Displaced: 101 ways to long for a home (after Emma Willemse)

Dedicated to Rudolph and Emma Willemse
Commissioned by Rudolph Willemse
Duration: c. 26'00"


First performance: Saturday 24 August 2019; Bowed Electrons, South African College of Music, Rosebank, Cape Town; Michael Blake keyboard soloistperformance details.

Morija Birdscape with Luigi Russolo

Dedicated to Christine Lucia
Requested by Pierre-Henri Wicomb
Recording released on ‘Concert To: Electroacoustic Music from South Africa’ (PEER 001)
Duration: 12'16"

Programme note

Pierre-Henri Wicomb asked me to make a bird piece in 2010 when we were working at the Visby International Composers Centre on Gotland. In October 2011 I recorded birdsong while staying in the Lesotho mountain village of Morija, and edited the recordings down to about 12 minutes. Treating the digital technology (in this case ProTools) as a canvas on which I could paint a landscape, I added layers of transformed or reconstructed birdsong, to create a surrealist birdscape in which familiar birds converse with quite strange sounding ones. The centenary of Russolo's 'Futurist Manifesto' is simultaneously celebrated in further layers derived from manipulated historic recordings of his and his brother Antonio's music, transporting us back and forth in time to those heady days in 1913 when Russolo declared "bloody victory over 4,000 passe-ists in the Constanzi Theatre of Rome". I worked on the piece between 14 January and 13 February 2013 and presented it to my wife Christine Lucia as a Valentine's Day present.

Ukukhalisa Umrhubhe for umrhubhe and tape

Dedicated to Joséphine Markovits and Mantombi Matotiyana
Commissioned by Festival d’Automne d’Paris


First performance: Saturday 19 October 2013, 20h00; Amphitheatre Opera Bastille - Festival d’Automne à Paris, Paris, France; Mantombi Matotiyana umrhubhe, Christophe Mazzella sound diffusionperformance details.

Programme note

Having curated “The Bow Project” (2002-2010) in which composers wrote paraphrases for a classical Western ensemble in response to the uhadi songs of Nofinishi Dywili, I wanted to compose an overtone piece for umrhubhe and tape in which the bow player actively takes part. I immediately faced two exciting challenges: traditional bow players don’t read any form of notation, and their performing practice operates almost exclusively within the musical scope of that tradition.

The multi-layered tape part uses recordings of pieces from Mantombi Matotiyana’s traditional repertoire, both the instrumental and vocal versions, unprocessed as well as electronically manipulated. The solo part is given to the performer in the form of audio recordings of models, with which she can respond to the pre-recorded tape, itself varied from one performance to the next. In this respect my model was one of the great overtone compositions of the 20th century, Stockhausen’s Stimmung.

Ukukhalisa Umrhubhe, meaning ‘to play the umrhubhe’ or literally ‘to make the umrhubhe cry’, was commissioned by Festival d’Automne à Paris and composed between January and August 2013 in Stellenbosch, Visby and Balledent. It lasts about 16 minutes.

The tape was made in the Studio of the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. Mantombi Matotiyana’s participation was made possible with funding from DOMUS, University of Stellenbosch.

Tombeau de Mosoeu Moerane

Written for Darius Klysis
Tape made at Alpha Studio, Visby, Sweden
Duration: 13'36"


First performance: Tuesday 29 September 2015; ISCM World Music Days, Slovenian Philharmonic Hall, Ljubljana, Slovenia; Valentina Štrucelj clarinetperformance details.

Programme note

Born 1909 of Sesotho parents in the Eastern Cape, Michael Mosoeu Moerane was one of the foremost composers working in South Africa from the 1930s till his death in 1981. Though mostly disregarded by the white academic composing community, he has had a far-reaching influence on subsequent generations of young black composers in South Africa.

Tombeau de Mosoeu Moerane takes ‘DNA’ samples from three of his most loved choral pieces, and synthesises them into a new music, while retaining essential elements of his musical language. A composer very much ahead of his time, he may well have composed music like this himself, had circumstances in apartheid South Africa allowed it.

The work was requested by birbyne player Darius Klisys, who I first met in 2008 in Cuba when we both performed at ‘Spring in Havana’. The five-track tape was created in August 2011 in the Alpha Studio in Visby, Sweden.


The official South African selection for the festival, Michael Blake’s Tombeau de Mosoeu Moerane, was one of the few programmed works that moves within this ambit, developing fragments of Moerane’s work in an electronic context. This sets up three layers of cultural context—Moerane’s Sesotho origins, his Western concert music training, and Blake’s reinterpretation of both through his own cultural lens. Scored for clarinet and 4-channel tape, the human performer (Valentina Štrucelj) was remarkably able.
Chris Jeffery, NewMusicSA Bulletin, 2015

Ways to put in the salt (Havana version)

In memory of Stockhausen
Bardic Edition Score BDE 1029
Duration: 13'30"


First performance: Sunday 16 March 2008; Basílica Menor San Francisco de Asís, Havana, Cuba; Michael Blake pianoperformance details.

Birthday Fanfare

Written for the 75th anniversary of Rhodes University Music Department, Grahamstown
Bardic Edition Score BD 0813 in preparation
Duration: c. 2'30"


First performance: October 1999; Beethoven Room, Grahamstown, South Africa; Bruce Stevens tubaperformance details.

Programme note

I wrote this fanfare for four tubas (or tuba and tape) to mark the 75th anniversary of the Rhodes University Department of Music in 1998, while also demonstrating some of the resources of its newly-opened electroacoustic music studio. I wrote the piece for Bruce Stevens, who having recorded all the parts for the tape was subsequently indisposed at the performance, so he gave the world premiere in absentia. It took place in October 1998.

Reverie /Isimncgano

African Journal No 23b
For Peter van Bergen and Ensemble Loos
Bardic Edition Score BD; Parts BD in preparation
Duration: c. 12'30"

Programme note

The score is prefaced with lines from Olive Schreiner's novel 'Story of an African Farm': ... "of the joy of the dreamer no man knoweth but he who dreameth ... without phantoms and dreams man cannot exist." The musical material is derived from two vocal sources, one Shona and one San (Bushman), and is transformed by repetition and extension, superimposition and distortion. I suppose this is the stuff of dreams.

Meanwhile, having revised the work early in 1999, I subsequently noticed many fascinating parallels with the techniques of San rock painting during a visit to the remarkable paintings at Tandjesberg, near Ladybrand in the Free State. The coda was inspired by listening to a whole weekend of concerts of Charles Ives in London.

Peter van Bergen visited me in Grahamstown in 2000 and listened to recordings of my works; after hearing Reverie he asked me to transcribe it for the four saxophone players of Ensemble Loos. He liked the somewhat sadistic idea of the players "having to sustain those long notes".

Song of the Bullfrogs

Dedicated to the Stockholm Saxophone Quartet
Commissioned by SAMRO Endowment for the National Arts
Bardic Edition Score BDE
Duration: c. 12'00"


First performance: Sunday 2 July 2006; New Music Indaba 2006, Grahamstown, South Africa; Stockholm Saxophone Quartetperformance details.

Programme note

The Stockholm Saxophone Quartet asked me to write them a piece during their previous visit to South Africa in 2002 and I wanted to have one ready for their 2006 visit. The premiere was scheduled for Sweden in March, but illness prevented me from completing the work in time. The piece was inspired by two frogs in Punda Maria (the northernmost camp in the Kruger Park) who duetted all night after the start of the torrential rains in January that resulted in many road closures and most of the animals simply hiding. But these two fellows croaked on, allowing me to capture them on my mini disc player, and they put in a guest appearance towards the end of the piece. It was commissioned by SAMRO Endowment for the National Arts and is dedicated to Sven, Jorgen, Leif and Per. It lasts about 101/2 minutes.


Requested by and dedicated to Simon Wynberg
Duration: 7'45"

Programme note

warhorses for ten-string guitar and tape was one of several pieces I wrote in 1975, imagined as a response of sorts to Mauricio Kagel’s “Programm: Gespräche mit Kammermusik”. “Programm” consisted of eleven short compositions for an unusual variety of instrumental and vocal combinations, each of which could also be performed independently. At Kagel’s premiere the audience sat on the stage and the performers played in the auditorium, and between each piece there was a discussion. Notable about the pieces was a deliberate absence of musical substance, the use of collage technique, a return to tonality, and so on.

warhorses takes several of the most banal pieces in the guitar repertoire and deconstructs and recycles the material against the background of a medley of the taped originals.

The same year I wrote song without words for cello and piano, but further pieces in my possible cycle of “Conversations with Chamber Music” were never developed.


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