James Wood (1953)

At this moment James Wood is one of the leading figures in the area of microtonal music. He studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in Parijs and organ at the university and Royal Music Academy in Cambridge. In 1983 he founded the New London Chamber Choir, which he conducts since that time. In 1986 Pierre Boulez became patron of the choir. It has a very broad repertoire, from Josquin to contemporary compositions, performs in Europa and America and cooperates with leading composers as Iannis Xenakis, György Ligeti, Mauricio Kagel, Kurtág and Steve Reich.
Since 1982 James Wood is teacher of percussion of the international summer courses for new music in Darmstadt, furthermore he is conductor of the New Music Ensemble since 1990 and the Percussion Ensemble of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He performs regularly as percussion soloist and cooperated with various radio and tv programmes. As conductor he regularly works with the BBC Singers and also has worked with the London Sinfonietta and the Ensemble Intercontemporain. His music was performed three times on the Almeida Festival in Londen.
James Wood composed many works of very diverse nature. His composition with greatest scope Stoicheia from 1988, for sixteen percussionists, four keyboards and elektronics was premiered in Darmstadt. Many of his compositions, including Stoicheia have been issued on CD. James Wood also designs and constructs microtonal instruments. In the Guildhall he founded the Centre for Microtonal Music in order to bring performers and componers of microtonal music in contact with one another and make the realisation of microtonal compositions easier. Also courses are being given in this centre and instruments built. In March 1992 the centre was officially opened during a microtonal festival, which received much interest from abroad as well.

The term Cart-wheel is used by James Wood in two different ways, in the literal sense and as image of a powerful somersault done sideways. The title refers thus literally to the optical illusion of a slow and contrary movement that arises when the spokes of a wheel attain a certain speed. At the same time an image is evoked in a figurative sense of tumblings under different strengths of gravity, until the point of weightlessness. In the instrumentation James Wood has tried to employ certain similarities between the timbre of the bass clarinet and the percussion instruments, such as the sound of round clay pots and partials of clarinet multiphonics, woodblocks and the sound of clarinet keys, guiro and breathing. Wood wanted to bring variety in the way the sounds of the two instrument merge, where sometimes contrary timbres arise. Furthermore the marimba and the quarter tone cowbells are used as a single instrument which, in combination with the clarinet multiphonics, makes a rich palette of colours and microtonal harmonies possible.
Cart-wheels was commissioned by the Duo Contemporain in 1993 and sponsored by the Arts Council of Great Britain.