Autumn is always a busy time of year, with deadlines fast approaching and many pieces to finish writing. During this demanding period, I decided to step back from the ever-growing list of work to complete and started work on a selection of miniatures for solo piano. The idea of a miniature has always intrigued me; a perfectly formed short piece that explores one or two simple ideas and nothing more, yet can be as exciting as a large-scale work for orchestra (or at least this is how I view them).


When setting out to begin this project I became interested in the idea of symmetry and the relationship from one note to another. I started to experiment with these ideas in contrary motion. If the distance between two notes in the left hand would be a minor third down, the distance in the right hand would be a minor third up. The keyboard itself is also symmetrical. If you take the note D, all the other notes around it looks like a mirror image so that an Eb reflected would be a C#. It was these ideas that fuelled the process of writing these miniatures.


So far in this project I have planned to write 5 miniatures exploring these two ideas relating to the symmetry of intervals.


© James Layton 2017




An exploration into cassettes, tape loops and installations.


During the summer, while on a break from writing, I began to research analogue tapes. Up to that point, I had been listening to music from composers, such as Steve Reich, Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, and William Basinski, that used tape loops in creating their music. I very quickly became inspired by these works and wanted to experiment with the various techniques they used.


However, the reel-to-reel tape recorders that these composers used are very expensive and difficult to find in good working condition. Through more investigation, I discovered 4-track cassette recorders and purchased a Tascam Portastudio 414. These recorders provided a relatively inexpensive way to experiment and produce works using analogue tapes. After a few weeks of creating small tape loops, working out how cassettes and tape recorders work, I started mapping out a large-scale work using 4-tracks, walkmans and cassettes.


In the early October preparations for the annual Rude Health Festival at Trinity Laban, I was able to acquire a slot for an hour-long durational piece, allowing me to adapt my previous sketches, for my large-scale tape piece, tailoring them for the space. This piece will explore the idea of space and the use of tape loops, cassettes and live ensemble. It will be a continuously changing piece that constantly evolves, never sounding the same again.


My piece ‘Fragments’ will be performed on Tuesday December 5th 2017.


© James Layton 2017




Since it has been over two years since I had written a piece for voice I decided to team up with a group of talented musicians, soprano Sofia Celenza, pianist Alesandro Viale and composers John Sturt and Mark Heavenor, to work on a concert focusing on the voice. In September 2015, for my first project at Trinity Laban, I wrote ‘The Angel’ for solo soprano and piano, with words taken from William Blakes poem of the same name. This piece has always felt very special to me as I feel that it was the very first ‘proper’ piece of music I had ever written, although this piece on its own seems to feel unfinished. I have always felt that when I originally wrote ‘The Angel’, as the poem is part of a larger set of poetry, the piece should also reflect this, eventually becoming part of larger set of pieces such as a song cycle or a set of songs.


It is because of this reason that I feel it is right to work on revising and expanding the work to include other songs based on the poetry from Blake’s Song of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Although this is a very exciting task to take on I cannot help but feel slightly daunted by the challenge. In the two years since writing the piece I have changed as a composer in style, knowledge and confidence. The decision of how to best write new songs that are in keeping with the original is a hurdle that will have to be navigated over the next few weeks. What is certain is that the new work will be an exciting mix of old and new, showing the progression of an idea over the past two years.


My completed work will be performed on Friday February 2nd 2018 by Sofia Celenza and Alessandro Viale, along with other works for both solo voice and choir by John Sturt, Mark Heavenor and Alesandro Viale.


© James Layton 2017



© 2017 James Layton.

Photography: Jonathan Edward Layton