“RAVEL” 2019-2020

God deliver us from posthumous collaborators, especially genius ones.” (Ravel, 1913, p.340) 

Amidst these projects was an additional project with pianist Zubin Kanga, quoted earlier, whom we invited into the group to collaborate on new pieces for piano. Between 2019 and 2020 we met for two days as an expanded group to explore ideas. This project has stalled but I will show extracts from both workshops and give an analysis of the conversation from the work on my piece “RAVEL” in January 2020.


Zubin is a pianist and an important member of the new music community, commissioning works for piano and multimedia and electronics. His biography reads: “London and Sydney-based pianist and composer, Zubin Kanga has worked with many of the world’s leading composers and premiered more than 100 works. His projects are focussed around expanding the possibilities of the piano through interactive multimedia. He is a member of Ensemble Offspring and a researcher at the Royal Holloway, University of London, the Royal Academy of Music and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music” (Kanga, 2021).


Our project, supported by PRS for Music Foundation, was to create a recital programme of new piano works in collaboration with the four of Bastard Assignments and Zubin. My initial idea was concerned with Maurice Ravel’s ballet “Daphnis and Chloé” (1912). I had the idea to recreate the ballet for two hands that would dance it at the same time as playing the music for it. I was also exploring the use of a midi foot pedal to cue additional prerecorded sonic layers. I knew this was within the scope of Zubin’s abilities and dispositions having watched his performances that use additional keyboards and synchronization with video for example. He is also interested in exploring movement. 


In the first workshop, in 2019 in London, I was really just getting him to do what I had already done. In this way I was not inviting him or anyone into the creative process. Because of this, Zubin’s role was between adviser and interpreter to use Torrence’ typology. This is documented in the video below. It is clear that the gap between my piano abilities and his had hidden the simple fact that the hands already move so much just playing the reduction of “Daphnis and Chloé” as it is.


At exactly the same time that I was preparing for a workshop with Zubin in London for the end of January 2020, I was introduced to Lucia D’errico’s (2018) concept of ‘Divergent Performance’. For Lucia, these ‘performances’ do not resemble the work that they depart from but rather question the apparatus that makes such a resemblance possible, interrogating the ‘of’ in ‘performance of music’. Her task has been to depart from the original work to such an extent where only something of it is retained (D’Errico, 2018, p.16). This offered an approach whereby the context of “Daphnis and Chloé” within Ravel’s life could be material and, crucially, it caused me to consider using other music by Ravel, music which Zubin might already be familiar with. Like a detective investigating an unsolved murder or a missing person, this approach encouraged me to build a world around the piece, understanding it as an event within Ravel’s own life. When asked, Zubin told me that he was very familiar with “Gaspard de la Nuit” (1908) for solo piano. Not only did Ravel’s context and his entire body of music become material for me but so too did piano performance as a whole. I arrived at the idea of a group piece. This email demonstrates Zubin’s support for such an idea and in the weeks after, I became interested in slapstick double-acts, clowning and contemporaries of Ravel like Charlie Chaplin.


In the second workshop, that took place in London on January 31st 2020, I tried to invite Zubin and Ed into the process. The session was at the end of a week’s work that had been challenging for the group; there was a tension between us that meant I preferred to just work with Zubin and Ed on “RAVEL”. Later, Ed suggested that the emerging piece featuring Zubin alongside two from the group would be better performed by Tim and myself, rather than Ed and I. This was in part due to the unfolding direction the piece was taking that would include aspects of clowning. Caitlin and Tim happily sat in the session and felt comfortable to chip in, notably concerning Ed’s movement in the video below. This role-sharing is quite typical for us and it is warming when others are working to further an idea.

Because I am using music by Ravel, does he become a collaborator of some kind? Using Taylor’s typology, he does not automatically become a collaborator because my conception, or my imagination of the piece, differs to Ravel’s and he is no longer alive to evaluate the ideas. Because I am using a score for this piece, I can apply Hayden and Windsor’s (2007) typology for interactions between Ed, Zubin, and myself to describe the process as built from periods that were interactive and periods that were collaborative. The substantive discussions mean that the interactions were interactive and the moments of non-hierarchical, collective decision-making mean that they were collaborative. According to Torrence’s typology, Zubin and Ed were devisers/advisers and the significance of the score in the process raises an interesting question. Paradoxically, my score for the piece is central to its preparation and performance but Ravel’s original score is plastic, open to manipulation, looping and distortion. Again to use Taylor’s typology, we shift between periods of cooperative, consultative and collaborative working. It is important to note that we only worked together on this for two hours in total. The thinking about the future of the work is left to me but these sessions are invaluable, almost essential for me to progress the project.

I was interested in striking a balance between providing notation and encouraging Zubin to construct his own part, not unlike “FEED”. This did not work in the brief workshop; Zubin understandably needed more information. A method of notation emerged from the group session borrowed from Cassandra Miller’s piece “For Myra” (2012).

We also talk about other references like comedian Victor Borg and the idea of using Sciarrino’s “Anamorfosi” (1980) arose, which is a “mash-up” of a Ravel-like figuration and “Singin in the Rain”, redolent again of the silent-film era. Samba was mentioned twice; the idea was shared and passed around. For these reasons, I would feel compelled to include the idea and integrate it into the piece. This follows from an email exchange in March 2019 between Zubin and me after the first workshop, where he explains that “the real test of whether it's an intensively integrative collaboration will be what happens when we meet again, and how you've creatively reacted to our joint session. I like it when seeds planted in sessions grow in quite unexpected ways.” (Z. Kanga, private communication, March 6, 2019). My approach to the workshops was intended to keep Zubin within his skill-set as I understood it and demonstrated my familiarity for the intimacy that he has with his instrument and the repertoire.

The Flow periods in this workshop generated ideas. There was an assumption on my part, that workshops are meant to provide answers to compositional and practical issues but in my recent experience, I have found that they generate ideas and open up avenues to pursue. I made an analysis of the audio recording from the session on “RAVEL”. I was not totally rigorous with my method of analysis but I can extract useful information about our interaction that was not apparent during the session.

Zubin spoke 17% of the time, Ed 13%, and I spoke for 15% of the time. In contrast, Caitlin and Tim combined spoke for about 1.5% of the session. The remaining 50% of the session was filled with moments of silence or piano playing. He played alone for most of the time but for several minutes, the piano was being played by Zubin, Ed, and me, simultaneously.

These figures reflect my attempt to not lead the session, by talking as little as I could, making space for Ed and Zubin. Playing the piano was quite important and understood as not something to be interrupted; Zubin played more than he spoke and others rarely, if ever, spoke over the top of the piano. Or, more accurately, playing the piano was an utterance and communication of its own within the discussion; it too plays a part in the contingent nature of the collaborative emergence.

Zubin and I offered affirmation, engaging in cumulative talk. Ed did too but typically spoke for longer, made fewer utterances, and gave useful and critical advice or ideas; he spoke in a useful way whereas sometimes Zubin and I were just filling space. This demonstrates exploratory talk. I was conscious of not speaking too much, preferring to let the others speak more but it is clear that what people are saying is more important than how much they say. This is a strange situation because I am totally inside this object of analysis and it is incomplete as a project, meaning the full impact of the conversations from the session are unknown. To be more specific, if and when we were to meet again to work on this piece as a group, Tim and Caitlin may prove to be silent witnesses within this process; they may contribute something in the future that I had forgotten or disregarded from this session in 2020. This suggestion may prove to be useful and make it into the ultimate version of the work, hence this investigation is somewhat unfinished. It would be fair to say that the first workshop in 2019 was built of interactive or complementary collaboration whilst the second, in 2020, was built from chiefly integrative collaboration, as per my intention.

“Tro//ing” (2017-2019) 


Francesco Migliaccio is an Italian dancer and four years younger than me. We both studied at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, where we met. We were in a relationship together during 2016-2017 and have remained friends.



Although this work originates from before my fellowship period, we spent some time reconstructing it in November 2019. It is the first time that I worked with Francesco Migliaccio. At my request, he created the choreography that became the final section of this short work. He constructed it in such a way, using the existing work, that we were able to choose to do all three sequences which overlap with each other perfectly, or just do one sequence several times. This allowed for the difference of facility in learning dance routines within the group. My knowledge for the group’s affinities for movement work and my understanding of Francesco’s skills set demonstrate familiarity. This is an example of complementary collaboration whereby I, in some way, outsourced some labour that required a particular skill set. My close relationship with Francesco and his familiarity with the group meant that his workflow could be efficient; he knew our limitations as well as my compositional oeuvre.


The images here show us actually visiting a telephone box during rehearsals for the piece, long after learning the choreography. This gave us, as a group, a shared, collective vision of a telephone box.

The first audio track below is one of very few examples that I have of behaviour that does not encourage collaborative working or any kind of safe space. In order to kindle a collaborative process, there needs to be a foundation, which in the case of Bastard Assignments existed before this RP began but requires continuous care. Clarinetist Heather Roche quotes Moran and John-Steiner, who write on collaboration and identity, on the importance of building a ‘safe foundation’ that provides the ‘emotional and intellectual scaffolding’ (Roche, 2011, p.99) required. In the audio recording below, taken from a rehearsal in London in 2019, I shot down Tim’s suggestion and immediately regretted it, understanding it can weaken such scaffolding that is so dependent on talking. Roche (2011) writes that the safe foundation is acquired through consistent and supportive dialogue which builds trust. Tim does not actually recall this interaction and assured me he was not perturbed by it.


The following recordings further demonstrate the group nature of this working process during this period. The first audio excerpt demonstrates the group nature of our process; the group was offering feedback into the piece. The second illustrated the group flow state that we are in after running the piece which we are preparing for performance. Our conversation is fast and built from exploratory talk; we are trying to solve problems and reach a collective decision. It is rich in reasoning and constructive criticisms, offers and counters. All of this is possible on a bedrock of trust and shared history.