Commissioned by the BBC, NTS radio and Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, as part of the New Creatives project.

The Lesbian Families Sound Archive

Both my older sister and I were raised by lesbian parents before same-sex adoption even became legal in this country. We grew up in a world which was not created for us, where families were never depicted or described as ours was, where every form and certificate filled in had to be changed to acknowledge the very existence of my parents. 

The Lesbian Families Sound Archive was made for a project with the ICA, BBC, and NTS as part of the New Creatives project. The piece offers a new perspective on sound as memory, identity and recollection. The project consisted of entering different familial spaces through the social networks formed when I was a child and creating sound-collage objects which offer a glimpse of each family’s sonic identity. I aimed to create a piece of sonic work which embodied the ideals of queer sonic archival practice, but also capitalised on its listening context on BBC Sounds, acting almost as a form of radio play.

Sara Ahmed writes that “following a line is not disinterested: to follow a line takes time, energy, and resources, which means that the ‘‘line’’ one takes does not stay apart from the line of one’s life, as the very shape of how one moves through time and space.” In creating The Lesbian Families Sound Archive, I aim to reclaim this sonic space as a significant and vital part of (re)creating identity, and consider in depth how mine and other lesbian families close to us use sound to articulate their specific familial situation.

Link to listen:

Sideways Knowing Glance

Sideways Knowing Glance is the debut single from London based experimental pop duo the mermaid café (Ruari Paterson-Achenbach & Joanna Ward), out on the 10th of July 2020.

The track emerged from improvisation and experimentation using voices with loop pedals; through collaborative development, it’s grown into a 10 minute dream-pop cloud of honeyed vocals, rich and complex textures, glitchy synthesis, and intricate, intimate storytelling.

Whilst the song has been in gestation for a long time, this release was predominantly recorded and mixed whilst in lockdown in Newcastle. Whilst remaining honest to the mermaid cafe’s roots in DIY and intuitive music making, this single represents a turn towards pristine post-production shimmer in their sound.

This release is the culmination of two years of the mermaid café performing, writing, and improvising together, developing their songwriting practice. the mermaid café represents exciting, fresh collaborative thinking, bringing together many layers of artistic influence: both Ruari and Joanna do work ranging across songwriting, experimental and contemporary classical composition, multi-instrumental and vocal performance, research, activism, and visual art. Joanna is currently studying Composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and Ruari is working as a freelance musician and writer. 

This track was mastered by Jeremy Warmsley, and the group has worked with graphic designer Emily Tonkinson-Sharp to develop the cover art and merch for this release.


“I  feel like the world “experimental” has lost its bite a bit in the indie music world. I often associate it either with a long haired man playing a 20 minute ambient guitar solo that just shows off the latest Strymon pedal, or a post-punk band that have decided hitting a kitchen pan makes them true revolutionaries. I think the Mermaid Cafe, with Sideways Knowing Glance, can actually lay a bit more claim to pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a pop song.”

“Whether it’s morning or evening it doesn’t matter; neither awake nor asleep, where we are right now is someplace liminal, some in-between space that exists beyond the reach of the world outside the doorway, the world where time is measured up and portioned out.”


by the mermaid café


Selected for presentation at the April 2020 Eavesdropping Symposium: ’Creative activism: radical responses within new music’

An ‘almost-manifesto’- Recollection, Utopianism, Lesbian Families and Sonic Archival Practice

My proposal initially planned to be a talk / presentation / collective listening / self reflection in response my sound piece ‘The Lesbian Families Sound Archive’. In practice, due to unforeseen global circumstances, the project for the symposium became more of a glorified programme note. 

The original sound piece is played in full, at the 15 minute mark transitioning into an improvisatory self-reflection about what we have just heard. Moving away from academia towards a more performative writing exercise, the piece becomes both theoretical and deeply personal, offering a critique of my own creative practice and the piece we have listened to together. 

Whilst insisting that it is not yet a manifesto, the piece attempts to imagine possible futures and ideals for a resistive, celebratory and explicitly queer sonic creative practice. A call to arms, a quiet reflection and an intimate collective empowerment. One day it may be finished, but for now it aims to keep ‘The Lesbian Families Sound Archive’ alive, and provide a hopeful collection of thoughts for future artistic creation. 

Link to listen:

Tate Late 28.02.2020 – Experimental Performance, Recontextualising Queer Sound

In January 2020 I was asked to perform at the Tate Late at the end of February in the Tanks at Tate Modern. For this specific event the artist in focus is Steve McQueen, and I was asked to respond to themes of childhood, the artist and the city both in relation to his retrospective exhibition and Tear 3 project. 

Combining some of the recordings and found sounds collected for ‘The Lesbian Families Sound Archive’ I began to think about how notions of queerness and adolescence could be conveyed through a live performance context, specifically one coming from the position of a ‘DJ. I tried to apply concepts of nostalgia, intimacy and specificity not just to the home recordings but every ‘found sound’ used. Not just choosing a ‘song’ but a specific recording, specific live performance, a recording of someone listening to a recording, recontextualising these songs and sounds through juxtaposition, layering and manipulation.

The final piece combined these various ‘found’ sounds with elements of free improvisation using voice, looper pedals and a small modular synthesiser. In focusing particularly on the voice, the piece is centred around the body as a site of lived, gendered experience, and the performativity (or lack of performativity, in the case of younger recordings of myself) inherent in vocal production. By creating a soundscape consisting almost entirely of different versions and ages of my voice, I hoped to create a subtle reflection on childhood / adolescence, domestic environments through the lens of queerness (both in my parents’ influence on my childhood and my current relationship with gender / sexuality).  Ultimately this is all situated within the context of a DJ performance – something designed to apply different perspectives to sound through their placement and arrangement, something to dance to. 

Link to listen:



Winner of the 2019 ‘The Night With…’ Call for Scores, workshopped, performed and recorded by The Hermes Experiment

to sleep on it

to sleep on it is a graphic score, with material varying from scatterings of notes and gestures of paint to specific textual instructions and inquiries into personal experiences and emotions. 

The piece aims to destabilise traditional relationships between composer, performer and audience, formulating a collaborative non-hierarchical creative environment which prioritises personal experience and subjectivity. The piece also challenges traditional conceptions around ‘notation’ and builds upon the work of composers such as Claudia Molitor and Alison Knowles to imagine alternative modes of sounding and improvising. 

The piece was the winner of the 2019 ‘The Night With…’ Call for Scores, and was workshopped, performed and recorded by The Hermes Experiment. The four movements are featured as separate tracks on ‘The Night With… Live Vol. One’.

Link to listen:

these things add up

These Things Add Up was created for a field recording workshop with Sound Artist Kate Carr, organised by Nonclassical. 

The piece is a quiet rumination on the presence of sound within spaces and the ways in which it can discomfort or exclude. The main focal recording was made in a small basin in Newcastle, where on VE day a single radio echoes throughout the basin amidst a sea of Union Jacks. When translated into purely sound and combined with nearby sounds of nature and industry, it creates a hauntological and personally unnerving sonic environment, a calm space with the underlying tension of rose-tinted nationalism. 

The creation of the piece required situating myself (the artist) within a physical environment which created immense discomfort, surrounded by visual symbols I have come to associate with traditionalism, nationalism, backward-minedness, empire, exclusion and hints of fascism. It drew into focus not just more focused thought around the place / situation / presence of the ‘artist’ in field recording work, but also the disjunct between the artist’s experience and its ultimate detachment from the listener’s. 

Link to listen:


for Nonclassical


for large chamber ensemble and electronics

are you ready to burn buildings

I wanted to explore the power of noise, both as an oppressive tool, and as a site of sonic resistance // I wanted to explore voices (specifically in a piece written for instrumentalists) / how voices are silenced / how silence can be powerful and defiant // I wanted to be angry // I wanted to pay tribute to one of the main influences in my life without stealing her voice to be used in some vague political statement // I wanted people to be confused // I wanted to explore how the song black is the colour of my true love’s hair has been used by different people throughout history to resist and to articulate identity // I wanted to explore how sound can overwhelm and suffocate // I wanted the performers to be challenged and empowered // I wanted to see how different voices transform the same idea // I wanted to find intimacy in a fucked up world // I wanted people to listen to Nina //

are you ready to burn buildings was premiered in Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge, on 01.03.19, conducted by Tom Edney.

The electronics part consists of three main sections. The opening section consists of recordings of interviews with Nina Simone at different points in her career, discussing her experiences of racism and sexism. The second section consists of heavily manipulated recordings of the song black is the colour of my true love’s hair. The third section features all of these recordings played simultaneously without any manipulation, leading into a final interview recording with Nina Simone, which the performers are instructed to listen to. The recordings featured are by Nina Simone, Joan Baez, John Jacob Niles, Patty Waters and Pete Seeger.

duration – 12’36’’ –

four looper songs

four looper songs

a series of scatterings / improvisations / sketches / wrong notes


Recorded on 07.07.19 in Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge


Premiered by the gentlemen of Jesus College Choir, Cambridge, on 09.07.19 at Gloucester Cathedral


It was such a pleasure to be able to write this piece for AATTBarB choir to be premiered by members of my own choir whilst on a short tour at Gloucester Cathedral. The score combines more conventional notation with elements of improvisation and vocal manipulation.

setmeasaseal was kindly commissioned by Brian and Haley Woods-Lustig, and premiered by the gentlemen of Jesus College Choir, Cambridge, on 09.07.19 at Gloucester Cathedral.


emagehtnurseulb is a short sound collage / soundscape, compiling and manipulating recordings made on location in Bruges, Belgium as well as different versions of pop and folk songs which I recorded with my group the mermaid cafe. Through combining recognisable with more obfuscated sounds, the piece aims to create a unique sound narrative for the listener which is simultaneously discombobulating and comforting.

The work was selected for exhibition at the 2019 John Hughes Arts Festival.


Exhibited at the 2019 John Hughes Arts Festival


For Juice Vocal Ensemble

can i have the corners of your toast

can i have the corners of your toast was composed for a workshop with the Juice Vocal Ensemble as part of ‘The Night With…’ call for scores, organised by Matthew Whiteside, and recorded at the Scottish Music Centre, Glasgow. The text for the piece consists entirely of fragments of text taken from the notes app on my phone written between 2014-2018.

By using text I myself wrote, but that was created for an entirely different purpose, I tried to give an open presentation of myself to the performers which allows them to portray that intimacy and humanity through performance. The scatterings of text are set in a way which prioritises the embodied aspect of performance, progressing from internal to external vocalised sounds, moving between tight and disparate pitches. The more aleatoric aspects of the score give further power to the performer, continuing to destabilise the preconceived boundaries between composer / performer / audience which the text selection presupposes, and assists in creating an emotional and meditative performative space.

I want to thank Kerry, Anna and Sarah for being so understanding, helpful and open to ideas in the workshop, and Matthew for organising such a wonderful event. 

The text of the piece consists entirely of fragments derived from words recorded on the notes app on my phone

The fragments are as follows: 

“can I have the corners of your toast” 17 August 2018

“I had been trying” 18 July 2017

“I ignore and try to forget about important things because I’m scared” 20 December 2017

“falling in love on the tube, fingers six apart” 14 January 2015

We Have Kept You Whole

we have kept you whole was written for No Dice Collective, and premiered at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester on 07.12.18. The words were written and performed by James Varney. 

The piece was written for a project in collaboration with The Writing Squad, where composers collaborated with writer to produce works involving the live performance of music and text simultaneously. The words present an external, unspecified parasitic being observing earth, and their ultimate consumption / preservation of humanity. The piece aims to converse with the abstract, sinister, corporeal imagery of the text, with the narrative explored through experimentation with timbre and explorations of pitch frequency. 

The piece also features an electronics part, consisting of audio files triggered by the vocal performer at certain moments of the text. The files contain pitch- manipulated recordings of myself singing / performing fragments of the text at a variety of frequencies. The piece aims to create a unique sonic environment including the vocal performer to immerse the listener within the unique atmosphere of sound and image provided by textual and sonic interactions. 

I want to thank James for being such a kind and invested collaborator, and Joe and Georgia at No Dice for giving me this opportunity. 


Written for No Dice Collective. Words written and performed by James Varney.


for members of BCMG

you were at hand

The piece was workshopped and recorded by members of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group at West Road Concert Hall

Many thanks to Jenni Phillips (oboe), Julian Warburton (percussion), and Zoe Martlew (cello) for their performance and feedback

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