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John Metcalfe

From his early days in New Zealand listening to his father sing opera, John Metcalfe has become one the most exciting and versatile musicians in the UK. From giving string quartet recitals in prestigious venues world-wide to composing for radio and TV, penning strings for no.1 UK pop hits and releasing his own genre-defying music, Metcalfe has gained wide recognition for his unique brand of music-making.

John Metcalfe

Moving to England he took up the viola and joined his first band at school playing drums. Raised on a dual-mono diet of Kraftwerk and Joy Division this band influenced his move north-west where he joined cult band The Durutti Column on Manchester's Factory label. He stayed for three years adding his own unique sound and flavour to the enigmatic style of guitarist Vini Reilly.

Hard classical study continued along with hard dancing at the now defunct Hacienda and scholarships took him to London and Berlin (studying with Italian maestro Bruno Giuranna) to finish his training. His distaste for standard classical recording industry practices led him to persuade Factory boss Tony Wilson to launch the ground-breaking Factory Classical label aimed at bringing young British talent and music to a truly new audience. He also joined the renown Duke String Quartet.

Since his work on Morrissey's no.1 solo album Viva Hate he has become one of the UK's top arrangers working for artists such as Simple Minds, Bat For Lashes, Blur and Catatonia. He provided all the strings for the Concert for Linda at the Albert Hall, working with George Michael, Johnny Marr, Chrissie Hynde and Tom Jones.

Metcalfe took his first steps as a composer a decade ago. His debut CD 'The Inner Line' received glowing reviews with Billboard magazine describing it as '.... a solo debut that crosses all manner of boundaries, melding avant-pop and electronica, film music and contemporary classical’.

For the last three years Metcalfe was arranger, MD and co-producer of Peter Gabriel's orchestral albums,' Scratch My Back' and 'New Blood' (tracks from which have been featured on Society of Sound). Metcalfe was closely involved in helping Gabriel re-interpret covers of major artists ranging from David Bowie to Paul Simon using only orchestral instruments. Mojo magazine called it "A profound re-imagining made manifest in an orchestral soundworld as rich and thrilling as ever recorded at Air, the studio founded by George Martin".

Production Notes by John Metcalfe

From a very early stage in my training as a violist I have always had a deep passion for chamber music both as listener and performer. Over the last three years I have written intimate small scale pieces that didn't quite fit my work with my band which uses a lot of electronics and drums. When I discovered the ethos behind the Society of Sound I knew this would be an ideal opportunity to record these pieces as a whole. There is a mix of performance and use of electronics. For live recording we used valve microphones where possible, in particular the Neumann U67, a classic mic from the 60's and 70's which suited my viola, a Giovanni Battista Ceruti made in 1800, extremely well. The piano is a Bosendorfer owned by Peter Gabriel. All of it is recorded with microphones deliberately placed very close to the instruments so there are some noises of breathing, the odd rustle of clothing, the bow hair on the string, the sound of the sustain pedal on the piano and other extraneous noises. The reason being to hear the music from the performers' perspective as much as possible rather than the traditional 'best seat in the house' mic placement used for general classical recording.

John Metcalfe

The Appearance of Colour 


1) 1. Appear
2) 2. Land
3) 3. Centre 
4) 4. Parsal 
5) 5. Tree

Tom Cawley, piano. John Metcalfe, viola. 

Three Pieces from ‘A Darker Sunset’

6) 1. Scorching Bay
7) 2. Echo Valley
8) 3. Copper Beech

The Carducci Quartet: Matthew Denton, violin; Michelle Fleming, violin; Eoin Schmidt-Martin, viola; Emma Denton, cello. With Matthew Barley, cello.

Three Pieces for Solo Piano

 9)  1. Tunley
10)  2. Besancon
11)  3. Southmoor

Tom Cawley, Piano (track one) John Metcalfe, piano    
and programming (track two and three)


The Appearance of Colour

12)  1. The Appearance of Colour
13)  2. Outline
14)  3. Contour
15)  4. Silhouette

John Metcalfe, viola, violin, guitar and programming.

John Metcalfe

The album opens with ‘Kite’  - five short pieces, originally commissioned by cellist Matthew Barley, which were written shortly after an afternoon flying a kite with my family on a beach in North Wales.

The pieces under the title ‘Three Pieces from ‘A Darker Sunset’ were taken from my album of the same name.  These movements were arranged for cello quintet by Misha Mullova-Abbado.  

Of the ‘Three Pieces for Solo Piano’ tracks two (‘Besancon’) and three (‘Southmoor’) and are composed using a pitch-shift effect plugin as a core part of the composition process. 'Southmoor' uses a perfect fourth down. The first two semiquavers of each group of four are human generated with the last two being computer generated a quaver later and a fourth down. To perform this completely live without the computer is virtually impossible and the absolute precision timing that only a computer can produce is absolutely intentional. 'Besancon' was written in a hotel room while I was performing in the town with my quartet hence the rather French flavour to the idiom. This employs the pitch shift adding the same music as performed by me but down an octave with a stranger perhaps more other-worldly sound which would be more straightforward if played directly on the piano. The small delay before the octave is produced by the computer means that lower sound is constantly slightly behind, shadowing the real piano.

The final section of the album is ‘The Appearance of Colour’.   I have slight synaesthesia, (a joining together of sensations that are normally experienced separately), whereby I associate colours to letters, numbers, days, weeks, months etc, but also to notes and keys in the western scale system. So for example D major is a rich green, A minor is pale yellow, C major is bright red. I have strong reactions to colour and these pieces (particularly 'Contour' and 'The Appearance of Colour') are an attempt to express something of those reactions as more and more notes (and therefore colour) build up, collide and merge over a period of time.
In addition the first movement, 'Contour' is based on the numbers 40, eight and five which correlate to the number of voices, choirs and number of voices in the choirs used by Tallis in his iconic work 'Spem In Alium'. There are 40 sound 'events' played into a 40 second repeating loop resulting in an increasingly complex sound. Each event, the intervals of which are fourths, fifths or octaves in relation to previous or impending events, is played through one of five different electronic effects. The performer places each event where he chooses according to what is coming back to him from notes already played into the loop. In this version I have performed it on solo viola. In the middle two movements there is also use of the pitch-shift effect, set to an interval of a perfect 4th down.


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