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IAN BLAKE: News

July 26, 2019

Here's SANS at the Kaustinen Festival, Finland:

SANS_at_Kallio_Klubi_resized.jpg

Tigran Aleksanyan: duduk

Sanna Kurki-Suonio: voice, kantele

Andrew Cronshaw: electric zither

Erika Hammarberg: voice, cornet

IB: bass clarinet, soprano sax

April 25, 2019

Luminous, Australia's scariest lullaby album, is now downloadable from Helen Rivero's Bandcamp site:

March 28, 2019

The album's doing well, with a win at Finland's EMMA awards and a number one spot in the Transglobal World Music chart. The Finnish press has excellent reviews in the Helsingen Sanomat, Karjalainen, and the Finnish Music Quarterly: elsewhere, you can read about it in Sweden's Lira Musikmagasin, Armenia's Golos Armenii and the Australian Rhythms magazine.

SANS will be playing at the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival on July 11th and 12th. This is where the band first came together in 2011, and these will be our first shows with Erika Hammarberg, whose voice you can hear on the Bandcamp player above.

The band reconvenes in Portugal for a concert on July 22nd at the Festival Músicas do Mundo, Sines.

Bassoonist and singer Zoey Pepper has been performing my multibassoony karaoke work The River Daughter recently - here's a taste:

September 20, 2018

kulku.jpgThere's a new SANS CD: it's called Kulku and we had a grand time recording it in rural Suffolk with producer Jim Sutherland and engineer Les Mommsen - and new, additional singer Erika Hammarberg, whose voice beautifully complements that of Sanna Kurki-Suonio.

Here's a review courtesy of Rootsworld, and you can hear and buy the album via Bandcamp or direct from Cloud Valley.

And here's Robin Denselow's review in The Guardian.

And the fRoots review by Chris Nickson.

March 18, 2017

I've been reading Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac in the Glyn Maxwell adaptation: I'll be doing the music for a production by Theatre in the Square which starts off in London in July, then goes to The Minack in Cornwall in September.

There'll be another piece for carillon and nonhuman performers coming up for a performance by Thomas Laue on July 2nd at the  World Carillon Federation Congress in Barcelona. This one, Multiplex of Wing and Eye, features the backyard bees. My previous carillon works, Blood Sugar Fairy and Matins, had their first outings on an instrument firmly planted in Lake Burley Griffin: the latest will be played on this roving carillon.

It's fifty years since the release of Sgt Pepper, so Shortis & Simpson are celebrating with a well-researched lecture recital in Queanbeyan on March 18th. I'm attempting those McCartney basslines and dusting off Ethel the wind synthesiser to do a piccolo trumpet impersonation (Penny Lane).

SANS reconvenes in May to play at the Seoul Music Week, followed by a gig at Cheongju's Jazztonic festival. When the farflung members of SANS can't get together, there's still the gathering of the trio of Cronshaw, Alexanyan and Blake. We did a video shoot at The Preservation Room recently - here's a specimen:


Someone pointed out that nineteenth century Australia was, per capita, the most piano-infested country on Earth. Having recorded and composed for a semi-feral Renardi and a rather relaxed Victorian Broadwood in Canberra I was pleased to discover another nicely backslid vintage Broadwood in Llanwrtyd, mid Wales. So I recorded lots of improvising on this one: it clangs and groans well, and I expect it'll emerge in a new soundwork...

At the end of March there's a Sound Heritage Sydney event celebrating the musicking that went on in historic houses: following on from the Performing the Past project, we'll be heading to Elizabeth Bay House for the day and I'll be playing How many  ships sail in the forest? on the resident Collard & Collard square piano and a historical laptop.

July 6, 2016

The SANS Sessions, in June, in London, attracted a nice line-up of musical guests including Louai Alhenawi playing ney and daf, fiddler Ric Sanders, and voice from Erika Hammarberg: all adding to that element of surprise that's essential to a SANS gig. (The only constant seems to be that - according to singer Sanna Kurki-Suonio - all the songs are about porridge. None of the rest of us have good enough Finnish to know if this is true…)

SANS visits Poland in July for the EtnoKraków festival on the 7th.

The soundworlds for the ACT's Historic Places are coming together: I've been recording pop music from the 1920s sung around the Calthorpes' House piano, and folksong in the kitchen of Lanyon Homestead along with fiddling on the verandah and some parlour music on the recently restored Broadwood. There'll be a concert in November featuring new music for this piano: all part of this project, Performing the Past, initiated by Canberra musician, curator and historian Jenny Gall.

Jenny, plus Canberra-connected composers Sandy France, Alistair Noble and myself will be writing and performing for this event. I'm working on a couple of pieces using recordings from the pianos at two of Canberra's historic houses, Lanyon and Mugga Mugga: the pianos had been left to themselves for years, preparing their own distinctive soundworlds, and recordings of them in this state contribute to an electroacoustic layer in compositions for those same instruments newly-restored. Here's a clip of Erin Helyard at the Lanyon Broadwood after its rejuvenation by piano whisperer Chris Leslie.

At this year's National Folk Festival I indulged in noisily nostalgic folk-rock, playing suitably trouserflapping bass lines for The Bluetongue Dance Band, while the bass ukulele had a bluesy outing with the Guitar Cases. And in the studio, I'm continuing with Lynne Pilbrow's FunMusic for Little Kids project. We've been working together on Animals, Transport and Christmas themes: now it's Down in the Garden, which means lots of fun field recording without going far afield. Here's a taste of the Transport collection: 

(It's a Welsh seal, by the way: from Ynys Enlli...)

Lynne's Olympic song Light the Flame is youtubing well in the runup to the Games with around 28 kiloviews so far... another Blue Bear Studio production.

October 20, 2015

On October 30th Thomas Laue will be playing a new piece of mine for carillon and soundtrack, which is based on a recording of an insomniac magpie singing beautifully outside my window in the wee small hours. Hence the title, 'Matins'.


The Electrillon concert is a programme of new works by ANU School of Music people, and starts at 12.30pm, on Canberra's Aspen Island, home of the National Carillon.

July 5, 2015

In June I had my first trip to Iceland: to Akureyri for the VAKA festival. It was a welcome introduction to this country and its culture, and I especially enjoyed getting to grips with some traditional Icelandic vocalising: the language is beautifully chewy. I was playing with Tigran Aleksanyan and Andrew Cronshaw, and the trio has a couple of London gigs this summer at Rotherhithe's Sands Films and at St Ethelburga's in the City.

And The River Daughter had another performance in April by Zoey Pepper at the New Zealand Double Reed Festival.

March 22, 2015

The experimental music 'summer camp' at ANU was most enjoyable: for me, a chance to get to grips with Arduino and Pure Data programming which surfaced in a piece for feedback-driven piano with loops, plus soprano sax, two oboes and gratuitous crotales (there they were in the percussion store: how could you not use them?)

After three concerts with Coro in February, I'm singing with Clarion at the National Portrait Gallery on April 25th and 26th. It's Heritage Week earlier in April and I'll be doing the sound (and possibly concertina) component of a show on April 12th at Mugga Mugga with Jenny Gall: concerning music and sound in that house and the surrounds. The cottage's piano is being restored, but I was able to play and record it in its former state - which yielded some strange and beautiful sounds that are surfacing elsewhere, in a slowly unfolding video work by Marzena Wasikowska.

Pekka Mikkola is coming to Australia , and I'm brushing up on my Finnish tango chops for some gigs with him at the National Folk Festival this Easter. After several hours of bass playing with Cassidy's Ceili on St. Patrick's Day I feel well limbered up...

The ANU Old English reading group is working its way through Beowulf, and I'm chewing on the musical possibilities inherent in the language: looking at a couple of riddles from the Exeter Book, and that bee charm which I hope I won't need to deploy, as the garden bees are doing their thing quite contentedly at the moment. Here, courtesy of a contact mic on either side of the box, is a recording of them nibbling and munching away as they tidy up some sticky frames:

January 24, 2015

Some moments from the SANS concert at WOMAD below: and there's more SANS video at this playlist.

Studio stuff: I've been recording guitarist John Couch, playing a sonata by Campbell Ross and two pieces by Sally Greenaway. And I'm about to launch into another episode of Lynne Pilbrow's FunMusic for Little Kids project. This one deals with Snails and Slugs, Beetles and Bugs, so I expect there'll be a bit of garden soundgathering. Here's a magpie up late in the old gum tree out the front.

August 31, 2014

SANS at WOMAD 2014

Here's SANS at WOMAD onstage in the Arboretum. A video clip will be along in a while which should capture some of the atmosphere of a great gig. A couple of days later we played at Petworth Festival on a very warm July evening: luckily, a couple of devoted fans at the front of the stage kept the band cool...

SANS returns to the south of England and Wales in early October: meanwhile, I'm working on a couple of new pieces involving (as a starting point) bats and sparrows.

And something for Christmas. Not long now...

It's from the latest FunMusic for Little Kids Christmas-themed project: but this tune started out as a song from Mr Garman of Forest Green in Surrey, heard and noted by Ralph Vaughan Williams. You can now see his MS notebooks and a wealth of other material at the online collection of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. A great resource!

Some music I wrote to go with artist Dianne Fogwell's work has surfaced in a revenant audio guide from How I entered there I cannot truly say: an exhibition at the State Library of Victoria a few years ago.  Kern features a swarm of bees at the 'flying around in circles' stage: it was a mild-mannered swarm so the recording went uneventfully...

March 28, 2014

There's a new SANS CD on the way, recorded live on our Flanders tour back in December. It'll be released in time for the May tour of England. This summer we'll also be playing at Finland's Haapavesi Festival and at WOMAD.

Meanwhile in Canberra, Jackie Luke, Greg Wilson and Rita Woolhouse have been shimmering away in the studio recently with music for hammered dulcimer, harp and cello.

And thinking ahead somewhat: a Christmas-flavoured slice of Lynne Pilbrow's FunMusic for Little Kids project has just been wrapped up nicely. It includes some favourite songs and carols plus new pieces by Lynne.

Here's some background: 'FunMusic for Little Kids provides early childhood music education resources for teachers and those working with young children. These resources have been written and developed by Lynne Pilbrow, an early childhood music specialist with a passion to see children exposed to music education from a young age.

The FunMusic for Little Kids resources aim to introduce age-appropriate musical knowledge, skills and concepts to children, and are designed to foster an enjoyment and love of music, as well as develop children’s musical creativity. The FunMusic for Little Kids resources draw on the methods of music educators such as Kodaly and Orff, taking the best of these approaches and forming them into a user-friendly music program which really works with young children. Lynne has trialled all of her resources with hundreds of children over many years and can attest to the fact they really do work!'

December 25, 2013

Just returned from a tour of Flanders with SANS: we were very well looked after, and the venues were part of a well co-ordinated network of cultural centres, all within an hour's drive of each other. So there was time to roam Ghent and Antwerp, taking in (among other things) the sound of the local bells: I'm writing a trio for tenor sax, marimba and carillon, to be played by the ensemble Parillax at a Canberra concert on January 21st at the National Carillon on Aspen Island. It'll be a somewhat damaged version of something familiar from The Nutcracker…

All those SANS gigs were recorded: there'll be a fair bit of listening and editing in January which we hope will yield an album's worth of material, ready for the next tour. That's to start in May, and we'll be in England this time.

Back in October I did some sound design for the Jigsaw Theatre show 'Michael Francis Willoughby in Elohgulp'.  The under(bath)world of 'Elohgulp' was a real sonic meddler's playground: voicing a monstrous but lonely sludgebeast plus several Sad and Sorrowful Wails, a Great Big Snorkelling Roar, some Bellybees, and a darksome subplugholian soundscape including splishlets, the odd gratuitous intestinal rumble and the slow dripdripdripping of slimy stuff. Mostly realised vocally, but some bass clarinet crept in too. Very good at creeping in, bass clarinets are…

Here's a nice review.

Now working on the FunMusic for Little Kids Christmas collection. For next Christmas. In the never-ending quest for new sounds I've managed to inject bombarde, gardon and melodeon into this one. And the bass ukulele!

August 7, 2013

SANS had its first trip to Australia this Easter, to play at The National Folk Festival and take part in the Australian Folklore Conference. The band reconvened in England for some July concerts in Liverpool, Cheltenham, and Colchester. More UK gigs are planned for 2014, after a tour of Flanders in December.

Meanwhile at the Blue Bear Studio complex, some new projects have emerged: Thai Lee's Across Time is now available from iTunes. And The Guitar Cases' debut album of new bluesy songs got a grand review from Chris Johnson which said nice things about the way it sounded, so I'll definitely quote that right here: the 11 original tracks have been recorded so well they ooze an intimate small-venue feel that really works.

The Pocket Score Company was also doing some recording: thirty-five layers of male voice karaoke backing in four channel surround to blend with the five live chaps in our version of Thomas Tallis' Spem in alium (which whizzed up the charts last year following a mention in Fifty Shades of something or other...)

November 6, 2012

Some great SANS gigs in Europe this year: here's a longish bit (at least two cups of teasworth) from our concert at Croatia's EthnoAmbient Festival:

Glyn Phillips has posted a detailed review of our Home Festival gig at Dartington on his site worldmusic.co.uk .

Blue Bear Studio did some more recording for John Couch: guitar duos this time in the company of Matthew Marshall. The recording of the new Freyja's Rain project was finished just in time for the transit of Venus, ready for mixing in London along with songs from The Guitar Cases.

And while in London, I spent an enjoyable four days doing the MUSARC Field Studies course: dropping hydrophones in the Thames, contact-miking the Wobbly Bridge and and recording the hidden voices of parking ticket machines... Thanks to Lee Patterson and the rest of the Field Studies team and participants!

Since I've been back in Canberra I've been taking part in a couple of projects at The Street Theatre: sound design and music for The Burning Heart, which is working with Canberran artists on their experiences of the fires of ten years ago; while The Pocket Score Company is teaming up with the Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art for a multi-layered Shakespearian show: The Polyphonic Bard. There'll be forty layers of PSC in our karaoke version of Thomas Tallis' greatest (and densest) hit Spem in alium...

April 17, 2012

SANS, the new combo with Tigran Aleksanyan, Andrew Cronshaw and Sanna Kurki-Suonio, will be starting this year's European tour on June 23rd with the Home Festival at Dartington Hall in Devon, followed by gigs in Croatia and Norway and a couple of weeks in the depths of the English countryside working on new music and doing some recording.

But before that, some theatrical stuff: I've just been doing some creative development on a project by Zsuzsi Soboslay, Anthems and Angels, and I'm about to get into sound design mode for a project from Jigsaw Theatre. Plus playing for Canberra's Finnish dance group Revontulet and singing with Coro, a new chamber choir. The Blue Bear studio complex has been busy recording classical guitar and violin duo John Couch & Judith Hickel, and editing live concert recordings for The Oriana Chorale.

December 29, 2011


Here's the video of that SANS show at St Ethelburga's. I'm relaxing there at the end of the stage, just listening to Sanna finishing the concert with a beautiful Finnish lullaby. Because sometimes it's best to just listen.

Taedet Animam Meam by ianblake
...and The Pocket Score Company recently recorded this: we're working up to a CD to be released in 2012. It's from the Matins of the Dead, set by Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Now, this is Francis Pilkington's lute song 'Rest Sweet Nymphs' in a version for four voices:

Rest Sweet Nymphs by ianblake

September 23, 2011

Here's a new venture: SANS is a quartet which came together in Finland at this year's Kaustinen Festival. We liked the results! So we'll be doing some more shows, starting in London on October 23rd. The band includes Tigran Aleksanyan on the Armenian duduk, the voice of Sanna Kurki-Suonio, Andrew Cronshaw on electric zither and various interesting wind instruments, and myself on soprano sax and bass clarinet.
Andrew Cronshaw's new CD features the musicians of SANS and will be available then too.
The concert is at St Ethelburga's Centre. It's always great to play in a church: seems to be the natural habitat of The Pocket Score Company, and Lichfield Cathedral was a splendid setting for the concert with Andy and Tigran back in July at the Lichfield Festival.

On a recent trip to Paris I interviewed Kaija Saariaho and caught up with Richard Lewis, whose music you can listen to at Radio Delevine. Meanwhile, I'm back in Australia for a few weeks, working on forthcoming CDs. At the wisteria-clad Blue Bear Studio, Thai Lee is making an atmospheric keyboard and vocal-based album: if you like Enya's music, you'll enjoy this when it emerges. The Pocket Score Company will be recording a few rather old songs shortly plus something fresh from countertenor David Yardley.

And some new projects have been released: Fred Smith's 'Dust of Uruzgan' has been getting some great reviews; Peter Woodley's collection of Flute Tunes is out, as is Lynne Pilbrow's second volume of FunMusic for Little Kids which is all about Transport.

April 13, 2011

I've just visited Music for Everyone where rehearsals are now under way for a new performance of my music theatre piece for young players: The Gathering of the Animals, directed by Dianna Nixon. Written in 1998, it'll be great to hear it up and running with a new generation of performers.

And The Pocket Score Company is getting to grips with the new material for the Homecoming concert on June 5th at St.Pauls Church in Manuka ACT.

Over at the Blue Bear studio complex, we're busy with projects from Freyja's Rain, Andrew Cronshaw, Peter Woodley, Fred Smith and FunMusic for Little Kids, and will be recording the Oriana Chorale's concert One Foot in Eden on April 16th.

November 25, 2010

More tarogato activity: Nicole Canham has been recording an EP featuring the instrument, and I've just heard that I've now got funding from artsACT to write a piece for tarogato, strings and soundscape.

My music was featured in a recent talk given by Andy Ross of the Centre for Creative Industries, Shetland: he'd made the trip down to Wales for the Warp and Weft Symposium to speak on the links between weave and music.

September 8, 2010

16_09 NCanham_flyer:Print flyer.qxd If you're in Paris next week you can hear twmp: a piece I wrote for Nicole Canham and her tarogato Goldilocks, plus soprano sax, which will be played by Claude Delangle. This is the European premiere: twmp had its first outing back in June at Lyneham's Front Café and Gallery in our Sound Bites concert: 'Bite-sized pieces for winds, electronics and drums; by Bach, Blake, Piazzolla, Tsiavos and Edwards.'

It was a mix of improvised and pre-meditated music, including another of my tunes: The River Daughter, for voice and rather a lot of bassoons — all wielded by Zoey Pepper.

The concert also featured saxophonist Niels Rosendahl and the rapid-response creativity of improvisers Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet/flugel) and drummer Col Hoorweg.

Marguerite Boland mentions the show in the new ANU School of Music publication Som.Times. Her article is unnervingly titled Irrelevant Music — but that's just a lead-in via some thoughts in Kenneth Gaburo's essay on the beauty of that irrelevance. For the more irrelevant the music, the greater the freedom of the maker to knit their own context and meaning. Existentialism for composers?

September 7, 2010


Here's The Pocket Score Company — Canberra's most compact fullrange male voice ensemble — rehearsing for a pair of concerts which we're sharing with the women of Polifemy. So we're going to be singing in stereo for some pieces by Orazio Vecchi, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Nicholas Gombert and Michael Praetorius.

The PSC on its own will sing Encina, Guerrero, Leonel Power and a new piece from countertenor David Yardley.

Both shows are in Canberra: at St. Margaret's/Holy Cross in Hackett on September 25th at 5pm, and St. Paul's in Manuka on the 26th at 3pm.



May 3, 2010

kookaburras sit in the old gum tree-ee, wondering what happened to their royaltee-ee One of the nice things about having visitors from overseas is the chance to indulge in some local tourism: the sort of things you always mean to get round to but need that extra prod to actually do. So when friend and musical collaborator Andrew Cronshaw turned up for his first visit to Australia it was an excellent excuse to get out and about in the beautiful Canberran autumn and see the sights. Andy's a keen photographer, and the wildlife seemed to turn up right on cue.

We played at the National Folk Festival in Canberra and the Fairbridge Festival near Perth: two of my favourites.

Also at the National: the launch of Sunday at Sandy's, the new CD from Cassidy's Ceili.

I'll be heading to England in October to take part in the next Cronshaw recording, along with Svetlana Spajic and Sanna Kurki-Suonio: formidable singers both, so there'll be some suitably hair-raising vocalising going on.

September 17, 2009

I've had my recording and producing hat on recently: several projects are emerging from the Blue Bear Studio complex. Humbug will be at the Turning Wave Festival in Gundagai NSW on September 18th to launch their new Robbie Burns flavoured CD, and
The Rafael Jerjen Quartet has the Canberra launch of the new album on October 15th in the ANU Big Band Room.

The FunMusic for Little Kids book and CD is being unleashed by Lynne Pilbrow and myself on November 15th at St. Barnabas' in Charnwood, ACT.
Lynne says: "The FunMusic for Little Kids program aims to introduce musical knowledge, skills and concepts to children in a fun way, and is designed to foster an enjoyment and love of music. FunMusic draws on the methods expounded by music educators such as Kodaly and Orff, but has been developed to be relevant and accessible to children living in Australia. Lessons are based around themes appropriate to the age and experiences of young children." Here's a sample.
And some time or other, the latest collection from Canberra's most celtalicious combo, Cassidy's Ceili, will be showcased. We'll let you know.

My clarinet quartet Starling gets an airing with ABC Classic FM
on October 3. It's on the At Home programme at 7.05pm

April 23, 2009

I'll be improvising like mad this weekend: it's the Respect festival at The Street Theatre in Canberra, hosted by Impro Theatre ACT. Actually, I'm usually improvising but this time it's official...

the blue bear seated at the pianoThe Blue Bear has been recording local hiphop people Young Proof and experimenting with bearish beats. Thanks here to Multicultural Youth Services ACT.

I'm knitting a soundwork from Moya Simpson's voice and some noises of London for the show Big Voice: at The Street Theatre starting May 13th. It features Moya and Sandy Evans, and is directed by John Bolton.

Rehearsals are well under way for NachtMusik, the latest concert from The Pocket Score Company. Australia's Renaissance blokes take on a slice of good music from German-speaking countries, from the thirteenth-century Neidhart von Reuenthal to JS Bach, via Senfl, Isaac, Hassler, Eccard, Othmayr, Gumpelzhaimer, Vulpius. We hadn't heard of some of these chaps either until we started nosing around a bit... and you can't go past a composer called Gumpelzhaimer. In fact, we were thinking of re-naming the group The Gumpelzhaimer Brothers. Or perhaps The Liederhosen.

The concert is at 3pm on July 5th at All Saints' Church in the Canberra suburb of Ainslie. So it's NachmittagsMusik rather than NachtMusik. We needed to change the time... but it's still full of good stuff like Heinrich Isaac's hit Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen — here we are, rehearsing in tenor George's kitchen:

Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen performed by The Pocket Score Company.

And on May 3rd you can hear Clarity Clarinet Quartet play my tune Starling live from Melbourne's Iwaki Auditorium courtesy of ABC Classic FM: Sunday Live starts at 3pm.
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