Free concert for students, staff and the public

On Monday 20th February, St Gregory’s Centre for Music welcomed international solo percussionist Luis Tabuenca for a concert on Contemporary Music Day as part of our performance week.

Barcelona-based performer, composer and improviser, Luis has toured Europe, Asia and the Americas, performing in festivals like the Münstersommer Summer Festival (Freiburg, Germany), Transplanted Roots (Montreal, Canada), the International Performance Festival (Bogotá, Colombia) and the Monday Evening Concerts (Los Angeles, USA). His compositions explore the borderlines between improvised and composed music. His music has been described as ‘intricate and involving, beautifully and immaculately sequenced’. Luis has recorded for Aural Terrains, Mode Records, Sinkro Records, Verso and Naucleshg. He has been honoured in several competitions and has received awards from the Government of Aragón, the Spanish Ministry of Culture and the Fulbright Commission. Luis Tabuenca is founder and Artistic Director of the International Experimental Music Festival (FAT) in Burgos, Spain.

We were treated to a lunch time performance for percussion and electronics, with a remarkable programme that included several UK premiers and the world premiere of a new work by one of our very own lecturers in music – Panos Ghikas – which he composed specially for Tabuenca.

The programme began with a piece by Chinese composer Carolyn Chen, played on the vibraphone, entitled The Sport of Cooking. Luis studied with Carolyn during his time in California and she wrote the piece for him, which looks at the way in which we learn a skill such as cooking or training for a sport. As such, the piece includes moments where traditional beaters are replaced with chop sticks, ping pong balls are tipped across the instrument and metal cans are knocked along the keys with a golf swing to make new and innovative sounds.

To follow, Luis performed the piece Nausea written for him by Canterbury Christ Church lecturer Panos Ghikas, who was present at the concert and led the subsequent masterclass for our students. The piece, played on a full kit and symbols, timpani’s and mixed with electronics, comments on the emotional state of pessimistic anticipation, when ‘things feel wrong and look like they are about to go irredeemably wrong’. As a composition, it combines fixed-audio with mobile notation. Both types of material originate from a process called Unreal-time improv, an audio-timeline navigation interface and improvisational tool for generating compositional structures. As such, Nausea was specially composed for Luis Tabuenca, a composer comfortable performing as an improviser.

The first of two pieces composed by Tabuenca himself followed – Corrección – written in 2015. Corrección explores issues of imitating/ignoring/interacting using sonic parameters such as timbre, tempo and rhythm. The sound source to be followed is external and uncontrolled by the performer, consisting of a soaked kitchen wipe located above a tom-tom drum. Drops of water will fall on the skin of the drum throughout the performance of the piece. The percussionist starts by listening to these drops, he/she then proceeds to perform on the vibraphone, following or not the fluctuating pulse and timbre produced by the falling drops.

The next piece was written by Greek composer Dimitris Bakas, entitled P.I.G.S, which uses acoustic sources (drum kit) in a soundscape composition, which – in acoustic ecology terms – focuses on relationships between foreground and background sounds. The field recordings were made in a pigsty at the foothill of Mount Olympus, Greece. The drum kit’s function is to create a role-reversal by ‘pulling’ sounds perceived as background (rack/feeder sounds made by the pigs) into the foreground. P.I.G.S stands for Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, countries that have failed economically, representing the theme.

The penultimate piece, Coporel – translated as ‘Corporeal’ – written by French avant-garde composer and trombonist Vinko Globokar, was something of a first for its time. The piece uses no instruments, focussing on body percussion, which places a high level of burden on the performer to communicate the written music through physical gesture. The premise appears simple: Globokar has the shirtless percussionist use his own body as an instrument: hitting, beating, thwacking and wordlessly vocalizing.


To conclude a fantastic programme of performance, Luis performed the second self-composed piece of the afternoon entitled Tántalo. Written in 2013, the composition deals with issues of verbal and nonverbal language. The narrative idea is a relationship in which the performer approaches the recorded voice and interacts with it through actions and stimuli proposed by the composer. Everyday phrases or gestures take on new meanings and directions as the couple enters a phase of routine where everyone stops listening to the other. The piece is based on a work by Austrian artist Eva Lootz.

The concert was followed by a masterclass in which Tabuenca discussed the pieces played in more detail, explaining his process of either creating or learning to play each work and answering any questions from the audience. Two of the other composers represented in the programme, Panos and Dimitris, were present at the masterclass and discussed their own pieces and the development of them. Throughout the class, Luis paid particular attention to examples of where improvisation meets composition, as this is a theme of all the works performed. A special demonstration of this theme was shown through an unnamed composition by a group of American and Japanese artists called No Collective which was written on the most interesting of mediums. A leaf taken from a tree in Central Park, upon which the score was written in 2009, was given to Luis in order to perform the piece. It is the only copy and one of a kind. As such the score is fragile and used sparingly. Luis duly played this amazing score on a wind-come-percussion instrument, replicating the sound of bird song, through which the performer must improvise along with the composition, starting by standing very close to the leaf and slowly moving away from it as the piece continues. The piece ends when the performer can no longer read the score upon the leaf. The masterclass concluded with a practical workshop, which encouraged the students to develop their own sounds from ordinary items to demonstrate Luis’ own artistic process, before going on to critique and appreciate our students’ own compositions.