Second Square To None

  Partial Gathering - UnAble to Negate Reason by SSTN Strings

This Strings Series installment comes from Belfast/London duo Partial Gathering who here combine classical instrumentation with digital processing to create a timbrally rich piece full of ominous intent.

Tell us a little about your musical background ie influences, formative experiences, bands you play/played in
In my teens, I was completely taken with rock music by Fugazi, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Led Zeppelin and electronica artists like Aphex Twin; I became fixated with the equal weight of melodies and feedback. When I began my BMus I was introduced to the world of contemporary classical and electroacoustic music and quickly married the noise, dissonance and consonance of the two fields in my mind. I had been an orchestral violinist and following my graduation from a BMus at Queen’s University in Belfast I began playing electric violin for a prog-folk rock outfit, Catoan. I went on to start an interdisciplinary arts project with fellow Catoan-ites called The Summer Experiment which ran for two years in Belfast before moving to London to start my Masters in Compostion at the Royal College of Music. I’ve been gradually forging a blend of improvisation, rock noise, lush harmony and colourful timbre which Partial Gathering has been a major outlet for. Meeting Coco had a huge impact on my musical thinking; such a phenomenal cellist with a strong background in avant-garde and baroque music. In so many respects the opportunity to be part of a creative partnership with this dynamic has become one of my most formative experiences as a composer and performer to date.

Describe your process/approach to music-making/composition. Is this piece typical of this?
The first piece we ever performed together was ‘Un/Able to Negate Reason’; Coco had performed one of my concert works previously and I was writing for a project in the National Portrait Gallery, so when we bumped into each other on the tube we got together to look at this piece. The piece and cello part were fully scored but improvisation was something we were both passionate about and so we left room in the piece to improvise. Our composition has become a very collaborative affair; sometimes with loose boundaries and structures for extended improv woven into more impacting beats. It gives all of our music a very interesting mixture of dexterous preconceived material and really florid backgrounds. This piece works with sort-of lob-sided bell repetition, which an altogether more volatile and brittle cello line occasionally sings alongside. The textures in the electronics alternate between this sort of heavy grind forward and delayed bells and then everything comes into focus with this drum beat that has been threatening from the outset…and then we improvise. It’s great material to improvise with; all the regular rhythms are created from old metal riffs I’d played around with except at this tempo you can interject almost microscopic but kaleidoscopic timbres. It’s been mixing this same attitude to timbre alongside material with a lot of gravity and foundation that makes Coco’s improv such a playground for a composer ,and ideas which are deeply influencing how I think about music and sound. Now we’re making noise as often as we possibly can, experimenting and recording new and different acoustic sounds for the cello and finding dynamic ways to incorporate every gesture into a musical narrative. We’ll improvise for an extended period and then take the material away to create a kind of ‘avant-garde pop’ remix; so this is a really new direction for us by comparison to the earlier mixture of scored music and improvisations.

What sort of equipment do you use to make your sounds?
I’m using Ableton Live and Max/MSP on a MacBook Pro, and occasionally using Reason to experiment with different synths but I’ll usually bounce the audio so I can control the samples in a much more volatile way through Live. Most of our improv involves nothing but pure cello sound and processing but we’re also starting to bring prepared electric guitar into the mix with a POD XT Live. Both of us have our grounding in contemporary classical music and so we remain committed to experimenting with new acoustic cello sounds using whatever techniques and tools we can find. We’ve found comfortable pedal tones playing the tailpiece, we have purely wooden bows and glass slides, and Coco can play scales on the spike of the cello so we’re never short of musical gymnastics! But what’s really exciting is being able to use all these great tools in a meaningful way with the added dimension of live processing.

Info on upcoming gigs, preferred web address, releases.
6th of February at The Dublin Castle in Camden
10th of March at ‘Candied Nonsense’ at the Blag Club, Notting Hill Gate
23rd of March at The Good Ship in Kilburn

Find us at
Other news at:
Double A-Side ‘Un/Able to Negate Reason & Picture Something’ available on 31st of January from Amazon, iTunes, Spotify and online retailers

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