Ringtones (2006)

for solo violin, cellphone and video camera

Written for and dedicated to Yasutaki Hemmi

Digital music theatre in collaboration with Aryan Kaganof

Publisher: Bardic Edition

Score BD in preparation

Duration: c. 6 minutes


First performance: Tuesday 4 July 2006; New Music Indaba 2006, Grahamstown, South Africa; Yasutaki Hemmi violin, Michael Blake cellphone caller, Aryan Kaganof video camera, Corinne Cooper sound engineer.

Programme note

The idea of writing a piece for Yasutaka Hemmi originated during a visit he made to Johannesburg in 2005 for a performance of David Young’s Skin Quartet and my String Quartet No 1 on the final stop of a world tour. The concept for the piece originated after that performance during a late night party at The Ant (in Melville, Johannesburg). The musical material is derived in part from the score for Aryan Kaganof’s cellphone movie SMS Sugar Man, and is inspired by Yas’s effortless virtuosity. The ringtone is the one that was activated on my cellphone in 2006. The conversations are spontaneous. It lasts about 6 minutes.


“There is incredible stuff happening in this country. Just one example, our most radical contemporary music composer Michael Blake is presenting his new composition “Ringtones” at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. It’s a 5-minute composition for violin that will be performed by the Japanese virtuoso Yasutaka Hemmi, who is flying out for the concert. This is a piece that invents a genre “thrash classical” that simply hasn’t been heard before. It brings to mind great hardcore bands like the Bad Brains, Spy Vs Spy era John Zorn, as well as the apocalyptic thrash improv of Killing Time (Fred Frith-Bill Laswell-John Maher). It’s utterly wild. It reflects Joburg – the urban environment, car jackings, the constant paranoia of our life here, but also the exuberance, the buzz of Jozi. It is the most ruthlessly virile urban African music I’ve yet heard. Utterly distinctive, utterly from here, but free of all simplistic “African” clichés - that curio shop mentality that pervades so much of the saccharine garbage pretending to be “music” in this country (Pops Mohammed etc).”
Aryan Kaganof, The Chiz, Monday 26 June 2006

“A cellphone video of Hemmi is projected on an overhead screen. He is apparently wearing the same clothing as his alter ego on stage, and soundlessly playing the same piece. Watching Hemmi-in-life and Hemmi-on-screen simultaneously toys with our perception of time. Is this a visual from the recent past or the near future? As the ringtone ascends in volume, Hemmi pauses and, violin tucked under his chin, answers the phone. In Japanese he explains that he is playing a show and will call back later. During these many “interruptions” Hemmi plucks at the violin. Despite technical difficulties, this final work was a highlight. As the technicians struggled, Hemmi’s quick-thinking pulled off a humorous improvised ending.”
Thomas Pooley and T Kenichi Serino, Cue, Grahamstown, Wednesday 5 July 2006


Dramatic works