a whole day at work I think Tavener is becoming a new hero.

Anyone who can take this horrid rainy English day of boring school admin and transform it into a life-affirming soul-soothing mouth-watering lush-and-slippery tender-and-tired glowing spiritual experience is a hero of mine.

Now I attempt my own orchestrations with fear and intrepidation. Also anxiously waiting for word from UQ. It’s been 2 months now, I need to be put out of my misery.


Order being heaven's first law and all...

... I’ve decided to take myself through a series of lessons in the larger forms in music. I have this
fantastic old book by Percy Goetschius (written 1915) that full of lovely composition exercises and I figured while I’m at it I might sharpen up my orchestration (and finally learn how to drive that VSL library properly). I’ve even busted out my old score-pads, something I haven’t used since I was at uni... and found some disturbingly rubbish music scrawled on a few of the pages (I recognized the desperation in the pencil markings, I must have had a portfolio due).

What brings this on? I’ve been writing a lot of miniatures of late - and by that I mean small instrumental works of about 3 - 5 mins in length (think little atmospheric pseudo-classical pop songs in binary form). I think I’ve been slightly frightened to write anything on a larger scale, some formal structures are a bit intimidating when you’re rusty on the rules... but by avoiding them I have been creating music that generally runs out of steam after themes A and B have run their course. In many ways it’s easier when you write for a film or other context, the music there supports a larger narrative or purpose and the composer is almost let off the hook. You just write some themes, agree on the instrumentation and then the rest kinda drives itself.

In the introduction there’s this fab quote from the book:

“The classic designs are not lightly to be overthrown, for they are the cumulative product of a gradually dawning recognition of nature’s musical laws, steadily progressing and crystallizing through the gathering and eliminating experiences of master-minds during many past centuries. It seems reasonable, therefore, to assume that true structural progress cannot be achieved by abandoning these, but rather by building upon them”.

Right on, Percy.

Otherwise I’ve been keeping busy lately working on an arrangement of “forty six & two” (by Tool) for piano solo and string quartet, and working on the soundtrack for a new horror short for David Keith. I’ve also been composing a new batch of examples for my showreel and others that I hope to sell on to music libraries (remember those miniatures I was talking about earlier?). I love Summer holidays, you can get so much done when you don’t have to drag your arse to pesky ‘work’ all the time!


Trailer for Psychosomatic'

Some of my music that was used in a scene has also been used for the trailer (embedded below). This film is now out available to purchase from
Amazon.com and in addition to doing well on the festival circuit, is getting some positive reviews. Well done, Andrew!


We have hogs in the night

Yes - another boring garden blog, which is really just pics of my early June garden, the strange local cat that has moved in with us and a family of hedgehogs that have built a home under the forsythia.

Fat bums hanging out of feeding bowls.

They all look the same, but there’s definitely at least 2 of them. We call them all “Bunk”.

This is the back door to Bunk’s house. You can kinda see them sleeping inside (well I could at the time, didn’t come out too good in the photo)

First strawbs

Marigolds are out :)

This is our part-time cat, we call him/her “McNulty”

Pansy-town is looking better populated these days.

Pumpkin update: I now realise that I totally planted these guys too close to each-other. oops.

Front door to Bunk’s house. He’s the one who messes up my mulch every night, as you can see here...

Pansy-town and pumpkin village.

View from the house.

This is the wicked BBQ Matt got for free from Gumtree. FREE!! :-o Apparently someone didn’t want to bother restoring it. It’s HUGE! 4 gas burners. Took us one day to sort it out - some people are too damn lazy.


21st Century Composer as Producer

“21st Century composer as producer: utilising technology as a creative tool in the composition, realisation and performance of new music”

This is the title of my research proposal for admission on the PhD programme at the University of Queensland.

I am ever so excited to be finally starting this thing up! To finally begin seriously discussing and actively creating the music I’d love to hear. Music I’d love to produce. And I’m glad I’ve waited this long, everything about this feels just right - from the possibility of working with Dr Robert Davidson (who starts at UQ in July) to the fact that the college have let me scale back my hours a bit and that I’m finally set up with a great studio to work in after years of moving around and not being settled anywhere. It’s as if the stars have aligned and the universe is letting me know that it’s a good time for me to become a student once again.

Here ’tis:
“Composers working as freelancers in the world today are increasingly being called upon to understand current technology, to then realise, record and produce their own works in a studio environment. This extra work could be viewed as a chore or ‘necessary evil’, but I prefer to think of it as a wonderful creative opportunity to explore.

New distribution methods continue to proliferate and it is through recordings, rather than concert performances, that composers have a presence in these channels.

The rise and evolution of music technology over the last 50 years has dramatically changed the way music sounds and is experienced by its audience. Recording techniques and the synthesized, sampled, affected, manipulated sounds made possible by new and diverse means have altered the sonic palette - radio, film/TV, music download sites and interactive games have created new contexts for music to be experienced and consumed.

The vast arsenal of music technology tools available today allows experimentation and the exploitation of new sounds, textures and colours. These advancements facilitate the realisation and recording of original music with more ease and less expense, allowing the composer to manipulate recorded performances further by means of digital effects, spatial mixing, looping and sampling.

Hardware such as effects pedals, digital effect sends and MIDI triggers can be implemented into live performances through the close placement of microphones, live mixing and speaker positioning. Sophisticated sample libraries can now effectively imitate the sounds, textures and articulations of a symphony orchestra. New software applications are becoming increasingly abundant, allowing the composer-producer to manipulate sounds in ways previously thought impossible.

As well as being a composer, I am also a music technologist and have access to a project studio containing a collection of useful hardware and industry-standard software applications. I intend to explore the creative possibilities of Logic Pro 8 (sequencing software) for sound creation and 5.1 mixing, the KAOSS pad for live filter effects in recording and performance, Melodyne (pitch and rhythm manipulation) and Pro-Tools (digital audio workstation) for beat-detection, mixing and mastering.

An important question in my research is “what production strategies are effective in communicating new musical ideas to a wide audience”. In addition to compositional work, I will address this question through several modes of engagement with current knowledge in studio production. Firstly I will conduct a literature review of trade and scholarly journals dealing with compositional approaches to studio production. Secondly, I will conduct qualitative research in the form of interviews with practitioners including engineers, composer-producers, electro-acoustic performers and producers.

The expected outcomes of this work will be a folio of compositions comprising:
· String Quartet
· Collection of Experimental Etudes
· An instrumental “concept album” that can be scored for ensemble performance
· Feature length film score
· Symphonic work

In addition to the folio, I will complete an investigation into the challenges and unique opportunities for creativity that affect composers in the 21st century.”

I hope they like my ideas... I will keep you all posted on how I go.


The Mystery Deal

Going through some old photos I found these little mysteries from 2007. This is me sealing some kind of deal with the legendary producer Tony Visconti (Bowie/Bolan), the particulars of which I can’t exactly recall since I was massively inebriated at the time. I think it was something to do with him coming to do a talk at my uni campus next time he was in the UK, though I’m sure he just thinks I’m some crazy drunk chick harassing him and didn’t take it seriously.

As I
don’t happen to recall (but am told), the night concluded with me being kicked out of this establishment.

You see... in America everything is big, you order a shot of neat whiskey is receive a half-pint, more if you tip them nicely. This is the reason why I can never live in America.



This is a cracking read for all the wrong reasons... Schoenberg gets pissed on and pretty much blamed for everything that is wrong with serious music today. Some of the discourse is so bad it's actually heeeelarious. And the "cracking read" bit is because it is making me think long and hard about what “classical” music could be in the new age we live in.

What does the modern ear wish to listen to? Should that even matter or influence anything? Does the music have to be “smart” and “new” and “codified” to be worth anyone’s time? It’s kinda funny that I’m reading this collection of essays now, when next on my pile of books to read is Schoenberg’s own “Style & Idea” collection. For now I will remain as confused as ever over postmodernism, and what the hell that word actually means.

In the meantime, I love this quote by Roger Scruton:

“ ...the elements of musical order still retain their appeal. Even in the accelerated conditions of modern life-- and especially in those conditions-- people understand repetition, they understand the rhythmical figure; they respond to the pure intervals of fifth and fourth; their attention can be captured by strophic melodies and dance rhythms. To use these as your raw materials is not to cheapen music, but to begin from the point where music makes contact with life.”


Ariella Strings Session

We made some lovely recordings on Wednesday evening — click the ‘read more’ link to see some photos of the quartet in action. As for the recordings, I will post the results as soon as they are ready.

In other news, Matt has managed to give himself Pharyngitis and I feel the same thing creeping up on me slowly. Just in time for Easter holidays, which is rather crappy indeed!

I’ve decided to spend these next two weeks coughing and moaning about my sore throat, sitting on the couch drinking tea watching my boyfriend finish playing Saints Row II. In the down time maybe I’ll work on a new game-soundtrack-oriented-demo reel. I just joined this wonderful online community called G.A.N.G (game audio network guild) in an effort to learn more about the medium and have found myself very inspired and surprised at the openness, friendliness and supportive nature of the group. I’m used to composers being bitchy, petty, jealous and snippy at each other. Seems these game audio people are just in it for the love. A nice change!


The key to living...

My man Shostakovich allegedly once said

In the long run, all things in life can be separated into the important and the unimportant. You must be principled when it comes to the important things, and not when it comes to the unimportant. That may be the key to living.”

I say ‘allegedly’ because his famous ‘Testimony” memoirs, which were published after his death have had their authenticity disputed for a long time. Regardless of who actually said it, I think they were right. There is a right time to stick to your principles and there are definitely times when it’s more appropriate to be flexible.

When I first starting working as a teacher I was very principled in my approach. Every student should receive the best learning experience from me, the best of what I can offer. To this day I still think this way -- though lately I have learned the virtue of being flexible in the classroom environment.

Whereas once I would believe in and insist on absolute mastery of techniques, now I can package that knowledge for a specific individual so that they can easily add a simple string arrangement to their grime tune -- and not feel dirty afterwards like I’ve just personally offended the muses, but actually feel happy in the knowledge that this student wouldn’t have otherwise bothered with the concept of harmony if I hadn’t been able to flex.

The key to living. I remember a time when I tried to be principled in every aspect of my life - I wanted to be the living breathing embodiment of everything I believed in. How boring. How exhausting! No, I can’t write music that is too commercial. No, I can’t be part of THAT project, since it’s not what I’m about as an artist ... No, I can’t like that composer’s music because it is too derivative. No, I can’t go to that gig because that band went big and ‘sold out’. No, I can’t be friends with that person because they don’t like the same art and music that I do. What a load of hogwash. Life is more fun when you say ‘Yes” to things, when you are prepared to bend your strict principles a little, when the situation calls for it.

Things that are important: my creative output, my friends, my financial well being, my health, being charitable. Things that are unimportant: haircuts, websites, xbox games, what music my friends like, what people think of me and my work, being right all the time.


The posters for Demonic (updated)

And Dave just sent me the DVD cover art. Nice. I sure hope it wins in a few festivals - I think it deserves to. Seeing my name credited on DVD covers always makes me feel like Steve Martin’s character “the Jerk” when he sees his name printed in the phone book. .. “This is the kind of spontaneous publicity - your name in print - that makes people! I’m in print! Things are going to start happening to me now!” heh. Yeah I WISH... anyways, I find myself wishing he went for this design...


DEMONIC by David Keith

I did this score over three nights during a work week ... and I think it turned out alright considering that David saw fit to use the first draft I sent him of the score. I get a bit of a kick out of working quickly like this, efficiency is an underrated virtue these days - especially in music - so often having too many ingredients spoils the dish. I limited myself to 1 melodic motif and a sound palette of piano, celeste, strings and backwards reverbs. I created the creepy animal-like sounds by putting piano reverbs through Logic’s vocal transformer and messing with the formants. Fun!

You can check out some more of David’s short film work

In other news, I got my Michael Jackson tickets! 30th of July, me and Liz will be there ready to either be blown away by the best and biggest pop comeback of all time, or slightly disappointed but yet fascinated by a train-wreck of gigantic proportions. It’ll be music history either way. And I’ll be there! Whoop!

Eyelashes of Gina swept into my little studio for three days last weekend and left behind two shiny new song nuggets. We uploaded them to the band’s website (which is linked just to the right of this blog). If you actually go and listen to the music I want you to keep two things in mind: 1, remember that it’s only supposed to be a laff.... and 2, that all tracks were conceived, brainstormed, performed and recorded in a few hours. Keeping in mind those two points, I think things turned out ok!

I thank the gods for creating Melodyne! Man I love technology...



Don't Make Me Cut You

Before I say anything I want to announce that I passed the ‘Life in the UK’ test! With minimal effort and hardly any study! I’m an honorary Brit now. All I need is to somehow get into football and start wearing tracksuit bottoms to work to complete the transformation.

Happy and busy with a handful of quite enjoyable projects right now. It is strange to be working on so many different things at once, and it’s weird how the same melodies and textures are coming out in all of these various projects, as if I’m really only writing one piece in many forms. As a break from the relentless music making, I’ve been busy sewing up some snarky crosstitch samplers to hang around my home (just finished the ‘irony’ one).

Here are a few that I still have lying around (I tend to give the best ones away to my friends)...

In other news, here’s a random list of things that are currently knocking about in my brain: excitement over the upcoming Morrissey tour; wishing the warmer weather would stay; wondering if I should finally go part-time at work; wanting a puppy for my 30th birthday; wondering if it is the right time to plant my vegetable patch; should I dye my hair red; should I continue resisting twitter; wouldn’t a nice hot bath right about now be so lovely. I wish the answer to all of these things is yes.


Climbing the steps to Parnassus

I thought it would be a swell idea to revisit this classic text to, y’know, ‘brush up’ on voice leading before I get stuck into my string quartet. I remember having it as a text at University, not having the patience to work through its’ exercises.

3 days and five pages of dire note-against-note counterpoint for a cantus firmas in every mode later ... I feel like dying. I continually remind myself: Beethoven found this useful and referred to it constantly. Was this the reason he was such a cranky man?

I guess I will continue with it for a while, since the better I remember all the rules, the better I will be able to break them. I don’t want to begin writing The Quartet until I have a clear idea about theme and structure. At the moment my head is swimming with a million ideas with nothing really pinned down. On Thursday night I got into a cab and found myself overwhelmingly inspired by the Punjabi folk music playing on the car radio. Doesn’t help that the commission is supposed to be in neo-classic style.

*sigh* Hopefully the concept and design with hit me in the face sometime soon or else a Neoclassic/Punjabi mashup may happen, and surely only bring discomfort and misery to the world!