River words



River still quite high from the spate.

Drinks in the sunlight that stretches the breadth,

Warming itself without guilt.

Clean, cleansing water to heal a tortured soul

Sun beats,

Warming only the surface,

The under still untold.

Driven with purpose, flitting with the pull,

Sometimes fighting, idle

Ignites a foreign flow.

Wicked river he said as he left.





Dappling on the surface in the merciful light,

Dull, dark and damaged,

Did spring take your glory?

Wistful thinking.

You are in charge.

Deciding what and how to be

As the curve of the bed a-lines

Pressure builds behind

You fall onto sunken course.


Angela Margaret Main



From Source to Mouth

One week into our acclimatisation process for River, we can feel a transition starting to happen. The water that once felt frigid to our bodies is somehow becoming part of our own viscera, as if we can feel its swelling current shifting within us. As a vessel that consists of 50-65% water, the body is replete with its own pools, currents and outflows, yet these are sensations that we rarely draw our attention towards. As we rest in the water, feeling its flow and its energy, it is as if a merging takes place; the currents of inside and outside combining. From this origin of joining, we feel movements taking place, not as an element that is imposed onto the water, but one that emanates as a mutual flux.

The effects of the rehearsal process in River reminds me very much of an exercise I read years ago in 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life, by Roger-Pol Droit. The experiment reads:

13. Drink while Urinating

Duration: 1-2 minutes

Props: Toilet and a glass of water

Effect: Wide open

Pol-Droit invites the reader to drink as continuously as possible whilst urinating, stating ‘as far as possible you should try to drink the water straight down without pausing.’ He continues:

The water you evacuate seems to be synchronized with that entering your mouth […] in a few seconds you will feel directly wired, from throat to urethra […] No more intestine, no kidneys, no filtration time, no waiting. Water pours through you vertically […] Your system seems to have opened inside out […] the cosmic flux or an automatic washing machine (2001: 28-29)

I didn’t ever get around to trying the exercise but what we have found whilst working in the river is the overwhelming urge to open our mouths and let the water flow in. In the knowledge that doing so would be unsafe, we skim our open mouths just above the surface, a gesture of compliance to our physiological desire. And so it is that every day we have rehearsed in the river to date, it has rained, reminding us to the origins of the river at the Wells of Dee on Braeriach plateau: we open our mouth to the rain also – the river is flowing through us.

The earliest origins of the name of the Dee can be sourced to Claudius Ptolemy in the second century AD. A geographer from Alexandria, Ptolemy dubbed the Dee as Δηοῦα (=Deva), meaning ‘Goddess’. Indeed, mythologies of water and the concepts of purification, healing and fertility are widespread. The Greek Goddess Aphrodite was born in the ocean, while the seductive call of Sirens and the Celtic legend of Selkies are testament to the connection between femininity and water. It is perhaps no coincidence then, that the site where we find ourselves, so-called Lover’s Walk, was a place at which unseen trysts took place. The Dee was a location of retreat and romance for yearning couples wishing to escape for a private moment among the trees. The many tree carvings by couples along the route at Lover’s Walk provide echoes of these deep, unknowable pasts.

One of our starting points for visual imagery while rehearsing River has stemmed from the iconic imagery found in Pre-Raphaelite painting. Rossetti’s 1853 painting Boatman and Siren depicts the peril of a fisherman being lured to death by the irresistible draw of a water woman, while Aloysius Bertrand’s first poem from Gaspard de La Nuit tells of a soldier who is beckoned into the water by nymph Ondine in exchange for everlasting life. Originally appearing in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Ondine appears in water falls and pools with the necessity to gain immortality by marrying a human, and she though human in appearance, lacks a soul, and so has no affection for him. In Orphelia, a painting completed by Sir John Everett Millais between 1851-52, a young girl is seen floating immediately before she drowns, singing with her face turned towards the sky. Taken from a description in Act IV, Scene VII of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Orphelia falls into the river from an overhanging tree while collecting flowers, her clothes allowing her to stay temporarily afloat.

Orphelia (1851-52) by Sir John Everett Millais

The Lady of Shalott, painted by John William Waterhouse in 1888, is another haunting image of an ill-fated lady floating to her death in a rowing boat, a story that originates in Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem by the same name. As the story goes The Lady was forbidden to look directly at reality but instead had to watch the world through a mirror, the images of which she would then weave into a tapestry. Agonised by the image of lovers intertwined in the distance, she sees Sir Lancelot passing in the mirror and turns to look directly at Camelot. In fear that a curse will be upon her, The Lady escapes by boat during an autumn storm, singing as she sails to certain death.

The Lady of Shalott (1888) by John William Waterhouse

These images, coupled with our work in the River, recalled to mind a Chinese performance artist I met in 2006 named He Yunchang. In his work, Yunchang troubles the relationship between environment and body through a series of actions as diverse as publically removing one of his own ribs and sitting in the middle of the Niagara Falls for twenty-four hours. Listening to Yunchang talk I was immediately struck by two of Yunchang’s works.

In the first, Take Dialogue with Water (1999), Yunchang was suspended upside down from a crane above the Liang River, in Yunan. Prior to suspension, a butcher made two 2cm incisions in each of his upper arms. During the suspension, which lasted a total of thirty minutes, the blood from these incisions flowed into the river, while Yunchang held the butcher’s knife between his hands cutting into the water. He estimates that throughout this duration he ‘sliced through’ 4,500m length of the river.

He Yunchang’s Take Dialogue with the River (1999)

In the second performance, River Document (Shanghai, 2000), Yunchang spent ten hours moving ten tons of water of the Suzhou Creek upstream via water hand bucketed into a boat. In this way he suggests that he caused the ‘river to reverse flow for 5 kilometres’. Yunchang’s work enables us to think of the river as an entity that can be transported, divided and reunified. In our work this has become a major theme that has been metamorphosed through the concept of two river entities that represent two aspects of one person. This is a duality and a polarity that is presented by the water itself: the river runs in currents and tributaries, yet it is a unified whole. It is a place of calm and beauty as well as a place of danger and death.

Through meeting with the various community groups in Peterculter such as Knit & Knatter, we have been able to collect a wealth of stories surrounding the river Dee that we have been able to feed into our choreographic process. Our dear friend Boaty Maggie has put in a frequent appearance, her presence like a phantom over the movements we create. Her counterpart, or sister-twin, Isabel, was also known to transport people in a rowing boat across the river to Maryculter. As the story goes, a wire to stop the current carrying her away tethered Maggie’s boat. The Order of Knight’s Templar at Maryculter, established in 1187 by King William the Lion for French Soldiers during Crusades, adds a further mythological dimension, connecting local legend to images such as The Lady of Shalott. One of the only few remaining survivors of the Titanic, The last Gordon Laird, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, lived at Maryculter House up until 1935, when the estate was broken up, giving us a further connection to water and the power that rages within it.

As we build these different elements into our choreography, we find much that is process based and less that is sequenced. Our movements are formed on actions and tasks rather than being set in stone, our reactions to the water, our vocalisations and the physical impulses of the currents arising within us with genuine force. These utterances, these slips and maneuvers, are complicit with the challenges the river presents us with: slippery rocks and bare feet, shifting water levels that rise and sink in keeping with the latest rainfall, the moments where we fall and can no longer keep our balance, the sharing of a fluid that has become internal, the beating of the river that soothes and ignites, and the heron, that quietly sits and waits.



My body is full of fluid

Freezing in your liquid current

Steadily pulsing

Veins contract

Minute internal tributaries

To your gargantuan power.


We had started divided,

Gathering in pools as

One. Single. Trickle.

The warmth of your outflow

Hovering above eagle’s gaze

You soar from the precipice

Drop by drop

Inaccessible to man.


As you gather, you form —

From Braeriach you plunge

Cliff edge to valley floor

Passed Cairn Toul and Macdui.

You pick up speed

Drawing energy from the wilderness around you.


By the Linn you are raging

Murderous and thirsty for children

Plucking lives;

You are silent, and without mercy.


As you descend, we unify

Increasing in speed

We sound out your hidden depths

Lower swells and whirlpools

Sucking and spitting, furious

You are an outcast of yourself

Reluctant to admit

The torrent of hate within you.


As you reach Ballater and Aboyne

You widen and calm,

A mouth-like opening

Swallowing everything in your path.

We enter you and you enter us

Through skin and through some kind of imperceptible creeping

We feel you moving within us

Fluid within and fluid without

Merging, intertwining, inseparable.

We are as you move

Becoming you

Engulfed by you

Carried by you

The raindrops of our tears

Immersed by the outflow

Of your bitter cascade.


As we wait and listen

By your stinging, heartless shore

We hear a distant utterance

A sigh almost scream-like in its serenity

Filtering through the babble of your idle chatter

And the intense droning of your sister channel —


The Goddess has her breath taken from her.

— Imogene Newland

Nature’s Little Details

While the girls are focused on developing the movement and story behind River, I have been inland working on the instrumental side of things in the stunning surroundings of Badenoch and Strathspey.

This is my go-to place when things in the city get too noisy and too stressful. It is also where I go when I need DIY help as my parents live there.

While here, I have been determined to study the aural and physical attributes of the scenery, working rhythms, melodies and sound-shapes of nature into a musical-esque sound design.

Aware that Imogene and Angela are planning some very interesting water drumming, I take advantage of the silence of this landscape and contemplate rhythm. It comes from everywhere: butterflies fluttering; a chorus of croaking frogs; the creaking trees in the lonely wind.

My aim is to appreciate what rhythms are common in natures’ music but you realise very soon that nature can be hard to pin down. Of course, that is what makes the use of drones in performance art so effective; the hypnotic waves of the torre (or bass torre) can integrate and bend with nature’s irrefutable indeterminacy.


It can also assist you in appreciating how much nature immerses you in a special sound world of its own. When the wind stops, you find yourself in a dome of silence, quietly waiting for the next bird to chirp or the next whistle of wind.

You can also find hidden gems in the countryside: one hike took us past a selection of fungi on a snaking, tree-laden path; another took us to a hilltop to the source of a stream with a pool that looked like it was the home of imps, fairies and other supernatural races.



The source of the stream also got me thinking about the element of creation in nature. There was no more stream after this point, which means that upwards of it, the water was collecting together and forming into a flow of water. I thought it was an incredible example of birth; symbolic of water’s power to heal, grow and sustain life.

Conversely, when we look at what kind of damage and danger can arise from the forces of the Dee or any other river, we get a fearful feeling of death, analogous with the destructive power of the wind, lightning or any other of nature’s destructive deeds.


The question at hand now is: how can I reinforce these ideas into the musical-esque performance for River?

Now that I have some basic rhythms that could be included, I now have to communicate with Imogene and Angela so we can collectively decide how to integrate these rhythms with their choreography. Then we will need to decide on which drums will suit which rhythms especially since many sets of drumming techniques have with them a set rhythmic procedure.

I will also need to wait and see if the finished instruments we are using will have any kind of rhythm in the way the drone waves.

While I continue developing the torre and enjoying a natural aural space, I want to make the most of this time: learning what I can from nature; developing material with direct communication with my colleagues to ensure the dance and sound are analogous; and contemplating what nature means to us and how it can frame a performance project that relies so heavily on an outdoor space.


Until next time.


Bryce Hope is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen where he has achieved his Bachelor and Master Degrees. In 2016, he was awarded the Carlaw | Ogston Composition Prize for his solo piano piece tEn; his output includes works for piano, small ensemble, narrator and performances artists.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/brycehopecomposer

Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/brycehopecomposer

The Building of the Second Towers

Dry Brains vs Wet Brains

Over the past few years (perhaps more than a few), homemade instruments have been on the rise. From activities in the classroom to full, world-touring orchestras made from recycled garbage, homemade instruments have opened doors for people in a variety of exciting and innovative ways.

For me, the ‘homemade’ instrument is most important due to the reach of organic new sounds that they can create. To give one example, check out the video below of Görkem Sen playing his amazing instrument, the Yaybahar:

This instrument works by transmitting the sound from the string down the coiled cables into the drum membranes at the end, which resonate the sound. This intriguing design allows for the sci-fi-exotic sounds to emerge.

One such instrument, designed by the Brazilian band, Uakti, has held my attention for a long time: the torre. The torre (or tower) has a much simpler design: it consists of strings stretched down the sides of a cylindrical, rotating resonating body, which are activated by a specially made bow. Check out this performance of their piece Krishna:

What fascinates me about these exotic creations is their lack of need for electronics. As an acoustic composer, I strive to find ways of creating new and exciting sounds without electronics in the context of live performance. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against electronic music; I enjoy it as much as the next man and love attending presentations of it but I will tell you what I don’t like.

First of all, in a ‘performance’ (or what I prefer to call a presentation) of electronic music, the composer or person presenting their work sits behind a computer keyboard/mixing desk/general sound making technology and conducts quite isolated actions. There is a lot of skill in what they are doing, whether diffusing through a surround sound system or working in some way with a live performer, but there is still a barricade between them and us. Personally, I find it un-inclusive and impersonal from an audience’s perspective.

You could argue that my goal of creating exotic drones would be easier, cheaper and just as good through an electronic system. I would ask, then, why we even still have live performances? If an electronic system is ‘good enough for everybody’ then why even go to a concert? Why not just stick it on YouTube and create your own concert? Why not just press play on a CD player? What about all these silly composers spending loads of money getting their works performed by choirs and orchestras when they could just train a computer to do it for them?

I find that there is something incredibly special about sound produced through ‘organic’ instrumentation. The input of the performers, the unwanted but unavoidable mistakes and the time and effort put into organising a full-scale performance all contribute to an experience, or in the words of Allan Kaprow and his contemporaries, happenings.

Perhaps I am being unnecessarily harsh, but it is the way I feel as a composer. My goal is to produce a real-life, pain-in-the-ass-to-make, experiential drone, and that is what I will do.

The Second Tower

As part of this project, I will be designing and building an adaption of Uakti’s torre for use in this performance piece: The Second Tower (torre II).

There are a few challenges that come with this: limited funding, terrible DIY skills and inexperience to name but a few. But I also have a lot of skills that will help the process. One of which, I learned from my Dad and that is technical drawing.


This image is a technical design drawing to be sent to a sheet metal maker and it will allow me explain the changes that I have made to Uakti’s innovative design.

The first difference is what the main body of the instrument will be made of. Uakti’s design was made from a PVC tube, which acts as a resonating body and/or amplifier. In my design I will be using sheet metal in the hope of adding to the metallic, shimmering sound. This will also have varying sized holes cut out of it to create a different pulsing sound from the body itself.

Along the bottom, are peg holes to insert holding points for each of the eight strings. These will be secured by small bolts that are slotted in and tightened.

This flat design will then be rolled into a cylinder and will act as the main body of the instrument. This has been the biggest design challenge so far, so I really hope it works.

The next stage of the process is getting these designs made; I look forward to sharing pictures of the developing product. My next blog post will feature some new pictures, some inner workings of the creative process and my plan for some ‘sheet music’ that I can assure you, won’t be normal.

Until then, how do you feel about electronic versus acoustic performances? Do you feel there is a difference? Or am I being unnecessarily awkward? I would love to hear your comments.

Bryce Hope is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen where he has achieved his Bachelor and Master Degrees. In 2016, he was awarded the Carlaw | Ogston Composition Prize for his solo piano piece tEn; his output includes works for piano, small ensemble, narrator and performance artists.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/brycehopecomposer

Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/brycehopecomposer

An Anecdote of Drones

I have, for a long time, been fascinated by the musical worth of drones. From the rattling of engines to the clouding of a white noise machine or the roar of planes, drones have become a fascination of mine, one that I have been wanting to explore in a musical way for a long time.

The best thing that I have experienced about drones is the inherent ability of them to make other noises musical. The first time I experienced this was when listening to France’s beautiful Mistress of electronic music, Éliane Radigue, whom I want to talk about here.


[Above: French composer Éliane Radigue, b. 1932]

One of the most stunning pieces of electronic music I have ever heard is her L’île Re-sonante (2005). The near-hour long piece consists of varying-frequency drones coupled with voice and other elements. The gradual transition of sounds produces a slow motion, aural variation that allows you to be completely immersed in a mesmerising, meditative zone.

One day, listening to this piece, I was on a clanging and rattling old bus and I found that the sounds I would usually dismiss as unfavourable sonic irritations had become musical, percussive and, to some extent, rhythmic.

Investigating further, I strolled around town to the noisiest places I could find: main streets, building sights, industrial areas. Here, I experienced the same effect: the drone was allowing me to filter out certain elements of sounds that made them dismissible, replacing them with an augmented appreciation of the aleatoric aural environment. What a discovery it was.

Determined to expand my appreciation for the drone, I delved deeper into Radigue’s work to discover a piece that would not only grow my love of drones but also of the spoken word (something I have been working heavily with recently: listen to Happy Richard here to discover more on that).

The piece features narrators Robert Ashley (the English voice) and Lama Kunga Rinpoche (the Tibetan voice). Mila’s Journey Inspired by a Dream (1992) again features the long, slow motion waves of Radigue’s APR Synthesizer with the spoken word of the narrators. The impact that this provides, for me, was magnificent. It appears to me that she has used the waving motion of the drones to not only frame and contribute significance to the simple spoken word, but she has also found a way to musically harmonise the speech with an extra-vocal sound (I tend to think about it as pressing a single bass note on an organ while playing a harmonically-variable melodic line on top – each note will react differently with the pedal note).

This technical aspect also helps to demonstrate Radigue’s love for Tibetan Buddhism. The drones, as mentioned above, create the perfect, meditative sonic space and give time for the listener to contemplate the words while enjoying the ataractic aural waves.

The question now, I suppose, is what significance does this pose to the project at hand: a dance-sound partnership based in the rural setting of Aberdeen?

Well firstly, it gives me a chance to finally experiment with the drones I have grown to love. On their own, drones can be very difficult to use: Radigue uses them as an experienced electronic composer with a grand knowledge of technology and surrounding supporting material, such as text and voice. On the contrary, my music is acoustically based although the sound shapes presented by my work are considered akin to those noted in electronic music (have a listen to my friend Andrew Fowler performing my solo piano piece tEn here and you will see what I mean).

Secondly, the inclusive nature of the drone – meaning their capacity for transforming everyday sounds into musical sensations – is perfect for the outdoor nature of the piece. It means that whatever sounds may by chance happen within the environment, they can only contribute to the sonic scene rather than detracting from a secluded and private ‘classical’ performance.

Keep an eye out for the next part of my blog posts, where I will be discussing the droning activities of a particular South American Ensemble with a penchant for home-made instrumentation.


Bryce Hope is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen where he has achieved his Bachelor and Master Degrees. In 2016, he was awarded the Carlaw | Ogston Composition Prize for his solo piano piece tEn; his output includes works for piano, small ensemble, narrator and performances artists.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/brycehopecomposer

Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/brycehopecomposer