In many ways, contemporary classical music is still a castaway on its own island, inventing new characters by drawing faces on music sheets while waiting for its cousins classical music and ambient electronic music to drop anchor and stop to recognise its existence. The likes of Nils Frahm have been invited to perform for Boiler Room live video streams and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood has been vocal in advocating the modernisation of live classical music. So is contemporary classical now being welcomed aboard?

I spoke to Jack Sheen, Artistic Director of local promoter ddmmyy, about his views on the genre and their forthcoming events.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen ddmmyy. Why did you take a break and what has encouraged you to return?

Well, we were all students who one after the other completed their undergraduate degrees, so depressingly our time and mental capacities became a bit stretched. We also wanted to take our time and gather ideas about what the series is, what we wanted it to be and how we could approach that. During this break, two of the founding members have co-founded and now run the record label Slip Discs, I’ve been doing loads of conducting and we’ve all been writing some big pieces, so the break partly came about due to productivity happening elsewhere.

The return was fostered by some funding from Sound & Music, which allowed us to go after some of our bigger and more ambitious ideas. We wouldn’t have wanted to come back and just started putting on the odd gig here or there. We wanted to really push the idea of a concert series and what that means and could be, as well as pushing ourselves as curators, promoters and composers.

How far would you say the rise of music like IDM has helped or hindered interest in contemporary classical music?

It’s difficult to answer that question as IDM is quite an ambiguous label, and for me seems to pigeonhole a historical moment in electronic music rather than a cogent ongoing aesthetic or scene. But I definitely think the popularity and stylistic developments of electronic music has made links between young experimental composers and electronics artists stronger, and that’s great. Everyone involved in the series loves electronic music that operates in the more unusual corners of scenes, whether it’s labels that push a more abstract sound like Editions Mego or the leftfield dancefloor explorations of Hessle Audio, and it definitely informs our approach to curating.

Nowadays, if I go out to a club and start talking to someone, they’ll more often than not have heard of and be interested in artists like Lee Gamble and therefore maybe some Pierre Schaeffer, and that’s a definite way into the sort of world that ddmmyy works within. I think over the next few years it will be up to both groups of audiences to converge through a sincere sense of exploration which I’ve personally always found exciting, and I hope that ddmmyy can be a part of fostering that. The success of London Contemporary Music Festival pulling together SND and Raime alongside Finnissy and Sciarrino sort of encapsulates this idea of the future audience development in contemporary classical music.

How do you select the venues or spaces to stage the events?

This year we’re only using the RNCM for our ensemble concerts as we’re a resident group in their Promoted Arts Programme. They’ve been amazingly supportive and interested in what we’ve been doing, and the series couldn’t really have happened if it wasn’t for their open-minded attitude towards our big ideas. The room we’re using in the college is intimate, atmospheric, and most importantly just has an amazing acoustic for the instruments and electronics to blend in, so we’re really lucky.

We’re actually starting off the series in Sandbar though. We did a little gig with solo, chamber and electronic music there two years ago and it was loads of fun, and we’re really excited to be returning there with Harry Fausing Smith, Dave Bainbridge and Otto Willberg all doing short sets. It’s nice to make some sort of musical connection to a place we all spend a lot of time in anyway. It’s going to be a free gig run on donations as opposed to fixed ticket prices, and will be a really informal but hopefully quite visceral affair. The night ends with a pretty extreme amplified double bass piece by Xenakis alongside Steve Reich’s ‘New York Counterpoint’ and some music for prepared guitar.

Which composers, labels and promoters should we look out for in the Manchester area? Would you say there is a healthy community covering the genre?

There are some great things happening in Manchester at the moment by young, enterprising musicians. I also work a lot with ACM Ensemble, who programme really enlightening concerts which focus on particular European music scenes. As of quite recently, Larry Goves has started the Decontamination series at the RNCM, which is exhibiting a truly eclectic variety of music in some unusual performance scenarios, whether it be in pitch black, a library or the RNCM foyer.

Outside of that scene, I must say that the biggest influence on my approach to the series has been the club night and record label meandyou. They seem to have this incredibly considered approach to curating everything they do, such as the artists they book, the spaces they play in, the music they release and the visual design of everything. It’s all really tight and makes perfect sense. It’s niche, stylish, sincere, and fosters this sense of revolving around an incredibly talented group of like-minded artists, which is what ddmmyy is all about.

What can we expect from the forthcoming series? What will the events offer that will be different from other live music shows?

I hope people get a sense of the effort that has gone into selecting music that works together in a meaningful and complementary way. The concerts won’t be traditionally choreographed either. We’ve organised them so that, via the use of lighting and electronic interludes, the pieces flow almost seamlessly into one another with no breaks, applause or interval, almost as if the concert was an installation in the space. We’re also running a pre-concert interview series with Laurence Crane and Bryn Harrison, so you’ll be able to hear two of the country’s leading experimental composers talking about their work, which I’m personally really looking forward to. I hope the concerts surprise and satisfy people, making it more of a unique experience without detracting from the music itself.

The first event of the ddmmyy series is on 4 November at Sandbar.

ian pennington