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IAN BLAKE: What I do...

This is what I do:

  • Composition
  • Recording, Production, Sound Design
  • Performance

  • And what I've been up to so far...

  • Biography
  • Discography
  • Lists of Other Things

  • Composition

    I've been writing chamber music recently: commissions include a clarinet quartet, a piece for small string orchestra and one for tarogato, strings and electronics. And when I get asked that awkward question: 'What sort of music do you write?' the current answer is that I like to make music that sounds as if it comes from somewhere — a lifelong engagement with traditional music tends to influence whatever I do. That 'somewhere' may also show up directly as field recordings; real-world sound manipulated and worked into the fabric of the piece. I've spent years playing music for dancing: contemporary, renaissance, English country dance - Playford in particular. Even sang for the Bolshoi Ballet... So, dance music is a major influence, and I enjoy music that engages head, heart and feet. It's great if you can get all three working: trying for that elusive mix of architectural elegance and visceral clout.

    'Early' and electronic music (and indeed, early electronic music) have fascinated me for years, and leave their traces in what I write. On the page inviting you to listen... you'll find a selection of concert and theatre music, soundtracks, dance music, music for kids, and the occasional scurrilous lyric. Although just writing the dots has a refreshing purity to it — somebody else gets to make the noise so you get to hear a different interpretation from the one in your head — studio work can be a major part of the composition process: there's often as not a big, 'undottable' production/sound art component in what I do. Which brings us to:

    Recording, Production, Sound Design

    The music samples on the listen... page have been recorded by me - apart from Ema Haual and the Pyewackett tracks. These are all pieces which I've written or been closely involved with musically. But one of the great things about working on other people's stuff is the opportunity to learn about music you're not familiar with. I've recorded dozens of albums here in my house, otherwise known as Blue Bear Studio. It's tucked away in secluded Latham — Canberra's most sedate suburb and 1970s design showcase. (An old Valiant decays gently in the driveway, wisteria twines wisterically round the eaves.)

    'Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jenny Gall's new CD Cantara has an incredible range of beautifully recorded instruments and natural sounds.'

    That's Malcolm Fielding writing in Australian Hi-Fi. In his SingOut! review of Luminous, Mark D. Moss says:

    'The excellent production is pure and clean, very reminiscent of Blake's production work on Andrew Cronshaw's award winning release Ochre. It is a joy just to listen to the sound of this recording, with each vocal and instrument cleanly presented with a "whole" sound ... open and clear.'

    Blue Bear Studio offers a wide range of instruments, both traditional and electronic. Most of which I can play, or at least make a useful contribution on, with the exception of my trombone. These include saxes, clarinets, recorders, bass and keyboards, plus some more unusual items: fujara, border pipes, concertina, hot fountain pen, crumhorns, harps, zithers, cittern, bass harmonica, vintage synths and drum machines — some of which malfunction intriguingly. (I have a thoroughly feral Optigan and a roguish Moog.)
    the blue bear seated at the pianoBut most of the gear works with a comforting predictability: the studio is based around a combination of state of the art recording software and some quirky vintage sound design applications: plus a good selection of mics and outboard.

    There are various acoustic spaces to play in: drums do well in the hallway, fiddles enjoy the kitchen, and singers, the lounge. My serious book habit has the useful side effect of providing acoustic treatment in the form of messy bookshelves. No need for those quadratic residue diffusers...

    I do location work as well: handy for recording choirs and large ensembles. I'm happy doing 'classical' recording and editing, where score-reading ability may help. I offer a variety of one-stop corporate and media services: writing and recording soundtracks, audio logos and IDs, voiceover, jingles. I also do useful audio-wrangling jobs such as transferring vinyl, cassette and other older formats to CD or other current media, plus audio cleanup and restoration jobs. Do feel free to contact me to discuss your project. Among my clients: Eric Bogle, the ABC, and the House of Representatives...

    Eric returned to do another CD here: I'm not certain if this was due to satisfaction or inertia, but it's always comforting when people come back for more.


    …can range from Serious Art Stuff to lurking (with bass) at the back of the stage with Cassidy’s Ceili: Canberra’s favourite Irish thrash and ballad band. I've worked in many performance projects as a musician and actor: touring with bands, music theatre productions, concerts for kids, improvised music performances, multimedia events — all of which adds up either to a lack of focus or an admirably well-rounded portfolio career.

    As a session musician I can contribute on a number of unusual instruments (see Recording...) and as voiceover talent. I'm working on a solo winds, voice and computer project bringing together traditional music, improvisation and electronic textures: should be up and running in 2015.

    And moving swiftly to the third person, here's a brief


    Ian Blake: composer, producer :: bass, woodwinds, keyboards.

    Ian enjoys folk music, early music and electronica, and his own music often shows traces of all three: he has worked as a composer for theatre, film, chamber music, dance and public art projects, while his production and sound engineering skills have earned him a Gold Disc and an ARIA nomination.

    Originally from London, Ian made his Covent Garden debut at the age of 13, but hasn't had a gig there since: however, his subsequent career has been varied and far-ranging... mainly in the folk and world music scene with, amongst others, Pyewackett, June Tabor, and the Mellstock Band; in venues from Alaska to Zanzibar. Since moving to Australia, Ian has toured extensively with Eric Bogle and produced two of Eric's CDs at his Canberra studio.

    Ian has produced award-winning records for children, many for the ABC: his multi-instrumental abilities and arranging skills have contributed to some classics, notably with Mike Jackson.

    He works in Europe regularly, mostly with long-time collaborator Andrew Cronshaw: projects include the 2002 Contemporary Music Network tour with On the Shoulders of the Great Bear, a show based on Finnish traditional music. The latest venture, SANS, includes Finnish singer Sanna Kurki-Suonio and Armenian duduk player Tigran Aleksanyan, and draws on the various traditions of the ensemble.

    In 2005 he received an ACT Creative Arts Fellowship and is now pursuing a PhD in composition and sound art at the Australian National University. He was awarded the 2006 National Folk Fellowship which led to a live/electroacoustic piece based on material from the children's folklore collections at the National Library, performed at the 2007 National Folk Festival.

    Recent and forthcoming work in concert music and multimedia includes: Eidola, for chamber choir and digital organ; The River Daughter, for solo voice, bassoon and electronics; One of Us, for the Quantum Leap production My Sister, My Brother; The Burning Thames, a sound installation at Canberra's M16 artspace; and soundscapes/musical direction for the show Fundamental Sound at the Griffith Conservatorium.

    Blake plays bass with Cassidy's Ceili, Canberra's premier panCeltic party band, and sings bass with The Pocket Score Company, a full-range ensemble of Renaissance blokes. Just a low frequency kind of guy.


    Recordings produced and co-produced by Ian:

    Live SANS 2014
    FunMusic for Little Kids: Christmas Lynne Pilbrow 2014
    The Wisdom of Trees Springtide 2014
    The Guitar Cases The Guitar Cases 2013
    Outrageous! Freyja's Rain 2013
    Flute Tunes Peter Woodley 2012
    The Unbroken Surface of Snow Andrew Cronshaw 2011
    FunMusic for Little Kids: Transport Lynne Pilbrow 2011

    Sunday at Sandy's Cassidy's Ceili 2010
    FunMusic for Little Kids Lynne Pilbrow 2009
    Yes Capitan Helen Rivero 2007
    Cantara Jenny Gall 2006
    Luminous Helen Rivero and Ian Blake 2005
    Ochre Andrew Cronshaw 2004
    Rockface Ian Blake 2003
    Verklärter Bungalow (on Captain Cook’s Cello ) Lowri Blake 2001
    Choralations Judith Clingan 2000
    Endangered Species Eric Bogle 1999
    On the Shoulders of the Great Bear Andrew Cronshaw 1999
    Wonder Tales of Earth and Sea Jenni Cargill 1999
    Elves and Fairies Ian Blake, Christine Hutchinson, George Spartels (Larrikin) 1998
    Small Miracles Eric Bogle (Larrikin) 1997
    The Contract Eric Bogle (Greentrax) 1996
    Spirit of Place Ian Blake (ABC Music) 1996
    Secrets, Vows & Lies Peter Hawkes (Larrikin) 1996
    The Magic Pudding, Slices One to Four (a 4 CD set) Ian Blake, Christine Hutchinson, George Spartels (Festival) 1996
    Persephone Ian Blake 1995
    The Toybox Bop Mike Jackson and Ian Blake (ABC for Kids) 1995
    CJ Dennis' Book for Kids (3 albums) Ian Blake, Pat Drummond, Christine Hutchinson and Mike Jackson (Karussell) 1994 -5
    Mulga Bill's Bicycle Ian Blake, Mike Jackson and Rowan Hammond (Karussell) 1994
    Mike Jackson Live for Little Kids album and video (ABC for Kids) 1994
    Happy Birthday to You! Ian Blake, Gillian Eastoe, Franciscus Henri, Mike Jackson, Don Spencer, Monica Trapaga (ABC for Kids) 1994
    Out of the Hat Christine Hutchinson (ABC for Kids) 1993
    Afloat in a Boat Mike Jackson and Ian Blake (ABC for Kids) 1992
    Rufty Tufty Mike Jackson and Ian Blake (ABC for Kids) 1992
    Dances for Little Kids Mike Jackson and Ian Blake 1990
    This Crazy Paradise Pyewackett (Familiar Records FAM 59) 1986
    7 to Midnight Pyewackett (Familiar Records FAM 57) 1984
    The Man in the Moon drinks Claret Pyewackett (Familiar Records FAM 43) 1982, re-released 1995 by Music and Words
    Pyewackett (Dingles DIN 312) 1980


    Ian has also appeared on recordings by:

    Gjallarhorn Grimborg
    Mary McLaughlin Daughter of Lir
    Martin Simpson Sad or High Kicking
    June Tabor Aqaba
    Les Barker Earwig O


    Soundworks and Music for Media:

    The Burning Heart 2013
    Michael Francis Willoughby in Elohgulp Jigsaw Theatre 2013
    One of Us for Quantum Leap Youth Dance 2008
    The Burning Thames I Have To Cross; an installation at M16 artspace 2008
    A Drop and an Ocean for the 'Water, Water' exhibition at the ANU School of Art 2007
    The Fishman - music for the documentary on John Reid's discovery of an aquatic hominid in the wilderness of New South Wales. 2007
    A House for the Nation - music for the House of Representatives' CD ROM 2002 (NRS Group) pilot for a kids' TV show 1999
    Acid in Paradise (Media Associates) 1998
    Discover Our Floral Heritage (Australian National Botanic Gardens) 1997
    Where the River runs dry (Media Associates) 1997
    Mice: no food, no shelter (Media Associates) 1996
    Dreaming Civic - installation at the National Festival of Australian Theatre 1994
    The Tree House Gang (NRS Group, Canberra ) 1993
    Tidbinbilla (music for the Visitors' Centre: ACT Parks and Conservation Service) 1987

    Lists of Other Things


    2007 ANU Vice Chancellor's Travel Grant for study at CCMIX, Paris
    2006 National Folk Fellowship 2005 Canberra Critics' Circle Award for producing Luminous with Helen Rivero
    2005 ACT Creative Arts Fellowship
    1999 TDK Talking Book Award for 'outstanding' production of Jenni Cargill's
    Wonder Tales of Earth and Sea
    1996 Canberra Critics' Circle Award for services to music in the ACT
    1996 Gold Disc for sales of Dances for Little Kids.
    1993 ARIA Nomination for production of Rufty Tufty (ABC Music)


    2015 Matins for carillon and manipulated magpie
    2015 The Reed Switch for piano with feedback and loops, soprano sax, oboes and crotales
    2014 Blood Sugar Fairy for carillon, tenor sax and marimba
    2010 twmp for tarogato and soprano sax
    2008 The River Daughter for voice, bassoon and electronic textures
    2008 eidola for chamber choir and digital pipe organ
    2006 Masque for small string orchestra
    2006 Starling for clarinet quartet
    2006 Lucy One for bass clarinet, soprano sax and loop pedal
    2003 Rockface for cello, voice and computer
    2002 Earth Loops for recorders, marimbas and percussion
    2001 Verklärter Bungalow for 4 cellos and voices
    2000 Big Bird for solo contrabass recorder
    1998 The Gathering of the Animals a musical for children
    1989 Alice - The Musical Mike Smith, arranged by Ian Blake (Yamaha UK)
    1988 The Really Easy Cello Book (Faber Music)

    Publications, papers

    2006 The Sound of Music and the Domestication of Noise (Australasian Sound Recordings Association Conference)
    1990 Fipple Fun 2 Ian Blake, Rhonda Davidson-Irwin, Mike Jackson (Bluegum Music)
    1990 Rig a Jig Jig 2 Mike Jackson, Ian Blake (Bluegum Music)


    2004 Jazz in England, 1588-1651: Improvisation for folk musicians at Winds at Witney, Oxfordshire
    1997-8 Contemporary music production at the Canberra Institute of Technology
    1996 Sydney Society of Recorder Players: an improvisation workshop at Bundanoon NSW

    Notable gigs

    2016 EtnoKraków, Poland
    2015 VAKA festival, Akureyri, Iceland
    2014 WOMAD UK/BBC Radio 3 with SANS
    2013 A tour of Flanders with SANS
    2010 Tin Pan Aussie: a short history of Australian popular music with Shortis and Simpson.
    2009 Wendy with Jigsaw Theatre Company. (I was a pirate.)
    2008 WOMAD/BBC Radio 3 with Cronshaw, Spajic, Aleksanyan, Blake.
    2008 3 Nights at the Bleeding Heart: political satire with Shortis and Simpson.
    2007 Spanish Music for Advent with The Pocket Score Company in Canberra
    2007 Fundamental Sounds Griffith Conservatorium, Brisbane
    2007 The Luminous show in Hobart, Tasmania: produced by IHOSopera and Kultour.
    2005 Krefeld Folklore Fest, Germany
    2005 EthnoAmbient Festival, Croatia
    2004 A Cry in the Silence UK tour: Blake, Chhadeh, Cronshaw, O'Neill
    2003 Dancing on Air: Shortis and Simpson's Australian steam radio re-creation
    2003 Abdullah Chhadeh and 'Nara' European tour
    2003 Ryedale Festival, UK with Lowri Blake
    2002 Kaustinen Festival, Finland, with Andrew Cronshaw and Natacha Atlas
    2002 From the Shoulders of the Great Bear UK tour for the Contemporary Music Network
    1998, 2000 Eric Bogle: North American and European tours
    1998 Eric Bogle and Ralph McTell: Australian tour
    1993 Mike Jackson and Ian Blake: Far North Queensland and Torres Strait Islands tour
    1992 Noni Hazlehurst concerts
    1992 The Crusades: Barossa Festival, South Australia
    1988 Mellstock Band tour of Tanzania and Zanzibar for the British Council
    1987 Entertaining Strangers at the National Theatre, London
    1987 Michelle Shocked: various London gigs
    1986 Pyewackett: North Africa and Middle East Tour, (and much of Europe between 1980 and 1987)
    1986 - 1988 Andrew Cronshaw, June Tabor and Friends: Edinburgh Festival
    1982 David Moses' Tinderbox: songs and stories for kids at the Purcell Room, London
    1970 The Nutcracker: Bolshoi Ballet, Covent Garden, London (singing...)