Frank Denyer

Interview by Dan Warburton
Dartington, Devon, March 15th 2006


Photograph by Keshav Nigam

"Music history needs a special category for those composers who, with their three-score years and a substantial body of compositions already behind them, find their life’s work unengraced by an entry in the New Grove. Such is the case with Frank Denyer, born in London in 1943, whose name is conspicuous by its absence between “Denver” (Colorado) and “Denza, Luigi.” Nor, for that matter, will you catch many of his works in a trawl of concert programmes from the city of his birth over the past few decades. Yet however dismal the implications of such institutional neglect (insignificance! marginality! obscurity!), all may not yet be lost: there are signs today of a counter-trend, the growing recognition by a number of contemporary musicians that the body of work Denyer has created over the past forty years is – just maybe – one of the better-kept secrets of English music." - Bob Gilmore

How does a piece begin?

I get my thoughts in order by starting with a piece of paper, which I divide into three columns. In the left hand column I write what I see as priorities; what has to be in the piece for it to become the thing I'm interested in. Just basic ideas, particularly about instrumentation. Once I've got the instrumentation, that's something done. But it's a long, complicated process. The right hand column is the very opposite, because there I list those things whose presence will completely ruin the enterprise. And the centre column is for subsidiary colours so that if I find later that I don't have enough variety from those things listed in column one, and I'm really sucking air, there is something to fall back on in an emergency. (laughs)

And then you start immediately on the notes.

No, I begin with the tuning and the instruments. I like to have the instruments I'm using around me, I like to hear sound rather than simply imagine it. Since I make some instruments myself I have to discover first what they can do and this process becomes very integrated with the other aspects of composing.

So there is an element of laboratory trial and error involved.

Yes, always making sound, playing, touching, and a lot of croaky singing.

Do you write quickly?

I have had one or two small pieces that were written very quickly but generally it's a long drawn-out process. Why? Music's a peculiar thing, isn't it? Here’s a melodic fragment, a little phrase, but the tiniest possible change in inflexion can make the difference between it coming alive or falling as flat as a fish on a slab.

Do you consign a lot of things to the wastepaper basket?

Not as such – but everything goes through many processes. I have a lot of sheets of paper where the piece is not yet quite itself. There might be moments where a phrase doesn't quite work but, if something is added or subtracted it might help but, unfortunately, everything affects not only that phrase but all the other phrases and so now they all need reconsidering. Or suppose I'm at a moment in the score where I need to think about what's going to happen next.. Do I need a change or do I need to continue a little longer? You've got to put yourself in the positition of somebody listening to it from the beginning for the first time, and I find that hard. But, there is a little window of opportunity early in the morning when I'm fresh for these kinds of decisions.

Your works call for all kinds of unorthodox instruments, including rattles made from moth cocoons, mango seeds and snail shells, tuned cowbells, tenor banjos, marbles, bones, thundersheets, harmonium, eunuch flutes and microtonally retuned keyboards, not to mention a whole host of non-Western and even home-made instruments. Where did this interest in strange combinations of instruments come from?

When I was a student at Guildhall School of Music, I was already writing for strange combinations of instruments, and I remember being told by my teachers that it was a bad mistake, because my works wouldn't be played if they weren't written for standard ensembles. I thought that this made a certain sense, so I wrote a string quartet – and –well, nobody played it! (laughs) So I thought if nobody's going to play my music I might as well write for the instruments I want to write for! (laughs) But things change, you know. I remember writing a piece in the early 70s for four bass flutes, and at that time I wasn't even sure if there were four bass flutes in the country – now even Dartington College has a bass flute!

In your recent music you've shown an interest in Indian instruments. Not having seen any of your recent scores, I was wondering how you notated their parts, and your microtonal inflections in general.

Two Beacons [2005] calls for a sarangi, and in Tentative Thoughts, Silenced Voices there's a santur. But they're used for their colour, and very very discreetly. It's not like, "this is my Indian number.." As far as the tuning goes, I write out the tuning system in cents. On the santur there are 90 strings to tune – it's quite a task. But otherwise I'm quite pragmatic. I'm writing notation to be played, you see: it's not just a theoretical thing. I first started by writing quarter tones – there was already a standard notation for quarter tones – but that wasn't quite enough, so I started writing sixth tones, and then I wrote shades, about ten to twenty cents sharp or flat, and that almost seemed to give me the flexibility I needed. In Melodies, which is a 90 minute exploration of intonation, I experimented with various kinds of staves with anything from one to eight lines each.

How did you become interested in microtonality in the first place?

You know, there's nothing so boring as "microtonality" as a theoretical subject! I used to go into educational institutions about a generation ago, and all composers seemed to talk about was "serialism". There was something about serialism that attracted academics, perhaps because you could check it, see if it was theoretically "right" or "wrong," "sophisticated" or "naive". I think that's one of the reasons why, in the past, fugue was given such prominence – because it's not such an important form as all that in the devolopment of western music. So nowadays serialism has been replaced by microtonality! (laughs) What interests me though is not the theory of it but the way it can affect our perception of intervals. I used to listen to a lot of baroque flute music and I liked the way it was never quite "in tune", because this gave an attractive softness to the melodic line.
When I was a graduate student in the States I spent three years learning the koto at Wesleyan University with Namino Torii. She was a marvellous teacher. For three years, morning to night, I was obsessed by the koto. When you start playing a new instrument, and you don't yet know anything about it, your teacher first shows you how to tune it. Well, she told me the principles and every time I went to a lesson I tuned the instrument, but each every she made little adjustments, tuning the intervals flatter. I thought, wait a moment, I may be a bit dumb but even I can tune basic intervals such as an octave, (on a good day!) (laughs) Every time I tuned it, she'd just lower it a little. Then I noticed that when I tuned an octave, I plucked the two notes so that they sounded together. But she never did. She played one note, and then the other note. I began to wonder if there was a different way of judging intervals – melodically. So I set up a little experiment. It was basically very simple: I invited about 40 musicians to tune two sinewaves a fifth and an octave apart. The only trick was that when one tone was sounding the other wasn't, so they couldn't hear them together. Nevertheless, they could go back and forth from one to the other as often as they liked until they were happy. In 74% of the cases they tuned the intervals flat by 4 to 9 cents. Clearly when judging intervals melodically something else is going on. That interested me a lot. A violinist, playing a melodic little phrase with, say, an E in it, likes to avoid the open string, because the open string stands out. I started thinking that when you have a very fine pitch difference of a few cents, you don't hear it as pitch – you hear it as a timbre modification. Maybe those violinists are responding to the timbral difference of the metal E string but they could equally well be responding to the instinctive need for a melodic interval rather than a harmonic one.

Does the linearity of your music come from that?

No, it was there before. I was attracted to the experimental end of the spectrum of composers when I was a student. There was much talk about the Darmstadt School and the European avant-garde, but I instinctively responded more to what was happening in America. Amongst other student composers it was quite clear that, in talking about music, you couldn’t ever say you wrote melodies because this was tantamount to saying you were an ultra-conservative. But, I thought, there's no reason why melody should be inherently conservative, or why it shouldn't be as radical as any other musical parameter. That attracted me, particularly as nobody else seemed to be worrying about such issues.

Were you ever attracted to serialism at all?

Yes, as a teenager. I did some serial pieces when I was about 18 or 19, but from that I progressed pretty rapidly onto other concerns that had been opened up by the music of Christian Wolff and Morton Feldman, and I wanted to play that music. So I soon realised that serialism was quite far from what I wanted to do.

Tell us about your work with Feldman – the composer and the music.

When I left college I formed a new music group, Mouth of Hermes, because there was a lot of new music that I wanted to hear but nobody was playing – including my own. Naturally we played a lot of Feldman; there was something of his in almost every concert. We started in 1967 and went on until something like 1973 or 74. So we soon had to contact him about aspects we didn't understand and with questions about notation.

You're not just talking about the early graph paper pieces?

No, we went right through the music he had written up to that time. We started with the early Projections series, but we soon moved on to the set of Durations and then to his more recent pieces like False Relationships and the Extended Ending [1968] and Four Instruments [1965] – we did that one many times. Morty came to Britain from time to time and we did a little bit of touring together. That was great fun. I was profoundly inspired and entertained in equal measure.

Was he satisfied with what you were doing, or did he have any reservations about how you were playing it?

In fact it was the opposite way round. I remember one of the first letters I wrote to him. I think it was about Piano Piece 1964, and on the page there were many grace notes hanging in space. Some of them are white and others are black. My question was, what's the difference between a white grace note and a black grace note? Morty wrote back and said: "Don't be so literal. Be musical. Instinctively you'll know the answer." Now, that set a tone for our work together but today it doesn't quite satisfy me, because I realise that he made those choices when he wrote the piece. Did their mere visual character appeal or maybe they were suggested by some since forgotten aural differentiation? They are there, and something must have prompted them. But I always try to remember "don’t be literal. Be musical."

What about the notation in his later pieces, where it's more written out?

The trouble is there are so many mistakes. Morty sometimes had trouble adding up the number of beats in the bar – in just three bars you can sometimes find three mistakes! (laughs) In Triadic Memories [1981] there's a very important extended passage where the notation doesn't work out as he thinks, because he didn’t count the beats correctly in one of the hands. Nevertheless, one of the things he's generally very strict about is lining up the parts. Notes written above each other in the score are meant to sound together but in the printed UE Edition of Triadic Memories they have adjusted the values and re-aligned it. For this reason I find it always necessary to consult the earlier edition which was a photostat of Feldman’s manuscript. When learning this piece I also checked my impressions against Aki Takahashi's recorded version, because she worked on that piece with Feldman. I was pleased to see that she ignored the publishers "corrected" version too, and had reached similar conclusions to myself.

How did Feldman and Wolff's notation influence your own?

They had a lot of impact. I found Christian's notation, particularly in the 1960s pieces, very liberating, because they defined a new sense of musical continuity, a new sort of temporal flow. That was very exciting. I had a short burst when I tried adopting something similar but I came back to a more traditional notation by stages. More or less as Morty did.

How do you notate the music you've written for the shakuhachi? Is there a system you have to explain directly to the performer, to get the nuances of pitch and timbre you want?

It's not related to shakuhachi notation, which is very aesthetic but leaves a lot to the oral tradition. Early on I did write a piece for koto where I used traditional koto tablature. That started off as a kind of exercise: I wanted to find out what it would be like to think in that way. It was a very interesting exercise. Nevertheless, with the shakuhachi music I used staff notation. In the last shakuhachi piece that I wrote, which is a 50-minute piece called Unnamed, the tuning system is complicated because it divides the octave into seven equal parts, and each of those seven parts has up to four microtonal inflections. I was confident enough to try this because through working with Yoshikazu Iwamoto, I saw that he was capable of solving such problems in terms of the shakuhachi. Before I met him I had been making flutes, and I was thinking that the way forward was to have a characteristic tuning system for each composition or group of compositions, and a new instrument that was also designed for the same tuning system. So I was exploring an instrument and writing the music at the same time. I'm hopeless with my hands, but it's easy to make a flute. I built one in fifth tones and a few others but then Yoshikazu came into my life and I found that everything I was trying to do with microtones he could do in spades, and what he couldn't do he was willing to practise until he could.

How did you meet?

We had been neighbours in the States. He was a visiting artist at Wesleyan, where I was just a humble graduate student. He was only there for a year, but at the end of this period he asked me to write some music for him. He had this belief that the shakuhachi, despite its marvellous history, was only at the beginning of its development and the door really hadn't fully opened yet. I was a bit doubtful about composing for the shakuhachi, because of its association with Buddhist history, which seemed too big a burden to take on. Before he left for the airport in New York to fly back to Japan, his last words to me were: "About those pieces. I don't mind how difficult they are. Even if it takes me twenty years, I will solve every difficulty." This had to be taken seriously, so I went and thought about it, and eventually sent him small things but always with the proviso that if anything was impossible to play, to just send it back. But he would never say anything was impossible. The most he would concede was: "I can't play this – yet." He was always sure there must be a way around every difficulty.

I understand you use different colours in the score of Unnamed.

Yes, in Unnamed everything which divides the scale into seven equal parts is in one colour. These do not coincide with the basic notes of the shakuhachi which are therefore given a different colour. Ordinary equal temperament notes and quarter tones are written in a third colour. It seemed that it was easier to deal with these microtones when the player knew which system a note was part of. Yoshikazu started practising scales and quarter tones and third tones, and dividing the octave into seven, which he did in a very interesting way.

Will this piece be released on disc?

Yes, I'm working on that now. But there are only two recordings, and they're both live performances. I'm using the one recorded here at Dartington. But it still needs a lot of work to get rid of various extraneous noises.

How did you end up with a disc [Fired City] on John Zorn's Tzadik label?

Well, I just sent him my stuff. I knew him by reputation of course – but, to my surprise, he got back to me very rapidly. It was impressive and I’m very honoured to be on his label.

Are there any other instruments you haven't written for which are crying out for your attention?

I don't quite look at it like that. I often think that when Beethoven got up and looked at his orchestra, in front of him was a marvellous model that in some senses reflected what he believed society should be, all classes coming together, representatives of the city and the countryside, the mundane and the exotically foreign, the church, theatre and the army, you might say – the whole of humanity. So it was an inspiring vehicle especially for a man of his social convictions. But when you look at the symphony orchestra today it seems, in terms of our society, a very exclusive little club.
But I too want to work with groups that reflect an image of the human and social relationships as I know them today. Many composers seem happy with the inherited traditional models of music making, albeit with the occasional minor modification, but for me, in the rapidly transforming social environment we find ourselves in, this seems woefully inadequate. We urgently need a fluidity that will allow a multiplicity of new models of musical collaboration to emerge.

But if a financially interesting orchestral commission came your way..

Maybe twenty years ago I would have been seduced, but not anymore. I know, because somebody did commission me to do an orchestral piece. There was a lot of money offered and I turned it down. Immediately I felt much better. (laughs) Actually, Resonances Of Ancient Sins, on the Tzadik disc, is one of the few pieces I've written on commission. It was for the KONTRA Trio in Switzerland. They wrote to me saying "we're a trio of contrabass sax, octobass flute and bass tuba – it's a great combination of instruments but we can't understand why nobody's ever written for it!" (laughs) But, not being interested in orchestral music is not the same as not being interested in large forces, it's just that it's difficult to find performance possibilities for my larger pieces. I have a piece that's never been done, although it’s more than a decade old now, for 40 musicians. It’s called The Fish that Became the Sun and it’s about 50 minutes long. It requires five percussionists with about 80 new instruments, also a harmonium, three sets of microtonal pipes, a child’s voice, solo violin, three double basses and a contra-bassoon, eight offstage cornets, various male and female vocal groups etc etc. and three eunuch flutes, which is an instrument I've resuscitated from the grave.

I was going to ask you about those. What are they?

They were very common in the 18th century. Basically a eunuch flute is a tube like an oboe but without keys or indeed finger holes. Attached to the end where the reed would be, there's a hollow wooden globe with perforations. Between the tube and the globe, there's a membrane. The player sings or hums into a small hole in the side of the tube.. It's a kind of Rolls Royce kazoo without the tinniness of the kazoo.

Can you modulate the pitch by covering up the perforations?

No, you can't modulate the pitch at all – whatever you sing in is the pitch that comes out. But you can modify the timbre by covering the holes. They were very common in the 18th century. People used to perform music in three or four parts on them.

Is there anything about your music you'd describe as typically English? Titles like The Hanged Fiddler might have a rather folky resonance for some people.

But that piece is rather exceptional. There must be something English about it because I’ve composed it and this is where I was born and grew up, but nationalism doesn't interest me and I'm not interested in trying to cultivate those things which people might recognise, as being English. The issue just doesn't seem relevant. National identity hasn't disappeared yet, but its relevance, which was always suspect, is declining.

How much rehearsal time do you need for your pieces?

Well, that's the problem. A lot of rehearsal time is always required to work on very small questions of articulation and timbre. I've been fortunate to work with the Barton Workshop in this respect, with people who've been playing my music for about 15 years and have brought incredible dedication to it. I am now aware that it's very nice playing with old friends, but it's also comfortable professionally because I know what each player can and can't do and the problems they will solve themselves while practising.

How did the Barton Workshop start out?

It started off here, at Dartington, with Jim Fulkerson, who was living in a house on the campus called The Barton Workshop. Later, we were performing up in Nottingham University, at a little festival of new music that he initiated, and we all went out to an Indian restaurant afterwards. I remember we were grumbling about the fact that there was so much radical and interesting music which nobody was playing and how everything had got so boring and institutionalised. Suddenly I said I didn't know why we were grumbling because the people sitting around the table would themselves make a fantastic ensemble. Why don't we just get on and do it? But that doesn’t mean that anything would have transpired. The chances are that nothing would have happened except that Jim Fulkerson decided to make it happen. He was by then living in Amsterdam and those people that had been around that table largely formed the Barton Workshop. The original founder members apart from Jim Fulkerson and myself, included John Anderson, Jos Zwaanenburg and the cellist Taco Kooistra.
Jim was committed to the idea of a "workshop". One of the things we both agreed on was that we weren't going to form a group like so many others, that just got together for gigs, that is, to work on pieces for a limited amount of time and then present them in public. Instead, our strategy should involve meeting regularly every Monday, and if we had other work coming in on a Monday we wouldn't take it. Mondays were sacrosanct. We got together every Monday and practised. Sometimes just technical things, or we looked through and discussed difficult scores where we didn't yet have any fixed idea concerning the composer’s overall aims.

What did you start off playing? Pieces specially written for you?

We started off with a combination of composers we knew and whose work we liked, some of Jim's graphic scores, some of my pieces, and some Cage and Feldman, whom we considered as old masters. Later we started working on Christian Wolff’s music, which was perhaps the biggest nut to crack, and certainly required the most extended rehearsal periods. Both Jim and I had worked with Christian way back in the seventies and we were eager to build on that experience, to extend our knowledge of a body of music that we both agreed came from one of the most deeply original minds of our time.

Which piece of his was particularly difficult?

They're all difficult. For me personally, Piano Song: I am a dangerous woman, but there were many. With Christian's music it's a question of knowing what's required. Coming to an understanding of what might constitute an adequate performance (not always obvious with Wolff as it is often not clear what the criteria might be) and then to plan an appropriate rehearsal strategy. If there is no time and such questions remain unasked, you end up just trying to make something that sounds conventionally respectable. So every piece comes out sounding like every other piece. We decided that we wanted to cut into that vicious circle.

So you'd give concerts when you were ready and not until?

Yes, we were working on things and we never knew if they'd be ready or not. Rehearsing graphic scores, for instance. The tendency with graphic scores is to be careless and vague. Because it's unfamiliar notation, it's tempting to do a little busking, hoping that nobody will notice, or you don't react as quickly to unfamiliar signs or musical cues as you mean to. In our rehearsals anybody could stop at any time to ask another player which bit of the score they were playing at that moment, and how the details of what they were playing related to the score. Jim has a whole group of graphic scores called Co-Ordinative Systems. They're not like Christian's music, but there's a lot of attention given to the timbre of a note and how it changes and how one responds to other people who in turn modify what they're doing. There's no place as such for improvisation per se. In our conversations we were constantly asking how a group might play a graphic score as precisely as any other score. Not just put up a picture and improvise for ten minutes.

Did you try your hand at Cardew's Treatise, which has become rather in vogue in recent times?

Yes, it has. No I don't think we did any Cardew. Not from any dislike of Cardew, though. Have you heard that performance on Hat Art where you can almost follow the score? It's at the other extreme, so incredibly pedantic. What I really want to see is John Tilbury's Cardew biography which I understand is now finished. I'm looking forward to that.

With Feldman's graphic scores, it's well known that David Tudor actually wrote out performing versions of pieces like Intersections, because of the complexity of the notation. Do you do the same?

You have to do it with certain things. Not if you're doing the Projections series because the music is quite leisurely, so you can choose as you go along, but if you're doing the Intersections, there are so many notes to choose and quickly. I mean there's one place where you have to play over 40 notes in a third of a second (one ictus at MM 176). Choice doesn't come into it. Nobody can choose that fast. When you're thinking about how you're going to play that many notes, consideration has first to be given to deciding what technique could possibly be used.

So you actually wrote down the notes you were going to play, according to how they lay under the fingers.

Yes. I decided I could do some with the arm, some as broken hand clusters, others as arpeggios and so on, but keeping track of exactly how many pitches I was playing in every beat. But it's so fast.

For the Mode disc, did you record several takes of each piece and then choose one, and if so what were your criteria for choosing one version rather than another?

I remember doing the violin and piano piece both ways, once choosing the notes as we went along, and then writing out little phrases at places where we tended to be less poised because there were too many choices to make in too short a time. So we decided between different types of performance.

Did you end up choosing the more "improvised" versions or the more "composed" versions?

Jim tended to choose the more improvised versions and I chose the more composed ones. And then we argued! (laughs) Of course, players want to choose the ones where they’ve got everything under control, playing with a ‘good’ sound and "respectably in tune". These values can easily be put above more basic considerations about the nature of the musical experience in itself. So that's often one good reason to be tentative in accepting their choices.

On the subject of tuning again, there was a whole polemic about the tuning of some of Feldman's early 80s music, notably the solo violin music.

Yes, I know there's a debate raging about whether his enharmonic notations should be audible, but I don't think Feldman had any idea of writing something that was microtonal. He had no interest in that aspect at all. I heard a story of Eberhard Blum, who said that while rehearsing with Feldman he tried to experiment with small enharmonic changes only to have Feldman say something like: "Why are you playing out of tune today?" (laughs) No, I don't think he had any conception of that kind of issue. For him it was just a different way of spelling the note. A subtle, aesthetic consideration in notation.

How do you manage with the Barton Workshop today? Are you still hopping back and forth between here and Amsterdam where the ensemble is based?

Yes. I'm going back and forth all the time. There have been several younger players joining the group. We don't rehearse every Monday evening anymore either, that's become too difficult, but we do have long rehearsal periods and we're not always sure how long it'll take to get a piece ready to play in public. We often decide to leave a piece alone for a few weeks to let it settle. Sometimes we find we need to give an initial semi-private performance as part of the preparation. There's a place in Amsterdam called Zaal 100 which is a good place to try things out. Or sometimes just playing a piece in front of one or two friends is enough to give a different perspective.

How are you considered by the mainstream Dutch contemporary music establishment?

We're completely ignored by them. We're totally outside it, although we have had a little money from public funds for specific projects. And in a way I'm not surprised – we aren't sympathetic to the kind of institutionalised new music where you get money because you play something by this or that Dutch composer who's on this or that committee, who in turn asks you for money when you serve on a committee. You know, it is hinted that if you do this or that piece you might get some money and if you play your cards well you could even get structural funding which can be very generous. It’s all a matter of those in power "making offers you can’t refuse" so that musicians, in order to survive, get sucked into the system. It’s all so insular and it feeds off itself. But in the end the Barton Workshop has always had the courage and strength to say no, when "encouraged" to go further than they should. "Further" means when musicians agree to play music they’re not totally committed to, for political reasons. Then life's miserable. So we're just not part of it, thanks largely to the integrity and stubborness of James Fulkerson. Quite honestly, I think there are some parts of the Dutch establishment that are a bit annoyed that we still exist, because they've done everything they could to make us disappear. But our strength has always been that we manage to go on, somehow.

Remind us again of forthcoming projects.

I'm working on a second album of ensemble pieces plus a solo piece I've written for [the Barton Workshop's violist] Elisabeth Smalt called Woman, Viola and Crow [now recorded at time of going to press – DW], but the other pieces are more complex to get together because they also need voices and we don't have voices in the Barton Workshop. Although I've met people from professional vocal ensembles with this project in mind, if they're not used to my music, the time and aggravation involved is just too much to cope with. It requires far too much individual and group rehearsal time for most professionals, so I'm doing it with people here at Dartington who do have the time. I suppose you're familiar with Prison Song [2000] and Faint Traces [2001]? They're actually the first two parts of the Prison Trilogy. The third part is called Tentative Thoughts, Silent Voices and is for violin and viola (both heavily muted), and a muted Indian santur, two percussionists playing some new friction instruments, three male vocalists [with whistling tube, concertina reeds, and eunuch flute respectively] and an offstage trumpet. It's one of my ambitions to have all three pieces performed in sequence but for the moment the last part only will be included on the new disc. The other two have already been issued. The disc will also include Ghosts Again [2004], and that work has opened up a new area of interest, which is involving voices defined by their gender and age group. For instance, I'm interested in children's voices – I previously included two children in one brief section of The Fish that Became the Sun - and my most recent piece requires a child’s voice as is obvious from the title Woman, Child and Violin. But children are only one end of a very wide spectrum. For instance, in Ghosts Again I ask for the voice of a very old woman. In addition to the old woman there are six male singers who also use long percussion staves, a muted violin, flute, clarinet, and two percussionists mainly using friction instruments.

Many of your works call for offstage instruments too. That must be hard to bring off on a recording.

Yes – in Two Beacons there's an offstage chorus and a horn in the audience. The chorus is moderately loud but very far away, while the horn in the audience is moderately soft but not so far away. At the same time the onstage instruments are all very, very quiet. Clearly this represents quite a challenge to bring off on CD, particularly because with simple stereo there is no way to simulate an instrument being behind the audience. I am fortunate to be able to work closely with Robert Bosch who is a brilliant technician. We have worked together on all my recordings and I admire not only his technical skills but his endless patience and the imagination he brings to every problem that arises.
The other CD will bring together the shakuhachi music, solo and with percussion, including some stuff from the earliest LP [Wheat, Orchid 1984]. Actually there are three pieces from the 70s – Wheat [1977, for shakuhachi and percussion], On, On, it must be so [1977, for shakuhachi, bass drum and castanets], and Quite White [1978, for solo shakuhachi] – and the long later piece Unnamed [1997], which is by far the most complex piece I have written for shakuhachi and by the far the softest. It's a very intimate experience. I have no idea who might be interested in releasing such music.

Thanks to Bob Gilmore for assistance with photos and for allowing me to pillage his splendid article on Frank Denyer's music, "Butterfly Effect: The Music of Frank Denyer". This and more information about Denyer plus photos of his instruments are available at See also other interviews of related interest with Harrison Birtwistle , Keith Rowe and Radu Malfatti