Enter your username and password

Forgotten your username or password?

Your Shopping Cart

There are no items in your shopping cart.

11 December 2023

Cat Hope at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 2023

Cat Hope Image: Cat Hope  
© Tom Trevatt

Australian composer Cat Hope is a flautist, bass performer, noise artist and researcher. She is currently Professor of music at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance, Monash University, Melbourne. As the artistic director of Decibel new music ensemble, she received an Art Music Award for Excellence in Experimental Music in 2014. Her music takes as its starting point a conceptual impulse and is notated in the form of animated graphic scores for both acoustic and electronic performance or improvisations. It uses elements of chance, long sustained tones, often of low frequency, and both pitched/non-pitched sound material, such as slow glissandi or environmental recordings. Many of her works reflect a concern with political activism.

This composer is no stranger to the most important festival of contemporary music in Britain. A portrait concert of her works was featured at the 2022 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and released during the same year on an album of Cat Hope compositions by Swiss label, Ezz-thetics. Australian ensemble Decibel presented a range of her works that depart from a common structural basis of low frequency sound. In particular, they explored certain hallmarks of Hope's style, such as a contrast of timbres between electronic and acoustic sounds, or the use of a horizontal line to define the progress of a sound in graphic notational terms. Originally from Western Australia, Hope created the ensemble in 2009. These musicians focus purely on combining acoustic and electronic sound in performance, at the same time acknowledging the tradition of western chamber music. Their openness towards a variety of compositional styles is reflected in the way they commission and program works in performance. Decibel are world leading interpreters of graphic notation and initiate the production of digital score formats for composition and performance. The ongoing development of the Decibel ScorePlayer, an iPad application that puts a score into motion for the coordinated reading of graphic notation, is used by other music ensembles and music institutions internationally.

This year saw the world premiere of a new work, Landay Sequenza, by Cat Hope at Huddersfield on November 21st. It was performed by Stone Drawn Circles ensemble and funded by a Commission Award from the Arts Council of Ireland/An Chomhaírle Ealaío. Adventurous interpreters of new music, this new ensemble is making waves as it hits the Irish contemporary music scene. The group generates a powerful dynamic of six independent artists committed to the practice of extending all fields of music performance. These cover styles from complexity to graphic scores to improvisation. Stone Drawn Circles is an ensemble that functions on a collective basis in a process of risk-taking and sonic research.

Landay Sequenza, written in 2022 for voice (with handheld AM radio), alto/bass flute, viola, double bass, percussion and lever harp, is based on five short texts translated from the Afghan language Pashto into English by poet Eliza Griswold. The Landay is a form of poetry that consists of a single couplet in Pashto, one of two national languages of Afghanistan. Stemming from an oral tradition, Landays are shared amongst Pashtan women and sung aloud, sometimes to the beat of a hand drum. Their most common themes address issues of love, grief, homeland, war, and separation. One of the Landays featured in the work is included below:

Be black with gunpowder or be blood red

But don't come home whole and disgrace my bed

(Translation from the original: Eliza Griswold)

Like all music in Afghanistan, they were banned by the Taliban during the period 1996-2001, and again after the recent Taliban takeover of the country. Landays are rebellious and powerful, belying the notion of Afghan women as submissive or defeated. They are strong, political and rebellious. Hope dedicates Landay Sequenza to the resilience and creativity of these women in her contemplative portrait. Her graphic scores for the work were created by tracing over photographs of Afghan women in Afghanistan by Seamus Murphy. These include images of women under aircraft, in their homes and in groups. As such, this is a vivid example of a work that explores the potential of graphic notation to reflect or 'contain' how certain aural (and oral) traditions may evolve over time.

Interesting is to compare characteristics of the composer's works featured at Huddersfield in 2022 and this year. The Lowest Drawer (2013), Tone Being (2016) and Shadow of Mill (2018) all reflect a concern with low frequency sound, whether issuing from the sustained bass string of a 'cello, the gradual descent of pitches to the lowest range (or drawer) of an instrument, or the presence of a sub-woofer electronic source. In the first example an electro-acoustic treatment of three instruments is triggered to produce pure sine tones, so that we gradually no longer identify the attack and release of timbres, but varying combinations of chords based on their original pitches.

The tam-tam, played live by the solo percussionist Louise Devenish in Tone Being adds subtle timbral contrasts to a deep, almost inaudible electronic drone issuing from a sub-woofer.

Likewise, an electronic sub-tone supports the slow glissando movement of a 'cello as it gradually shifts from a static pitch in Shadow of Mill performed by Tristen Parr.

Tristan Parr performing Shadow of Mill at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2022. Photo: Brian Slater.

Tristan Parr performing Shadow of Mill at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2022. Photo: Brian Slater.

Here a timbral contrast is emphasized by the addition of an identifiable acoustic source-that of paper being manipulated by hand. A quote from the score includes the instruction: 'scrunch paper whilst rubbing, then throw away to end'. The paper is a copy of the White Australian Policy.

This leads on to the next important feature that identifies this composer's work, namely a striking use of the horizontal line to determine the progress of a sound in her graphic scores. Space is linked to time in its horizontal duration, each instrumental or electronic part defined by a different colour and dynamics indicated by the thickness of a line. Key moments of co-ordination between the players are given by means of a vertical dotted line.

Excerpt from graphic score of the third Landay from Landay Sequenza (2022).

Excerpt from graphic score of the third Landay from Landay Sequenza (2022).

The emphasis is no longer on fixed pitches, rhythms or clusters, but on a wider concept of sound that is given time to be generated and emerge through these performers. The gestural rawness of a graphic sign retains its original force on the score page. It captures the intensity of a moment in time as experienced within the memory of the composer. As such, its content is highly condensed, not being subjected to a process of 'unravelling' through traditional notation methods.

When re-visited by musicians there is the possibility of its developing into another extension of that original sign, depending on the circumstances and experience of each interpreter who encounters it. Here the factor of time in musical composition is re-addressed as something non-chronological in the sense of musicians re-creating a fixed score fully written out at a certain moment in the past. Rather, it is about encountering a vertically-encapsulated experience of sound that demands its own dimension, its own parameters, of time. Indeed, our contemporary world of digital sound has enabled us to absorb much more complexity within the multiple layers of 'vertical' time than previously. In the case of the Landay Sequenza, the genesis of the graphic score is truly fascinating. By tracing over the outlines of photos, in this instance of Afghan women and the environments they find themselves in, and reproducing them as a basis for its structure, I wonder if this was a way for the composer to 'embody' such frozen moments of their presence by transferring the resultant shapes into a sonic structure?

Unlike the pieces discussed above, Landay Sequenza features no low tones, only some moments of very detuned double bass. The work opens with the gradual appearance of sonic timbres issuing from the viola, double-bass and percussion that border on noise through the use of thin, 'glassy' pitches produced by playing across the bridge of the strings towards the tailpiece, in conjunction with the soft roll of beaters on a tam-tam, that generate an ever-widening plane of sustained sound. Slow, expressive pitch glissandi that move gradually downwards are punctuated by a spoken voice enunciating single words placed at intervals during a descending or ascending drone, and commented on by different kinds of hard/soft staccato issuing from the flute or lever harp. The textures of bowed or plucked strings are coloured by percussive sound in a dense interweaving of instruments. In the final movement a short-wave radio produces white noise that burns through wavering gestures of pitches as they fluctuate like slowed-down vibrati. The singing voice adds another layer of emotional intensity to this combination, in which time seems suspended, vertical.

Such a powerful effect of spatiality must be due to the engagement of performers with a graphic score that invites the placement of sounds within a non-linear framework, one that allows them to be present and seen/heard in relation to the others, so that the whole structure is perceived and understood at every moment. This total absorption in the music of composer Cat Hope was reflected in a highly convincing performance by ensemble Stone Drawn Circle at Huddersfield.

Michelle O’Rourke from Stone Drawn Circle performing Landay Sequenza at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2023. Photo: Brian Slater.

Michelle O'Rourke from Stone Drawn Circle performing Landay Sequenza at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2023. Photo: Brian Slater.

Continuing on from the innovative presence of Decibel ensemble last year, a new parameter has emerged from this composer, one that truly embraces the possibilities of our digital age.


  1. Cat Hope artist website: http://www.cathope.com
  2. Decibel Ensemble comprises Cat Hope: flutes, bass, composition, artistic director; Lindsay Vickery: reeds, composition, programming; Aaron Wyatt: viola, iOS programming; Tristen Parr: cello; Louise Devenish: percussion. The program consisted of: Tone Being (2016), The Lowest Drawer (2013), UK Premiere of Shadow of Mill (2018), UK Premiere of The Earth Defeats Me (co-composed with Lionel Marchetti) (2015) and Sogno 102 (2012). https://decibelnewmusic.com
  3. Cat Hope; Decibel. CD, Ezz-thetics LC 91771 by Hat Hut, Switzerland (2022).
  4. Decibel ScorePlayer: https://decibelnewmusic.com/decibel-scoreplayer
  5. Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2022: https://hcmf.co.uk/2022-programme/
  6. Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2023: https://hcmf.co.uk/2023-programme/
  7. Supported by Culture Ireland and the Arts Council of Ireland In Formation, Ensemble Stone Drawn Circles comprises Lina Andonovska flutes, Nathan Sherman viola, Michelle O'Rourke voice, Alex Petcu percussion, Caimin Gilmore double bass, and Úna Monaghan harp / sound design. Artist-led, the ensemble features players from groups including Eighth Blackbird, stargaze, Crash Ensemble and Ergodos Musicians. https://www.stonedrawncircles.com
  8. Landay Sequenza (2022) for voice (with handheld a.m. radio), alto and bass flute, viola, double bass, percussion and lever harp. https://www.stonedrawncircles.com/events
  9. Lever harp: A Lever harp is smaller than a pedal harp and has between 20 and 40 strings, with 34 being the most usual. When engaging a lever with the hand it will raise the pitch of that string by one semitone. https://www.pilgrimharps.co.uk/lever-harps.html
  10. The Landay is a traditional Afghan poetic form consisting of a single couplet. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landay_(poetry)
  11. Eliza Griswold is an American journalist and poet. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliza_Griswold
  12. Sequenza(s) [It.] = sequence(s), This inclusion in the title of Hope's composition may refer to a series of works written by Luciano Berio between 1958 and 1979. In essence, Berio's sequenzas are short, aleatory, virtuosic in nature and written for solo performers. In the context of Landay Sequenza the word refers to five short movements played in a series.
  13. Seamus Murphy is a documentary photographer and filmmaker. www.seamusmurphy.com

Subjects discussed by this article:

Independent composer/performer/researcher Dr. Caroline Wilkins comes from a background of new music performance, composition and theatre, and has worked extensively on solo and collaborative productions involving these. Her particular interest lies in creating new forms of presentation, whether in the field of inter-medial sound theatre, sound poetry or performance art. Current activities include conference presentations and academic publications.  


Be the first to share add your thoughts and opinions in response to this article.

You must login to post a comment.