Sarah is a composer making dreamlike performances where the total theatre of the sound’s creation is as striking as the music itself. Her music reflects her eclectic background as a classically trained composer, electronic artist and folk musician.
A prolific live musician, Sarah’s known for her skills and augmented techniques on theremin, an instrument she combines live with Max, vocals, recorder, saw, keyboard and her many found sounds and field recordings. On stage, she’s often accompanied by musical automata – machines she’s been devising and building since 2005 to give her performance an arresting and uncanny physical presence. Thematically, she often plays with the resonances between folklore and our perceptions of machines. Her music often plays with notions of electrical mysticism and the uncanny.
In April 2017, Sarah released her solo album Ealing Feeder – a work The Wire Magazine described as ‘a subtle gem’. She’s currently composing Giant, an electroacoustic chamber opera exploring the life, death and contentious afterlife of Charles Byrne (working with librettist Ross Sutherland and director Sarah Fahie). Giant is supported by Aldeburgh Music and funded by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.
Sarah also works in theatre, creating distinctive sounds which blur the boundaries between sound design and musical composition. She’s recently been working as composer and sound designer at Park Avenue Armory, New York, for a production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape (directed by Richard Jones – a transfer from The Old Vic, London). She’s currently working on a new production at The Almeida Theatre and has recently been sound designer on Hart and Kaufman’s 1930 play Once in a Lifetime (for The Young Vic, directed by Richard Jones).
Sarah’s sounds have been sampled extensively by Moon Wiring Club on his album Today Bread Tomorrow Secrets. Three of her own tracks featured on his summery compilation Down to the Silver Sea. Her occassional trio Spacedog have collaborated with Belbury Poly on Message and Method, a single in the acclaimed Ghostbox Study Series.
Based in London, Sarah is a resident artist at the former Limehouse Town Hall and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Sound Practice Research Unit, Goldsmiths. She’s recently been contributing to the EPSRC-funded research project Being There. Hosted by the Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol, this is a practical exploration of humans and robots in public spaces.
Over the few months, Sarah’s performed her original music live in Cafe Oto, Kings Place, The Royal Festival Hall, The Union Chapel, BFI Southbank, The Horse Hospital and Handel House, London; National Sawdust, Brooklyn; Wales Millennium Centre; Cardiff; The Arnolfini and Spike Island, Bristol; The Millennium Gallery, Sheffield; Landmark Kunstall, Bergen; Pałac Krzysztofory, Krakow; Elektriteater, Tartu; Newhaven Fort; Moog Labs, Flatpack Festival and Supersonic, Birmingham; The Art House; Southamption; Supernormal, Wilderness, The British Library, The Royal Institution, Senate House, The Museum of London, The Science Museum and many other venues and festivals. She’s also been heard on BBC national radio and in the reverberation chambers of the National Physical Laboratory.
Theatre and live film scores
Sarah was first asked to work in theatre in 2012 when she was commissioned by the National Theatre and Headlong Theatre Company to create a terse, electronic score for Lucy Prebble’s new play The Effect (directed by Rupert Goold).
In 2013, her trio Spacedog were commissioned to compose and perform music for Webber and Watson’s expressionist film The Fall of the House of Usher as part of the BFI season Gothic – The Dark Heart of Film (a project co-funded by PRSF). This was followed by a live reimagining of The John Wyndham classic The Midwich Cuckoos for Cinecity and the BFI’s nationwide season Sci-fi: Days of Wonder (2014).
In 2015, Sarah worked at The Old Vic, London, as composer and sound designer for Eugene O’Neill’s expressionist masterpiece The Hairy Ape. The play was directed by Richard Jones and much of Sarah’s work accompanied striking machine-like choreography by Aletta Collins. This production transferred to Park Avenue Armory, New York, in March 2017.
At the end of 2016, Sarah was sound designer on Hart and Kaufman’s Once in a Lifetime, a comedy set in the early days of the talkies (for The Young Vic, directed by Richard Jones).
Sarah continues to share her time between theatre productions and her own composition and live performance. She’s currently working on a new production at The Almeida, London.
Archival research and sound
Much of Sarah’s work is inspired and informed by material sourced in the UK national archives and beyond.
Inspired by Edward Lovett’s Magic in Modern London (1925), Sarah’s album Ealing Feeder (2017) explores extant magic in the city.
In 2016, Sarah wrote a biography of elecotracoustic composer and inventor Daphne Oram – a forward for Oram’s treatise An Individual Note – of Music, Sound and Electronics, republished by Anomie and the Daphne Oram Trust.
Sarah’s research on the life of Muriel Howorth, founder of the UK Atomic Gardening Society, was published in The Odditorium, edited by David Bramwell and Jo Keeling, for Hodder & Stoughton 2016.
In 2014, Sarah applied her archival skills on board WWII-era submarine HMS Alliance which she reanimated using a distributed, generative 50-channel soundpiece. Sarah worked closely with veteran submariners as well as museum curators and designers to create this immersive soundpiece, which deploys her novel, generative exhibition sound system.
In 2013, Sarah compared musicians’ attitudes to the first drum machines, samplers and talking pictures in the peer-reviewed work Material Culture and Electronic Sound (published by the Science Museum and Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press).
Horlicks and Armageddon (2011) mixed music with archival rarities to explore the private nuclear shelter movement of the 1980s and British attitudes to the bomb.
In her BBC Radio 4 documentary The Bird Fancyer’s Delight (2011), Sarah revealed how trained songbirds were used in the home as primordial domestic sound recorders, long before the invention of the phonograph. Produced by Neil McCarthy.
The Machinery, her collaboration with performer and theatre historian Caroline Radcliffe (2009), presents a striking nineenth-century machine-mimic dance – one that was devised by women keeping pace with the machines in Lancashire cotton mills.
In 2003, Sarah co-devised Soundless Music, a pioneering, partly-infrasonic concert and mass-participation experiment for the Southbank London. She also designed and deployed a novel, tactile infrasonic effect in Punchdrink and Adam Curtis’ It Felt Like a Kiss.
Sarah’s other research interests include audiophilia; sound making devices as counter-cultural objects; ventriloquism and the uncanny and the 1930s Electrical Association for Women.
Electronics, music and robotic art
Sarah’s been combining her interests in electronics and music since childhood when she used to make radio plays with a Phillips cassette recorder about futuristic trips to the Moon.
An early encounter with the works of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop inspired her to study electroacoustic engineering, rather than music, for her first degree. This was swiftly followed by an Associateship from the Royal College of Music in Baroque and Renaissance Music, then a masters in Evolutionary and Adaptive Systems (biologically-inspired robotics).
Sarah sees no division between notation-based composition and composition using Max and electronics – her music seamlessly mixes the two. Robotics enables Sarah to give her disembodied electronic sounds a striking physical presence on stage. She’s particularly interested in the coupling between sound and human or machine gesture. She feels this coupling is central to a compelling performance any acoustic or electronic work.
Thanks to Sin Bozkurt for header photo