A composer working with ancient instruments, electronics and robotics.
Performs live and creates music for film and theatre.
Sarah Angliss is a London-based composer, performer and electronic artist who composes for film, theatre and the concert stage – including her own live performance. Her finely-wrought, highly inventive music uses voices, orchestral and ancient instruments augmented by her bespoke electronics, Max and hand-built, robotic music machines. In 2018 she received a Composer’s Award from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
Sarah’s highly inventive work reflects an eclectic musical background. A classically-trained composer and instrumentalist who specialised early on in baroque and renaissance music, Sarah cut her teeth performing on the UK folk scene. She also has a background in electroacoustics and biologically-inspired robotics. All these disiplines resonate in her work. Her Ealing Feeder, for example, is a robotic polyphonic carillon that plays at inhuman speeds, creating sound with an uncanny physical presence as it’s conjured by a machine on stage. Angliss mixes robotics seamlessly with notated music, live electronics and bespoke patches devised in Max, a compositional tool she uses extensively.
Thematically, Sarah is inspired by the meeting point of machines and mysticism and to contemporary expressions of ancient folklore in the city. This was the subject of Ealing Feeder (2017), an album steeped in the sounds of sirens, wrestling rings, the Thames and the London tree canopy. A transfiguration myth in the ancient song ‘The Two Magicians’ is reimagined in a masked wrestling club in Bethnal Green and the drowning myth ‘The Cruel Sister’ – in which a woman’s body is used to make a violin that speaks – is set around a sluice gate leading to the Thames today. The twin tracks ‘Raven (Thought and Memory)’ in her follow-up album Air Loom (2019) reimagine wireless networking by drawing on Norse mythology: myths of gods and their messengers reading the thoughts of all men and women as they traverse the world in invisible ships.
A prolific live performer, Sarah plays regularly at live at venues and festivals championing new music including The Royal Festival Hall, Purcell Room, Cafe Oto, Kings’ Place, LSO St Luke’s, The Union Chapel, Camden Arts Centre and BBC Radio Theatre, London; National Sawdust, Brooklyn; The Wales Millennium Centre; Cardiff; BBC Halls, Swansea; Centre for Contemporary Arts and Glad Cafe, Glasgow; Supersonic Festival, Birmingham; Supernormal, Oxfordshire; The Arnolfini, The Cube and Spike Island, Bristol; Star and Shadow Newcastle; Golden Lion, Todmorden; Elektriteater, Tartu, and many others.
Sarah also applies her unusual sonic techniques to film and theatre and has been commissioned for the main stages of The Old Vic, The Young Vic, National Theatre and The Almedia. Her underscore for The Hairy Ape, Eugene O’Neill’s expressionist play from 1926 about the shock of modernity played in The Old Vic, London, and Park Avenue Armory, New York (directed by Richard Jones). Sarah has also created and performed live film scores for the BFI seasons Gothic – the Dark Heart of Film and Sci-Fi Days of Fear and Wonder. In 2019, she composed a vocal, instrumental and electroacoustic score for Amulet, a contained horror set in London. Written and directed by Romola Garai, Amulet was selected for Sundance 2020.
Sarah is currently composing Giant, an electroacoustic chamber opera exploring the chilling betrayal of Charles Byrne (librettist Ross Sutherland; director and dramaturg Sarah Fahie). Giant is supported by Snape Music and funded by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation. In 2021, she’ll be embarking on Buying the Wind – a timely collaboration with poet Hannah Lowe (funded by PRS Foundation for Music), exploring the wind and tide that have brought people, ideas, artefacts, fears, dreams and so much more to the UK, thanks to our elemental and defiantly porous border.
Last updated February 2020
Much of Sarah’s work is inspired and informed by her research into sound culture and other archival investigations:
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. In 2019 she composed and performed a piece for voice and live Oramics, with vocalist Sarah Gabriel, using Tom Richard’s mini-Oramics machine.
Inspired by Edward Lovett’s Magic in Modern London (1925), Sarah’s album Ealing Feeder (2017) explores extant magic in the city.
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 2019 Sarah wrote about the Doomsday Clock and ‘the new abnormal’ in The Wire Magazine.
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. Her documentary ‘Echo in a Bottle’, produced by Peregrine Andrews and Farshoreline, considered our enduring and sometimes deathly fascination with the echo.
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.
“Music possessed of an eerie instability…a whole universe unto itself brimming with fresh propositions and new directions…a shimmering minimalist masterpiece”
“The most inventive album I’ve heard in a long while…a testament to Angliss’ imagination and sheer musicality”.
“Poetic…drifting but focussed compositions….their beauty is pointed and hard-won.”
“Revelatory…a phenomenal collection….exists in a preternatural state of eerie calm and alluring mystery.”
B/w photo by Lucy Cage.