Archive for July, 2009

more pics from TEDGLobal 09

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Some pics from TEDGlobal in Oxford last week, copyright TED/ James Duncan Davidson.


Imogen Heap turns the audience into a human looping machine while jamming on the Hang drum.


Matthew White, euphonium impresario


Sophie Hunger, Swiss singer-songriter


The Radio Science Orchestra. Centre is Lydia Kavina, niece of Leon Theremin. To right is Bruce Woolley. I later joined them for my song Puls Kosmosa.

TEDGlobal 09 music

Friday, July 24th, 2009

It’s been an intimate meeting here in Oxford, a bit like a return to the pre-Long Beach days in Monterey, when the audience was small enough that you made new friends early on and bumped into them repeatedly over the next few days. Yet the range of speakers has been fantastically diverse, and the music program at TEDGlobal 2009 has been one of the most eclectic ever. I don’t have many photos yet but

We kicked off with Matthew White, an amazing young euphonium player called Matthew White. He was trained in classical and the Northern brass band tradition, but he’s reinventing the instrument and evolving new techniques such as the ability to play intervals by blowing and singing at the same time. He’s also impressively fast and accurate with his streams of staccato notes. He was a big hit in the opening session, so we asked him back for a quick reprise on Day 2. I asked him on the mic what popped into his mind when he heard he would be going on right after Stephen Fry, and before Gordon Brown. He thought about it and then said: ‘I’ve peaked!’

The second morning featured a great performance by Imogen Heap. She’s performed at TED before, but that was 4 years ago with Frou Frou and her former partner Guy Sigsworth before she was doing all the technology herself. In the interim she’s become a phenomenon of the Internet music era. She’s never cracked the Billboard charts, or been on the cover of Rolling Stone; yet she’s spent over 18 months at #1 in the iTunes electronica downloads, and she has over 3/4 million followers on Twitter. When she wants to do a public appearance she just calls for a flash mob, and an hour later there’s a line around the block. She’s just completed her new album Ellipse, which I think is her best yet. This was her first live perfomance since finishing the album, and she hasn’t yet figured out how to perform the songs live: so she played one new song on the piano (‘Wait It Out’) and treated us to a couple of her best-known songs that she created entirely from scratch. One was ‘Just For Now’ which she builds up and down using a looper. Then she gave us the iconic ‘Hide And Seek’ with its lush vocals and memories of a troubled childhood. This made my wife Kathleen very sad because our daughter Harper sang and played it to us the day before she left home last month. I, of course, was too busy trying to work out the voicings she was using to control her Harmonizer.

Sophie Hunger is an interesting singer-songwriter from Switzerland who gave us a taste of her passionate and rather sombre music, accompanied by two acoustic guitars and a rather amazing trombone player who made great use of an antique Harmon mute as used by the big bands of the 1930s and ’40s.

Emanuel Jal was a warchild in Sudan who spent many of his childhood years toting a machine gun to avenge his village which was ransacked and destroyed. He was determined to kill as many Muslims and Arabs and he could; yet before long he found himself playing music and jamming with his former enemies which brought about his change of heart. He walked hundreds of miles with other refugee kids, most of whom didn’t make it out alive. He was eventually smuggled out of the country with no papers by a benevolent woman who has since died. Having survived the horrors of his childhood, he has now dedicated himself to doing something to help the next generation of kids in his home country, and he is speaking and rapping his way around the world raising money to build a school. His moving story brought many TEDsters to tears, and he has since received pledges of all sorts of help with his project, ranging from cash to designer chairs to free translations.

Eric Lewis returned for another late night piano session. As controversial as ever, he seems to split audience opinion down the middle—some think he’s reinventing jazz piano, while others feel he’s about as relevant to art as Liberace.

Radio Science Orchestra, Bruce Woolley’s unusual ensemble featuring harp, flute, Beamz and electronics, performed an homage to their favourite heroes and recurring themes like Leon Theremin, Sputnik, and Dr Who. The featured soloist was thereminist Lydia Kavina, niece of the great man himself who lives in Oxford. They also reprised my song Puls Kosmosa which I wrote for the Sputnik and Beyond performance at the ICA in 2007, and Bruce and I duetted on the Russian lyrics, co-written and translated for me by Melissa Jordan and now tweaked by Lydia for Communist-era folk authenticity.

Last night’s bonus session which was held not in the Playhouse but in the gorgeous Sheldonian Theatre. To open the proceedings, Felix’ Machines rattled and sang a delightful overture. Felix builds them painstakingly in his bedroom, and programs them from his laptop in Logic Studio. I love the way they make music that a machine would actually make. It would be easy enough to program them to imitate the kind of electronic music you hear everywhere. Instead Felix has created a whole new vocabulary for his machines that is interesting and mesmerising at the same time.

As TED’s music director I have the enviable task of selecting the musicians that appear here, and helping them tune their performances to fit the context. It’s an honour for me and for the musicians that play here to be able to add a little fairy dust that help these amazing ideas grow. TED’s truly making waves around the world now. If you have suggestions for musical acts that we should consider please send them to thomas at

We’ve got one final surprise in store for this the final morning of TED. I don’t want to be a spoiler so I’ll add a footnote about it later!



The final musical surprise was a return to the stage by Imogen Heap, who (having sent most of her gear home to Essex) used the audience as a human looping machine and three sections of us vocal lines to loop for her while she improvised over the top with hang drum rhythms and vocalising! Eyes closed, totally in the moment, summing up our feelings about the whole week in a single chant. I was so proud of her!

And just to end on a geeky note: I loved this WW2 German cipher machine that was part of the set!


An interesting bit of re-release news….

Monday, July 20th, 2009

It looks like EMI Canada is releasing GAOW and TFE Collectors Edition CDs on August 10th. Still no plan for EMI USA to release them physically, but I am actively looking for another US label to license them.

I’m here in Oxford where TEDGlobal 2009 is about to get underway. The stage at the Playhouse looks beautiful. It’s a cosy theatre, more like our old one in Monterey than the new one in Long Beach. Oxford is my old stomping ground—my dad’s old office was at the Ashmolean Museaum across the street, and we had drinks last night overlooking his old college, Lincoln. During the school holidays I used to take the bus in to meet him at the Wimpey Bar round the corner for a cheeseburger: an exciting innovative food import back then in the ’60s and ’70′s, though Americans would probably have choked on the Wimpey version. Last night a friend and I ducked under the Bridge of Sighs and down a dark alleyway to the Turf Tavern, where one almost expects to see Sebastian slumped in a corner with his teddy bear.

I’ll be interested this year to meet the TED Fellows, a group of forward-thinking young people from around the world who are invited to attend TED on a kind of scholarship, and bring their unique talents and ideas into the mix. The quality and diversity is off the charts—here’s an example of one CV that caught my eye!


Rachel Armstrong is a medical doctor with qualifications in general practice, a multi-media producer, a science fiction author and an arts collaborator whose current research explores the possibilities of architectural design and mythologies about new technology. Rachel is currently collaborating with international scientists and architects to explore cutting-edge, sustainable technologies by developing “metabolic materials” in an experimental setting. These materials possess some of the properties of living systems and couple artificial structures to natural ones in the anticipation that our buildings will undergo an “origins of life”-style transition from inert to living matter and become part of the biosphere. By generating metabolic materials, it is hoped that cities will be able to replace the energy they draw from the environment, respond to the needs of their populations and eventually become regarded as “alive” in the same way that we think about parks or gardens. Since metabolic materials are made from terrestrial chemistry, they are not exclusive to First World countries and have the potential to transform urban environments worldwide.

off to TEDGlobal 2009

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

I’ve been a bad blogger the last couple of weeks. It’s been a busy time: I’m leaving today for Oxford where TEDGlobal 2009 runs July 21st-24th. As TED’s music director (great gig!) I contact, book and organise the musicians who play between speakers over the four days of TED. This year we’ve got some great music, including Sophie Hunger, Radio Science Orchestra, and Imogen Heap; also a teenage euphonium virtuoso, an East African war child-turned-rapper, and Felix’ Machines which are mechanical marvels that play gorgeous sequenced music using found car parts, piano hammers and LEDs. Looking forward to seeing my old friend and former percussionist Clif Brigden will be there DJing the whole event. And Kathleen has a full TED ticket this year, which she says she values more than any vacation anywhere in the world.

My son Graham just made his music festival debut at Latitude with his bin drumming group Bin There Drummed That. Sixteen kids dance around a circle and bang the heck out of plastic wheelie bins. He’s off for his second day there. Last night he witnessed a Patrick Wolf set, much to the annoyance I am sure of his older sibling Harper, now in the US, who is PW’s biggest fan and has photos of him plastered all over her bedroom wall. (Her annoyance will increase Tuesday when Graham and Talia get to see a live talk at TED by her other big hero, Stephen Fry. Thank heavens Eddie Izzard turned TED down–Harper would have committed harikiri.)

I’ve been digging Imogen Heap’s new album ‘Ellipse’ the last few days. It won’t be out for a few weeks but she was good enough to send me one (replete with with one of the infamous seals with my name on!) Some really fantastic tracks on there–my faves so far are Little Bird and Bad Body Double–all recorded by Immi herself in her lovely Georgian oval house, and extensively blogged, vlogged and tweeted about in every detail.

I’m writing this while I wait for my hard drive to back up so I can head off to the railway station. After Oxford I’m heading up to Scotland to do some recording with Eddi Reader, one of my favourite singers on the planet. I don’t know yet what key she’s going to want to sing in, so I have to bring a mini Logic setup, which I was preparing this week. In the midst of all this I had a complete computer meltdown and though my album material is all safely backed up, I lost a couple of applications for which I now can’t find the disks. This could have caused a problem for my Eddi sessions were it not for Eric Persing of Spectrasonics who kindly offered to FedEx me a new set of Omnisphere disks in Oxford, using my old serial number. So kind of him!

After Eddi I’m staying in Scotland for the National Championships of my yacht racing class the Loch Long One Design. I’ll be staying with the class Commodare on the shores of the Clyde, and crewing on #141 Fiona as the seaworthy English take on the fearsome Scots. Then August it’s back to work on my album in the Nutmeg of Consolation, as I try to pass the elusive notional halfway mark.

Yesterday was Lunesse’s birthday, my fabulous web mistress and Forum moderator. Happy Birthday darling!

letter from James Cabooter to

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

James Cabooter
on Sunday 5, 2009
Hi James Cabooter here, my ears have been burning. I can happily confirm this is nothing to do with me. First I heard about it was this morning thanks to a barrage of abusive emails.
I’ve been in contact with eBay, Sony and Imogen’s various contacts and rest assured the item is now off eBay.
Unfortunately our post is often intercepted by people and this is not the first time it has happened to a member of our staff.
I’ll be doing my best to find out who stole the disc and looking forward to actually hearing the album myself. I’d appreciate if you could spread the word to salvage my what remains of my reputation.
many thanks
James Cabooter

Imogen Heap bids £2m for her own album on eBay

Sunday, July 5th, 2009


There’s an interesting scenario unfolding over at eBay. A record seller listed a DJ pre-release copy of Imogen Heap’s forthcoming ‘Ellipse’ album, with an unopened seal. Large record labels often make a few hundred copies of upcoming albums to distrubute to DJs and journalists, giving them time to preview the album and build excitement. It’s often supplied with a ‘seal’ with the name of the recipient on it, along with a warning that it is traceable back to him/her, to stop people trying to cash in on it. This album was sent to one James *ooter, a writer for Da**cer (this is all you can see from the photo but the rest is not hard to work out.)

But someone brought this item to Imogen’s attention, and in the early hours of this morning she flagged the violation to eBay, meanwhile creating her own eBay account so she could bid for the album herself. Ironically eBay initially wouldn’t verify Imogen’s credit card! But once they did she placed a maximum bid of £2,000,000. The bidding is at £1,550 right now but It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

For as long as I’ve been in the music business (30+ years) I’ve seen DJ copies of my own music showing up in bargain bins and record collectors’ stalls. I remember around 1980 that Columbia in New York used to have an open drinks party every Friday for DJs where they would play new releases and the DJs could leave with an armful of 12″s. Later on the same day the DJs, all friends, met up again at a record shop on 8th street where they would turn around and sell the 12″s, netting perhaps $200 each. The cost of these pressings, and the party, and the salary of the label’s independent promotions people, are all deducted from the artist’s royalty statement before any royalties are payable. So instead of coming out of the label’s ~80% share of the revenue from record sales, ‘marketing’ expenses like this came out of the artist’s ~12% share. Along with satin tour jackets, bar bills at top night clubs, and in some cases, the marina fees for some radio programmer’s speedboat.

It’s not just the artist that suffers: it’s also the general public, because the Industry has been run so inefficiently that record and CD costs are unnaturally high, while many good artists never get signed or promoted. In a way it was in the Industry’s interest to keep it that way, because it made more manageable and predictable a business that is actually based on the magic of music, and the chaotic nature of the public’s musical tastes.

Personally I dislike many music journalists because they are lazy, ignorant, prejudiced, and elitist; cowards who give the artist no opportunity for recourse, and often not great at spelling and grammar. (There are exceptions of of course!) But whatever you think of the average professional music critic, you can’t condone one who also cynically lines his own pocket at the artist’s expense, not even bothering to break the seal and listen to the album. In so doing he perpetuates the same stagnant and corrupt system that has existed for decades, and which is only finally starting to break down now that the big record companies are not the only game in town.

Members of Parliament are resigning left right and centre because they fiddled a few quid on their expenses. IMO if this journalist James *ooter is selling stolen property on eBay, of via a ‘fence’, he should not be allowed to keep his job, or ever to work again as a professional writer.

a box of new CDs arrived!

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Hallelujah. FedEx just brought me a box of the “Golden Age Of Wireless” and “The Flat Earth” (Collectors Editions). They look great! Very pleased with the way the packages turned out. I’ve spotted a couple of typos already, but hey.

That probably means they will start showing up for some of those who ordered them from Amazon etc before the offical release date of July 13th.

I celebrated by going for a swim in the North Sea. Which is actually quite warm now. I feel great. Today is our 21st wedding anniversary and we’re going out to dinner.