Writing an opera, a few reflections

The Bridge follows a man’s progress through early diagnosis and the experiences of living with Alzheimer’s. It is part fantasy, part fractured memory, and the meeting of research and real life as we gain insight into the existence of the main character and the world that unfolds around him.  

From initial confusion with his wife over something as trivial as a cup of tea, we follow his course through frustration and fear with occasional twinges of humour as it becomes apparent that there is something amiss. As members of the audience, we catch intermittent glimpses into his life, seeing snippets of the world as he perceives it, rather than what may be regarded as an empirically ‘true’ timeline of events.  

Moving on from diagnosis through well-meaning but occasionally misguided help, the world of our protagonist becomes increasingly internalised and disconnected from the environment, while simultaneously remaining no less vibrant and emotionally meaningful.  

As time continues to pass, we notice clarity and solace in occasional memories. A photograph, a song, the warmth of love. We see that these things may be ephemeral, as the present, memory, and fantasy envelop the mind like separate planes of origami being folded in, constantly shifting in aspect, but nonetheless maintaining their own intangible consistency.  

In short, this is an opera about grief and love. It is easy to see how any artistic output dealing with the core subject matter could be laden with grief. That is an understandable and well-trodden path. It is as much about fear and loss as it is about retained memory, care for others, hope, and the ability to empathise with a reality at times jarringly different to one’s own. It is about acceptance, and finding a way to exist in the present, not only for the person with the diagnosis but for those around them. To square that circle of what has been, may have been, and could still be yet to come. 

As a creative rather than medical endeavour this work cannot cure anything, but perhaps we can provide a little more understanding for some, solace to others and inspiration to a few. 

* * *

“To my mind, most opera characters don’t know they are singing until they think they are singing in the story…”

Compared to instrumental music or even standard “song”, I was struck by how many different layers of meaning and reality could be implied within the operatic genre. Implicit within most sung material is the idea of words, on a superficial level these can tell you a lot about the emotional state of a given character, their desires, and motivations however this is only incredibly superficial.

Alongside this there is the musical content, an apparently happy text recalling an event sung over a minor/sad chord progression implies something very different from the same text sung over something happy. This tension can open avenues towards commentary on a subject matter rather than simply demonstration or documentation of fictious events.

Parallel to these considerations come the elements of performance; a singer may lean into a note, warm a phrase, or slightly attack an entry and this gives life to a subtlety beyond what is purely on the notated page, often in ways I had not fully anticipated.

Working on the next plane of understanding, we reach a musical world external to the singers; namely that inhabited by overture, musical as opposed to textural structure, and the non-diegetic (outside of the world as perceived by the characters on stage) nature of most operatic music. To my mind, most opera characters don’t know they are singing until they think they are singing in the story.

In terms of text, it is very rare for a story or libretto to map 1:1 to the idea of a musical structure. For example, while music may outright repeat material to form a sense of continuity or recapitulation, it is very unusally that written works (Jabberwocky aside) specifically use the same material at the beginning and the end. Conversely this is almost de rigueur in classical symphonic writing.

Non-diegetic music short-circuits this facile understanding of structure and enables the score to better represent the libretto at a meta-textual level rather than simply mirroring the action word for word. In short, the sound world that the characters in the story don’t hear, bridges the gap between the written word and the sung word, creating a way that the two different media of word and music can achieve compatibility while not destroying the internal consistency of the other.

* * *

Reflecting the protagonist’s increasingly agitated and occasionally disconnected mind.

The Bridge is an attempt to invert expectations. It would be very easy to travel from comfortable harmonies towards fragmented dissonance towards the conclusion. Instead the overall sound world follows that of the baritone lead. There are moments towards the start where the mischievous and satirical nature of the works shines though with the major/minor tonality evoking a domesticated environment better suited to Wallace and Gromit than serious opera.

This gives way to a more disjunct and fragmented atmosphere of evolving modalities, rolling various augmented and diminished chords, reflecting the protagonist’s increasingly agitated and occasionally disconnected mind.

When matters are addressed the baritone climbs out to the other side towards tonality again: initially battered by the excessive chirpiness.

As a composer working in this medium there is a certain pressure to create newness, to embrace something which the public may not comprehend until long after I have passed away. While creating a legacy and history would be nice, I am more interested in helping those around me. I have tried to stay true to my principals of writing interesting and articulate music, without falling too far into the introspective navel gazing implicit within almost any artwork emerging from a creator with a western c.20th background.  

More to follow…


Brief thoughts on a “remix” and a name

Firstly this probably needs a bit of context. Late last year I was involved in a crossover project between the Oscilloscope and Modulate music communities, where each effectively took over the other’s event for a night and tried to work within that genre. Out of this experiment a number of great pieces came into being and at the close of the second show it was suggested that each camp should remix the others work. This was then put to a public vote as to who should who work on which track. When the votes were counted it showed that the wisdom of the crowd suggested I should remix Julian Roberts’ Izotope.

Listening to Jules’ track it really brought to mind some of Kandinsky’s paintings. There are strong vibrant colours, arranged in blocks and wedges which seemed to fit with the ramping up and metrical jump-cuts of Izotope.

I started working on my remix of the piece, taking the idea of a remix very loosely using only the sounds from the original but manipulating them and reworking the structure to almost become a completely different track from the mix of the same constituent parts.

Initially I was creating sounds and textures from the original and trying to build a structure, but this felt a little arbitrary; an active bit here, a quiet bit there to then make a build feel more impressive and so on. It didn’t seem to have a soul or be about anything.

Vasily Kandinsky Small Worlds I (Kleine Welten I) from Small Worlds (Kleine Welten) 1922

So, I went back to the Kandinsky I had in my head and tried to find the painting I had thought of when first listening. Eventually I found Kleine Welten I (Small Worlds I) which was the closest to what I had imagined.

I realised that not only was my work already potentially quite sci-fi in its sound, but that within the discrete textures and even the way I was composing I was indeed imagining my way between a number of different space and planets. It also gave a not particularly subtle nod to the micro/macro scale implied by Jules’ name for the original track. As a result the title for the remix Small Worlds has stuck.

After the release of the Oscilloscope/Modulate Collab, artists were paired up and challenged to remix each others work. This [full album, not just this track!] is the epic result. Some amazing work by an amazing community. All proceeds going to C.A.L.M (The Campaign Against Living Miserably) Charity. This has been a weird/rough year. Communities of people being human is so important for well being. Thanks to everyone involved with this release, you’re all amazing!

Digito In Machina

Out Now! 🙂

Digito In Machina was composed over the course of a week during the 2020 lock-down. Working from home with no access to performers, recording venues or instruments other than what was immediately to hand narrowed some of the physical possibilities, but in so doing paved the way for the exploration of different solutions.

Superficially Digito In Machina can be perceived as a work for piano and computer, but to draw this conclusion would be an error as the whole piece was generated digitally. What interests me is how it is still so tempting to conjure a physical causality behind the piano (all the notes of which were pre-programmed) especially when it blurs into, and is overwhelmed by the ‘other’ of electronic processing which is in turn based upon the “piano” sound. Up until seven weeks ago the idea of not recording it with a real person playing the instrument would have been anathema; but given sessions are currently not an option it frees up this new metaspace between the inference of instrument, performer and computer audio.

The work reflects some of the strangeness of the lock-down time, arching over an approximately bell-like curve mixing whimsy and moments of beauty, with occasional flashes of fear, engulfment and the feeling of a niggling itch somewhere inside the mind. I sincerely hope we all arrive well on the far side. Stay safe.

Ed Wright
Penmaenmawr 4th May 2020

A Foreword

For Host/Operator

Creativity takes many forms.

Engagement with the sonic arts is a simple exercise, just listen.

Therein lies some of the beauty of this medium, it can be grasped instantly; and in so doing the listener can become (at least partially) cognisant of an enormity of meaning, symbolism, experience and practice that the acoustic information implies. 

This is particularly true of the work of Host/Operator. Theirs is an expression which embraces the audible and then exceeds it. The live composition of the work coupled with its instantaneous performance, are facilitated by a wealth of experience and self-reliance. The supreme mastery over ones medium to the point of the subversion of the self is an accomplishment few achieve, and in so doing this raises their work from that of a solely musical endeavour into an overarching meta-sphere of creativity.

Theirs is the hyperspace of the present, the infinitesimal point where past and future meet: reciprocation of past and projection to future are mediated through creative process, physical action and technological affordance to create a visceral, resonant dimension, outside of the day to day experience.

For this, and for so many other kindnesses, thank you both.

Ed Wright PhD FRSA

Penmaenmawr N. Wales 2019

Turbo 15-10-19

New music out now at:


Turbo is a piece of acousmatic music. It draws on three separate sound sources namely two Formula One cars which raced when I was young, the Lotus 97T and the Ferrari 412 T2, as well as a Scalextric set. These three sources form the basis of the track with the remaining sounds derived from them or synthesised from first principals.

The engines of that era sounded very different. It was a less regulated time, before the advent of widespread electronics, the introduction of hybrid engines or the level of concern about petrochemicals and their environmental impact. While there have been many changes for the better over the last thirty years in F1, the sound of the grid is not one of them.

While working with the audio to create something musical rather than a historical document several things jumped out at me. Firstly it is amazing how melodic these vehicles are. From the chord of D and A created by snapshot sample of a car in the distance to the almost choir-like textures created by zooming right in on only a very narrow set of frequencies it really should not have been a surprise how ‘tuned’ race cars are. Secondly, the sounds are highly cyclical, but in an evolving way which can be exploited to find not only glitchy textures but also built on and augmented.

As well as drawing on the sounds of the turbo engine the idea of a turbo spiral extends into the structure of the work. There are four main sections to the music which repeat and develop with increasing rapidity. If you travelled around a spiral at a constant speed you would find a new section of music every ninety degrees. As the spiral tightens the sections become shorter, leading to a whirling inexorability in the final stages.

This idea of structural acceleration extends to a Ferrari engine sound heard throughout the work. It starts very low and slow; five-thousandths of its original speed and then gradually ramping up to become audible, first as a bassy rumble before transforming into glitchy background antics before flying past at full speed at the end.

Creating this piece has been an interesting challenge; trying to balance something which is intellectually rigorous (e.g. the golden-spiral mapping and computing), along with creating something which is engaging to listen to. I have tried to convey something of the excitement and nostalgia the source sounds bring to me, but also that tranquil space that you find in split seconds of extreme focus, the loudness and brutality of the spectacle, and hopefully something beautiful. 

Turbo, Maths and Music

I have already written about some of the creative aspects of Turbo, the piece of music I am currently working on here https://edvirtual440.wordpress.com/2019/07/22/turbo/, but following interest from a number of people here is a bit of a deeper dive into the mathematics of the piece.

Under the gloss and shine of the main body of the work there is a continuous recording of a Ferrari 412 T2 F1 car. The recording starts played back very slowly; gradually getting quicker until it is at normal (breakneck!) speed at the end.
Artistically this was done to draw the listener in, there is a slow but impending inexorability about it but I wanted it to work creatively as more than just a cheap trick.

The playback speed is modelled on a golden spiral (i.e. a logarithmic spiral whose growth factor is φ the golden ratio) a design found not only in some engine turbos but also the humble snail from which the component took its name.

A golden spiral with initial radius 1 has the following polar equation:

\ r = \varphi^{\theta\frac{2}{\pi}}\,

If one were to travel inwards on such a spiral at a constant speed the time it would take to describe a full rotation around the centre decreases. While your speed would stay the same, in terms of RPM you would be accelerating. The manipulated Ferrari recording follows this pattern making 3 full rotations of the spiral appearing to get faster towards the epicentre at the end of the piece.

At a simple level digital audio works a lot like animation. A snapshot of a soundwave is taken numerous times a second (44100 for CD quality) and these snapshots are essentially then played back in order to create a close likeness to the original continuous sound. Just like animation and flip-books you can change how fast you leaf through the individual ‘pages’, and thus gain mastery of speeding up, slowing down or even appearing to reverse time.

The piece of music was to be 8 mins 39 seconds long. I wanted the Ferrari to be at normal playback speed at 8:38. Hence it was a task of mapping the sample rate to time or its equivalent distance along the spiral. Looking at it backwards I was aiming for a sampling rate of 44100 Hz at 8:38 with that rate decreasing by the proportions of the golden spiral as the time elapsed from the beginning of the piece of music trended to 0. 

Several cups of tea later I came up with the following which gives sample rate (Hz) relative to time (s). This is copied from the code which I had left deliberately un-simplified so that I could still almost see what I was doing!

Sample rate =44100(1/(pow(((1+sqrt(5))/2),((LOG(1-((1-pow((1+sqrt(5))/2,(12)))/(1-(1+sqrt(5))/2)-TIME)+(((1+sqrt(5))/2)*((1-pow((1+sqrt(5))/2,(12)))/(1-(1+sqrt(5))/2)-TIME))))/(log((1+sqrt(5))/2)))-1)))

This resulted in a gradual and inevitable winding up of speed but was still very ugly not to mention the processing power it drew before even handling audio. It turns out that trying to feed a digital-analogue converter floating values for sample rate (as opposed to integers) is not a great idea and leads to clicks and glitches. This brought down my need for fine grained resolution by a significant factor. In addition the difference of +/- of half sample is inaudible when 44100 are going past in a second! 

This meant that rather than calculate it all on the fly I stuck the formula into and excel spreadsheet and told it to calculate relative to the rows while rounding to the nearest integer; hence an instant lookup table with a revised sample rate for every second. Incidentally it started off *really* slowly at 221 samples in the first second!

I then cooked up a simple playback and record program (it has had 2 incarnations, being initially built in MAX/Msp and later Supercollider due to cross platform issues). It takes the excel table and looks at the values over time, interpolating between the 1 second breakpoints and applies this to the playback speed of the audio while simultaneously recording the output to disk. 

The net result is a lookup table and a bit of ramping between values; far more computationally efficient than the junk equation above! Sonically if produces a seamless transition from inaudible, through rumbling sub-bass, murmuring rumbles up to urgent build and finally a howling drive-by.

Turbo is due for release in October on Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp etc. (click the links to go direct to the artist page). For more info see www.virtual440.

Sound-Sculpture ‘Susurration’ Cerflun-Sain

Susurration – Ed Wright 2019

Sound-Sculpture commission for Golygfa Gwydyr 

Susurrate (Latin): a murmur or whisper of leaves, wind etc.

The piece works with the shapes of the woodland to create a reflective space. Resonant metal bars are suspended from various trees and branches sonically and visually amplifying the apparent characteristics of each.

With the notes being suspended from the trees, the branches dictate something of the visual shape. Thus the impression of a majestic or skeletal specimen becomes heightened.

This is exaggerated by the notes used. In the case of a gnarled tree, if the notes used create something bright, a high pitched and major sound; it all of a sudden feels like a cheerful plucky little tree. Whereas if darker diminished tones were chosen the atmosphere and presence feel more menacing.

By itself the sculpture is largely silent, requiring a strong gust or outside intervention to create a sound. Instead, it remains quiet, highlighting the shapes of the canopy in an alien, almost ritualistic way.

On exploring the space members of the public can find beaters secured in place with which to tap the bars and bring the space to life. If audience members want to hear more than one tree at once in the space then they will have to cooperate and play as an ensemble due to the distances involved.

Each tree has a specific chord cluster, the sounds and appearance of which reflect the artists’ response to working with that particular organism. Some are sunlit and beautiful, others are brooding or foreboding, and everywhere in between.

The work is as much about music as the potential for sound. It is about heightening awareness of the environment, the magnification of space and listening and the pockets of existence between, before and after notes.

Edward Wright is a composer and musician living and working in N. Wales. Many thanks to Golygfa Gwydyr for the commission and Ysgol Emrys Ap Iwan for the donation of some of the upcycled materials.

Comisiwn Cerflun Sain ar gyfer Golygfa Gwydyr

Susurrate (Lladin): murmur neu sibrwd y dail, y gwynt ac ati.

Mae’r darn yn gweithio gyda siapiau’r coetir i greu gofod myfyriol. Mae bariau metel cyseiniol yn hongian o wahanol goed a changhennau ac yn chwyddo nodweddion ymddangosol pob un yn seinegol ac yn weledol.

Oherwydd bod y nodau’n hongian o’r coed, mae’r canghennau’n pennu peth o’r siâp gweledol. Felly cawn argraff gynyddol o sbesimen mawreddog neu ysgerbydol.

Caiff hynny ei chwyddo gan y nodau a ddefnyddir. Yn achos coeden gnotiog, os yw’r nodau a ddefnyddir yn creu sŵn clir, llon, uchel ei draw; mae’r cyfan yn sydyn yn teimlo fel coeden fach dalog a siriol. Mae tôn dywyllach a chywasgedig yn creu awyrgylch ac ymdeimlad mwy bygythiol.

Ynddo’i hun mae’r cerflun yn dawel, ac mae angen hwrdd o wynt neu ymyrraeth allanol i greu sain. Yn hytrach, mae’n parhau i fod yn dawel, gan amlygu siapiau’r brigau a’r entrych mewn modd estron, defodol bron.

Mi welwch chi fod yna brennau taro wedi eu gosod i chi guro’r bariau a dod â’r lle’n fyw. Os yw aelodau’r gynulleidfa eisiau clywed mwy nag un goeden yn seinio ar yr un pryd bydd yn rhaid iddynt gydweithredu a chwarae fel ensemble oherwydd y pellteroedd sydd rhwng y coed.  Mae gan bob coeden glwstwr cord penodol, y mae ei synau a’i ymddangosiad yn adlewyrchu ymateb yr artistiaid i weithio gyda’r organeb benodol honno. Mae rhai’n heulog a hardd, eraill yn llawn pensyndod neu ddrwgargoel, a phob amrywiad arall.

Mae’r gwaith yn ymwneud cymaint â cherddoriaeth â photensial sain. Mae’n ymwneud â chynyddu ymwybyddiaeth o’r amgylchedd, chwyddo gofod a gwrando a’r pocedi o fodolaeth sydd rhwng y nodau, cyn pob nodyn ac ar ôl pob nodyn.

Cyfansoddwr a cherddor yw Edward Wright sy’n byw ac yn gweithio yng Ngogledd Cymru. Diolch yn fawr i Olygfa Gwydyr am y comisiwn ac Ysgol Emrys Ap Iwan am roi rhai o’r deunyddiau eilgylch yn rhodd.

Basic Max Patching

As a few people have mentioned over the week or so that they are getting into composing and making noise in the Max environment. Here is some material I put together a while ago while running a first year undergrad course on the subject. Some of it is a little clunky by today’s standards but it should be enough to get most people off the ground.



Max book

Out now on iTunes (and Spotify, and SoundCloud etc. if you are as thrifty as I am!) :D

I’m terribly excited to announce that my most recent piece of sound/music composition is available to listen to (or buy) in various places over the web. If you would like to take a listen at your leisure please do so by googgling Edward Wright Space to Think in your generic search engine, or alternatively click on the album cover or Apple link below to go direct to iTunes and buy a copy to keep for ever 🙂 If you want to know more about the making of the piece, and for that matter what it is about please click here to read more rambling from me,



Space to Think revised


Space To Think

In about September I was commissioned by Bangor Music Festival to compose a piece of electroacoustic music for their February 2018 event, along with a series of education workshops. I really wanted to do this and it was looking like it was going to be an amazing autumn and early spring of creating cool stuff and having fun; then the floor almost literally gave way.

Following a period of ill health my Dad took his own life in mid October and unsurprisingly this hit me really hard. It is not so much the sadness which is debilitating but the feelings of numbness, rage and lethargy that suck the capacity for creativity away. In my case my Dad and I got on really well, he was a role model and someone who had a massive influence on me throughout my life, when something so seemingly at odds with everything you have ever known happens all the basic assumptions that you make in life come into question. I would even look at my feet when walking down stairs, not through shock or physical instability but because I no longer trusted the assumption that I knew where my feet and where the steps where. It was certainly no mindset to take creative decisions in, they are so vague, so intangible and impossible to verify that the simplest starting impetus threw up paralyzing indecision.


It was at this point that I sadly informed Guto the festival director that I couldn’t fulfill the commission. I have never had to do this before and it left me feeling awful, but also slightly relieved.  There followed a period of calm, I got back to doing some work and I managed to get off the antidepressants (citalopram) which had been prescribed to help me sleep, level me out and stop catching things out of the corner of my eye. In late December I got a phone call from Guto offering to take some of the festival work back, but once again asking if I would like to compose ‘something’ for the finishing concert.


I find it really hard to sit down and just make noises or compose, some people start from an initial sound or a feeling, I tend to find some sort of idea or framework to hang something on and then can go from there. I though about this for about 24 hours, it was an incredibly kind offer which Guto had made, and my head was clearing. I went for a run in the hills, it happened to be early as I wanted to make the summit of a mountain near to us to catch the winter solstice sunrise and on the way up the ideas just struck me.

The theme of the event this year is space and I am happy to say that the work shared a stage with Birmingham Ensemble for Electroacoustic Research (BEER). BEER had worked in collaboration with the Art@CMS project at CERN in Switzerland, using real-time sonification of data streams from the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most complex particle accelerator. This is something which it is foolish to compete against; that, and the fact that I literally have Scott Wilson (of BEER)’s book on coding in Supercollider sat on my desk. Thus I chose to take a different tack and rather than approach it from an analytical and scientific angle I went for something closer to home.

Space To Think – Ed Wright 2018 (8 channel surround sound audio)

pianostringsA lot of what is in the popular imagination about space and space travel is precisely that, imagination. From the Barron’s Forbidden Planet through to the electronic squelch of radio communication a lot of what we think of as space related is a very human construct. What fascinates me is how much of what we believe sounds as if it comes from outer space or under the sea (or for that matter any environment out of our direct experience) is actually a result of dubbing and sound design in the media. As a culture we have bought into the idea of rockets rumbling as they go past, even though there may be almost nothing in the void of space to transmit the sound and the glockenspiel twinkle of stars is almost as real as the piano wire scrape of the Tardis. This provides a fantastic palate of subverted fantasy with which to create and explore a rich and varied sound world. Apart from the use of two pieces of NASA archive; launch and countdown, the rest of the sounds used I have recorded and shaped myself.

26232759_10155810057685631_1698340499798078925_oGreat delight was taken in recreating a few iconic ‘other worldly’ sound objects and effects along the way, 50 pence pieces were rubbed down piano strings to provide the basis for a tardis noise before looping and adding spring reverb. Humming strip lights were close mic-ed to create light-sabres, and some generative coding brought about drone progressions similar to the opening of Star Trek. These and many other sounds were used as the raw materials of the piece and then developed as the different timbre interact and evolve. The result is an acousmatic work utilizing a wide variety of sounds from analogue synthesis through to simple dislocation and out to generative algorithms creating an apparently extra-terrestrial environment in which our earthbound ears and minds can roam.


Many thanks to Guto Puw and the Bangor Music Festival for their kindness, understanding and faith.

In memory of Brian Wright