top of page


Instrumentation: Piano & electronics/augmented organ

I was at the Sampo Academy in Auch, France in July and August 2023.


The sampo was invented to flatten the steep learning curve that makes performing with live electronics a challenge for instrumentalists (I don't use Ableton and would quickly give up if I had to start thinking about which mic(s) I'm going to use and whether I should have pads and what pedals I need and what of the infinite combinations of effects I might use, for example). It's about the size of a briefcase and comes with eight (or nine, I can't remember) pedals that also fit into a little suitcase, so literally all the setup work you need to do is plugging a mic in.

I pretty much got to spend a week in France in the summer making music all day. I was aware of how precious an opportunity that is so pushed myself to have some music I could be proud of at the end of it.


First performance was at Eglise Saint-Orens church in Auch on 29th July 2023. The sampo team have built an 'augmented' organ in the church, so you have this humungous church organ with live electronics built in that allow you to make it sound even more otherworldly. We were given a little demonstration, told that we had a performance in the church on day three or four of the academy, and told that we could perform if we liked. Would anybody like to perform on the organ? I'd never even touched an organ before but you know when you can feel a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity tapping you on the shoulder.

Again I wasn't quite able to believe my luck but they gave me the key to the church and I had the place to myself for an afternoon to practice and try to come up with something.


Necessity is the mother invention and I did indeed manage to put something together. Structurally I borrowed from Arena #2, a piano piece I'd started work on for which I'll have a page soon. Essentially I discovered how cool it is simply to invert a chord over and over again so that it keeps rising. Fairly simple but you can improvise around it which means it can be as simple or complicated as you like. The really interesting stuff came from the stops and effects I was using. These two scraps of paper were my score.

Organ sheet 2.jpg
Organ sheet 1.jpg

Here are recordings I made of my practice sessions.

And here is my mix and edit ahead of the hopefully-imminent publication of the final version with the correct title on the Sampo Academy website and YouTube channel.

BONUS: Consider also my remix of this piece:

Sampo Suite

I have a very deep personal relationship with all my pieces and try to do right by them by detailing the thought that went into them and explaining what they could have/were supposed to have been. For this one, however, I would need the now presumably lost recordings I made on my Sampo as I developed the piece, so instead I'll keep it to some general points.

The bulk of my time on the academy was spent in my practice room composing and preparing something for the final performance. If you've ever done anything creative, you know that restrictions and limitations are a godsend if for whatever reason there is somebody waiting on you to deliver something finished. Roger Redgate once held a blank piece of paper up to us at Goldsmiths and told it was the most daunting thing as a composer. Narrowing the possibilities of your mission down from anything to something is an important first step and it's a relief when the choice is made for you.

This piece had to be within my own playing abilities, be ready approximately five days from the time I started composing it, and use at least some of the Sampo's effects. These and the restrictions provided by the Sampo itself gave immediate shape to the piece.

I wish I had my practice recordings because almost everything that ended up in the final performance was contained in the first improvisation I sat down to record after our first demonstration of the Sampo. The delay effect was the most adaptable and versatile (and hackable) and the piece leans mostly on it. With the feedback set to 100%, It effectively served as a loop pedal.

  • I found something very interesting early on. If I set the delay duration to 0 I got a drone tone that I believe was somewhere between an E and an F. I for the life of me couldn't figure out why was hearing this so asked Alexander Mihalič who explained that with the delay set to zero you're hearing a tone at the frequency of Sampo's sample rate. Fascinating stuff, and you'll hear that I used this a structural device in the piece.

  • You know me, I studied Beethoven, so economy of means and organicism are how I measure the worthiness and success of what I'm doing. It would have been satisfying if the whole piece could be generated from a single idea or piece of material in some way, and I kind of achieved it by having an initial loop sample serve as the kind of mother material that everything else is drawn from. It serves first as a kick that sets the tempo, then becomes the drone tone that sets the key of the third section, and finally becomes material is morphed and distorted. Also satisfying is that everything in the piece comes from the sound of the piano.

  • I had an idea that I wanted to use this piece to manufacture the experience of playing in a 'groove'. Do not be alarmed by my use of this word—I mean literally locking into something that repeats and playing over the top of it, not groovy like how a loveable secondary-school art teacher would describe your new haircut. It occurred to me once that this is a musical experience that is completely absent from the kind of music I play and I felt like I was missing out. In Classical music this would be called 'static' (pejoratively), but surely if I do a little ethnomusicology reading I'd learn that all musical cultures start out by making music this way and you're therefore missing out on a thoroughly human experience if it's not part of your musicking. I remembered an article that I was supposed to read at Goldsmiths at some point but didn't, which I believe to be this one, and it became even more strange that the concept isn't more present in the music world I inhabit given that it does occasionally appear in academia.

  • What happened around the same time is that the Prince estate released a locked-away version of the song 7. The second half of the song is a long groove and listening to it made me feel like they do in that bit in Harold and Kumar when they see their friends at Hotdog Heaven. Boy do I love that song. It's like a hymn. Anyway, thus you get the first section of the piece where I'm playing over a kick sound. It's essentially an excuse to be able to exist inside a groove. One pedal is used as a note repeater to turn it into quavers for variation.

  • Once I've modulated to the key provided by the drone tone, I improvise around the rhythmic variations provided by degradations/corruptions of the loop sample and eventually fade it out. There was scope to do way more here.

  • Looking back on this performance now, I can see that I was extremely nervous and I'm not even playing in time in the first section. There also is also potential to do way way way more in the second section. It seems a bit of a wasted opportunity but that is the nature of improvised or semi-improvised pieces. Every iteration will be different and the piece will continue to grow and develop for as long as it is performed. These notes hopefully give an idea of what it could have been.

  • The first thing I did with my Sampo was make a blank patch and programme my own pedal assignments. This gave me complete control and made it such that patch was inextricably a part of the composition itself. To go into this in more detail you'd need to know exactly what a Sampo is and how it works but anyway here's a pack of pics for posterity:

  • I wonder whether I was too rigid in my aims. The fear that came from knowing there was a performance at the end of the week, it was going to be recorded, and that it would be a massive opportunity to create an entry in my body work made me commit to something very early on and make it my focus. This meant that nothing I learned in the workshops we had throughout the week really went into the piece, which perhaps made it a bit of a wasted opportunity given that I was there to learn about a new way of making music and expose myself to new ideas. I gave up the possibility of surprising myself for the chance to develop something more structurally in-depth, but in the end the pressure and nerves of the performance meant that I didn't really achieve that anyway.

  • You always have a choice in situations like this and there pros and cons to both, but my ambition is definitely to become the kind of composer and performer who is less anxious and exacting and more relaxed about things happening in the moment. I think this is something that comes naturally with experience, and as evidence I have examples of two separate comedians talking about their own path relinquishing control: Norm Macdonald, James Acaster. It takes courage to go out not fully prepared, but I think eventually you'll take the leap and discover that you've been working at your craft for long enough that your technique has becomes automatic and your output is filtered through it whether you mean it to or not. That's when it starts to become fun, I imagine.

bottom of page