This week on our blog, meet NMC Trustee Stephen Johns, who's been on our board for seven years.


Stephen JohnsI’ve been lucky to have grown up with music – I was a chorister at my local Cathedral in Llandaff, then played the organ and ran a church choir while still at school. I first became fascinated by the technique of making recordings when I was at University, where our Chapel Choir recorded a number of albums. I began my career working at Abbey Road Studios, and have been involved in making records ever since. My first discovery of NMC was when I was asked to produce the recordings of Robert Saxton (A Yardstick to the Stars) and Philip Cashian (Dark Inventions). Having worked full-time for a major record company, who had necessarily to work to commercial imperatives, it was really interesting to become a Trustee of a record company that existed as a charity. The mission to record, and make permanently available, important music that would not otherwise be represented seemed to me to be a vital part of our cultural life. I was always moved by Simon Rattle’s sentiments that if we don’t keep writing new music we have no right to play music only from the past.


Being a Trustee is both challenging and highly rewarding. I am constantly having to encounter music that I might otherwise not be exposed to. The variety of what we hear – and sadly we can’t release everything we might like to – is surprising. I find the music not always easy to approach or understand – I think it’s important for us all to admit this! But I find the more I listen, the easier I find it to evaluate the skill and musicality of a composer’s work, even if the idiom is not immediately attractive. 


In addition to my continuing freelance work as a record producer, I am Artistic Director at the Royal College of Music. Here we have a vibrant composing faculty, across all idioms, and students keen to play new music. It’s really refreshing to see them engage so enthusiastically with all forms of music, and the NMC catalogue is a part of the rich resources available, encouraging them to enquire and experiment.


Being a Trustee forces me to realise all our responsibilities for supporting the creation of new music. I hope we are providing a platform and a voice for composers whose work otherwise might not be heard, or heard only once. Great music demands frequent listening, and recordings enable time for reflection and repeated consideration – not always possible in a concert hall. It is great to share being a Trustee with others from a range of backgrounds and enthusiasms – I think together we try and bring our own specialities to support the wonderful enterprise that is NMC.


Outside the RCM and NMC, I enjoy outside activities, including golf (poorly!), cycling and walking. The picture is of recent hiking in the Canadian Rockies, amidst the smoke from the forest fires…


If you'd like to support our work, you can do so by donating to our Anniversary appeal here or becoming a Friend here. Every little helps and no contribution is too small! Thank you.


As we reach the end of our anniversary year, we look to the future. Our pledge is to continue to support new music, build a catalogue that celebrates and fully reflects talent across modern Britain, and develop our education programmes. Find out more below ...




Where we are now:

Our complete catalogue   

             In the last 5 years
Men/women        men/women2


Anniversary Target

We pledge to take steps to ensure our future recording programme is more representative across gender and race. Recent analysis highlighted that 90% of proposals we were receiving were from men, so we have taken steps to redress the balance by promoting our opportunities more broadly, and have set a target that at least 50% of new releases from 2020 will feature composers who identify as women. Alongside this we have made a commitment to double the number of BAME composers in the catalogue (currently 19) by 2022.





In 2017, we launched a series of education resources to assist the development of emerging talent and to inspire an interest in, and appreciation of, new music in younger audiences. These resources include: r:strng, our free app featuring Kate Whitley's music and allowing students from KS3 & KS4 to create their own remixes; GCSE Dance, a free teaching resource developed in partnership with Rambert Dance Company and including guidance notes for teachers as well as a free download album; the NMC Music Map, our free interactive tool to explore, see, and hear the connections between composers; and GCSE Composition, which takes works from the NMC catalogue as a starting point for practical lessons and student exercises in Rhinegold Education's innovative Online Music Classroom. 


In 2019, we were delighted to partner with London Music Masters, to deliver Many Voices, a set of ten new violin pieces for children for those currently learning at around ABRSM Grades 2 – 5, which was distributed to LMM’s learning programme of over 1,000 children, as part of their 10th anniversary celebrations and NMC’s 30th anniversary. 

In a time where we are seeing cuts to both music education and our relations with other cultures, the creation of Many Voices seems more admirable and important than ever.” – Joanna Lee


In March 2019, NMC worked with Chineke! Foundation and Tower Hamlets Arts and Music Education Service to devise and deliver 3 days of creative music-making workshops for 40 pupils aged 11-14 from Swanlea School in Whitechapel. 

The project was linked to a forthcoming album of works by Black and Minority Ethnic composers performed by Chineke! Orchestra on NMC, and we were thrilled to have composer Errollyn Wallen lead the project along with five musicians from the orchestra. The participants were introduced to the working life of an orchestra by Chineke! Learning Manager Ishani O’Connor, as well as learning about what it is like to be a professional musician and what being a composer means.

My favourite part was when everyone was gathering together to put all their pieces together. It made a really shocking and wonderful performance, [it was] very creative for all of us.” – Swanlea School Participant


Errollyn at Swanlea SchoolPianist at Swanlea School


For our Anniversary year, we pledge to continue to develop our education programme, with projects in partnership with Chineke! Foundation as well as schools across London already in preparation for 2020.



In October we celebrate Will Month. It's not always an easy subject to talk about but it is an important one and something we should feel more comfortable discussing. Wills ensure you can continue supporting the causes that matter to you for many years to come and Alex, our Development and Partnerships Manager, talks about the importance such gifts have on small organisations like ours.


Roger Stevens Quote

There are many ways of supporting NMC’s work as a charity. We rely on a mixture of funding sources each year, which include grants from charitable trusts and foundations; a small amount of regular public funding from Arts Council England; earned income from the sale and licensing of recordings; and of course the generous support of individual donors and supporters. 

One form of fundraising we haven’t mentioned is Legacy Giving. This is a topic which is often overlooked, and sometimes deemed too difficult to talk about openly with donors. Yet it can bring many benefits to smaller charities like NMC, and it is a very special way for our closest supporters to continue giving to a cause they love for many more years to come. 

Leaving a gift in your Will really does make a difference, and no amount is too small. A legacy can go a long way to preserve and promote new music for future generations. 

As a lean and nimble organisation, which has thrived on maximising its impact with modest resources for 30 years, NMC’s key strength is adaptability. This means we can react quickly when new opportunities arise, and make the most of any extra income which comes our way to further our charitable purpose by supporting new recording projects or education work.   

There are many inspirational moments which can lead to deciding to support a charity: it could be hearing a recording of a piece you saw live in concert and loved; wishing to inspire the next generation of music creators and musicians through our Learning and Participation work; or wanting to aid and develop the professional lives of early-career composers through our Debut Discs series.

Choosing to support NMC with a legacy costs nothing in your lifetime, and after providing for family and loved ones first we would be delighted if you felt moved to consider writing us into your Will. 

One of the trickiest things with Legacies from a fundraising perspective is not knowing when or how much money is likely to be received in any given period. Even so, it remains a vital source of income, and one which NMC is looking to embrace as a means of diversifying our income steams further in the future. 

Making a decision to leave a legacy to NMC is an individual’s choice alone, and there is no obligation to tell us that you’ve left a gift. However we would love to hear from you should you feel comfortable telling us, so we could discuss in confidence how we might recognise your support in your lifetime. 

To find out more about leaving a gift in your Will to NMC, please take a look at our website or contact Alex Wright at or 020 3022 5888.


In NMC’s 30th year, we seek a new Chair to succeed Andrew Ward in helping us build on past successes and secure our future. The ideal candidate will have energy and vision alongside experience in the world of new music and its funding. 


NMC Recordings is an award-winning new music charity. Founded in 1989 by composer Colin Matthews OBE, we are devoted to enriching cultural life by connecting listeners with exceptional contemporary classical music from across the British Isles.   


We believe that new music is a dynamic and engaging art-form, and we seek to inspire and challenge audiences through the release and promotion of recordings, innovative artistic partnerships, commissioning new repertoire, and delivering education work.  


We fulfil our charitable aims by:  


  • collaborating with leading composers, artists, orchestras, and ensembles 
  • producing high quality recordings of outstanding works 
  • promoting recordings and other resources to expand worldwide audiences for new music 
  • preserving this creativity for future generations  


To apply for this voluntary position, please complete the attached equalities monitoring form and email it with a covering letter outlining why you are interested in NMC and feel you would be right to lead us.  Applications and requests for any further information or for an informal discussion should be sent to:


Anne Rushton

Executive Director

NMC Recordings


Bringing the outside world into the concert hall

Joanna BailieIn this article, composer Joanna Bailie tells us about using field recordings in her music. Discover her Debut Disc here.

I began making field recordings just over 10 years ago. When I bought a small portable recording device on a hunch, I never expected that capturing the sounds of the real world would come to feature so prominently in my work, and yet it has – nine out of the twelve tracks on my new NMC release, Artificial Environments involve one or more recordings made in the outside world. 

My initial experiences with the recording device were a little hit and miss. I had no wind shield for the microphones, and the first lesson I learned was to keep out of the wind, or better still, avoid breezy days altogether. Wind will ruin a recording, as will not being close enough to the sounding object or setting the level too low. Perhaps the worst thing that can occur though, for me at least, is the appearance of noises that I don’t like very much, such as the slamming of a car door, rolling suitcases or other flat unsonorous sounds. Part of the charm of recording the real world is that you have very little control over what happens – this of course has its downside too. Very occasionally a recording will be cut short by the sound of someone asking me what I am doing. I try to record very discreetly with small camouflaged microphones, but sometimes these can catch the attention of a curious bystander, or even a security guard when I’m recording in a public building such as a train station.

When I go on a field recording trip I’m never sure what I’ll hear. Sometimes I can go out with the intention of recording one thing, and come back with something entirely different. I went to London Zoo one day planning to record the animals there, but they proved to be uncooperative, and instead I ended up with the sounds of a carousel organ playing a selection of arrangements of popular old tunes and classical music – this recording is used quite prominently in Artificial Environment No.5

In fact, I’m quite fond of the sound of music playing in public places, be it carousels, carillons, buskers or bells, because the experience is like hearing that music again though one removed, and recontextualised somehow. I’m especially attracted to field recordings with ‘pitch content’ in them, because this allows me to find a point of contact between the recordings and the live classical instruments that are paired with them. My favourite sound of all though, and which can be heard in Artificial Environment No.1, is the sound of a distant motorway filtered by the intervening landscape. The noisy road becomes simply a set of random pitches that sounds like a kind of singing. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to record this singing motorway – it’s so far away that the sound is very quiet, and the closer one moves to it, the noisier it gets and the pitchy effect is lost. 

When I first began recording, I became hooked almost immediately. I remember going out to capture the sounds of a busy road one day, sitting in a bus shelter and concentrating very hard on the cars going by at different speeds and volumes. I had a strange experience at that bus stop listening to the slightly amplified sounds – I began to feel that everything that was happening, was happening just for my benefit, and that the noises that I was attending to were in fact music. This process of turning non-art into art through placing it in a different context, or by listing to it and looking at it in a different way is called ‘framing’ and has its origins in the work of Marcel Duchamp and John Cage, though who knows, individuals have probably been attending to the sounds of the world as if they were music since time immemorial.


Artificial EnvironmentsNMC Archive blogs are all articles written for our Friends Newsletter over the years. If you'd like to receive our quarterly Friends Newsletter, you can become a Friend here (memberships start from £50). If you'd like to support our work with composers as well as our expanding Learning Programme, you can make a donation to our 30th Appeal here. Thank you!


In this article written for our Friends Newsletter in 2012, composer Jonty Harrison reflects on sounds, what we call them, and how we perceive them.

Jonty Harrison‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’
Thus wrote Magritte in his painting of 1928-29 La trahison des images (The Treachery of Images). ‘Could you stuff my pipe?’ he later asked. ‘No, it’s just a representation, is it not?’ Images are so much a part of our lives that reality and representation blur and we use shorthand (‘that’s a ––’) when discussing images, rather than more correctly reserving the phrase for the actual objects the images represent. The issue appears in music too. ‘That’s a cuckoo’ we say, just before the end of the second movement of Beethoven 6, even though we know it’s not. How much more confusing when, instead of asking a clarinettist to imitate the sound of a cuckoo, a composer in the studio uses a recording of a cuckoo. ‘Ah’ we say, ‘now that is a cuckoo!’ Wrong again! It’s a recording (of the sound (of a cuckoo)); the cuckoo itself is not there at all.
The rich ambiguity released by these layers of meaning is precisely what attracts me to the field of acousmatic electroacoustic composition (‘tape’ music, in old money). But we may need to recapitulate a bit of history here, as Pierre Schaeffer was rather keen on our detaching ourselves (through a process he called écoute réduite – reduced listening) from the cause or physical source of a sound, and focusing purely on the sound as sound. For the purposes of understanding its role in a piece of musique concrète, a sound from, say, a violin, should ideally not be classified by what we might call its ‘violin-ness’, but through more abstracted aspects of the sound itself: colour, grain, (in)stability, spectral variation, intensity, etc. Through these qualitative comparisons we might link a sound to others completely unconnected by source or origin – indeed, the origin may lie completely outside the realm of what we might have previously considered ‘musical’ at all. In his 1948 Étude aux chemins de fer, Schaeffer announced unequivocally that any sound was potential material for composition and, interestingly, whilst we may find it difficult to ‘reduce’ our listening enough to get the image or the notion of railway locomotives out of our minds, a musical listening to the piece soon reveals other, more abstract concerns and constructions which go beyond mere collage or documentary sound, and truly into the domain of music. Moreover, the word ‘image’ implies a specific locomotive, whereas ‘notion’ is more fluid, more open to individual interpretation. It even permits the idea of a locomotive to transcend its physical reality – after all, no actual visual images are involved to pin down or otherwise limit our flights of fancy!
KlangSimilarly, at the start of my work Klang (1982), the listener has little difficulty in recognising the sounds of some kind of crockery being struck and made to resonate (though it is not Le Creuset, as the NMC cover art implies; I had discovered two New Zealand pottery casserole dishes in Denis Smalley’s kitchen while staying in his flat in Norwich in 1981). But Klang is not a piece about pottery or casserole dishes, even less a narrative detailing the adventures of Cassie the casserole dish; it is, I humbly submit, a purely musical discourse, based essentially on the characteristics of the sound materials. If it is ‘about’ anything, it is about sound and sound behaviours or, to be even more pedantic, about these specific sounds and their behaviours. To that extent, despite the inclusion of electronic sounds and without wishing to be presumptuous, it is a piece of ‘pure’ musique concrète.
Of course, the flaw in Schaeffer’s own approach with the Étude aux chemins de fer concerns the very obvious origin of the sounds used, which guarantees that they are already ‘loaded’ with meaning of their own (and thus, according to Boulez, unsuitable for composition). But can we not bring the sounds’ additional ‘baggage’ into compositional play as well? Can we not conceive of a musical situation where structure emerges from the interplay of recognisable, everyday sounds and more abstract ones? Is it impossible that a known, everyday sound, progressively transformed (as in Klang) out of all recognition is part of the musical argument? Conversely, highly transformed sounds suddenly revealing their origin can be very dramatic and powerful, evoking a sense in the listener of somehow having known all along…
Since 1995 my work has been less ‘pure’ (in Schaefferian terms) and more concerned with exploring the musical space at the intersections of reality, unreality and surreality, invoking the listener’s memory of human situations, places, experiences, etc. The fuzzy boundary between recognisability and unknown sounds play an important role, and I revel in setting up apparently ‘real’ scenes, then subverting them by insinuating a plausible element that is, in reality, completely alien. Alternatively, a real-world sound can appear, quite believably, in an abstract environment because of its spectromorphological connections (Smalley) to other sonic elements. In both cases, the alien sound becomes the catalyst, the agent of change – literally, at the speed of sound – from one musical space to another.

NMC Archive blogs are all articles written for our Friends Newsletter over the years. If you'd like to receive our quarterly Friends Newsletter, you can become a Friend here (memberships start from £50). If you'd like to support our work with composers as well as our expanding Learning Programme, you can make a donation to our 30th Appeal here. Thank you!



All entries in chronological order
17 October 2019
10 October 2019
3 October 2019
1 October 2019
26 September 2019
19 September 2019
12 September 2019
5 September 2019
29 August 2019
22 August 2019